Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Hide and Snake Murder: A Shay O'Hanlon Caper
Jessie Chandler
Midnight Ink
Trade paperback, $14.95, 261p

Life has a way of getting complicated for Shay O'Hanlon. A thirty-something lesbian, Shay is co-owner of the Rabbit Hole, a coffee shop in Minneapolis, Minnesota, her hometown. Shay has had a reputation for being the "Tenacious Protector" of her family and friends, standing up to bullies since grade school. When she was ten years old, Shay was in a car accident that killed her mother and the son of Edwina Quartermain, her mother's best friend. Edwina became a de facto mother for Shay.  Intensely loyal to her family of blood and choice and still haunted by the accident, Shay is the smart-mouthed, first person narrator of Jessie Chandler’s Hide and Snake Murder: A Shay O'Hanlon Caper.

Basil Lazowski, an old schoolmate and ne'er do well, better known as Baz the Spaz, has called Shay for help and she finds herself drawn into a series of bizarre and often confusing events that will take her to the other end of the Mississippi and back. Baz needs to find a stuffed snake that he might have "borrowed" from a house where he was cleaning duct-work for "Ducky Ducts Duct Cleaning: we clean your pipes slick as a whistle, guaranteed." (4) Some very scary men want the stuffed reptile returned. Hide and Snake Murder is the second installment of Chandler's series that started with Bingo Barge Murder and it continues the fast paced hilarity of the first novel.

Shay, with one of her best friends, Nicholas Cooper -- better known as Coop, a member of the local environmental activist group the "Green Beans" and makes his living as a computer geek-- and Baz fly to New Orleans in search of said fuzzy serpent which is currently believed to be in the hands of Baz's aunt, Agnes.  With other members of a group of crafty poker players known as the Mad Knitters, Agnes has gone to the Big Easy for a holiday of gambling, live music, food and drink. 

Shortly after Shay et al arrive in New Orleans, they find that Baz's "big scary men" are real and chasing them.  Their initial escape turns into a strange and funny series of events and re-acquaints Shay with an old friend who is currently one of a group of buskers working Jackson Square. The bad guys are hot on their heels, and it's only by luck that the entire group returns to Minneapolis.  Various twists and chase scenes follow and Shay's gang of amateur detectives stumble into more trouble before they are out of it.

“Caper” is a good subtitle for this series.  Not a traditional mystery, the plot of Hide and Snake Murder has a certain Keystone Cops element. The gang tends toward breaking and entering, with varying degrees of competence and legality, to uncover answers. No one is entirely who they seem in this romping story and the reader must be willing to suspend belief in the more serious and technical law enforcement procedures and processes.

The characters of Hide and Snake Murder are the real gems of the story. They are richly faceted with distinct flaws. Chandler’s respect and affection for them shows through the novel. She allows the reader to laugh with them. For example, Rocky, another classmate of Shay and Nick, struggles with developmental issues, has a charming tendency to address people by their full name as well as providing unusually detailed bits of information as, “You must put pressure on the wound for it to stop bleeding. If it doesn’t stop after twenty minutes of firm, direct pressure, we must seek medical attention. “(82) One can’t forget Shay’s 80 pound boxer named Dawg, by the unimaginative previous owner.  Dawg adds a calming effect as well as comic relief which one doesn’t have to be a dog lover to enjoy.   

Hide and Snake Murder is fast paced and witty.  It is peopled with wonderfully colorful characters, making it a strong second novel in the Shay O’Hanlan Capers series.  I look forward to more stories from Jessie Chandler.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Calorie-free, Wither-proof Books for Valentine's Day

Recently I've read some "clever, cynical" comments by folks who assume that Valentine's Day is a "commercial, materialistic, manufactured, unrealistic view of romance." I understand some of the sentiment. It can be argued that equating being alone with not being romantic, and lack of diamonds and roses making one a bad partner is simple commercialism. However, the idea of seeking to validate both the hormonal desire for intimacy (which drives us all on some level, regardless of how we express it) and to invest in the hope of spring is not exactly an invention of Hallmark. I'm old enough (just barely, thank you) to remember that Valentine's Day used to be "St. Valentine's Day" before the Catholic church cleaned out saints they considered apocryphal, rather than real, like St. Christopher et al in Vatican II. In the case of Valentine there is a question of which of the identified three early Christians martyrs actually deserve sainthood (which simply means that the Catholic Church knows their souls are already in Heaven, as proven by a long complicated process that is irrelevant to this little introduction).

