Of Unicorns and Custard:

OR, ADVICE FOR THE DISENCHANTED READER!

Want to stir up a little shit? Let’s talk about the quality of lesbian fiction. It’s a topic that comes up a lot and people seem to be somewhat divided on it. Some readers love it and scramble to collect it as though they’re gathering blooming daffodils. To those of you who fall in this category, I’ll take this opportunity to thank you on behalf of all lesfic authors and publishers. Your enthusiasm sustains us when little else does.

Now, you other readers— the ones who complain about the state of the genre and do so loudly— let’s grab this bull by the horns and see who gets gored. (After all, it could very well be me. Honestly, I never know where these columns are going. Your intuition is correct.)

The frequent criticism that I hear and read is that lesfic on the whole is too hackneyed and formulaic. So for the sake of argument, let’s take that analysis at face value. There appear to be two main ways to react to that— some continue to support it, and some refuse.

Those in the former faction feel that the only way for lesfic to categorically improve is to hang in there, patronizing those publishers they feel are either moving the genre in a positive direction or those authors who are breaking out of the confining molds that constrain so many. It’s a noble notion— if you want something different, support those who are moving along that path. I get that, though it obviously requires both faith and patience.

Meanwhile, those in the latter group espouse that because they deem so much lesfic as clichéd or prosaic, they won’t actually spend their money on it. Oh, don’t get me wrong, that doesn’t stop them from reading it. There’s still plenty of free quality fiction on the Internet, and like obsessive coupon clippers, many frantically search for anything readily accessible. It’s understandable. Times are tight. People have less disposable income. And their argument is that when the quality of lesfic improves, they’ll pay for it.

While this seems reasonable, the fly in that ointment is that part of why lesfic (and all LGBT fiction) is currently struggling is because it’s been so marginalized. Large presses see no financial incentive in releasing queer-themed books, so with a few notable exceptions they summarily ignore the genre and its readers. Fortunately, LGBT publishers fill that niche though they have far less capital to spend on marketing and production. To not buy these books only proves to the large presses that their decision to ignore gays was and is warranted.

Let me give you a completely unrelated yet practical illustration of my point. As a diabetic, I find it difficult to find tasty low-sugar or low-carb dessert foods. I can say with certainty that there is no small number of diabetic-friendly cakes, pies, and chocolate goodies out there that either taste like sawdust and ass, smell like earwax, or are so loaded with sugar alcohols that one powerful sneeze can precipitate a pants-shitting of epic proportions. (For those of you new to hyperglycemia, just Google “sugar alcohol side effects,” and by all that’s holy, read the labels! Trust me, you don’t want to eat anything that requires me to wear an additional protective garment unless it’s a lobster bib.) However, I always try to purchase new low-carb products when I see them in stores, so that the manufacturers will realize there’s a market for these products. In other words, please keep making them— just make them better. At some point, my hope is that someone will craft something so amazing that I’ll be left speechless and ensorcelled. Their cupcake/éclair/champagne truffle will make me see God.

Poo-filled examples aside, those of you who refuse to pay for lesfic can’t really say you’re doing anything to contribute to its improvement, can you? Doesn’t withholding financial support just imply a lack of public interest? (And for a little perspective take solace that, unlike sugar alcohols, lesfic is rarely bad enough to make you shit your pants. I know, it’s disturbing how I keep gravitating back to feces, isn’t it? Let me try to get back on track.)

If you, instead, supported just one or two authors who you felt were really putting out quality work or a self-published author who was exceptional, you’ve now actively put your money where your mouth is. You’ve become part of the solution.

Now, regardless of the various subsets of critics, what about the criticism itself? Though a majority of the lesfic currently published is romance, another frequent complaint is that there are not enough non-romances released. In full disclosure, I love romances. To me, romance is one of the things that make lesfic…well, les. However, I totally get the argument that there’s not enough fantasy, speculative fiction, historical, thriller, mystery, young adult, horror, pop-up, and scratch-n-sniff books with lesbian content. (Admittedly, I find the notion of those last two particularly titillating, but anyone who knows me or my work should be familiar with my frighteningly filthy mind. In fact, imagine a lesbian version of “Pat the Bunny” for grown-ups— “Pat the Kitty” perhaps?)

