GLBTI Fiction: Opening the Fiction Closet

ljx130801Webcoldev GLBTI Fiction: Opening the Fiction Closet

The appearance and availability of gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (GLBTI) adult literature in the United States followed the historical arc of the community’s development and visibility. Prior to World War II, GLBTI literature was hidden, with knowledge of its existence largely known only to members of the community, who shared texts among themselves. Occasionally a work of fiction would find its way into general circulation, but the books typically resorted to coded inferences of desire or served as warnings against the danger and immorality of homosexuality. This pattern continued until the 1969 Stonewall riot, which is largely accepted as the beginning of the GLBTI rights movement. The last three decades of the 20th century saw the establishment of GLBTI presses, bookstores, awards, and reading and book clubs, as well as literary festivals, writers’ conferences, and professional organizations. The closet was open, and the GLBTI community had found its voice.

Developing Your Collection & RA

Collection development and readers’ advisory (RA) staff can take advantage of a unique opportunity for professional growth by acquainting themselves with the widely dispersed sources of information about GLBTI literature. The task of identifying worthy contemporary purchases is best accomplished by consulting awards and recommended reading lists, such as the American Library Association’s (ALA) Stonewall Book Awards (ala.org/glbtrt/award) and Over the Rainbow bibliographies (glbtrt.ala.org/overtherainbow), Lambda Literary Awards (lambdaliterary.org/awards), and Publishing Triangle Awards (publishingtriangle.org/awards.asp). Other GLBTI awards include the Goldie Awards (goldencrown.org/awards), Independent Publisher Book Awards (IPPYs), Next Generation Indie Book Awards (indiebookawards.com), and Foreword’s Book of the Year Awards (https://botya.forewordreviews.com/finalists). The Gaylactic Spectrum Awards (spectrumawards.org) honor sf, fantasy, and horror, while the James Tiptree, Jr. Award (tiptree.org/award) pays tribute to gender-bending sf or fantasy. The Stonewall and Tiptree honors are highly selective, with the former granting only one literature award annually in three categories and the latter recognizing a single title per year. The remaining awards cover books in multiple categories, including romance, mystery, horror, poetry, debut fiction, and erotica.

Review Sources

In addition to awards, there are several free, reputable reviewing resources such as ALA’s GLBTRT newsletter (glbtrt.ala.org/reviews) and Lambda (lambdaliterary.org/category/reviews). Respected subscription-based reviewing resources include the Gay and Lesbian Review Worldwide (glreview.com) and the Women’s Review of Books (http://wcwoline.org/womensreview). Reader-sponsored Internet resources include Out in Print (http://outinprintblog.wordpress.com/), the GLBT Book Shelf (bookworld.editme.com), and GLBT Fantasy Fiction Resource (glbtfantasy.com). Finally, InsightOut books (insightoutbooks.com), an online book club, provides free descriptions of thousands of titles, as well as a “bookfinder” to suggest books based on favorite authors and genres.

Human “bookfinders,” aka RA staff, should be aware of a number of challenges unique to GLBTI literature. To acquaint them with the issues, Ellen Greenblatt’s Serving LGBTIQ Library and Archives Users: Essays on Outreach, Service, Collections and Access (2010) should be required reading. The foremost difficulty may be lack of familiarity or discomfort with the genre. Likewise, readers might be reluctant to ask for assistance owing to the personal nature of the subject. Staff should work to overcome potential obstacles and create tools (e.g., online reading lists) that will assist patrons while permitting them to remain anonymous.

Finding What You Need

Locating GLBTI materials in an online catalog introduces complications related to subject headings, or the lack thereof, particularly since adult fiction rarely carried subject headings prior to 1990. Sometimes a suitable subject term does not exist for a work, or the term used is too broad to convey the subject matter adequately. Publishers may intentionally exclude GLBTI subject headings in CIP information to create wider reader appeal, an absence that is perpetuated by shared cataloging records. These are all reasons that RA staff may therefore find the following title suggestions helpful.

The emphasis here is on recent adult fiction that will appeal to the various segments of the GLBTI population; an attempt has been made to represent several genres and, where possible, provide suggestions representing diverse backgrounds. Readers of<LJ may recall that GLBTI fiction was previously featured in a Collection Development article (LJ 5/1/07). Contributor Devon Thomas did a fine job of highlighting classic GLBTI novels and notable authors, and those recommendations are still relevant.

As a complement, this article addresses newer voices and overlooked authors.

