July 6, 2015

Talking Shop: Looking at Lesbian Fiction

Today is the re-release of my first and favorite novel, Lotus Petals. This vampire romance tells the story of two women--the would-be bride of an undead daimyo, and his favorite human courtesan--discovering a connection with one another over any bond they've felt before.

Lotus Petals at Champagne Books

I adore writing about women who love women. But what do you think when you hear the words lesbian erotica? For too many, it seems the answer is, "Not for me."

There is an unfortunate prevailing idea out there that lesbian erotica is only for lesbians, or for men looking for a literary version of Redtube girl-on-girl videos. I've heard so many opinions in the last few days alone, saying "Lesbian erotica just doesn't do anything for me."

This honestly breaks my heart a bit. Not because I'm an author of lesbian fiction...I write romance, erotica and genre fiction with characters of all sorts of orientation and sexual personality, so if my lesbian stories don't catch the reader's eye, perhaps one of my other romances will. What saddens me about this idea, that lesbian fiction is only for lesbians, is that so many readers miss out on truly gorgeous works.

Til Death Do Us Part

If you are one of these readers, and you feel it won't appeal to you because women aren't your particular pleasure preference, hear me out. Forget for a moment the gal-to-guy ratio and whose genitalia goes where. Let's talk about connection.

Be it a story about deep, abiding love, one of lustful conquest, or one of sexual experimentation, what's loveliest about lesbian erotica is the power of connection. Stories or women pleasuring women often delve into deep, aesthetic eroticism of not just the body, but of psychology and emotion. In featuring a love match between women, lesbian erotica provides a setting to reflect on femininity and female-ness: characters who are expressively feminine can be highlighted like illuminated works of art, mirrored in another woman’s eyes; “tom” and “butch” lesbians—less feminine women—are given a unique stage where their own brand of beauty and identity is examined and celebrated. I’m put in mind of Boo, a self-proclaimed dyke from Orange is the New Black, who couldn’t be less “feminine” if she tried. Her story to be recognized and respected, despite her refusal to put on a feminine mien, brings out a true beauty in her in such a way that viewers can appreciate her as her own, wonderful creation. Personally, I find Boo utterly beautiful, in her utterly proud, non-feminine expression. Pairing women together, whether both parties be femme or both be butch, or be they a combination of expression and identity, makes for a unique opportunity for women to reflect on women, and how our sexuality is articulated.


Now, I realize lesbian erotica is not the only sub-genre to do this (I'm a particular fan of the emotional exploration in gay male erotica, too!). It is, however, disproportionately visited by readers. Lots of straight women will seek out gay male romance, but are ambivalent about lesbian tales. Of course, I write characters who are straight as arrows as well. Many of my published short stories happen to be about these straight characters. And of course, many of my characters simply fall upon a spectrum, neither 100% straight nor 100% gay, but having an interest and willingness that is purely their own, and shaped by their personalities. The character of Talaith, one of Reagan's fae lovers, is a woman I would consider "perfectly bisexual". Equally interested in male as well as female lovers.

What I worry about, writing lesbian fiction, is that at the most accessible level—early budding erotic writers—it is so often fetishized, relying on a perceived 'kink' of girl-on-girl action. I find it funny: it seems much more acceptable for gay erotica, featuring two men, to focus on the emotional needs and complications of the characters, finding eroticism though the emotional as well as the physical interactions. Most authors who set out to write male gay fiction understand this as part of the genre. If not taken seriously, though, lesbian fiction can easily miss the mark and be reduced merely to pornographic renditions of two women screwing. This also gives the genre a false appearance to those outside of it.

It's so easy to sacrifice the honesty of personality and character in favor of unabashed porn. It’s such a shame. Lesbian erotica is beautiful. It can be moving and literary. It can be so deeply gripping: Affinity by Sarah Waters left me shaken for days after I finished it. It can be fun and funny. I've enjoyed stories about fem domme cupcake bakers and island visitors sharing a relaxing evening with a stranger who becomes a new friend. Alyson Books has put out several of these in their annual collections under the line Ultimate Lesbian Erotica, and Cleiss Press is a good source for more contemplative lesbian fiction.  

Whatever lesbian erotica is, it isn't what many people seem to think: an exclusive members-only club. I challenge readers of erotica and erotic romance, if you've never given lesbian romance a chance, to seek out at least one good title. Make it one you'd readily pick up if it were a traditional male/female romance; no sense in picking up something you wouldn't choose in other circumstances. Give yourself a chance to find a new pleasure in the plethora of attractive erotic sub-genres. I think most folks will find that there's more to it than meets the eye.


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