Happy fall and welcome back to Ask Your Friendly Neighborhood Lesbrarian! This time I’m answering a good old-fashioned email question, which reminded me I’ve neglected to share my email address with you all lately. If you have a question for your lesbrarian in residence, hit me up at casey [at] autostraddle.com! You can also comment on this post.
Now onto today’s topic:
I bookmarked your email for future book requests I hope that’s okay!! This summer I read The Work Wife [by Alison B. Hart] and really liked the LA setting. I’ve never actually visited LA and I don’t think I could live there actually based on reading books about it lol but I find it very interesting to read about, the glamor, the heat, I’m not sure what it is exactly. Do you have any other LA queer books you would recommend?
There are a LOT of queer books set in L.A., so instead of flailing about trying to decide which ones to include, I’ve narrowed the theme a bit. The Work Wife is a sharp behind the scenes look at the movie industry in LA, including #MeToo. So the following queer books are set in L.A. and focus on Hollywood / L.A.’s movie and TV industry. A solid half of these are romance, which is entirely unintentional — but you’re welcome if queer celesbian romance is your jam. This little corner of queer lit seems particularly white, so if anyone has more recommendations by authors of color, please share in the comments!
We Play Ourselves by Jen Silverman
This searing novel is a two for one: it’s about both a certain kind of white woman auteur director / filmmaker in L.A. as well as the feminist theater scene in New York City. Told in two timelines, the novel begins with the bisexual protagonist Cass’s arrival in L.A., fleeing an as yet unnamed career scandal back in NYC. Cass was just about to make it big as a playwright when something went very wrong. Luckily, she quickly stumbles into a working friendship with her new next door neighbor, Caroline, a feminist filmmaker who is beginning a new docufiction film about a group of teenage girls who have their own after school version of fight club. Caroline is charismatic, ambitious, and determined, all qualities Cass admires. But the deeper she gets into the project, the more she starts questioning the ethics of Caroline’s behavior. At the same time, she has to reassess her own fuck-ups that led her to L.A. in the first place. This is a book full of women’s rage, creativity, desire, success, and violence.
Something to Talk About by Meryl Wilsner
For a feminist discussion of #MeToo in Hollywood as well as a very thoughtful use of the boss / employee romance pairing and the subsequent power dynamic, there’s no better book than Something to Talk about! Emma, a bi Jewish woman in her late twenties, is the assistant to bigtime showrunner Jo, a Chinese American woman in her early forties. When the two are caught having an intimate laugh on the red carpet, rumors begin to fly that they’re an item. As they continue to put their heads down and work — Emma is gearing for a promotion and Jo is beginning a new film project — they realize how good they really are together, maybe not just as colleagues who are spending a lot of time together. But both women are keenly aware of the awkwardness of their situation: Did the paparazzi know they were meant for each other before they did? And how will they navigate Jo being Emma’s boss? This love story is a slow, slow burn, with lots of time to luxuriate in the building sexual tension as well as to learn about the ins and outs of TV and movie production from the perspective of queer women.
Siren Queen by Nghi Vo
Siren Queen may be an historical fantasy, but it uses this genre mashup to its advantage to discuss pre-code 1930s Hollywood and the experiences of women of color actresses like its Chinese American protagonist, Luli. After falling in love with black and white movies as a kid in a nickel theater, Luli stumbles onto a movie set and ends up with a tiny role. Fueled by her thirst for stardom, Luli wades into the world of movie studios which literally run on magic of all sorts: demons, monsters, deals with the devil, and dark rituals. The metaphors and symbolism of the novel’s fantastical elements work effortlessly to address inequalities in Hollywood, including the racism, sexism, and homophobia Lulu encounters. But there’s joy and camaraderie too, like when Luli falls in love with a fellow actress and builds solidarity with other queer and/or actors of color. And Luli finds purpose in making her own choices, no matter how limited they are, like deciding to take a role as a monster instead of a maid.
