In the absence of news, I want to share with you this interview with Ann Bannon—in case you don’t know, she’s a trailblazer that published several pulp lesbian novels in the 50s (with non tragic endings even). I always felt that to gain historical perspective (maybe especially in queer History) is something that not only adds needed knowledge and wisdom to our lives, but much needed hope. So, please enjoy the lived wisdom of an 86 year-old (she’s 90 now and still working!) lesbian who has witnessed plenty. Actually, I advise talking to older folks if you can, gay or not.
July’s guest is Jae! She’s an awarded author of nothing less than twenty three novels, some of which are my favourite slow-burn sapphic romances. Here she shares a bit more about herself, her work and professional wisdom.
Now, starting with one of our recurring questions. Was there something or someone queer you felt pulled to before you even understood why?
Honestly, because I grew up in a tiny little village with no openly LGBTQIA people around, I was pulled toward everything even remotely queer, with no idea why. I remember being heartbroken at the death of Tasha Yar in Star Trek: TNG—a character who should have been queer.
In your bio you say you started writing your own stories at the age of 11. What writers inspired you growing up? And how did you find your first sapphic book?
As a child, I read mostly fantasy novels. My favorite authors were Tamora Pierce, especially the Song of the Lioness series (which has a gender-nonconforming main character/a girl disguising herself as a boy), and Tanya Huff, especially the Quarters series (which has a bisexual main character married to a woman). So you were exactly right in your first question—I was definitely drawn to queer characters without knowing why.
I found fanfiction before I found published sapphic literature. I came across Xena fanfiction about 20 years ago, without ever having seen the TV show. It was an eye-opening experience. I read hundreds or probably thousands of fanfiction and then discovered sapphic romances from publishers such as Bold Strokes Books and Bella Books.
Despite the internet being a well of info, the practical details and dynamics of writing as a business still are hazy for those outside. How was your learning journey and what do you find most important for newbie writers?
I think what most non-writers and new writers don’t understand is how many different hats writers have to wear—we don’t just write, we also need to market and promote our books, and we basically run our own business, so writers need not just creative skills, they need business skills too.
As a writer, you need to be prepared to keep learning new things constantly—a new software, a new social media platform, new craft skills, etc.
I’m the kind of person who enjoys learning new things. I must have read hundreds of books on the writing craft as well as book marketing and editing over the years. I also subscribe to dozens of newsletters and blogs for writers, and I keep looking for ways to improve my writing.
Aside from the willingness to keep learning new things, my top tips for new writers are:
1. Find out what works for you when it comes to the writing process. While the rules and craft aspects such as point of view are universal, the writing process isn’t. Some authors work best if they outline their novel before they start; others would feel stifled by an outline and write by the seat of their pants. And some authors—like me—are in-between. There are writers who write a fast first draft with plenty of typos, plot holes, and other issues, and then there are slow writers whose first draft is very clean. It’s all valid, so find out what works for you.
2. Writers need feedback to improve. Get yourself a good team of beta readers and editors and use their feedback not just to improve the manuscript you’re working on but also to learn for any future book you’ll be writing.
In the era of burnout, rising anxiety and social media, we have been forced to rethink routines and our relationships to working on our previous hobbies. A long trial and error process. How have you been navigating that? Do you keep any habits to help you?
I’m not the best person to ask about how to avoid burn-out. I’m a workaholic and haven’t taken a real vacation for three years. It’s really easy to work long hours if you love your job and your job is also your hobby. There’s so much I want to do for the community in addition to my own writing and being an editor, so my days are often too short to fit everything in.
What helps me is unplugging from the Internet and from social media (I don’t have any social media on my phone, for example) and having friends who know when to kick my butt and tell me to stop working and go for a walk, etc.
As someone who draws, writing descriptions often escapes my mind because I’m so used to visualizing it all. You have aphantasia, which brings opposite challenges in relating visual details. Becoming aware of it changed anything in your process?
