But if life stayed the way it was
And lovers never fell out of love
If memories didn't last so long
If nobody did nobody wrong
If we knew what we had before it was gone
If every road led back home
This would be
The very last country song
I was considering the words to this Sugarland song and comparing it to a discussion recently about the content of lesbian fiction, particularly lesbian romance. The complaint seems to be that the same stories are told over and over with different characters. People said they were tired of coming out stories, tired of two women discovering an attraction to each other, tired of one or both characters having issues to work through before they can fall in love. This made me think long and hard about the stories I write. I am also aware, through that discussion and dialogue with my own readers, that women want to see novels about women who have been together for a while and issues involved in a mature relationship.
Any good story has conflict. Inventing an original conflict is the problem. How many conflicts can you come up with? There are only five, or seven depending on how old you are, plot lines in literature. Using man as a reference to mankind, these plots include; man vs man, man vs the environment, man vs the supernatural, man vs nature, man vs machines/technology, man vs self, and man vs god/religion. So there they are, the plot line conflicts an author has to work with. Within that structure a lesbian romance writer has to create the conflict from what they see as experiences in lesbian life
To refer back to the song, “But if life stayed the way it was and lovers never fell out of love,” how true that statement is. It happens and it happens often. We romance novelists know it well and write about it often. Finding a new way to construct that part of the story, if that’s what the author is writing about, is the key. Going on with the lyrics, “If memories didn't last so long. If nobody did nobody wrong.” What would we write about if that happened? How would we convey pain and loss in life if there wasn’t any? A broken heart is a broken heart. There may be lots of reasons for it, but it basically boils down to broken trusts and promises. Regrets, “If we knew what we had before it was gone.” The past often haunts us. The mistakes we’ve made change us as it does characters in a romance novel. The last line pretty much sums up what I’m saying here. “If every road led back home. This would be the very last country song.” If life were perfect, what would we write about?
I understand the argument for new stories and not the same old thing. I respect that, but what I have also found is that many readers have never read that coming out story, never read that discovery of true love story, never read the story of recovery from a broken heart, and finally looked to lesbian romance for answers. They learn from the characters. They see themselves and recognize the pain and joy of loving and find solace in knowing their story is not unique. Yes, there is a need for diversity in lesbian romance, but don’t forget, some lesbian somewhere is picking up a novel looking for that coming out story and the joy of discovering the love of a woman. For some of us that was a long time ago, but for others it could just have been a minute ago. In this day and age where women are coming out at all ages, we have to remember these are their first love stories and not at all old hat.