However, one could easily suggest that our current view of Valentine's day is actually a long historic parade of co-options of which Hallmark and Zales are merely the most recent on the bandwagon. Current theory is that St. Valentine was set up to replace the Roman Lupercalia. Celebrated Feb 13-15th, Lupercalia was a fertility, purification and health festival dedicated to the Roman interpretation of the Greek god Pan (the original "horny devil" as it were). It also honored Lupa, the she-wolf who suckled the twins Romulus and Remus. Part of the festival events included young men (think cabin-fevered, adolescent males who had eaten well and drunk a lot of wine) dressed in naught but goatskin and some sacrificial blood, running aroun
d the city, and striking with thongs clusters of young women, waiting just for their arrival, all to ensure their fertility. Remnants of this festival continued through the 5th Century, but by then Valentine had also arrived and his feast day was the 14th. By no coincidence, he blessed young lovers. St. V admonished lovers to exchange tokens and it is possible that the young men began wearing their beloveds' tokens on their sleeves at this time. Or that might have come later with the rise of chivalric love, but you get the idea.

And let's talk about those tokens. The Romans were not shy about their fertility
symbols, which included imagery of erect phalli entering vulvae. This oh-so-subtle image was morphed into a much more palatable one for the libido-suppressed fathers of the Catholic Church. It's everywhere this time of year: The "heart" being pierced by an "arrow." I mean really, does a "heart" look anything like the images you've seen of real animal hearts or does it look like a stylized female genitalia? Think about it -- you may never look at a Hallmark card quite the same way again!

Further, when Christianity crossed the Channel, it has been suggested that Valentine festivities combined some elements of the Celtic cross quarter celebration of the goddess Brigid known as Imbolc. Fire and light, female fertility and love are all part of Brigid's domain. (Although we also have a remnant of Imbolc in Groundhog day, but that's another story.)

To all of this I would add that February is a hard month in the Northern Hemisphere. We are weeks beyond Yule/Solstice/Hanukkah/Christmas. The sun light is returning but the snow is still falling. It's cold and the hope of spring is still mostly just that, hope. Thus is it any wonder that cultures for generations have tried to find SOMETHING to hang on to as they looked toward spring? Toward the quickening green, toward returning life -- and what is life without love?

There, having said my piece about Valentine, I would point out a favorite genre of lesbian fiction. It's lesbian romance. If as a genre, romance is "women's stories" then, in my not the least bit shy opinion, lesbian romance is the epitome of all romance. There are more writers of lesbian romance today than at any time in our cultural history. A fact to revel in! Thus, I'm taking a few moments to point out some recent titles and some old favorites (with titles linked to the full reviews). Some, I meant to review more fully, and haven't yet, nevertheless, I certainly suggest you consider them, for yourself and your girlfriend. What could be a more lasting and romantic statement? As Rayann in Karin Kallmaker's Touchwood suggests, the perfect Valentine gift is "calorie-free, wither-proof books."

MJ's box of assorted calorie-free, wither-proof books for your Valentine reading:

elements of Curious Wine, by Katherine V. Forrest, primarily to do with it's 1978 setting, may seem a bit dated. However, it is THE place to start to exploring lesbian romances in the last 25 yrs. This highly sensual, although not explicit, story is very romantic. Lane and Diane will steal into your heart and you might find that like me, the ticking sound that an electric heater makes will never be the same again. If you need another reason, Curious Wine is also makes a good compliment if you've recently seen the bio-pic, Milk, because these are the times.

If you like your romance liberally laced with laughter, then Saxon Bennett's
Date Night Club is an excellent choice. Her best work to-date, in the opinion of this long time fan, Bennett creates a funny, charming and very human ensemble cast of lesbians, all looking for love, then carries her readers through an arc of challenge and growth with them. I laughed out loud several times, you might too. It's a delightful story.

Love's Melody Lost is Radclyffe's tribute to the classic Gothic romances with an unabashed lesbian twist and is still my favorite of her stand alone romances. Graham is a concert pianist and composer who has gone into seclusion since losing her sight ten years ago in an auto accident. A graduate student in Landscape Design, Anna is the woman in transition who embraces life and possibility of love. The music these women finally create is rich and erotic.
What could be more perfect than a romantic confection from the Queen of Lesbian Romance, Karin Kallmaker? Sugar is that yummy treat! After months of no social life Sugar Sorenson suddenly finds herself under the romantic notices of not one, but three attractive, dynamic women. She is also temporarily without a home and under deadline to enter a cook-off contest that could make or break her nascent speciality bakery. With ingredients like that classically Kallmaker witty dialog, thoughtful insights and erotic moments make Sugar is mixed to be an excellent sweet.

