Toeing The Lesfic Line

There are a number of cardinal rules for lesfic authors. Chief among these: never kill a puppy, be nice to small children, and always include a bit of romance. The rules might have various origins (the readers, the editors, the publishing houses, the authors themselves), but woe betide anyone who fails to abide by them.

reader advisoryI know that every reader – myself included – brings expectations to a book. My expectations are formed in numerous ways: by the cover, the blurb, the marketing, the genre, and my knowledge of the author’s previous work. For some readers of lesfic, though, the belief that each and every novel in this field should feature a romantic plotline seems to supersede everything else, no matter what the genre or the other related gubbins might say. Authors who stray beyond this narrow bracket run a genuine risk of poor sales and poor reviews, which probably explains why romances rule the lesfic roost and why publishers advise authors to hint at the romantic elements of their novels in the blurb and advertising, regardless of the actual genre. Like any other business, the demand forms and defines the supply, but in this business I worry that it’s also stifling creative growth and variety, as authors who step outside of their readers’ comfort zone may find themselves shoved back into it when those readers desert them and their sales fall.

My first couple of novels (Snowbound and Desolation Point) toed the line. Sort of. They probably contained more death and graphic bloodshed than the average lesfic, but they were classified as “Romantic Intrigue” and they followed the traditional formula of Girl + Girl -> have an adventure -> fight off a few bad guys -> fall in love = Happy Ever After. They weren’t romantic enough for some readers – it’s hard to go on a date or make smoochy eyes when the bullets are flying – but by and large the requisite boxes got ticked, and most people were happy.

Tumbledown came next, a sequel to Desolation Point that I was never supposed to write and that was tricky to categorise. It wasn’t a romance, because its protagonists were already a couple, but it ended up being called one anyway, and readers seemed to like it for what it was: a crime thriller with a rock-steady established relationship at its heart. That book signalled a change for me, a step away from Girl + Girl = HEA, and a step toward the crime genre. Frustrated by the limits of a standalone novel, I started to think in terms of a police procedural series, where a single case would shape the A-plot, and the characters would prop up the B.

So for my latest novel, No Good Reason, I created two leads – Sanne and Meg – who’ve been best friends since childhood and who occasionally sleep together. As this was the first in a series, I didn’t wrap it all up with a HEA, nor did I make their relationship the be-all and end-all of the book: the investigation of a kidnapping forms the bulk of the plot. Somewhere in the process of doing all that, though, I broke a couple of those aforementioned lesfic rules. See, Meg and San aren’t strangers who fall in love at the drop of a hat. They’re mates who take the piss out of each other, date other people, and fail to acknowledge that they’d make an ideal couple, because they’re terrified of mucking up what they already have. Bearing this in mind, I asked that the book be categorised and marketed as “Crime” rather than “Romance” or “Romantic Intrigue”, so that readers would be under no illusions about its genre. Then I simply wrote Sanne and Meg as I wanted to write them: funny, sarky, and comfortable together, with a wealth of background and shared experiences that I could draw on to give the characters more depth.

I’ll hold my hands up and admit I was expecting to take some flak for No Good Reason. It’s written in the broadest of northern British, replete with slang, swearing, and colloquialisms (and god love Bold Strokes Books for having the balls to leave all of that alone); its pace is more measured than my previous books; the crime around which its investigation revolves is a brutal one; and – most shockingly of all – no one owns a pet, unless you count Sanne’s shithead of a rooster, which I don’t. A few months post-release, and I seem to have got away with most of this. The advent of e-readers leaves little that can’t be translated, and Google is good for the rest. A deliberate avoidance of graphic detail has made the crime bearable, and the lack of cute fluffy things hasn’t even raised an eyebrow. Meg and San, however – now they have stirred up a bit of strife.

Some readers have got them and got the book – got it all so utterly that they made writing it worthwhile – but others less so. And while I’m not arrogant enough to expect romance fans to hop over to crime (or any other genre) just because I felt an itch to broaden my authorly horizons, I would hope that those readers who did follow me across might check their preconceptions at the door and judge these books for what they are, rather than by some pre-established definition too narrow to apply to every entrant. Lesfic may be synonymous with the romance genre, but I’m all for authors who want to challenge the status quo, reshape people’s expectations, and step outside of the norm. Please invest in a pair of Kevlar undies and carry on.

 

 

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About Cari Hunter

Cari Hunter is the author of "Snowbound", "Desolation Point" and "Tumbledown", and the Dark Peak series of crime thrillers - "No Good Reason", "Cold to the Touch", and "A Quiet Death" - all published by Bold Strokes Books.
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46 Responses to Toeing The Lesfic Line

  1. Devlyn says:

    I’m a lover of lesfic romance but my focus is not so narrow that I can’t appreciate a good story when I read it. Just don’t kill off a main character that you have made me fall in love with.
    Write what YOU want to write and the rest be damned.