For those of you who haven’t heard of aphantasia: It’s the inability to form mental images. Some aphantasic people—like me—also don’t have mental sound, taste, smell, etc. If you want to read more about aphantasia and how it influences my writing, I wrote a blog post about it here: https://jae-fiction.com/aphantasia/
While having aphantasia leads to some interesting struggles in my everyday life, I never felt in any way that it makes writing harder. Quite the opposite. I think in words, not images, so I don’t have to translate images into words—I work with words directly.
Some aphantasic writers I know struggle with writing description. I don’t struggle with it, but I tend not to include long descriptions because I find them boring—unless they say something about the character. If I include a description of a character’s home, I want it to reveal something about their personality. I want to read about people, not things. That’s what captures my interest in any book—the characters and their emotions.
By the time I realized that I have aphantasia—or rather, that other people have mental images (I always thought “mental image” was just a metaphor!) while I don’t—I had been writing for decades already, so my writing process was well-established. Discovering I have aphantasia didn’t change anything.
But after writing a book with a main character who has aphantasia, I became aware of how used I got to writing from the perspective of people who can visualize and who have internal sound. I had to keep reminding myself not to write sentences such as “Hours later, Winter’s words still echoed through her mind…” or “An image of Winter flashed through her mind” when I was writing from the point of view of my aphantasic main character.
How do you deal with having too many ideas? And maybe even worse, not being able to keep a short story short? (asking for a friend)
A have a thick notebook full of ideas for future stories. I write them all down so nothing gets lost, and when it’s time to decide on my next book, I go through my notebook and decide which one I’m most interested in writing. Sometimes, a story idea needs to “marinate” for a few years before I feel ready to write it.
Not being able to keep a short story short isn’t really a problem—my readers love that I write longer books so they can get to know the characters really well. So if two characters grab my interest and their “short” story turns into a novel, I just go with the flow.
I google everything while I’m reading, so I’m loving your reading companions. What moved you to making them?
I do a ton of research for each of my books. For some of them, I spent 300+ hours on research alone and filled notebooks with information. Not all of that makes it into the book, but I still think readers can tell if an author really understands the characters’ professional background, the setting, or whatever they are writing about. It makes for more well-rounded characters.
I started putting together reading companions for each of my books with pictures and links to the most interesting places my characters visit, dishes they eat, outfits they are wearing, etc., because I thought maybe readers would be interested in seeing some images while they are reading.
The first one I did was for my novel Paper Love, which is set in my hometown, Freiburg in Germany, so I had a lot of interesting photos to share with readers: https://jae-fiction.com/paper-love-travel-guide-take-a-look-at-these-photos-while-you-read/ That reading companion was so popular that I have started to do it for all my books.
I can’t say how grateful I am for all the butches you have included as protagonists in your books. They’re few and far between in all mediums. Who are some of your favourite fictional butches?
If I’m allowed to name one of my own characters, I’d have to say Denny from Wrong Number, Right Woman. You see so many super confident and athletic butches in books, but I noticed that introverted or shy butches and plus-sized butches are pretty rare in fiction, so Denny is a shy butch with love handles. I was blown away by how popular she is with readers.
Some of my all-time favorite butch main characters in sapphic books are: Elliot from Close to Home by Rachel Spangler, Tori from Hunter’s Way by Gerri Hill, and Rachel from Galveston 1900: Swept Away by Linda Crist.
I don’t often indulge in rereads, but I’ve been rereading Backwards to Oregon at least once a year and it seems to be your most popular novel. What sorcery did you put on that book? (kidding) In any case, it’s common for authors to wish they could go back and write things differently. Would you make any changes to your first published book?
Actually, I did get to make the changes I wanted to make to Backwards to Oregon. It was the first novel I ever published—back in 2007/2008 with L-Book, a US publisher that is now defunct. When I switched publishers 10 years ago, I got to revise the manuscript and publish a second edition. I’m really thankful for that opportunity, because I learned so much in the years since then and I’d like to believe that I’m a much better writer.
So since I already got to do that, I’m happy with the second edition of the book and don’t feel the need to change anything else.