Landing by Emma Donoghue juggles a long-distance relationship between women who couldn't be less alike. Jude is a 25-year-old archivist and self-proclaimed Luddite from rural Ontario, Canada. Síle is a globetrotting, biracial, tech-hound, cosmopolitan woman in her 40s. Unusual happenings have their flight paths cross, develop friendship, and slowly fall in love. But a Long Distance Relationship can be a flight fraught with turbulence. Landing is a lovely contemporary romance.

Last year's Lambda award-winning romance was Out of Love, by KG MacGregor. If you haven't tasted MacGregor's writing, this is a brillant place to start. Out of Love introduces two intelligent, career-focused women who fall fast and then struggle with the long distance relationship and a range of complications, personal and professional. MacGregor's wry wit shines. You won't want to fall Out of Love.

Lambda winning romance writer Georgia Beers is one of the rising stars in the lesbian romance genresince her debut novel, Turning the Page. First released in 2000, Turning the Page is a charming romance with interesting, intelligent, funny women, a richly detailed setting, and lots of captivating chemistry. Melanie and Taylor's falling in love also marks a period in the history (or herstory) of fan-doms, as Xenite Taylor introduces Mel to the Warrior Princess and her Bard. Mel's new career choices soon have her owning a women's bookstore and as Mel's coming out process evolves there is a respectful nod to Curious Wine among the lesbian cultural references. While not as polished as Beers' more recent works, Turning the Page is still a fine Valentine treat.

From the pen of the venerable Lee Lynch is a dyke hybrid of Keillor's Lake Wobegon stories and Maupin's Tales of the City. Sweet Creek aka "the poor dyke's Palm Springs" is a small town in the Northwest where an assortment of quirky (mostly queer) characters provide insight and entertainment to each other and to readers. Some characters find love, some find themselves, and others find peace in Sweet Creek.

Okay, the truth be told, Ruth Perkinson's Piper's Someday is not really a lesbian romance story but it is a kind of love story. Piper's Someday is the heartwarming story of Piper, a young girl who survives the deaths of her parents and sibling and the neglect of her grandfather through the love of her dog, Someday, and the help of some wonderful, strong lesbian role models. This touching, funny, grounded tale of the Southland is on my list of favorite young adult titles. Perkinson's literary nods to Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird are thoughtful and evocative. If you've ever had a furry friend who held a part of your heart in those liquid love puppy eyes, you'll enjoy reading
Piper's story.

There you have it: A lovely box of assorted tales of lesbian love and romance for you and yours to explore for Valentine's Day. Calorie-free, wither-proof books, as good as falling in love.

Happy Valentine's Day

MJ, not your average Cupid

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Add a touch of lavender with your orange and black

It's October and perhaps you, like myself, enjoy some seasonal stories that also feature lesbians. Add a little touch of lavender with your orange and black, if you will. Here is a list of some of my favorite otherworldly stories featuring lesbians. Not a list for fans of serious horror stories, many of these books are more lesbian fantasy romance with a supernatural twist. The short story anthologies are more mixed both with gay men as well as lesbians and by degree from little spooky to downright horror. For the most part these lavender pumpkins fall into three broad themes: Stories featuring goddess-worshipping women, stories with preternatural creatures, and stories haunted by ghosts. Then a few anthologies that mix these elements. Over all, it’s a kind of “Caldrons and Critters and Haints, Oh My!” collection.

There are a number of stories that make reference to witches, especially in regard to Wicca/Pagan traditions. Laura Adams (a pen name for Karin Kallmaker aka "the Queen of Lesbian Romance") has some wonderful "witchy" romances. Foremost are the first two titles in her "Tunnel of Light Trilogy." The hauntingly powerful story of Ursula and Autumn touches on Goddess worship of the pre-Christian era, its survival in generations since the fall of Rome. Kallmaker weaves a haunting cycle of magic and reincarnation beginning with Sleight of Hand and followed by Seeds of Fire. Powerful, mythic and erotic, we are still waiting for the conclusion. The finale, "Forge of Virgins" has yet to be released. However, in 2008, Kallmaker released an edited and expanded version of Christabel, her retelling of the Samuel Taylor Coleridge poem, which weaves historic and contemporary lives together with two very touching love stories. This title is well worth a Halloween purchase.