Gay fiction

Arsand, Daniel. Lovers. Europa Editions. 2012. 144p. ISBN 9781609450717. pap. $15.

A novella-like love story concerning the lowly and beautiful shepherd Sebastian and French aristocrat Balthazar, whose forbidden relationship transcends time but comes with a price. The narration is short and precise.

OrangeReviewStar GLBTI Fiction: Opening the Fiction Closet Boyne, John. The Absolutist. Other Pr. 2012. 320p. ISBN 9781590515525. pap. $16.95.

Tristan, a shell-shocked British survivor of World War I, visits the sister of a comrade-in-arms to deliver the dead soldier’s personal effects. Through the encounter, Tristan slowly recounts the brotherly bond forged in the terrifying trenches and reveals several shocking secrets in this melancholy, poignant novel. (LJ 5/15/12)

Currier, Jameson. Third Buddha. Chelsea Station. 2011. 328p. ISBN 9780984470723. pap. $20.

This title alternates among the stories of four men whose lives converge as a result of 9/11. In New York, the closeted Teddy searches for his brother Phillip, formerly a partner of Ari. Ari, a reporter, is missing in Afghanistan and is being sought by his current partner Jim. Stan, meanwhile, provided medical assistance to Jim before he slept with Ted. A complex, character-propelled story in which the search for others becomes self-discovery.

OrangeReviewStar GLBTI Fiction: Opening the Fiction Closet Edwards-Stout, Kergan. Songs for the New Depression. Circumspect Pr. 2011. 270p. ISBN 9780983983712. $23.99.

It is 1994, and thirtysomething Gabe is convinced he’s dying of AIDS even though his T-cell count is fine. From this somber place, Gabe examines his past and present to discover that his failures and hardships were learning experiences. Edwards-Stout’s satiric wit belies a smoothly written, circumspect story. A Next Generation Indie Book Award Winner.

Healy, Trebor. A Horse Named Sorrow. Terrace Bks. 2012. 248p. ISBN 9780299289706. $26.95.

In 1980s San Francisco, Seamus and Jimmy embark on a love affair that is doomed by the specter of AIDS. Seamus undertakes a nationwide bicycle trip to honor Jimmy’s dying wishes and along the way finds ­personal strength. Winner of the Ferro-Grumley Award for LGBT Fiction.

Johnson, K. Murry. Image of Emeralds and Chocolate. Wheatmark. 2012. 318p. ISBN 9781604946895. pap. $17.95.

Eric is an emerald-eyed musician who falls for writer Marquis LeBlanc, but Marquis has a secret that spans centuries and may either enhance or harm their relationship. Invoking slave narratives, poetry, and folklore, this novel breaks new ground by featuring a black, gay, vampire love story.

Rice-González, Charles. Chulito. Magnus Bks. 2011. 275p. ISBN 9781936833030. pap. $14.95.

Chulito and Carlos’s childhood friendship is challenged by Carlos’s increasingly fey behavior—an unwelcome deviation from the Latino machismo of their Bronx barrio—and his departure for college. Chulito struggles with his feelings toward Carlos—should they remain friends or become lovers and risk the ridicule and rejection of family and friends?

Ricker, Jeffrey. Detours. Bold Strokes Books. 2011. 288p. ISBN 9781602825772. pap. $16.95.

Take a fun RV road trip with Joel and his “frenemy” Lincoln as they travel from Maine to San Francisco. But this is no ordinary trip because Joel is accompanied by the ghost of his recently deceased mother, who teaches him a few things about life and love.

Taïa, Abdellah. An Arab Melancholia. Semiotext(e). 2012. 144p. ISBN 9781584351115. pap. $15.

This fictionalized account of the author’s life is a lyrical exploration of the conflation of lust and love, truth and fiction, past and present. Taïa is the first openly gay writer published in Morocco.

Lesbian Fiction

Binnie, Imogen. Nevada. Topside. 2013. 262p. ISBN 9780983242239. pap. $17.95.

Rush headlong into the life of transwoman Maria, recently unemployed and dumped by her cheating girlfriend. Salvation lies in a journey upon which her life intertwines with James. Is she helping James or helping herself? Gen-X meets punk and transgender in this stream-of-consciousness-style novel.

Blackadder, Jesse. Raven’s Heart: A Story of a Quest, a Castle and Mary Queen of Scots. Bywater.2012. 464p. ISBN 9781612940274. pap. $14.95.

