Fountain Pens

I write with a fountain pen. An Esterbrook plunger model. Not just because it’s eco, or because Patricia Highsmith favored Esterbrooks, or because I’m a luddite contrarian, although all these things are true. I use it because it feels good in my hand and the ink goes from dark to peacock blue as it dries and because every time I have to refill it– Continue reading

Dead Lesbians

Isn't it keen how the reflection of my cell phone mimicks the shadow of the murderer?

I was looking forward to Helen Nielsen’s The Fifth Caller (Morrow, 1959) from the Grier-McBride collection–the library catalog lists “Lesbian physicians–Fiction” as the second subject. Alas, only a completionist collector like Barbara Grier would put this rather dull mystery with its few elliptical references to sapphic tendencies in her lesbian library.

The Plot: Dr. Lillian Whitehall has been found dead in her office and all evidence points to her nurse. Nursie can’t defend herself, because she was found unconscious on the beach with her wrists slashed and has no memory of what happened that day. Tall, square-jawed D.A. Investigator (I’m sorry–I’ve already forgotten his name) thinks Nurse Anna is awfully pretty though, Continue reading

Unionizing Lesbians!

Lose the caption and the coke logo and we have the cover of a lesbian pulp!

Ah the joys of research. Mystery author Sara Gran was once asked at a reading “how much research should a writer do?” Her answer: you can never do enough, basically research until you run out of steam or time. This is the opposite of the usual pragmatic advice that writers should do the bare minimum of research necessary to make their fiction convincing. I was delighted to hear someone else validate what has always been my preferred approach.

For me, writing lesbian pulp parodies is really an excuse to read old Teen magazines, Girl Scout Handbooks, Sears Catalogs, and of course The Ladder, the newsletter of the Daughters of Bilitis, everyone’s favorite lesbian activist group from the 1950s. I know that not everyone is as enthralled with fashion copy as I am (“the skirt billows with quintuple cluster pleats…the total look: nonchalant”–sheer poetry!) but The Ladder is really mandatory reading for anyone interested in what actual lesbians were doing and thinking while their fictional counterparts lived out their pulpy lives.

Here’s a sample: in January, 1964, The Ladder reported that previous to September 20, 1963, the Coca Cola plant in Sacramento required job applicants to submit to “a depth interview and polygraph evaluation.” In other words, a lie detector test. Anyone with a burning desire to bottle the “official drink of 47 state fairs” would be hooked up to a polygraph machine and quizzed on topics “relating to applicants’ sex life and sympathy towards unions.”

Don’t you love the juxtaposition of topics? I would have failed on both counts, alas. No assembly line for me! The polygraph testing came to a stop only when a state law prohibiting their use went into effect on the above mentioned date.