Jean Stewart's Isis Series begins with Return to Isis and is set in a futurist, post-pandemic world. Several of the women of Freeland have worked to develop their psychic gifts and many self identify as witches or wiccan. Stewart's characters are three dimensional and engaging, her plots will have you on the edge of your seat. The most recent entry is Wizard of Isis but you'll want to read them in order.

A witch and her talking dog are prominent in Karen William's Nightshade. Her second novel, Nightshade is peopled with several enticing women and she deals with her characters a bit more complexly than her first novel (see below). Alex's healing is an important element of her finding love in this delightful romance. Cynthia Lamb's Brigid’s Charge is a well-researched and entertainingly crafted story of Deborah Leeds, a woman who immigrates to colonial America and brings her carefully hidden Irish Celtic wiccan faith. Readers who prefer a little more history and a little less magic will enjoy Brigid’s Charge. The title may be difficult to track down, but is very worth the effort.

Ellen Galford brings a goddess-centric island off the Scottish coast to life in The Fires of Bride: A Novel. Maria Milleny, an unemployed London artist is drawn to the enigmatic Dr. Catriona MacEochan and the generations of mysteries of the island people. Out of print, this charming, witty novel lingers like the ghost hidden in its pages.

Monsters are slightly less popular in gothic lesbian lit, although vampires tend to be the exception to the rule. However, there a few titles that can be considered “critter-filled.” Chris Anne Wolfe's Roses and Thorns is a retelling of the "Beauty and the Beast" romantic fairy tale that questions the definition of “monster” and crosses over with witchcraft playing a role as well. Ellen Galford’s award winning Dyke and the Dybbuk has an ancient demon trying to haunt a very modern dyke. The results are a riotous mix of humor. Great fun for those who like their spooks to be more droll than troll.

Karen William's Love Spell is a charming little romance that deals with stereotypes of monsters, witches, magic and love between the local vet, Kate and the mysterious Allegra. Kate struggles to understand all of these issues after she experiences the most erotic night of her life. Gomez’s The Gilda Stories: A Novel introduces a lesbian vampire with a strong morale sense and weaves through history into the future. Ouida Crozier suggests vampires are not undead, but beings from an alternative reality in Shadows After Dark and they need not just human blood, but our help.

Gothic tales of lesbian ghosts weave their way through a number of novels. Rebecca Montague’s A Wild Sea has Katherine dealing with the ghost of loss in more ways than one. In Zanger’s Gardenias Where There Are None the computer becomes a conduit for a different kind of communication for Melanie.

The communication is not merely a metaphor in When the Dead Speak: The Second Brett Higgins Mystery, as Allie and Brett find themselves experiencing strange happenings in their old house. The will of the spirit is overwhelming in House at Pelham Falls by Brenda Weathers. Long out of print, this ghostly story of lesbian love holds classic gothic elements and was the first preternatural lesbian story I ever read. Blayne Cooper’s Cobb Island is a love story that echoes doomed relationship for the past. Uncovering the echo of that relationship, and finding love is the theme of this tale. While Cooper & Novan’s The Road to Glory is a different, but very touching kind of ghost story. On a bit spookier note is Dark Dreamer: a Dark Vista Paranormal Romance by Jennifer Fulton. Rowe Devlin is having a rough patch in her life and falling for a woman who sees ghosts doesn't seem to be the answer. This is the first of a series of preternatural novels from Fulton.

Oh My!
As a fourth category, let’s look at anthologies that feature any and all variations on the Caldrons, Critters and Haints themes. Three Bella After Dark titles are well worth a reading. The first is Bell, Book and Dyke: New Exploits of Magical Lesbians, a quartet of novellas by Karin Kallmaker, Julia Watts (both of whom also edited the stories), Barbara Johnson and Therese Szymanski. All the novellas feature "witches" and range from the wry and ironic "Skyclad" to the touching and powerful "Unbeliever." This is the best overall title of the "New Exploits" collections as all the stories in this one are worth your while. The second Bella After Dark to consider is Call Of The Dark: Erotic Lesbian Tales Of The Supernatural. Call of the Dark lives up to its title with erotic stories that will also send shivers of another kind down your spine. Edited by Szymanski, the collection is varied and well paced for readers with a mix of arousal, humor, and fear. There is also New Exploits 3: Stake through the Heart which features vampire stories from the four authors of the series.

