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    Words: A Different Kind of Chick Lit

    By Michele Karlsberg

    Michele Karlsberg: For this issue of the San Francisco Bay Times, I present a guest article written by acclaimed novelist Nairne Holtz.

    My new novel Femme Confidential, about queer women’s lives, is an Anti-Lesbian Romance.

    I don’t mean it is about nihilistic punks. I don’t mean it isn’t about romance, because it is.

    What I mean is that this is not a Lesbian Romance about finding The One, having perfect, transcendent sex, and living happily ever after. The One could refer to a super-privileged professional who has reached their mid to late 30s without ever having had a serious relationship (bad sign). Or they could have had a significant relationship with a cheating tramp whom they can’t stop spewing bile about with no reflection on what part they may have played in the situation (also a bad sign).

    The nature of genre fiction is not realism; I get that. I don’t watch James Bond movies to understand the nature of intelligence operations. But James Bond movies have a light, campy touch and they don’t take themselves seriously, whereas Lesbian Romance takes its idealized world quite seriously. That’s a problem, because it says love looks like this when it doesn’t, in the same way that mainstream porn says sex looks like this when it (mostly) doesn’t.

    Literarily speaking, the popular novels and memoirs of second-wave feminism—Mary McCarthy’s The Group, Marge Piercy’s Braided Lives, and Sara Davidson’s Loose Change—were my inspiration. These woman-centric books about women’s emotional lives were smart, harsh, honest, intimate, and unabashedly political in their critique of sexism and misogyny. They were, and are, wonderful books.

    I wanted to create something similar that would reflect my Gen-X world of queer women, and, in particular, femmes who fuse feminine style and feminist consciousness.

    I wanted to create a novel where:

      • men are peripheral, and sexism sometimes occurs within the dyke community;
      • queer women are outsiders, not just due to their sexuality, but because they maybe aren’t white or middle class, or their parents are freaks or messed up, or English isn’t their first language, or they aren’t thin or cis-gender. (A main character is a trans woman, a decision I made years ago because, in part, I felt that the dyke community was focused on trans men and trans women weren’t getting their due. That situation, needless to say, has changed.)
      • queer women think of themselves as outlaws and respond to harassment and discrimination with a raised eyebrow, raised finger and raised fist;
      • queer women find themselves, find each other, and find love. (In the book, the love looks like the love I see around me: families that aren’t nuclear, families made up of exes, couples that aren’t necessarily monogamous, couples that live apart, relationships that are tested by, but survive, rotten things and horrible mistakes.)
      • sex that’s weird, messy, awkward, sublime, tender, and dirty because we often learn how to have good sex by having bad sex.

    Because an Anti-Romance is still shaped by the contours of Romance, it is also a novel with a (kind of) happy ending.

    Nairne Holtz is the author of “This One’s Going to Last Forever” (Insomniac, 2009), a Lambda Literary Award finalist, and “The Skin Beneath” (Insomniac, 2007), which was shortlisted for Quebec’s McAuslan Prize. Her new novel, “Femme Confidential,” will be released in the fall of 2017—see 

    Michele Karlsberg Marketing and Management specializes in publicity for the LGBT community. This year, Karlsberg celebrates twenty-nine years of successful book campaigns.