Moving right along (as I so frequently need to do), if what we need are some original ideas to rejuvenate the genre then let’s have at it. I’ve decided to do my part by brainstorming a handful of plotlines that could really shake things up if fully executed. It’s up to you out there who have been waiting for some unorthodox inspiration. For you lovelies looking for an untried premise, I give you Colette’s cutting-edge lesfic story starters. Consider it the equivalent of getting free Sapphic manure to fertilize your fallow fiction fields.

• The messiah returns to earth as a petite pacifist vegan lesbian. The plot can center on how no one gives a shit about what she says or does. Instead of being declared the holy one, she’ll be brushed off as a “nag.” (The plus to this one is that it can take place in any time or place, up to present day. I’m not sure if that’s a good thing or not, regrettably.)

• A lesbian goes on a killing spree and is pursued by Sister Mary Ambrosia, a criminologist nun who chases the murderer through the streets of Paris before going undercover in a whorehouse as Monique du Muff.

• A vocal homophobe dies and is reincarnated as a magical strap-on dildo.

• A Sapphic archer and her talking unicorn companion roam the land of Fallopia, fighting for the rights of the down-trodden peasant folk and competing for the love of the evil king’s bewitching daughter— Princess Labia Majora.

• Biknok, resident of the planet Gakk, lands on earth to investigate this strange race of people whose females are inexplicably sexually aroused by her. (Bonus points if you can somehow work “Biknok come!” into a sex scene.)

• A lesbian is abducted by a gang of thugs and must launch a violent fight to escape them armed with only her Zippo lighter, a roll of duct tape, and a polish sausage.

• A repressed lesbian sustains a blow to the head and when she wakes up, she’s in Areola— an enchanted land where the streets and buildings are made of breasts and people speak from their genitalia.

• A meek librarian meets performance artist Fraulein Gigi Wunderbar and is slowly pulled into the dark, dangerous world of sex with blintzes and custards. (I’ve tentatively titled this “My Anal Blancmange,” but hell, it’s your story now.)

So there you have it— a veritable goldmine of stories that defy convention and the same familiar platitudes (and please tell me if anyone has read anything that resembles any of these. If so, I’ll need to immediately stop everything, find it, and read it from cover to cover).

Of course, sometimes the mechanisms of convention can be executed masterfully, creating an amazing book that one won’t soon forget. And conversely, sometimes what masquerades for avant-garde or innovative is just misguided, fetid, custard-covered dreck.

So if my ramblings are meant to convey anything to the readers, it’s this. Participate. Hold lesfic authors and publishers to high standards. Correspond with them and be vocal with both your criticism and praise. Help to make this genre exceptional, and then feel good about your contribution.

Colette Moody

I'm an author of lesbian fiction for Bold Strokes Books and amateur mixologist.

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4 comments


  • bobbi d.

    Colette, you’re the best. That’s all I’m sayin’ on that.

    Ya know what? The female Messiah idea sounds like tons of fun to write. TONS.

    4, December 2009
  • Thanks, Bobbi!

    It’s funny that you say that, because my girlfriend wants me to write the one about the talking unicorn. I told her I’d mull on it, but it’s no “My Anal Blancmange.”

    -Colette

    4, December 2009
  • I am an avid purchaser/reader of lesfic and have been for years. I believe the “pearl” of lesfic is the story line and how it is delivered to the reader. If the line captures one, then the rest of the piece falls in a great place. As for the formulaic approach, I’ve found that lesbian writers go for “what works,” but the great writing comes from experimenting, expressing thoughts and ideas that will capture and hold the reader. But, alas, I am merely a reader!

    2, March 2010
  • The Editor

    Thanks for the feedback, Robinet. I know I for one appreciate hearing what (even the average) reader among us has to say about what makes a good book, for them.

    As a writer, I rely on that feedback to know if what I am writing is working, or not, with the reading public. And I know too how hard it is to find a personal balance between “what works” and what works for me both as a reader, and as a writer.

    Just don’t get me started on the editorial side of it.

    3, March 2010

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