Shadows of the Night: Queer Tales of the Uncanny and Unusual is a mixed anthology of stories by and featuring gay men and lesbians. It reads like a season from the Twilight Zone, and the stories here go from the odd to the down right scary, with some new twists on old ghost tales thrown into the mix. Out of Print and difficult to track down, The Ghost of Carmen Miranda: and Other Spooky Gay and Lesbian Tales is a fun mix of ghost stories. As with the title story, humor plays a role in some of the stories. Yet there are some very creepy entries here as well.

Night Shade: Gothic Tales by Women is a mix of supernatural stories, not all of which are queer. However, Jean Stewart’s story of the avenging hounds of the goddess, “Feeding the Dark” has stayed with me for years. Similarly, and also edited by Brownworth, Night Bites: Vampire Stories by Women is more feminist focused than “queer.” It also contains some memorable gems from the vampire theme.

Two of the best (and the first) anthologies to focus with lesbian vampires were edited by Pam Keesey, Daughters of Darkness: Lesbian Vampire Tales and Dark Angels: Lesbian Vampire Erotica. Both titles have been rereleased. Gomez’s Gilda makes an appearance and from Katherine Forrest, we have Drake in “Oh Captain, my Captain.” Keesey's introductions include an interesting evaluation on the history of the lesbian vamp in literature.

Without doubt, my favorite lesbian Halloween anthology is Kallmaker's 18th and Castro. The 13 stories relate to the residents of a mythic apartment building at 18th & Castro on Halloween night. It’s an address where you'll find intelligent, witty stories that are well-written and charming, and peopled with interesting characters. The preternatural makes at least two appearances. Readers will find something good to eat in this bag of treats!

Let's end this little Halloween reading list off with a tribute to the great lavender literary queen, Oscar Wilde with The Canterville Ghost. While there is very little lavender subtext in this charming little short story, it has Wilde’s trademark wit and wry observations about American and English cultures. And includes touching comments on the nature of love and the world. If you can find it, the Candlewick Treasures hardcover imprint (ISBN-13: 978-0763601324) is a delightful little book for ghostly Halloween gifting.

There you have it, a fine assortment of lavender Halloween treats for your reading pleasure.

Happy Haunted Reading!
-MJ, a queer little devil

BN: I'm not able to list all the authors and editors mentioned above in the labels, please look to the left to see full reviews of the titles mentioned, or reviews of other titles by those authors under the author's name.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Fool on the Hill

Morgan Hunt
$14.95, trade paperback, 190 pages
ISBN-13: 978-1593500276
Alyson Books

Morgan Hunt's second mystery, Fool on the Hill brings back Tess Camillo, a smart-mouth lesbian with a varied and colorful past. Tess is a 40-something computer nerd and breast cancer survivor. Her original love was actually mathematics, and computer programming was more palatable than accounting or teaching math. Hunt has created a strong, quirky voice in Tess. Her whimsical associations, internal musical sound-tracks, and slightly skewed world view are charmingly idiosyncratic.

Fool on the Hill opens as Tess and her housemate, Lana, attend a rock concert of Gabrielle Letheross with Cody Crowne as the opening act. Cody had been a chart topper in the 1980s but is fading in his late middle years. Lana, president of the local Cody Crowne fan club, has been waiting for years to see him in concert. Both women have a fantastic time. The next day brings a shock when his murdered body is discovered by Tess out walking in Open Space. Particularly shocking is the extremely brutal method of his murder. His teeth were removed, his finger tips were cut off, and he was crucified.

The traumatic discovery piques Tess's curiosity. Prompting her to this: "I wondered if [Lana]'d remember to separate the whites for bleaching, but didn't want to nag her. I wondered what Thomas Paine would have thought of our current electoral process. I wondered how many IQ points we lose for each hour of reality TV we watch. I wondered if I should take a personal interest in tracking down Cody's murderers. I wondered a lot of things, then helped Lana with the laundry. Even after your own personal Calvary, you need clean underwear. " (24)

Tess is assisted in her amateur sleuthing by a range of folks. Lana uses her new age touch to help question suspects and acts as look out. Tess's "husband" Roark Jurist -- they met over 20 years ago while both were struggling to survive in that closet called the US Navy, married for cover, divorced after they both left the service, and have remained friends -- now works with the "Immensely Powerful Government Spooks or IPoGS" (34) and provides Tess with an amazing array of valuable information via his connections. Kari, a detective with the SDPD whom Tess dated briefly, provides more official assistance. Hunt has created a fairly traditional mystery in that the clues are apparent to the reader as Tess finds them. The story is fast paced and fun. As secrets are uncovered, another murder occurs, bring the case even closer to home for Tess and Lana.

