Amanda Jean talks the history and future of lesbian fiction with author Radclyffe.
Continuing our celebration of Pride Month, our LGBTQ+ Director, Amanda Jean, sits down with author, Radclyffe. Radclyffe has written over 50 romance and romantic intrigue novels, dozens of short stories, and, writing as L. L. Raand, has authored a paranormal romance series, The Midnight Hunters.
She is an eight-time Lambda Literary Award finalist in romance, mystery, and erotica — winning in both romance (Distant Shores, Silent Thunder) and erotica (Erotic Interludes 2: Stolen Moments, edited with Stacia Seaman, and In Deep Waters 2: Cruising the Strip, written with Karin Kallmaker). A member of the Saints and Sinners Literary Hall of Fame, she is also an RWA / FF&P Prism Award winner for Secrets in the Stone, an RWA FTHRW Lories and RWA HODRW winner for Firestorm, an RWA Bean Pot winner for Crossroads, and an RWA Laurel Wreath winner for Blood Hunt. In 2014, she was awarded the Dr. James Duggins Outstanding Mid-Career Novelist Award by the Lambda Literary Foundation.
She is the president of Bold Strokes Books, one of the world’s largest independent LGBTQ publishing companies.
Amanda Jean: You’re one of the most popular lesbian authors around. Alternating Current’s regular readers might not know about the fascinating history of lesbian publishing, or even that you drew one of your own pennames from Radclyffe Hall. Could you talk about the history of the genre a little?
RADCLYFFE: Lesbian fiction, or to be more precise, fiction in which an “overt” lesbian character is centrally featured, got its start a little less than 100 years ago, when Marguerite Radclyffe Hall wrote The Well of Loneliness, the first work with a central lesbian character dealing with issues faced by homosexuals. The work was almost instantly banned in the UK, and finally found publication in France and, eventually, the United States. This stands as an iconic work in the annals of lesbian fiction for its groundbreaking nature, although the ending would be considered less than optimistic by today’s standards. We did not see much in the way of lesbian characters depicted in fiction until the early 1950s, when pulp fiction, including lesbian pulps, were ubiquitous. Paperback novels depicting two women in a romantic and physical relationship could be found everywhere — drugstores, train stations, and the five-and-dime. While these works were revolutionary in their blatant sexuality and instrumental in reaching thousands of women who had previously believed they were alone in their feelings for other women, these works also tended to have unhappy, tragic endings. It was not until the LGBT and women’s movements began in the late 1960s and 1970s that lesbian presses were formed and specifically published affirming works of lesbian fiction. Some of the earliest of these works were lesbian romances with hopeful endings that sent the message that two women could indeed fall in love and build a life together.
How have you seen the genre change since you started publishing?
Fiction is always intimately related to social realities and often accompanies or portends social change. Over the years that I have been reading, writing, and publishing lesbian fiction, we have seen the storylines move from a majority of stories featuring “coming out” (although those stories are still important and still published every day), to stories with broader reach and/or exploring different issues in which the characters embrace their lesbianism as part of their identity, just as mainstream characters embrace their heterosexuality, without guilt, shame, or ambivalence. Sub-genres have exploded in the last 15 years, and we have lesbian thrillers, fantasies, sci-fi/adventures, erotic romances, paranormals, and medical romances. We have lesbian main characters of all ages, engaged in all levels of the social and economic strata, providing powerful role models and images of hope and pride for our community.
I’ve often heard that a lot of the popular LGBTQ presses focus on gay men because they consider lesbian fiction less profitable — I’ve even been told that “other publishers handle that,” meaning lesbian fiction. While I think that attitude is rooted in misogyny and divides the community, at the same time, I wonder if it gives Bold Strokes Books an edge because you can, in some ways, corner the market?
We are not the only publisher of lesbian fiction and never have been, although we have one of the largest lists of active titles at 1,000. We have been in business for 10 years and currently publish LGBT fiction of all kinds. We began publishing only lesbian fiction and, over the course of the last six years, have moved into GBT and YA LGBT genres. We currently publish over 175 authors with an annual new title list of 120 titles. Approximately 60% of those titles are lesbian. We work very hard at reaching our readership, which I believe is large, diverse, and still growing all the time.
You’ve written quite a few books, over 45 novels alone. Do you have a favorite, or is that an impossible choice?
I have written 50 novels, dozens of short stories, and edited more than 15 anthologies. I really don’t have a favorite novel or sub-genre, as each novel represents what was a “favorite” at the time I was writing it. Readers gravitate toward several of the series I have written — namely, the Honor series and Provincetown series, as well as my medical romances. I enjoy writing them all.
You’re not only prolific in terms of work but also in genre: erotica, paranormal, contemporary, mystery — It’s all over the map. Does one genre come easier than another?
While I have written in multiple sub-genres, all of my work in one way or another focuses on lesbian sexuality and interpersonal relationships. The genres themselves have individual and specific determining elements, and each affords its own challenge. I don’t find any of them easier or more difficult than the other, and I hope that at the end of the day, each of my works is recognizable as one that carries my particular signature.
I’ve spoken to a lot of authors who also work as publishers and/or editors. Do you find that it’s difficult to juggle the demands of both?
I find working as an author, editor, and publisher to be complementary roles that feed each other in terms of inspiration and interest. I retired from surgery to devote my time and energy to writing and publishing full-time. Part of the day I wear my publisher hat, and part of the day I switch to my author cap. The better I become at one, the better I am at the other. Learning craft is intrinsic to recognizing the potential in submissions when reviewing manuscripts, and understanding what sells in the marketplace helps me decide what my next new novel will be.
Tell me about the Flax Mill Creek Writers Retreat. I understand you started it in 2013?
In 2013, I started an online writers retreat, which actually has a physical presence at the Flax Mill Creek Writers Retreat. We have not, as of yet, had any on-site classes but hope to in the future. Approximately three times a year, I offer workshops of three to four weeks in length through an online forum. The classes focus on specific aspects of writing, such as character development, point of view, critiques of opening chapters, and writing effective sex scenes among other topics. The format allows me to share critiques of the attendees’ works with other members of the group, which has made the classes very popular among aspiring and published writers.
Now for something a little more fun! What’s your beverage of choice?
My beverage of choice in the morning is coffee, and the rest of the day, I drink sparkling water.
Finally, tell me a book you’re looking forward to. It can be one of your own or someone else’s.
Currently, I am writing Prescription for Love, the second in the Rivers Sagas, which is a medical romance series, so that’s a book I’m looking forward to in terms of diving into the story. In terms of reading, I’m looking forward to the newest Nalini Singh Psi-changeling novel and all of the BSB books coming out in the next few months.
Interview originally published on 6/12/15.