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Lesbian Romance Novels Give Readers a Guilty Escape

by Winnie McCroy
EDGE Editor
Friday Feb 27, 2015

When you want to expand your horizons or increase your knowledge, cracking open an impressive tome of literature is just the thing. But when you just want to relax and escape, Christine Svendsen of Sapphire Books Publishing suggests one of the titles she publishes: a wide range of lesbian action/adventure, science fiction, fantasy and romance. Although some women turn up their nose at lowbrow pulp fiction, Svendsen says there is a place for what she considers literary 'junk food': a quick, easy to consume book that lets you escape whatever ails you at the time.

"I think one of the toughest things as a lesbian is to get other lesbians into the market," said Svendsen. "A lot of times they don't realize we have a whole bookcase full of writers telling great stories. There isn't a theme or cause du jour waiting to escape the pages of our books. We're really telling tales of escapism, stories that aren't going to change the world, but will just give you a great ride. Hopefully at the end you enjoyed it and feel good about it."

Svendsen is the founder and chief executive of Sapphire Books Publishing, a leading U.S. publisher of LGBT books. She began as a writer, but founded the company in the face of rejection from big-time publishers who either told her that they weren't looking for books of her type or that they wanted her to rewrite her stories completely.

She defied them all by establishing her own publishing company, which now features a long list of award-winning LGBT authors. Today, Svendsen publishes books through her company and writes under the pen names of Isabella and Jett Abbott.


"I am a lesbian, and I had consumed probably every book out there," she said. "I wanted to write the stories that I wanted to read and that I thought others wanted to read. But when I wrote these stories, they got rejected by two publishing companies. So I started my own publishing company, and six months later, my first title, 'Always Faithful' starting winning awards. It really set the stage for me."

Sapphire Books is now in its fifth year, featuring 19 writers. They write on subjects across the spectrum; everything from demon hunters, zombies, vampires, historical fiction, science fiction and romance. Svendsen herself writes across four different genres. They have a series of books about serial killers, and another about military lives. And they are all lesbian-themed.

"I think we have a diverse stable of authors who can offer someone anything they'd get in the mainstream community," said Svendsen. "If you buy a Sapphire book, you will be happy with the quality, content and story."

Svendsen said feedback has been great on her titles. Readers seem to appreciate that it's not just another cookie-cutter publishing company. They also like that she keeps the titles fresh and entertaining, and that titles vary between 600-page steamers and what she calls "BBQ romances, quick to consume and you move onto the next one."

Among her best new releases is the military-themed "Forever Faithful," the long-anticipated sequel to her first book, "Always Faithful." The story concerns a Marine officer who just graduated Naval Academy postgrad, and is sent to Afghanistan.


"The military is still sexist and has factions of anti-LGBT sentiment, but she's sent there," said Svendsen. "Nic is wounded by an IED and is shipped back, half the woman she was, to focus on wife she left behind. You don't see that much in lesbian books. Claire is the strong one, getting over a devastating loss. She has to step up and be that strength."

Svendsen will be in Dallas on May 12-17, running a panel discussion on becoming a romance writer at the Romantic Times Booklovers convention. She'll try to get exposure for her new book, and break down barriers for lesbian literature in general. She said that a lot of readers who can't find her books where they live scoop them up by the armful at these conferences.

She's currently working on "Time Stamp," a book that's a bit different from some of her others. She writes about a Japanese-American woman who has been groomed from a young age to take over the family business: running the American Yakuza crime network. The one problem is that she hates her American father, and her green eyes that are a constant reminder of him. You'll have to wait until it comes out to see what happens.

Svendsen is proud that her writers bring to life the stories of lesbian cops, firefighters, soldiers, even grocery workers, those people who are all around us, but often hidden in plain sight. She finds the same to be the case with her books.

"When I go to lesbian resorts I am constantly looking to see what they're reading," said Svendsen. "It's pretty telling that in the 21st century, women are still worried about being seen with lesbian literature in their hand. It's disheartening in one sense, but exciting as well because we are ready to break out into this bigger niche, and then bring us into the mainstream, where we can tell all lesbians' stories."


For more information, visit http://www.sapphirebooks.com/ or https://www.facebook.com/pages/Sapphire-Books/127285107316471

Winnie McCroy is the Women on the EDGE Editor, HIV/Health Editor, and Assistant Entertainment Editor for EDGE Media Network, handling all women's news, HIV health stories and theater reviews throughout the U.S. She has contributed to other publications, including The Village Voice, Gay City News, Chelsea Now and The Advocate, and lives in Brooklyn, New York.


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