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Today I have a special treat for you! Everyone who has visited Governing Ana before knows I write stories about women who love women. At first, I felt as if I were the only person who read and wrote these stories. Fortunately, I’ve been proven wrong on numerous occasions. Nancy Heredia introduced me to Sandra Moran’s wonderful book, Letters Never Sent. She gave me enough recommendations to make my head spin, so I immediately asked her to write a post for you today. I’m often asked to point people to new lesfic, but I’m surrounded by a lot of m/f and m/m authors. If you ever asked for a new author to read, Nancy’s the resource for you.
P.S. Can we all take a moment to appreciate Nancy’s bibliography written in MLA style? 😀
Beginners Guide to Lesfic
Like many of you I am a beginner when it comes to reading contemporary lesbian fiction, which I have been reading more or less exclusively since the spring of 2013. I don’t specifically recall the circumstances but I believe it had something to do with some love letters I found during spring cleaning. They were the most ardent and romantic love letters any woman could write to another woman and it called to mind the past when written letters were the main form of communication. The romantic letters exchanged between Virginia Woolf and Vita Sackville-West are legendary. But it was these letters I had in my possession from a long lost lover that made me want to read more romance between women, something I had abandoned years earlier. For some reason I chose a collection of love letters written by Radclyffe Hall, the author of The Well of Loneliness, a novel many of us love to hate but nevertheless is an immensely important book in the culture of lesbian fiction.
The journey that brought me to this point though really began when I was a teenager…Let’s set the scene…
I’m a native New Yorker, born and raised in NYC in a small Hispanic and very Catholic family. It was the 1960’s and my parents had separated. My mother, older sister and I went to live with my mother’s brother Ramon and his wife my aunt Georgina and their 2 children, my cousins Jose and Jenny. It was a grand time, the best time of my childhood. I was about 13 years old and I loved being the youngest of the kids. Even then I loved books and reading was my favorite pastime. I read everything I could and loved stories about myths and heroes, about Greek and Roman Gods and Goddesses. I was also very aware by this time that I was different, I knew in what way I was different, I knew what it meant, the word lesbian. I knew I was one and I understood instinctively why I had to hide it. I will never know what direction my life would have taken if this one singular thing had not occurred. It was only this; One day I was looking through the dresser drawers in my aunt’s bedroom, with the curiosity of a child, not looking for anything in particular when I found it. In the bottom of a drawer, a paperback book, the cover a silhouette of 2 girls I think but it was the title that arrested my attention. The Evil Friendship by Vin Packer. Without thinking why, I took it and hid it in my book bag and began reading it surreptitiously any chance I had. It was a terrible story but I didn’t care about that. All I cared about was the few scenes where the teenage girls kiss and express their love for each other. I just didn’t care that their mothers took a dim view of their friendship and planned to separate them by sending them away to a different school. I didn’t care that the girls reacted by planning to murder their mothers.
I kept this book in my possession for a long time and when my mom found us another apt. we left the extended family and then it was just the 3 of us. I was 14 and old enough to work part time after school and I got my first job in a little neighborhood secondhand book and magazine store. I loved being in that store! And now I could buy the books I wanted to read like Dashiell Hammet, Hemingway and F. Scott Fitzgerald. I loved the movie magazines and was forever gazing at pictures of glamourous movie stars like Elizabeth Taylor and Ava Gardner. My duties in the store included unpacking boxes of donations that arrived frequently. It was during this process that I came across a copy of The Well Of Loneliness and soon after encountered for the first time what we now call lesbian paperback pulp fiction.
Naturally I was not supposed to see these let alone buy them with the money I was making working in the store but I was clever and from time to time would make several purchases hoping the store keeper would not look too closely at them. I tried to mix them up with comic books, magazines and the like. Only once did he look at a book for a long time and looked at me for a long time before slipping the book in the bag with the others. I didn’t think I could pull that off too many times so I had to think of another way. In the mean time I was stashing these books in my room and it helped that my mother was indifferent and uninterested in what I was doing. I seemed very much to be a good Catholic girl, went to school, and did my homework and chores without complaining. I went to church when I was supposed to. I never talked back. I quickly had a collection that included Ann Bannon’s books like Beebo Brinker, and Odd Girl Out. Once again I didn’t especially care about anything but the love scenes which I read over and over and over again. I could not get enough. I felt almost compelled to acquire them. I would have been happy to buy them outright and while I was mature for my age, it was obvious I was a kid. There was a drug store in the neighborhood that had books similar to these but again I had little hope of buying them. What else could I do? I had no choice. I began to steal them. First from the drug store and then from that other store in the Port Authority bus terminal for I was loathe to steal from my employer. Ultimately I did steal from the store where I worked and in very little time had amassed a collection of around 30 of these pulp fiction novels. I hid them in a large suitcase under my bed and as long as I kept my room clean, my mother had no reason to examine the contents of the suitcase.
Then one day she did. I was sitting on my bed reading and she came in to vacuum. Before I could do anything she had pulled the suitcase from under the bed and opened it. The covers gave me away of course but the titles were hard to miss. Spring Fire, Women’s Barracks, We Walk Alone, I Prefer Girls… Without saying one word to me and with a look I still cannot describe, she hauled the suitcase out of my room and threw it all away. I was powerless to stop her. I was 15 and she was not someone to argue with. I was afraid then, afraid what she would do to me. She had already thrown my sister out of the house for being pregnant her last year in high school so what could I expect? But she neither said nor did anything. I sat there, shocked knowing I could not do anything to get those books back. I sat there; rather numb I think and thought to myself ‘I can’t stay here…” I knew I would not be able to leave until I was 18 and would have to wait. It was as close as I ever came to hating her. She never really spoke to me again. I left upon graduating high school and didn’t see or speak to my mother again for years.