Sixteenth-century Scotland is the setting for this novel featuring the gender-bending Alison, raised as a boy for her safety but forced to return to the gender of her birth to serve Mary, Queen of Scots. However, Alison has many opportunities to revert to a male persona and teaches the Queen to do likewise. Intrigue and romance blend with historical fact and fiction.

Fergus, Lara. My Sister Chaos. Spinifex. 2010. 214p. ISBN 9781876756840. pap. $16.95.

A cartographer and her twin sister, a lesbian artist, escape a war-torn country, using their graphic skills as coping mechanisms: the sister paints the past, while the cartographer obsessively maps her home. Neither method is successful—they cannot escape each other or their pasts—but their combined efforts generate new understandings. Written with the precision of mathematics and the beauty of art.

Habib, Samar. Rughum & Najda. Salaam Pr. 2012. 240p. ISBN 9780983716112. pap. $14.99.

Black magic, Islam, cross-dressing and lesbian love in ninth-century Iraq.

Leach, Marlene. The Inscrutable Mr. Elizabeth. Spinsters Ink. 2013. 288p. ISBN 9781935226581. pap. $15.95.

Fans of The X-Files and Dexter will enjoy this brief story featuring the lesbian Mr. Elizabeth, who possesses psychic powers and works as a bounty hunter for a shadowy government agency. In order to find a vigilante serial killer, Mr. Elizabeth must heal her psychic scars.

Liebegott, Ali. Cha-Ching! City Lights. 2013. 245p. ISBN 9780872865709. pap. $15.95.

Theo is a sweet young dyke with a soft spot for dogs, drinking, drugs, dames, and gambling. She is convinced that if she can make it to New York she will become a new person, give up her vices, and find love, but the road to adulthood is filled with abrupt starts and stops.

Opyr, Joan. Shaken and Stirred. Bywater.2011. 302p. ISBN 9781932859799. pap. $14.95.

A lighthearted romp featuring a dysfunctional Southern family coping with an impending death. Poppy Koslowski returns with a friend to North Carolina to visit her dying grandfather and comfort her mother and grandmother. Her visit is “grief crowned with consolation” as she reflects on her family life, growing up, coming out, and finding love.

Rosenblum, Sarah Terez. Herself When She’s Missing. Soft Skull.2012. 266p. ISBN 9781593764371. pap. $15.95.

The relationship between Jordan and the much younger Andrea begins in the ticket line for the band Cry Wolf. Andrea loses herself in Jordan until the relationship becomes volatile and Andrea is torn between escaping and maintaining her addiction to Jordan.

OrangeReviewStar GLBTI Fiction: Opening the Fiction Closet Ullman, Ellen. By Blood. Farrar.2012. 378p. ISBN 9780374117559. $27.

A scholar working in a San Francisco office adjacent to a psychotherapist overhears a particular patient’s therapy sessions. The forced intimacy creates empathy for the lesbian patient and grows into an obsession for the scholar, who secretly interferes in the patient’s life. An eruditely composed mystery within an enigma. (LJ 9/15/12)

Short Stories

The Collection. Topside.2012. 378p. ed. by Tom Léger & Riley Macleod. ISBN 9780983242215. pap. $19.95.

Léger and Riley have gathered the work of 28 storytellers in this welcome addition to the relatively limited canon of transgender literature. The stories are diverse in tone and scope—raw, realistic, tender, and a little trashy—focusing on “what trans people are thinking.” Noteworthy for introducing the next generation of trans authors.

Coyote, Ivan E. Slow Fix. Arsenal Pulp. 2008. 152p. ISBN 9781551522470. pap. $16.95.

Coyote, previously a Stonewall Honor Book and a Lambda Award winner, eschews the gender binary in this sharp, witty, and warm short story collection drawn largely from her rural life in the frozen Canadian Yukon.

Negron, Luis. Mundo Cruel: Stories. Seven Stories. 2013. 96p. ISBN 9781609804183. pap. $13.95.

Puerto Rico’s status as a U. S. territory creates an interesting duality for its inhabitants. This duality is reflected in nine short stories of the island’s gay population who are part of the community and yet outsiders.

Bisexual, Transgender, Intersex

OrangeReviewStar GLBTI Fiction: Opening the Fiction Closet Avery, Ellis. The Last Nude. Riverhead: Penguin Group (USA). 2012. 320p. ISBN 9781594488139. $25.95.

