Radclyffe on lesbian romance novels and “Love Between the Covers”

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When you think “romance writer,” names like Nora Roberts immediately come to mind. Fair enough, because she is featured somewhat at length in a new documentary about the genre, Love Between the Covers. But so is lesbian author Len Barot, aka Radclyffe, aka L.L. Raand. As both a writer and a publisher, Len can’t get books out to queer readers fast enough.

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The romance fiction industry takes in more than a billion dollars annually. In the past year, 75 million Americans admitted to reading at least one romance novel. Of course, big fans read a lot more. They’re also lining up at conventions and creating community wherever they can.

We spoke with Len about her start in the genre, creating her own queer publishing company, the importance of romance fiction to queer women and more.

AfterEllen.com: You know, sometimes you don’t consider yourself a romance reader when you’re reading online and you’re all, “Well it’s original fiction.” And I come from the fan fiction community, so it’s such an easy crossover that it’s possible to not realize you’re actually a big romance fan until it’s spelled out for you like it was in this film.

Len Barot: I’m at a lesbian literary conference right now, the Golden Crown Literary Society Conference, and they screened the film last night and one of the readers today told me, “Until I saw that film, I didn’t really realize that I was reading romances and that I’m a romance reader.” So that’s not an unusual response, which I think is fascinating and wonderful.

 

AE: So the movie goes into your professional background a bit. We learned you were a surgeon. Have you now retired from that?

LB: Yes, I retired in 2005, just a few months after I started Bold Strokes Books. I had been publishing romances for about four years before that while I was still practicing surgery. But once I decided to start the publishing company, I felt that, in order for me to do that full-time, the way it really required it and to continue writing, I would need to retire.

 

AE: Being a surgeon and a writer seem like such different professional passions. What motivated you to be more than just a reader despite the lack of time on your hands?

LB: As almost every single solitary writer will ever say, they’ve always been writing. I have always been writing. I was writing stories that entertained me, but also allowed me to see myself in ways that I couldn’t when I looked around in the world. So I had always written as a very personal form of sort of self-fulfillment. And when I was in my surgical residency, it was pretty stressful. We were on call every third night, working 100 hours a week, and I was one of the few women in the surgical training program, so it was pretty rough. I can’t remember the exact moment that I decided I was going to start writing again, but I started writing Innocent Hearts, which is one of my very, very first books, and it was a wonderful–I won’t say escape because it wasn’t that, but it allowed me to express another part of my personality. And it was very rewarding in a very private kind of way.

I started writing just for my own sense of completeness. To express parts of myself that I wasn’t able to express in the other very high-pressure part of my life. And I never thought about being published. It never occurred to me that I would be a writer. It wasn’t until I discovered the Internet that it even occurred to me to let other people read what I had written, or that anyone would actually want to read what I had written. So I had eight full-length novels written by the late 1990s when I became part of the internet community and people began reading what I had written.

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