The Big Idea: J.S. Fields
There are many ways in which small indie presses and large traditional presses differ, and in this Big Idea for the anthology Farther Reefs, co-editor J.S. Fields identifies one that you might not expect. What’s this difference? Read on!
J. S. FIELDS:
Okay wait. Hear me out. As someone who writes in both traditional and small press/indie spaces, it absolutely fascinates me how adult speculative fiction handles sapphic characters based on the perceived market. Big Five SFF, particularly sci fi and space opera, almost never market the work as ‘lesbian,’ f/f,’ or ‘sapphic.’ Instead the story takes the lead, and the characters just happen to be gay.
Small press and indie tend to lead with the pairing, which can help the smaller audience find the books they’re after. In these spaces, ‘f/f’ tends to come first, and the type of story, romance, sci fi, etc., tends to come after. Sapphic books in indie spaces can therefore sometimes have an easier time finding their niche market, but directly targeting a niche market comes with its own downfalls. In particular, lesfic is currently experiencing a schism within the ranks: what does it mean to be a lesbian / what counts as ‘lesfic’?
Camp A, generally of an older generation (but not always!) remembers when lesbians could only be in books if they were tragic. They remember ‘kill your gays,’ they remember having to fight for women-only spaces. This camp tends to cling to lesfic being women who love women (bi women need not apply unless they’re ready to renounce men), wherein we define women as cis women whose biggest gender feels revolve around the butch/femme dynamic.
Camp B, trending towards younger generations, question why trans women are not more represented in lesfic. They wonder where nonbinary lesbians fit in, why intersex individuals are not represented, indeed, whether the term ‘lesbian’ itself is truly inclusive, as it can erase bi and pansexual women. The term ‘sapphic’ is increasingly embraced by this group as an inclusive look at the more traditionally understood term ‘lesbian.’
When the idea for a sapphic, speculative fiction anthology first came to me a few years ago, I was more interested in embracing the quirky tropes of the lesfic genre (lesbians on boats! Lesbians but also dinosaurs! Space lesbians!) than anything else. As stories came in and I got to read more on the depth of the sapphic experience, it became increasingly apparent that those at the margins of traditional lesfic were hungry for representation. There are thousands of books now featuring cis, white lesbians having adventures and sexcapades. Trans lesbians? Ace lesbians? Nonbinary and intersex sapphics? These stories are much harder to find.
My dreams for the first anthology changed. I still wanted EXCITING PLANT AND FUNGAL ADVENTURE but, quite suddenly, inclusion stood at the forefront. I led the anthology with an editorial note about how we defined ‘lesbian,’ in the broadest and most inclusive way possible. The response was enormous. The anthology hit #1 across several Amazon categories. Reviews were glowingly positive. It just kept selling. For a group of authors and their editor who had just set out to write some fun killer plant stories with inclusive views of lesbianism, we were blown away.
It was with great delight then, I put together Farther Reefs, my second installment of sapphic adventure. This time I’m leaning into my all time favorite sub-trope ‘lesbians on boats.’ This time I’ve also broadened the contributing authors, expanding the included writing styles and representation. It is such a joy to contribute to sapphic speculative fiction literature not just in terms of broadening the tropiest of spec fic sub-genres (what if the stories had mermaids and pirates and tentacles and power play?) but to do so in a way that helps the most marginalized in our community feel like they, too, belong in sapphic spaces. After all, if we can believe in sentient space fungi, mammalian mermaids, and sexy tentacle creatures, trans lesbians, intersex and nonbinary sapphics shouldn’t even blip the radar. This is a chance for us all come together under a unifying cry: spaceships, mermaids, fungi, and breasts are all very cool.