The temperamental bisexual artist Tamara de Lempicka begins a love affair with her model, Rafaela, in Paris between the world wars. This love story unfolds in a way that is much like de Lempicka’s paintings—richly detailed and elegantly composed. A fictionalized account of the artist’s life. Winner of ALA’s Stonewall–Barbara Gittings Literature Award. (LJ 10/15/11)

D’Erasmo, Stacy. The Sky Below. Mariner: Houghton Harcourt. 2010. ISBN 9780547336275. pap. $14.95.

The author’s previous novels featured female protagonists, but here she tries on the skin of a sexually fluid but predominantly gay male. Gabriel, survivor of a broken home, searches for fulfillment through hoarding, petty crimes, and prostitution. A health scare sends him to Mexico where a magical encounter promises healing.

Maran, Meredith. Theory of Small Earthquakes. Soft Skull. 2012. 346p. ISBN 9781593764302. pap. $15.95.

Zoe and Alison are trying to have a child, a virtually unheard-of undertaking for lesbians in 1989, and the struggle reveals weaknesses in their relationship. Alison leaves, takes up with a man, and has a child, but she and Zoe remain close and build an unconventional family. Reminiscent of the movie The Kids Are All Right.

Tarttelin, Abigal. Golden Boy. Atria: S. & S.2013. 347p. ISBN 9781476705804. $24.99.

Max, an intersex teen, knows he is unusual but does not fully appreciate his situation until disaster strikes, affecting his entire family. Narrated by Max and his family and friends, this bittersweet story demonstrates the price of keeping secrets and being a ­sexual outsider.

Works in a Series

Note: These entries begin with the latest volume in a series, are followed by an annotation, and conclude by listing the earlier volumes.

Baldwin, Kim & Xenia Alexiou. Gemini Deception. Bold Strokes Books. 2013. 344p. ISBN 9781602828674. pap. $16.95.

The “Elite Operatives” series is a blend of romance and intrigue featuring a varying cast of tough, highly trained lesbians battling international bad guys on behalf of a secret organization. Also try: Demons Are Forever (2012), Dying To Live (2011, Lambda and Gold Crown awards), Missing Lynx (2010), Thief of Always (2009), and Lethal Affairs (2008).

Culpepper, Cate. Queens of Tristaine. 227p. Bold Strokes Books. 2007. ISBN 9781933110974. pap. $15.95.

Jesstin, an Amazon, and Brenna, a City Medic, meet when Jess is incarcerated and tortured by an Orwellian government. The ladies form a bond and escape to Tristaine, a women’s-only village under constant threat from the government. The series begins with The Clinic (2006) and continues in Battle for Tristaine (2006) and Tristaine Rises (2006).

Hardy, James Earl. A House Is Not a Home: A B-Boy Blues Novel. Amistad: Ecco. 2005. 240p. ISBN 9780066212494. $22.95.

The final installment in this ground-breaking series featuring African Americans Mitchell and Raheim. The men have struggled with racism, drugs, prison, and their feelings for each other. Mitchell has finally settled down when Raheim shows up, recently freed from prison. Can there be a happy ending? The series began with B-Boy Blues (1994), 2nd Time Around (1996), If Only for One Nite (1997), The Day Eazy-E Died (LJ 7/01), and Love the One You’re With (2002).

Hart, Ellen. Rest for the Wicked. Minotaur: St. Martin’s. 2012. 307p. ISBN 9781250001863. $25.99.

Minnesota restaurateur Jane Lawless solves mysteries with her trusty friend Cordelia and along the way the reader meets the duo’s family, friends, and lovers. (LJ 10/1/12) Read the other books in the series: Hallowed Murder (LJ 10/1/89), Vital Lies (1991), Stage Fright (1992), A Killing Cure (LJ 9/1/93), A Small Sacrifice (LJ 10/1/94; Lambda winner), Faint Praise (LJ 10/1/95), Robber’s Wine (LJ 8/96), Wicked Games (LJ 8/98), Hunting the Witch (1999; Lambda winner), The Merchant of Venus (LJ 2/1/01; Lambda winner), Immaculate Midnight (LJ 7/02), An Intimate Ghost (LJ 3/1/04), The Iron Girl (LJ 8/05; Golden Crown winner), Night Vision (2006), The Mortal Groove (2007), Sweet Poison (2008), The Mirror and the Mask (LJ 10/1/09), The Cruel Ever After (LJ 12/10), and The Lost Women of Lost Lake (LJ 10/15/11).

Raand, L.L. Lone Hunt. Bold Strokes Books. 2013. 244p. ISBN 9781602828605. pap. $16.95.

