SDFOB: LGBTQ Fiction and Nonfiction

On August 25th, I attended the San Diego Festival of Books. It was my first ever Book Festival and I loved it! My favorite part, unexpectedly, was getting the chance to learn about so many local authors! So often in the book blog/bookstagram scene we hear about big presses and bestsellers, but it was great to hear about smaller indie authors and publishing houses, but also bestsellers living in our very own city! I loved that my first book festival was in a small city, and I definitely plan to attend again next year.

Over the coming days I’ll share a bit about each of the three seminars I attended – each were so unique!


Next Up – LGBTQ in Fiction and Nonfiction

LGBTQ literature has been such a growing genre over the past few years. It was celebrated in full this year in the book community — if you’re interested, NYC Book Girl did a great Pride Reads list.

Personally, I’ve been luke warm on the topic recently – not for any change of heart on the topic itself, but I’ve found that the “pride reads” I’ve been reading recently have been extremely over sexualized. I’m not a romance reader of any orientation (meaning I don’t really enjoy romance scenes of straight couples), but I do love a good rom-com story regardless of sexual orientation. My issue comes from the fact that I often find writers feel the need to create romance scenes in LGBTQ books more so than they would for straight couples. I find that weird and unnecessary. My main recent examples of this are Ohio and The Immortalists.

Anyway, all this is to say that I was really looking forward to an LGBTQ panel to discuss LBGTQ literature and maybe get an answer to my question of am I unconsicously being biased or is it weird that many LGBTQ books have very intense sex scenes. (If you have feelings on this please share in the comments!)

Ultimately, I didn’t get my question answered, nor was there really any stimulating conversation on the topic, but the two books presented were interesting and contained some food for thought. One small pet peeve (and maybe this is too intrusive of me) but I had hoped for a little more personal information from the authors on this very personal topic – were they gay? Either way, did that impact the way they approached their writing? What do they think of other pride books out there in the world? I just had so many questions, and expected a bit more from this panel.

Book 1: Harvey Milk – His Lives and Death by Lillian Faderman

Lillian was a joy to hear speak – she’s most well known for her book The Gay Revolution and has written twelve books, this being her latest.

In talking about this book, Lillian focused on the impact of Harvey Milk. His story (being the first out gay man elected to public office and soon thereafter being assassinated) is so well known, so, when she was approached about writing the book, she questioned whether there was anything new to add to the story. She ultimately decided that yes, there is more to be added, because so much of his impact has been felt between the publishing of previous biographies and now.

The personal San Diego tie in this seminar was that the first out lesbian elected official in San Diego was in the audience. Since that time, there has always been at least one out LGBTQ person elected to an office in San Diego and today there are many. It was interesting and personal to see these stories in real life, that may not have been possibly without the advancement of LGBTQ rights fought for by Harvey Milk.

One other interesting thing mentioned was that Lillian admitted that at first she fell in love with her subject. But as she got in to her writing process, she realized that she needed to write all of Harvey Milk, “warts” and all, to use her words.

If you’re looking for a well rounded biography of Harvey Milk – his best assets, worse qualities, and a thorough study of his impacts on today – I would definitely suggest you look in to this one!

Book 2: Scissors, Paper, Stone by Martha K. Davis

The next speaker, Martha, had a bit of a harder time getting her book through publication. She wrote this novel back in 1998 – that’s twenty years ago! At the time the LGBTQ movement wasn’t as active as it is now, nor was it as popular in mass market literature, so the book didn’t sell. She abandoned the book enough to write another novel, but never really let it go.

Martha stated that she didn’t want to go to a “lesbian” publishing house, and so she didn’t, but she also didn’t have much luck at the more main stream publishing houses. Ultimately, she got this book published by submitting it to a queer lit award from Red Hen Press and winning the contest! It took a lot of work, but this piece is finally published and Martha said, somewhat abashed, that she’s happy with it!

As a reader of diverse literature, I was surprised this book didn’t receive more attention – although I haven’t read it, so I can’t make any sweeping generalizations. The story is about a couple who adopt a Korean-American baby, and raise her lovingly through adulthood. The plot twist arises when the child grows up to discover that she is gay and wonders what this will mean for her. One of the artistic qualities that Martha displayed in the excerpt she read was about how being Korean-American is a difference that is celebrated and that maybe if being a lesbian were as openly accepted as being Korean-American, she wouldn’t feel so lonely.

I thought that was a great sentiment to frame a book around and I hope I get a chance to read this book in the future.

Final  Thoughts

Both of the authors had thoughts on lesbian publishing houses, and also LGBTQ/Women’s bookstores. They said that in terms of advancing LGBTQ writing, it’s harmful that women’s bookstores are disapearing across the US. As a borderline millenial, I had to admit I had never heard of a Women’s Bookstore and was kind of surprised at there being such a thing (and also a nostalgia for them). I think the key is to promote diverse books like these and get them in to the common bookstores that so many people are visiting!

Do you like the sound of these books? Do you often read LGBTQ literature?