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The Amazon Trail

Welcome to noted author, Lee Lynch, whose syndicated column, "The Amazon Trail,"
will appear regularly in JAW. Thank you for sharing it with us, Lee!

Dyke Books

By Lee Lynch


Lee Lynch
Photo: E. Mulligan

I set out in the late 1960s to write stories that would give lesbians pleasure and take our minds off our sometimes onerous existences. I wanted to help us survive and I wanted to model successful lesbian lives. That's exactly what Jane Rule did for me with Desert of the Heart, what Isabel Miller did for me with A Place For Us (later retitled Patience and Sarah) and what Radclyffe Hall did for me with The Well of Loneliness. I gulped down Valerie Taylor, Claire Morgan and Ann Aldrich books like a runner at the end of a marathon. I swear, their stories kept me alive and functional in the days when I was the only out lesbian in my high school and college. It was a service I wanted to repay and the joy of literary escapism was a feeling I wanted to give other lesbians, although sometimes I think I just wanted a thousand girlfriends I could make love to with words. Or maybe, as a sixties kid, I just wanted to save the world - the lesbian world.

When I first started writing, the field was wide open. Very few of us were willing to make up stories and write them down for no one to publish, no one to read. And no one was writing genre fiction - mysteries, speculative fiction, formulaic romances - within a specifically lesbian context until the 1980s.

Eventually Naiad Press started to publish mysteries. Daughters of a Coral Dawn, Katherine Forrest's science fiction book, followed. There was some controversy about publishing genre fiction - some felt it was time to move away from coming out stories, some were appalled that a lesbian publisher would bring out such - well, genre fiction smacked of mainstream publishing. The lesbian market proved to be large.

Little by little, genre fiction took over. The most literary of presses allowed itself one mystery and then another press would fall to the temptation. I remember being delighted with Barbara Wilson's Barcelona mysteries, which had some gender fluidity to keep them from being too too frivolous. Sarah Dreher and Ellen Hart followed with addictive mixes of mystery and humor.

By this time the lesbian and women's presses had become serious businesses. They were appreciated but not well supported financially. We used to say dykes spent their money in bars, not bookstores, and a dozen women would read one tattered copy of a Naiad book, often shop lifted. So more and more, the presses put out genre books. Those of us who hung in there and kept writing our non-genre stories became what were called mid-list authors of general fiction. Read: not as popular with lesbian readers. We didn't meet non-gay readers' tastes either, and we didn't earn big bucks for the presses.

To this day, I don't write with a market in mind. Which is a good thing, as I haven't a clue how to define - or market - my books. Someone asked if I thought my novels were romances. They do have happy endings and always contain a romance between at least one femme and one butch, or two butches. Or two femmes - no, wait, I haven't tried that yet, but it might be fun. In any case, it's not my intention to write romances. Someone else tried to define my work as butch/femme romance, but I don't think so. My editor calls it literary fiction and I think that's very cool, but the nearest I can come to a category is something that could be termed "a place for us" tales. The characters are looking for roots in a world which does not consider lesbians to be desirable inhabitants.

My characters seem to be driven by a combination of setting and events, not genre, not literary finesse; they are wandering lovers with a longing for a hearth of their own. They find love and claim their places in often hostile settings. Maybe this does make my stories literary fiction as this is one of those universal experiences that have traditionally been treated in novels: "man" vs. nature, for example, like the Joad family in Steinbeck's Grapes of Wrath trying to escape the dustbowl.

I write about outsiders wanting in. As part of a recent Golden Crown Literary Society Convention (, I was on a panel that asked what my ideal novel would be. The answer I prepared was: The Hunchback of Notre Dame with a lesbian instead of a hunchback. I want a big fat complex story set in an exotic locale like gay Paree, with a hot femme like Esmeralda and an outsider heroine who rings church bells for a living.

If it were not for pervasive social bigotry, all readers could see that a novel about a lesbian, genre fiction or not, can be as universal and relevant as one about a non-gay character. If we sometimes overemphasize our affectional preferences, it is because we need to tell our hitherto untold stores - millions of them - and to see our hitherto hidden lives in print. Maybe I, and other dyke non-genre writers, don't set the mainstream literary world ablaze, but heterosexist writers have hogged the bookshelves since book numero uno. I write for the people who are relevant to me.
Copyright 2007 Lee Lynch
Lee Lynch has been writing about lesbians since the 1960s when she was a frequent contributor to "The Ladder." Since then she has published thirteen books. The latest, Sweet Creek, from Bold Strokes Books. A 2007 recipient of the Alice B. Reader Award, she was named to the Saints & Sinners Literary Hall of Fame in 2006.

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