    • Cari Hunter says:

      I promise I shall never bump off one of your favourites, Devlyn 🙂

      I absolutely wrote what I wanted to write with No Good Reason (and Cold to the Touch). They’re my favourites out of all of mine, I loved writing them, and I’m very proud of them. Most of the feedback has been excellent, it’s just the odd one or two reviews that make me want to tear my hair out!

  2. Cheri says:

    Well said! As someone who loves crime/mystery/thriller books and doesn’t want to read about romance in these genres (at least when it doesn’t fit and seemed to be chucked in to fulfill someone’s expectations) I am so happy that more lesfic writers are taking the risks you’re taking.

    Thank you!

    • Cari Hunter says:

      You’re welcome 🙂 I think this blog has been brewing for a few years – “not enough romance” is a criticism that’s been levied at my books since the get-go. Which is fine when I’m actually writing a romance, I have always erred on the side of action/intrigue rather than hearts and flowers, and not so fine when the damn book is listed as Crime. I guess the only way to shift expectations is for authors to write more books that don’t fit the mould. Good thing I have a day job that pays all right, eh?

  3. Claire says:

    Keep doing what you’re doing! I do enjoy reading the standard ‘stunning powerful and sucessful woman with a hidden personality flaw meets equally stunning woman with a traumatic past, they fall in love while surviving something perilous, have lots of sex and then live happily ever after in a relationship that you wonder might be a bit suffocating in reality’ lesfic tales I want a change now and again and normally go for a standard crime tale. NGR, and hopefully it’s sequels, ticks all the boxes for me, and there’s even a spot of fell running thrown in! Marvellous work Hunter!

  4. Kathryn says:

    I am quite pleased with the broadening of genres within lesfic. I am a fan of crime/thrillers. I started reading lesfic to have characters like me and was disappointed to find almost all were romance. I’ve come to appreciate a good romance as long as it isn’t too stuck in the formulary. Heck, I would even appreciate the elimination of the “required” graphic love scenes. I flip past them anyway.

    Anyhow, looking forward to the next Sanne and Meg mystery. I even enjoy googling the slang.

    • Cari Hunter says:

      Oh hell, don’t mention the sex, that’s another thing I get told off about! I think authors are certainly broadening their horizons in terms of genre and stepping away from their usual formula – lesbian crime/mystery in particular is going from strength to strength. And there should absolutely be room for differentiation, it’s not like aren’t plenty of romances for fans to stick to should that be their preference.

      I’ve just finished the edits for Cold to the Touch – there should be enough slang in it to keep you busy for a while 🙂

  5. Jules says:

    Love your books, and this one is by far my favourite! I think Meg might be my favourite character ever, but that aside, I really appreciate the realism of your books. Also, something non-American centric! Yay! That alone would be enough to convince me to read this book. But what makes it even better, I think, is the fact that it’s a crime novel. Love it.

    That being said, do you think there will ever be an audiobook version of No Good Reason? I’d be really happy, at least.

    • Cheri says:

      Yes! Audio books for all of your work please. That would be very helpful.

    • Cari Hunter says:

      Thanks Jules, that makes me very happy 🙂 I love this pairing, for all of their flaws and foibles, and they’re a joy to write.

      I would so dearly love to hear this as an audio book and I think it has a snowball’s chance in hell of ever becoming one! Can you imagine some poor American attempting to get the dialect right? If I could get Suranne Jones to read it, I’d die an even happier woman.

  6. Nancy Heredia says:

    Thank You Cari for saying it to succinctly! I have been longing to hear this topic addressed-have tired once or twice in different forums and some folks reacted like I’d put a kitten in a microwave. Defensive doesn’t begin to describe it so to read your spot on post is most refreshing. I’m a fan of mysteries/thrillers and as fond as I am of romance, it is very satisfying to find lesfic that goes beyond the formulaic. Thanks so much for doing what you do!!

    • Cari Hunter says:

      Ahh! Never put a kitten in a microwave! I’m pretty sure that’s LesFic Rule #6. I will admit to having the collywobbles about posting this, and then decided “hey, what the hell?”, stuck my head between my knees and hit “Publish.” I don’t even think No Good Reason is all that different, it’s a formulaic police procedural at the end of the day, but it’s pretty “other” for lesfic which seems to have bamboozled a few people here and there.

  7. saxonbennett says:

    Thank you so much for this blog. Layce and I have a lot of trouble fitting in with our stuff–it’s comedic, it has some romance and then some of it doesn’t. It’s out there but can’t get in. So once again thanks.