So when the spring of 2013 came around I realized I had no idea where to begin or what I should read first if I wanted to read a lesbian novel. What to read first seemed rather important to me and I organized a list on Amazon. This was after finding a list on GoodReads of the best lesbian novels-over 500 books long! In first place was Tipping The Velvet by Sarah Waters which I hadn’t read along with dozens of others I had read like Patience & Sarah by Isabel Miller. Since I love romance I aimed for romantic themes and here the book’s blurbs became my guide. I organized my list alphabetically by author and so by that scheme Lynn Ames should have been first but I chose a novel by Kiki Archer called But She Is My Student. I was curious to see how a lesbian affair between a teacher and her student would be handled and so I began….I now have 100 books on my wish list and I buy as many books as I can as often as I can with the limited means I have. Since then I have acquired 100 books in paperback and do you know why? Can you understand why I am buying print when ebooks are less expensive? Can you guess? I am making it up to myself as best I can for the loss of my paperback collection in the only way that is left to me. What is gone is gone and can never be replaced but I’m trying. I’m trying very hard to make it up to that 15 year old girl which in many ways I still am.
We loved our aunt Georgina, my sister and I and years later, when the time came to have that conversation about how we were treated growing up, we both said it. How we wished Georgina had been our mother. You may wonder now why she had The Evil Friendship hidden away. To this day I do not know how it was discovered but when my mom and sister and I left, my uncle also departed because it became known that Georgina was having an affair with another woman, a friend of the family who I always thought of as a distant cousin. Her name was Naomi and she lived in the same building as we, and spent a lot of time with us. She was great with us kids and totally got who we each were. I remember she gave me a portable record player because I loved music so much and I could spin my Beatles 45’s. I never saw them kiss, embrace or do anything that might indicate an intimate relationship. I guess everybody thought they were best friends. Only once did I see them exchange a look I could not at the time interpret. We were setting the table for dinner-I remember that. Their eyes met and held each other’s gaze for what seemed like a long time to me. I don’t know why I noticed this but I could not look away. There was something being communicated in that look they shared. I would not know what it was until I was an adult woman but it was chemistry. And love.
After the discovery, we left and Georgina was banned from our lives. I learned years later that after a time both Georgina and Naomi left NYC for Puerto Rico and shared a home for the rest of their lives. But I never saw Georgina again.
Here are some links you may find useful as you begin your journey to lesfic.
http://www.indielesfic.com/ a good compilation of indie authors.
http://www.goldencrown.org/ an excellent source for books which have been nominated for the Goldie award.
http://www.autostraddle.com/lesbian-authors-in-the-80s-139495/ lesfic has a long and rich past. Find out about it here.
https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/229491.Chloe_Plus_Olivia a wonderful anthology of lesbian literature from the 17th century to the 20th Century.
I love romance, historical fiction and mysteries and I’ve read quite a bit in these areas however I have not read speculative fiction, paranormal or anything zombie related so I don’t have recommendations at this time.
Some contemporary romantic fiction I’ve read recently and highly recommend:
Ames, Lynn. Eyes on the Stars. Phoenix: Phoenix Rising, 2010. Print.
Beers, Georgia. 96 Hours. New York: Bywater, 2011. Print.
Brayden, Melissa. Heart Block. Valley Falls, NY: Bold Strokes, 2012. Print.
Kallmaker, Karin. Love by the Numbers. Tallahassee, FL: Bella, 2013. Print.
Rizzo, Cindy. Exception to the Rule. N.Y. Self-published. 2013. Print.
Rizzo, Cindy. Love Is Enough. N.Y. Self-published. 2014. Print.
Spangler, Rachel. Does She Love You? Tallahassee, FL: Bold Strokes Books, 2013. Print.
Winters, Jade. Faking It. 2014. Print.
For historical/romance I recommend:
Henderson, Patty G. Passion For Vengeance. Blanca Rosa Publishing. 2013. Print.
North, Linda. Wind And Dreams. Salinas, California. Sapphire Books Publishing. 2013. Print.
Saracen, Justine. Waiting for the Violins. Print.
Thomas, TT. A Delicate Refusal. Bon View Publishing. 2013. Print.
For thrillers, mysteries these are excellent reads:
Aptaker, Ann. Criminal Gold. Tallahassee, FL: Bold Strokes Books, 2014. Print.
Bradshaw, R. E. The Rainey Season: A Rainey Bell Thriller. Print.
Powell, V.K. Haunting Whispers. Tallahassee, FL: Bold Strokes Books, 2012. Print.
For literary/dramatic fiction:
Martin, Marianne K. Tangled Roots. Bywater Books, 2014. Print.
Moran, Sandra. Letters Never Sent. Fairfield, CA: Bink, 2013. Print.
Samuel, RJ. A Place Somewhere. Createspace. Independent Publishing Platform. 2014. Print.
Here are a few publishers for a comprehensive look at what is available:
Above all, read what YOU want to read. Follow your heart’s desire and read the stories you want to immerse yourself in. Happy Reading!