Penned by the ever-popular Radclyffe writing as Raand, this fourth novel in the “Midnight Hunter” series abounds with lesbian vampires and Wolf Weres. Sequel to Midnight Hunt (2010), Blood Hunt (2011), and Night Hunt (2012).

Rivers, Diana. Smuggler, the Spy and the Spider. Bella Bks. 2012. 284p. ISBN 9781594932663. pap. $15.95.

The Hadra are strong, psychic women who are forced to form their own society owing to the Zarns’ fear of the women’s powers. To read the Hadra series in order, begin with Daughters of the Great Star (LJ 10/15/92) and continue with The Hadra (1995), Journey to Zelindar (1987), Clouds of War (2002), The Red Line of Yarmald (2003), and Her Sister’s Keeper (2008).

Sawyer, Robert J. Hybrids. Tor. 2003. 400p. ISBN 9780765326348. pap. $16.99.

An alternative Earth populated by bisexual Neanderthals has interesting implications as the Homo sapiens and Neanderthals cross paths. Earlier volumes in the series include Hominids (2002) and Humans (2003).

Schiefelbein, Michael. Vampire Maker. Griffin: St. Martin’s. 2011. 240p. ISBN 9780312672850. pap. $14.99.

Vampire Victor Decimus continues to undermine Christianity while wooing young men in this fourth installment after Vampire Vow (2001), Vampire Thrall (2003), and Vampire Transgression (LJ 3/15/06).

Szymanski, Therese. When Shadows Turned to Night. Bella Bks. 2010. 335p. ISBN 9781594931710. pap. $14.95.

The finale in the “Motor City Thriller” series concludes with butch nightclub owner Brett Higgins searching for the only woman that ever really mattered. Previous titles: When the Dancing Stops (1997), When the Dead Speak (1998), When Some Body Disappears (1999), When Evil Changes Face (2000), When Good Girls Go Bad (2003), When the Corpse Lies (2004), When First We Practice (2005), and When It’s All Relative (2008).

Zubro, Mark Richard. Another Dead Republican. MLR Pr. 2012. 316p. ISBN 9781608207312. pap. $14.99.

Lovers Tom Mason, a high school teacher, and Scott Carpenter, a baseball player, solve mysteries related to their professions. Other works in the series are A Simple Suburban Murder (1989; Lambda winner), Why Isn’t Becky Twitchell Dead? (1990), The Only Good Priest (LJ 3/1/91), The Principal Cause of Death (1991), An Echo of Death (1994), Rust on the Razor (1996), Are You Nuts? (1998), One Dead Drag Queen (2000), Here Comes the Corpse (2002), File Under Dead (2004), Everyone’s Dead but Us (2006), and Schooled in Murder (2008).


Ellen Bosman, professor and head of Technical Services at New Mexico State University, Las Cruces, is the author of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgendered literature: A Genre Guide (Libraries Unlimited, 2008). She is a former judge for the Lambda Literary Awards and a past chair of the American Library Association’s GLBT-RT Stonewall Book Awards Committee

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Comments

  1. Jerry L. Wheeler says:

    Out in Print has moved – we are now at http://outinprintblog.wordpress.com/

  2. What a thrill to find my debut on this stellar list! I named Trebor Healey’s novel, also mentioned on here, as my favorite of 2012, for Band of Thebes. A great list to explore!

  3. mm says:

    If libraries want to be truly unbiased, they should not neglect the voices of other views either. Ex-gays and those who have chosen not to enter the lifestyle do exist, and their works and stories with such characters should be in collections as well. More publishers need to be willing to touch the ideas and authors willing to write them. And I’m sure there are smaller publishers out there. It’s also distressing that any time something with a ‘Christian’ view comes up, it’s always affirming…libraries need a few items about the traditional scriptural view as well. There’s likely often fear these things would seem hateful or hurtful, but that isn’t the case and shouldn’t be-no one should feel hurt or angry or depressed- if things are written right.

    • K. Berger says:

      While it’s true that every library should have something that offends everyone, no library should be required to carry material that harms people, and neither should libraries be required to carry misinformation. The “Ex-gay” idea has been tested in the crucible of evidence and found wanting; literature supporting it is in support of misinformation and is thus outside of the remit of a library’s mission. In terms of weeding, “ex-gay” literature fails the first letter of the MUSTY acronym (misinformation) and thus, at least in this paraprofessional’s opinion, should not be acquired in the first place.

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