Lesbian romance novels are not a recent invention, although they are often grouped into the “lesser known” or “emerging” genre category. Lesbian fiction has been around since the 1920s, but novels recognizable by today’s standard as romance novels (love stories between two women with a happy, optimistic ending) appeared on the scene a little over 50 years ago. I’m not counting the lesbian pulps of the 1950s and 1960s, which were without a doubt groundbreaking and for readers of the time, revolutionary and, in their own ways, affirming. Almost anything that represented lesbians in the popular media at that time was affirming, even if those stories did not have happy endings. At least they suggested to thousands upon thousands of isolated women that they were not alone in their affections, their dreams, or their desires.
In the early 1970s the first popular romance novels depicting love between women began to appear from lesbian presses in ever increasing numbers, but even today I receive emails from academics studying the emergence of LGBTQ fiction, and notably queer romances, who seem to think the entire phenomenon started with M/M romance. That misconception is understandable. I remember my excitement and perhaps a little skepticism when I saw the first panel focused on “alternate romance” offered at the RWA nine or ten years ago. I wondered to myself, “Who’s going to go to this?” To my delight, the room was packed, the audience excited, and the tone upbeat and optimistic. What confused me at the time was why no one on the panel was discussing lesbian romance. I didn’t have to wonder very long to figure out why that was–visibility in the media is often directly related to the size and influence of the audience. While hundreds upon hundreds of lesbian romance novels have been published over the last 50 years, the readership is primarily lesbian (although everyone knows it’s very difficult to determine the demographics of an audience because we can’t know who is buying our books). When one has an invisible market (some would say a “niche” market), one’s product tends to remain invisible as well. So what has changed in the last decade?
In some cases, lesbian publishers have gone mainstream in terms of marketing and publishing models, and that has helped expand the reach and availability of lesbian romances to readers, but despite these efforts, we still weren’t seeing much exposure in the popular media until very recently. The audience for LGBTQ romance is as diverse as every other romance audience–some readers like paranormal, some like historical, some fantasy romance and on and on. The same is true for LGBTQ romance readers–those who read M/M romance almost never read F/F romance, and vice versa. And the audience for m/m romance is unarguably larger and more mainstream.
The explosion in popularity of M/M romance in the last few years has suddenly catapulted LGBTQ romance into the mainstream with reviews in magazines like Romantic Times Book Reviews and Publishers Weekly, entire conventions focused on LGBTQ romance that draw hundreds of readers, and more panels at the RWA on the subject. Now we see lesbian romance, which in terms of its historical presence has been around a lot longer, gaining visibility and inclusion in mainstream fora, often because our friends who are publishing, editing, and writing M/M romance make an effort to reach out and be inclusive. While we who write LGBTQ romance may have different audiences, we have a common theme, and what unites us is far more significant than what separates us. As in all things human, that is often the case and something we might all try to remember in more ways than just what we write. I am delighted to be part of queer romance month, to be a queer romance writer, and a fan of all LGBTQ romances.
Radclyffe has written over forty-five 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 a RWA/FF&P Prism, Lories, Bean Pot, Aspen Gold, and Laurel Wreath winner. In 2014 she was awarded the Dr. James Duggins Outstanding Mid-career Novelist award by the Lambda Literary Foundation.
She is also the president of Bold Strokes Books, one of the world’s largest independent LGBTQ publishing companies.
Her most recent work is Taking Fire, a First Responders Novel.
About Taking Fire: A Fire Responders Novel
After two years and too many lost troops, Navy medic Max de Milles is ready to go home. Her last tour is up in four days and she will soon be catching a transport to the States. Life is looking good until she gets detailed to evacuate a humanitarian group in south Somalia.
Rachel Winslow and her Red Cross team are caught in the crossfire during a vicious civil uprising, but she refuses to abandon her team members as the rebels close in on their camp. By the time Max and the Black Hawk arrive, it may already be too late.
Hunted by extremists, Max and Rachel are forced to work together if they are to survive, and in the process, discover something far more lasting.