When I first began writing lesbian fiction, I narrowly believed that gay stories could only be appreciated by gay people. As a reader, however, I’d loved many stories that were written by hetero authors with hetero characters…or what is commonly referred to as “mainstream.”
The more I studied craft, characterization, and plot, I realized that what engaged me as a reader was not a character’s gender, or their relatable background, or sex with their love interest. What hooked me was entering a brilliantly crafted world where I cared about any or all of the above. Was the protagonist my hero? Could I root for them on their journey? Did I understand why they were who they were? In the final analysis, did their story touch me and stick with me after I’d finished reading it?
I concluded that if I could love a straight male character on the page, why wouldn’t a straight reader or a gay man fall in love with my gay girl characters? At the heart of all strong characters is “story.”
In my newly released third novel, Smile Number Seven, I tackled the struggle of a famous middle-aged woman coming out. At the top of my list of reasons why, is the “anti” message so many of us gay folk received at some point or throughout our lives from the world at large. That’s the very definition of mainstream.
In Smile’s fictional world, a famous actress is severely closeted, thus viewed and loved by the world as a straight character. The subtext is that once she loves herself enough to embrace who she is, she finally learns that the world will continue to love her.
What has surprised me most as an author of girl-girl fiction is how many straight readers have contacted me after reading one of my books. The comment I hear most often is: “I love these characters”, followed by, “I love the love story.”
Romance is the largest genre. Big enough to include all romance as mainstream.