Novel-length book recommendation:
Going Out, by Nicola Atherton (2022).
Available from your local Amazon (sorry, no link because the exact URL depends on your location).
I don’t actually “read” a lot of TG fiction, but I do “skim” quite a bit. Like most of you, I’m looking for something that mainstream fiction (including genre fiction) cannot provide: a story that showcases some aspect of the cross-gender experience. So I can understand why a lot of people read and enjoy TG fiction. My problem is, I just can’t bear to read substandard writing. I read a lot of published fiction (mostly SF), I write a lot (as a glance through my archives should prove), and I’ve read quite a few books on the art of writing (and taken a few courses as well). What that did is make me highly aware of what constitutes good writing, and I find it frustrating when I’m confronted with all the ways a given TG story doesn’t measure up. That’s when I start skimming.
What skimming means, in a nutshell, is that the author of the piece has failed to keep the reader’s interest. Readers skim when characters fail to engage, stakes aren’t raised, and the stuff that happens just doesn’t seem to matter. In a sense I’m no different than any other reader, but while most fans of TG fiction are sufficiently motivated to power through that barrier to get to the good stuff—the transformation and whatever happens to the “transformee” in their new gender—the editor in me keeps wanting to make changes. So I skim, and then I lose interest. That’s why I was so thrilled to stumble across Going Out on Amazon. And surprised as well, because I actually read the whole thing; an entire novel. Every—last—word. I don’t think that’s ever happened before (apart from my own stories, of course).
The caveat here is that I haven’t read (or skimmed) every piece of TG fiction that’s ever been written. I’ve checked out quite a few stories, perhaps more than my fair share, but if you’re thinking of some story you liked (or wrote) that you believe is well written and worth a read, well, it’s entirely possible I haven’t seen it. So no one should take anything I say here personally. I’ve seen a lot of stories posted at online websites, I’ve read a handful of the old Sandy Thomas books, I’ve checked out a fair number of the “loaner” stories on Amazon (when the company gives me a free month or two of Prime), and I’ve read the intros to many non-free stories on Amazon. I freely admit: this is a far cry from a comprehensive survey of TG fiction. But as a statistical sample it’s not bad, and it’s disappointing just how mediocre the writing quality is. Frankly, I’m shocked that most stories, even the ones that cost a few bucks, seem to fail at the most basic writing guideline there is: hook your reader from the start. In other words, start the story by doing something; an action, even if it’s just two people talking. The big no-no is to dump a whole pile of information on the reader, such as who the main character is, where they live, their school or their job, their family life—the list goes on. No, no, no! All such details can be woven into the narrative on the fly, after you get the reader asking questions: Who is this person? How did he or she come to be doing whatever they’re doing in the opening scene? That’s what needs to happen at the beginning of the story. Most of the openings I’ve seen for stories on Amazon just provide answers (to questions the reader hasn’t asked) and raise no vexing questions in the reader’s mind, other than Why would I want to read this?
That’s the first point of departure for Going Out. It begins with a cross-dresser getting ready to leave the safe confines of his home, for the very first time. Wow! That scene alone, provided as a prologue, blew me away, being so different from pretty near every other TG story I’ve read (or skimmed). But the rest of the story didn’t disappoint either; like I said before, I read every word.
Now I’m not going to argue for the originality of this story; it covers much the same ground as many a TG story: the transformation, the socializing, the sex (which was, at times, a bit too earthy for my liking, but that’s just personal taste), even the ending. The overall quality of the writing is what won me over. I won’t compare Going Out to the published books I’ve read; that wouldn’t be fair. But in terms of the writing I’ve seen elsewhere in the TG fiction world, this book really stands out.
One thing the author did particularly well was to capture the incredible thrill of cross-dressing, particularly in its early stages (during transformations), which can be confusing, intoxicating and scary as hell, all at the same time. She also managed to convey that thrilling/terrifying feeling that you’re helpless in the grip of some powerful force, that comes from inside you, that is compelling you to feminize yourself—and to push the envelope just that little bit further each and every time you “dress”. That, indeed, is what Going Out is all about. Trust me, you won’t regret reading it.