  8. Sue Edmonds says:

    I’ve enjoyed all your books so far, and as I’ve been moving over to reading crime books for the last few years love the last one even more. Then to put the icing on the cake the fact that it’s based in the UK has made it a winner for me 🙂

  9. sunnycspot says:

    You know I’m a fan of your books, and I echo everyone above with saying thanks for writing them the way you do. I have often wished that there were more authors of lesbian fiction who don’t feel the need to include the formulaic romance and graphic sex scenes! Don’t get me wrong, I love a good, well-written love story, but I find myself searching for books with lesbian characters that just have a good story to tell. Yours fit that criteria perfectly.

    This is a great blog post that I hope lots of people read. Do you think it would help for readers to send an email to lesfic publishers requesting more non-romance books?

    • Cari Hunter says:

      I’m not sure emailing the publishers would really do much, Sunny, although it’s a lovely thought. Looking at BSB’s output, they don’t have a problem publishing crime, SF, fantasy, etc, it’s more the readers who don’t want to step outside of the more classic types of romance (which consequently puts authors off writing outside of that norm). And that’s absolutely fine, everyone is and should be free to read/write what they enjoy. Spreading the word through reviews and reccs and feedback is probably of more value. I’ve had loads of terrific feedback for NGR which has more than compensated for the odd slam 🙂

  10. Kath Bright says:

    I read a lot of crime fiction and yours are up there with the best of them! Mega bonus that they’re set in the north of England, have strong female characters, a northern sense of humour and oh yeah some lesbians! That really is in that order! Keep up the good work Ms Hunter!

    • Cari Hunter says:

      Ma’am, yes, Ma’am! I think I like writing crime more than I like reading it. Every time I pick up a crime novel now, I’m all “Where are the Hobnobs? This needs more people saying ‘bollocks'”

  11. Rose Knapman says:

    This article comes across as defensive and I am sorry if you feel that way. I am a fan of your style of writing, appreciate your authenticity, and hope my encouragement might somehow negate any negative vibes you may be getting elsewhere.

    • Cari Hunter says:

      It wasn’t intended to. I tried my best not to make it sound like an angry author rant because I’m not an angry author. Like I’ve said up thread, I’ve had buckets of support for this last book and only the odd bit of feedback that’s made me want to smack my head into the wall. I meant the blog more as a call to arms than anything else, and a nod to all those authors who’re treading on a few toes themselves, and to those readers who love them for it.

      • Kath Bright says:

        Tread on some more toes and bollocks to them all! I recommended your books to my mum because they are great books! Haven’t given her a copy yet just letting her get used to the idea….!

        • Cari Hunter says:

          Ha! My work wife loans her copies to her mum who loves them. I think they’ve also been around her mum’s caravan park. BSB are obviously missing a trick not marketing to the 60+ year old and straight bracket.

  12. jfaraday says:

    SO much yes! I’ve enjoyed your other titles, and I’m looking forward to this one as well.
    Jess

  13. Sue says:

    Often I want to get lost in a story, one that takes me on a ride rather than a romantic journey. I loved how you wrote this book Two mates with the humor, sarcasm and the comfortability of knowing each other for so long they can say anything to each other. It explores another form of relationship – one that most of us have in our lives. You know I am a fan of all your work but this one I am excited that it is a series and cannot wait for the next one – counting sleeps xx

    • Cari Hunter says:

      I thought Alex and Sarah would be my Favourite Couple (to write) Forever, but Sanne and Meg have easily surpassed them, and you’ve hit the nail on the head as to why they’re so much fun: because they already know each other. While it’s interesting to write two complete strangers starting in on a relationship, writing two best friends who’ve known each other since childhood let me imagine all of those years and stick in some of the salient details/memories. I love the one with San in her PJs and wellies, calling her dad “a drunken fucker” and the blue ice pop kiss. I’ve no idea where it came from but it always makes me laugh.

  14. Mardi says:

    Yes! We must look to broaden lesfic genre horizons. There will always be a market for romance, but we must grow and expand in order to seep into mainstream. Thank heavens we have such quality writers, such as your good self, to carry the baton and light the way forward. Lead on McDuff!

    • Cari Hunter says:

      Aye aye! There are loads of writers not toeing the line but we’ll probably always be little fish in a very big romance pond. Supply, demand, and all that. It has been bloody gratifying to realise how many people are keen to read something a bit different, though. Huzzah for a little diversity. I’m all for muxing stuff up.

  15. Julia Schriewer says:

    I think it’s excellent that authors like yourself broaden the lesfic genre. I personally love to read and watch stories that are based in the crime, drama and thriller genre. Nothing better than a strong female lead character that can kick ass, is smart and a bit emotional at the same time. But that’s just my personal taste and I realize that’s different for anyone. So a broad variety of stories is exactly what we need. Keep writing those fantastic stories of yours. I don’t mind blood, bullets, British accents or sweets even if the latter are something rather foreign to my German self. I like to extent my horizon in the process of reading.

