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Remembering Naiad

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I found Taxi to Paris a real "enlightenment" when it came out years ago. In my opinion the el!es publishing house had the same function as Naiad in the USA: positive lesbian love stories. And three cheers for Ruth Gogoll for being the "icebreaker." Will she get the Federal Cross of Merit for that? I hope so.

That's what a reader on my German website posted after reading my first piece on The Huffington Post. The Federal Cross of Merit she mentioned is the German equivalent of the U.S. Presidential Medal of Freedom. I don't really anticipate that the German president would consider someone who's "only" a lesbian writer and publisher important enough for that honor. But Naiad indeed was my model.

Naiad may be a familiar name because when its two owners decided to take advantage of their retirement years together and closed up shop nearly 10 years ago, it was the largest publishing house devoted to lesbian literature. Naiad was more recently in the news when Barbara Grier, one of its wonderful founders, died the month before last, at age 78.

In the '80s the first Naiad novels were translated into German. One of the first ones that I read was Stoner McTavish, and I loved it! It was everything I'd been looking for -- except for the much-too-brief erotic scenes, which seemed to end almost as quickly as they began. There was no time to savor them, just a few short lines and everything was over already.

I discussed this phenomenon with my friends, and they agreed with me that the explicitly sexy parts of the books were disappointingly concise. The tickling and prickling had hardly started, only to be prematurely suspended.

I was a writer then, but I'd never written anything erotic. My writing consisted mainly of newspaper articles about culture, politics, and local events in Cologne; documentations for computer software I programmed; some small volumes to teach computer users what they needed to know; and, before all that, a wide range of university term papers.

For excitement, though, none of it could hold a candle to lesbian erotica. As someone who fancied herself a "serious" writer of serious things, I was in a quandary.

So I asked myself: can I really write genre literature? Detective stories? I was always a passionate reader of detective stories, Agatha Christie especially. The first Naiad novels I read were lesbian detective stories, and except for the paucity of sex, I liked them very much.

I decided to write a lesbian detective story like Naiad's, with just a bit more love and sex. But my detective stories seemed to have a will of their own, and they morphed into love stories. Highly erotic love stories. So much so that it seemed that the protagonists were always having sex, or at least thinking about it. (Don't interpret that as meaning that I was suffering any privation in that area myself. I was living with my first wife then, and the sex was good!)

I discovered that writing lesbian stories and erotic scenes came naturally to me. The words simply streamed from my feather pen. So I decided to succumb to my newfound talent, and for the most part, I gave up writing detective stories. Being so busy having sex, my characters wouldn't have a decent chance to solve a criminal case anyway.

I wrote Taxi to Paris, in which one of the main characters is a lesbian prostitute, one of whose clients (who are all women) falls in love with her and wants to "save" her. I wrote it in six weeks.

At the time I had a good job as an IT specialist at a Swiss company. I'd written Taxi on a lark for my friends, so I'd only ordered a very small printing (naturally, by a women's printing company in Freiburg, where I was living). But the book changed my life. As soon as Taxi came out, the barrage of orders was overwhelming.

I came home from work at 10 at night (I always worked very long hours), and the fax machine presented a long snake of paper, full of book orders from eager readers. So I packed and filled orders until 4 o'clock in the morning, requisitioned another tiny print run from the women's printing company, and took the packages to the post office first thing in the morning, on my way to work in Switzerland.

The same thing happened night after night! So I found a publisher to take on my book, and she relieved me of the nightly burden. Starting a publishing house was the furthest thing from my mind at the time.

But because Taxi to Paris was so successful (30,000 copies sold so far, in Germany alone), I found that I wanted to make the opportunity available for other lesbian writers to publish their books, too. So I founded el!es. I thought it was a hobby. After all, I still had my IT job in Switzerland. But after two years of dabbling in publishing, I had to quit my "day job," because the el!es publishing house needed a 24/7 publisher (and my readers wanted to have Ruth Gogoll as a 24/7 writer, too. A happy problem!).

Now there are 150 el!es titles. Some of them I've written, but most of them are by other lesbian authors. In German-speaking countries el!es is as well-known as Naiad once was. I'm very proud that Naiad was my model.

Rest in peace, Barbara Grier.