I Kissed a Girl by Jennet Alexander
Calling all horror movie fans: this queer romance features a love story between a horror actress and a makeup and visual effects artist. Lilah, the actress, dreams of moving up in the Hollywood hierarchy from B-movie creature features to A-list. Noa, the makeup artist, is working her tail off to make it into the union but it’s proving much more difficult than she imagined. They get off on the wrong foot when they first meet, but of course soon after are pining for each other. Both leads in this story are Jewish, and Lilah is dealing with coming out as bi in light of being closeted because of her career. Although Lilah is moderately famous (and Noa is starstruck upon first meeting her), Lilah is equally admiring of Noa, who is casually out at work. If you’re looking for gross insider details about making silly and/or gory horror movies, this book is for you: fake blood, green goo, cheesy mechanical dinosaurs, slimy water tanks, and more. (The film Noa and Lilah are working on is called Scareodactyl, dinosaur horror anyone??).
A Killing in Costumes by Zac Bissonnette
Okay, technically this cozy mystery is mostly set in Palm Springs, but it is all about Hollywood: both past and present. Jay and Cindy are former soap opera stars who rode the waves of popularity in the 90s with their combined acting and musical talents. They were also a real life married couple. But when the truth came to light — Jay and Cindy are both gay — their TV careers as well as their marriage died. Remaining good friends and wanting to keep a foot in show business, Jay and Cindy now own an old Hollywood memorabilia shop called Hooray for Hollywood. They’re hoping a 90-year-old former Hollywood diva who wants to sell her large collection of valuable props and costumes is the turnaround they need to help their dwindling business finances. But when their major competitor — a VP from a big well-off auction house after the same collection — is found suspiciously dead, Jay and Cindy are major suspects. Can they clear their names as well as revive Hooray for Hollywood?
Breaking Character by Lee Winter
This celesbian romance stars two very different women, working on the same TV show, a medical drama called Choosing Hope. Elizabeth (Bess to her friends) is a talented British actress in a career slump, playing the villain on a top rated TV series that she hates. Summer is a former child star who, while apprehensive about Choosing Hope’s popularity yet lack of quality, is thrilled to get to work with one of her favorite actresses in her first adult role. As soon as Summer starts, though, a clumsy mistake with the press leads everyone to believe Bess and Summer are an item. Bess, who’s stayed closeted in order to protect her career, is furious. The French filmmaker she’s dying to work with though, is keen to meet her new so-called girlfriend. Bess figures the least Summer can do to make up for her mistake is to pretend to be her partner so that she can secure a role in a film that is actually artistically interesting to her. I bet you can guess where this fake relationship leads!
Everything Leads to You by Nina LaCour
A lot of fiction about Hollywood focuses on actors or directors, but this unique YA contemporary story stars Emi, an 18-year-old set designer in L.A. who is already on her way to a memorable career. Emi is a film buff and hopeless romantic, but her love life is anything but rom com worthy. She can’t seem to stop getting back together with her ex-girlfriend, even though she knows they aren’t right for each other. One day, her life is upended when she receives a mysterious letter claiming to be from an old Hollywood legend. Trying to track down the origins of the letter leads Emi to meet Ava. Ava’s life is unconventional and chaotic in a way that is completely foreign to Emi. As Emi falls for Ava, she finds her whole world changing. This book is a love letter to the craft of filmmaking and to movie magic romance.
And Playing the Role of Herself by K.E. Lane
This beloved lesbian romance classic is important enough that it made Reese’slist of queer books across America list in the competitive California section! It’s also the winner of the Golden Crown’s Ann Bannon Award. Taking place on the set of a star-studded police drama filmed on location in L.A., the story follows actress Caidence as she’s hired on the show. Caid is immediately drawn to her accomplished and sexy A-lister costar Robyn, but she settles for friendship, knowing that Robyn is in a relationship with some tennis dude. Caid herself isn’t out anyway. These ladies have chemistry off the charts though, which the producers pick up on, writing a relationship between them into the show. Will their on-screen romance translate to real life?? If it isn’t already abundantly clear, this book will be a hit for Law & Order fans.
A couples bonus recommendations not set in L.A. but definitely in the same vein as the books above: The Life and Death of Sophie Stark by Anna North (a profile told in multiple POVs about the life and career of a brilliant, enigmatic, and bisexual arthouse film director) and Flip the Script by Lyla Lee (a contemporary bisexual YA set in the world of Seoul’s K-Drama industry).