    • Cari Hunter says:

      I definitely think there’s room for a bit of broadening. I’m not sure that NGR was all that different to my usual fare – I’ve used the setting before and the colloquialisms, and San and Meg are the sort of rough ‘n’ ready souls I tend to write – but it strays enough from the more typical lesfic formula that some folks have been a little put out. Hey ho. Can’t win ’em all and you might be pleased to know that there’s Haribo in the sequel as well 🙂

      • Julia Schriewer says:

        Very pleased. And if you need to do some extensive researching in the Haribo area, know that I can hook you up with maybe some new articles :-D. Keep up with the fantastic writing :-).

  16. Margaret Flint Suter says:

    Ya do an amazing job, kid, I love the pace, the descriptive mood of the peaks and the dialects remind me just how much I miss the UK! (and it has been 29 years since I was last there!) SO looking forward to the continuing adventures of Sanne and Meg. Have my calendar marked to pre-order as soon as possible!! Carry on!

    • Cari Hunter says:

      Where would I be without you as a cheer leader, Margaret? We were up on Kinder this morning, the sky was beautiful and clear and I was so happy! I really hope people like the sequel, it’s a rough ride in places, but hopefully it’ll be worth it.

  17. jenjsilver says:

    Please keep up the good work, Cari. I’ve lived in The North for twenty years now and I’m still learning the lingo. All credit to BSB for leaving well alone – No Good Reason wouldn’t be the same if it had been ‘Americanised’.

    • Cari Hunter says:

      Given that BSB is a massive American publisher with a largely American readership, I think it takes real guts for them not to try to Americanise English-English books. I suppose the risk is shared – as an author I know the language will put some people off reading it, but then there’s the other side of the coin where people are keen to read something a bit different. During editing, I change the odd word that my editor flags as one that absolutely will not translate (“recce” was one such in NGR) but the vast majority is left as it was written. I can’t get away with “looked out OF the window”, though. For some reason, that’s just not happening and I lose all of my ofs!

  18. Here’s another BSB author fan checking in. I enjoyed NGR more than many lesfic books I’ve read in a long time, of course not the least of it is that there is a story, and it isn’t just when will they have boring sex? I loved the language (terribly exotic for this Montanan) the pace of the story, the fact that there was a story etc. Must admit I’ve been nervous about my new book because I’ve killed the kitten. I would love to read more books that strike out on unworn, even rocky paths and leave behind trodden vegetation bare, straight forgettable ummm maybe I’ve made myself clear. REALLY looking forward to your next book.

    • Cari Hunter says:

      Hey Franci, thanks for your note. You killed a KITTEN? Wow, you’re braver than I am – I can’t even kill that damn rooster. And I’m really happy to hear that you enjoyed NGR and its “exotic” language – I think that’s the first time anyone’s ever called northern English exotic – “incomprehensible”, and “rough as a bear’s arse” are more common terms. As for striking out on unbroken paths, I am all for that, in writing and real life 🙂

  19. Becker says:

    Yes, I agree that more variety in lesfic is more than welcome! Read No Good Reason over the weekend and find myself still thinking of the characters, wondering what they are up to…and that’s the mark of a good read for me. Looking forward to more of your books.

    • Cari Hunter says:

      That’s probably the best feedback an author could hope for, Becker, so thank you 🙂 And not to spoil anything for the sequel but they really have been getting up to mischief…

  20. Pingback: News roundup: new author, new books, an unmissable Polari Tour and more! | UK Lesbian Fiction

  21. Adan Ramie says:

    I write a series in a similarly loose genre mashup of crime and lesfic that has yet to get a lot of great sales, but I’m still hoping for the future. I only have two books so far, after all, and the HEA hasn’t happened… yet.

    I just put this series on my Want to Read list, and will be sure to leave my preconceptions at the door when I read them! Thanks for a refreshing and affirming post.

    • Cari Hunter says:

      You’re very welcome- thanks for stumbling across the post!

      It’s hard in this game to find that balance between writing what you want to write and worrying about whether anyone will read it. Do you tailor your books to suit your audience and perhaps step outside of what you enjoy writing? Or do you go ahead and do your own thing and to hell with the consequences? I was lucky in that I’d already established a bit of an audience before I ventured into writing the ‘Dark Peak’ books, but I do appreciate how difficult it must be to set out in a less popular lesfic genre straight off the bat.

      I hope you enjoy the books if you do get around to reading them, and I hope you find an audience for yours.

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