July 21, 2004

Lesbian Fiction

Why is it that novels featuring lesbian characters cost so much more than other novels not featuring lesbian characters?  And why do I even buy them?  Honestly, there are but a scant few writers creating lesbian characters who, in my own humble opinion, can even craft a story worthy of the paper on which they are printed.  Yet unfortunately they are as prolific as romance novels and their content similar in quality.  Then to add insult to injury, the books cost close to $20 for a thin paperback.  And most of them just plain suck. 
I know I know.  It sounds harsh.  I acknowledge it's hard to write a novel.  Or I imagine it would be as I have never done it.  I just expect if something actually gets published, it ought to be worth reading.  At least one in ten.  While it may not appear so, I do respect those who have gone the distance to get their works into print.

We read a lot.  Usually I'm pretty good at picking out authors.  I have been rewarded and pleasantly surprised many times just blindly choosing a book based on such ridiculous factors as the way it feels in my hand or the font in which it is printed.  Only once did I score such a prize with lesbian fiction.

I was out shopping at Border's one Saturday morning a few years back, ostensibly to purchase the summer reading required for The Boy's upcoming English class.  And I did purchase those. But I also wandered around fondling and perusing other texts while absorbing the ambiance of the bookstore. Bookstores feel good. Almost as good as libraries.

As I neared the register, I paused to scan the "all books $1" table. Never hurts to look. A book caught my eye and I picked it up: "Tropical Storm" by Melissa Good.  The cover wasn't particularly impressive, but the size was just right. An overlarge paperback, you know what I mean?  Not overlarge as in really thick, but overlarge as in bigger dimensions than typical paperback-sized. As I read the synopsis on the back cover it was impossible not to recognize that in my hand I was holding a volume of lesbian fiction.  At Border's no less.  And on the $1 table.  So it was coming home with me.  Somewhat like purchasing a lottery ticket. 

I began reading it that evening.  With stories featuring lesbian protagonists, there seems to be a predictable template with minor variations. The city may change. The age of the characters may vary. But typically there is a strong tall dark-haired woman who in some way becomes involved in some way or another with a petite blonde woman and solves all her problems as they fall passionately in love. Or vice versa blonde brunette.  Maybe a redhead tossed in every so often.  But redheads are usually the evil characters.  "Tropical Storm," while following that pattern, also has a reasonably interesting story line and the characters feel real. It sucked me in.
One day shortly after I started that book, I found myself sitting in my car at the Vienna Metro station waiting for Wendy.  We, along with other friends who were also meeting us at the Metro, would then drive out to Nissan Pavilion to see a trio of over-the-hill rock bands:  Styx, Billy Squire and Bad Company.  Why you may ask?  Well why not?  Wendy thinks it was because our now mostly bald-headed friend Tom was missing his mullet days.
I had brought along the book to read while I waited.  Wendy arrived ahead of the rest of the group and joined me in my car.  She didn't bring a book of her own.  And I was having a difficult time tearing myself away from my story.  It wasn't long before Wendy was behaving in a rather petulant basset hound manner, expressing her displeasure that I had something to read and she didn't.  I suppose it didn't help that I commented on how much I was enjoying my book and how I thought I may have finally found an author who could write decent lesbian fiction.  My absorption was apparent.  I jokingly offered to tear the book in half so she'd have something to read too.  She perked!  Greatly.  And so it was that my one dollar book became two fifty-cent books.  Life was good as we both read absorbedly until our friends arrived.

Turns out Melissa Good got her start writing Xena: Warrior Princess fan fiction.  Now there's something I didn't need to know.  Because knowing that, it is so obvious that her characters Dar and Kerry are patterned after Xena and Gabrielle.  Ack well.

We have since replaced the torn book with another copy (for which we paid full price). The sequels in the series are entertaining but have never captivated us as fully as the first. And you can bet I always scan the $1 table with a more careful eye. Who knows what treasures are to be found within?


Robin said...

I struggle to find good lesbian fiction too. Here's a list of novels that I enjoyed. Several are out of print, naturally. Here goes:

Carol Anshaw, Aquamarine
Margaret Erhart, Unusual Company
Ibis Gomez-Vega, Send My Roots Rain
Jenifer Levin, The Sea of Light
Sarah Schulman, Girls, Visions & Everything
Jeanette Winterson, Written on the Body

Have you read any/all of these? Would love for you to post a list of your favorites, if you haven't done that already.

elswhere said...

OMG I am so with you! Most lesbian fiction sucks.

To Robin's list I would add:

Anything by Sarah Waters, especially Fingersmith
The Dyke and the Dybbuk, by Ellen Galford
Cecile, by Ruthann Robson
The Cook and the Carpenter, by June Arnold-- *long* out of print but worth looking for.

If you've read a lot of bad lesbian fiction you'll appreciate The Big Book of Lesbian Horse Stories, by Alisa Surkis & Monica Nolan-- it's hysterical. They skewer just about every genre there is.

OK really turning off the computer now...