Your next novel is scheduled for October release and will surely make my rec list for that month. The idea of a date auction reminded me of that lady who got a kiss from Charlize Theron in a fundraiser. Please, tell us more about Ellie and Regina and where the idea for their story came from.
Actually, my publisher just pushed back the publication date to January because I needed a couple more weeks to write the book.
Bachelorette Number Twelve is an enemies-to-lovers romance between warm-hearted ER nurse Ellie and prickly attending physician Regina. They keep clashing at work, but when Regina lets herself be talked into volunteering at a singles auction, Ellie accidentally bids on her and ends up winning a date package. So now they are forced to spend time together…
To be perfectly honest, I have no idea where that idea came from. My brain just came up with that “accidental bid” idea completely randomly, and I figured out who the characters were from there. I love pairing two characters who are very different from each other—in this case an ice queen who has strict rules about never mixing business and pleasure and a friendly nurse who is friends with everyone in the hospital. Their banter was so much fun to write, and I hope readers will love their story as much as I do!
What’s the queer story (in any medium) that has your attention right now?
TV: I’m watching Deadloch, an Australian crime comedy (is that a thing?), with plenty of strong female characters. Many of them are queer, including one main character, her veterinary wife, and the majority of the small town’s choir.
Books: I’m listening to the audiobook version of The Fiancée Farce by Alexandria Bellefleur (note: it was in the newsletter just last month!), a fake relationship romance, which is one of my favorite tropes.
What would you like to see more in sapphic/queer stories?
More long (100,000+) romances with wonderfully well-developed characters and a slow-burn romance that makes me fall in love with both characters.
More richly developed, realistic, and relatable diverse characters—I’d like to see characters over 40 in romances more often, characters of color, characters with jobs that aren’t glamorous, neurodivergent characters, disabled characters, characters on the asexual spectrum, characters with bodies that we don’t often get to see celebrated in Hollywood…
Please, share where people can find more of your work.
The best place to go is my website, where you can find a list of all my books, audiobooks, and free stories, along with my social media and the Sapphic Book Bingo.
Stuff I read
Por La Sombrita by Barbara Perez Marques (English and Spanish editions provided by the author)
A queer Dominican, the author mixes in this chapbook family photographs and page-short recollections from her time growing up.
The cover really reflects the content, the text is fluid and its narrative light on specifics just enough to maintain the atmosphere of memories. Much like the levity of the title, which literally translates as “by the shade”, but that the author decided to keep in Spanish in both editions for the extra layers it carries for her.
It’s an interesting experiment, more for the experience of what these glimpses of someone’s life can stir up from your own childhood memories, than for the curiosity to pick into someone else’s privacy through an autobiography. And isn’t that the greatest thing in a work from another country or culture? To find the human commonality that unites us than just satisfy the curiosity of how we’re different? At least, it is for me.
In my first reading White Lies, Pointe, Studying in the Dark, The Horse and Clippings were particularly successful at that. And maybe I’m just a very visual person, but the pictures of a fellow Latina growing up in the 90s were a great complement.
Magic of The Lost by C.L. Clark
The sort of read I have to sparsely pepper throughout my year and now I’ll have to read tons of light stuff to compensate. What I really liked from these books was how messy it was. Which usually isn’t my thing, but here it is what makes it work so well. It’s not ‘good guys, let’s make a revolution’ and everything is clean cut, maybe with a light conflict of interest thrown in. It’s messy all over, but not just for the sake of being messy. It’s messy because in reality conflicts don’t involve unnamed masses, they involve very real, most likely very hurt individuals.
It is also sapphic, like 99% of what I bring here, but don’t expect a healthy relationship, not even the non-romantic relationships are very healthy. And even if the second book left things in an almost sweet (for this story’s standards) if tense note, I’m sure the last book will trample all over my already very bruised heart (I’m not even sure I want to know…). If you don’t mind a heavy read though, these are exquisitely crafted books.
(Honorable mention to Not so Shoujo Love Story by Curryuku that I just finally read and it’s *chef’s kiss*.)
See you in August!