Tess's San Diego and its surroundings add color and character to Fool on the Hill with various locales playing roles in the plot. Carousel rides, trips to Legoland, Balboa Park, and the historic district give texture to the story, including a charming scene at the Chicken Pot Pie Shop, a San Diego landmark diner. Or as Tess describes, "The decor was Green Acres kitsch. .... A high shelf along the far wall held ceramic poultry of every sort. Rhode Island red knickknacks could be found behind the cash register; macaroni art of leghorns and bantams hung on the dinning area walls. Not exactly Martha Stewart, but with food this good, who gives a cluck?" (159)

Tess's voice is distinct and amusing, although sometimes her over-the-top metaphors are distracting. Occasionally Tess's powerful narrative voice becomes expository, not quite successfully taking the place of dialogue and action, from which some scenes might have benefited. This kind of "telling" of the story has a "thinning" effect to the novel overall. Hunt is a talented writer who has created a cast of quirky characters. Additional constructive editing could help Hunt develop a more robust mystery to better showcase her vivid characterization. She has great promise for future mysteries. This reader certainly looks forward to more of Tess.

The prime example of a metaphor that did not work, for this reader, was Tess's analogy for oral sex. "When we changed positions, her softest layers became the rink in an Olympic competition; my tongue, the skates. I played with figure eight's [sic], smooth glides, and occasional double Axels. Encouraged by her moans, I won the Gold with a triple loop." (143) Ice and blades, even attached to skates, just aren't on my mind regardless of the grace involved. If Hunt needed a sports analogy, synchronized swimming might have worked better.

Perhaps more importantly, the love scene, which was Tess's first sexual encounter since her surgery, seemed anticlimactic, as it were. Certainly the scene failed, for this reader, to resolve in a clear way the anxiety that Tess had previously expressed while anticipating the event, baring her surgery scars to a lover for the first time. It seemed a disservice to Nova's character for her not to be shown reassuring and satisfying Tess's needs. Yet Tess seems much less introspective about the relationship than she is about other aspects of her life. Since Tess's romantic life is the second most important thread to the novel, its light treatment is unsatisfying.

Overall, Fool on the Hill is fast paced, engaging and fun. The characters are interesting and compelling. Tess Camillo is a welcome addition to the cast of amateur sleuths that mystery readers can enjoy. Pick up a copy, Tess is sure to have you humming along with a world spinning round.

Monday, May 5, 2008

Winners vs. Classics

Award season has started. Nominations have closed, short lists are being announced, and excitement and anticipation are building.

Every year, looking at the various lists of winners, I find myself with mixed feelings. The American Library Association's GLBT awards, now known as the Stonewall Book Award and Barbara Gittings Literature Award are the earliest GLBT book awards, dating back to 1971. The Lambda Literary Awards and Publishing Triangle Awards both began in 1988; while the Golden Crown Literary Society is still the new kid on the block founded in 2004. I am proud
that in my lifetime, organizations have been founded to honor books that reflect and validate the lesbian experience. However, invariably there are titles that I would have liked to have seen honored that weren't short listed, let alone granted an award.

This year,
that thought prompted me to consider books that never won an award but have the publishing version of "living well is the best revenge." The titles listed below are now considered classics. All pre-date most such awards. However, as part of that "classic" characteristic, they are still in print, or so frequently so as to be readily available in the secondary market, and they have touched untold lives since their first appearance.

The Price of Salt, Claire Morgan (aka Patricia Highsmith) 1951. Originally produced in hardcover, The Price of Salt appeared shortly after Highsmith’s success, Strangers on a Train. Yet due to the controversial, not to mention illegal subject matter, it was released under a pseudonym. The Price of Salt was the first novel in English (I don’t know about other languages) that ended with the two female leads surviving to love each other. No murder. No suicide. No jail time. No one married the Y-type ... or more correctly, Carol got divorced and went after the girl. Wow.

Spring Fire, Vin Packer (aka Marijane Meaker) 1952. Now credited with launching the lesbian themed pulp genre, Spring Fire was the first of some 20 titles written by Ms. Meaker before Stonewall. As Ann Aldrich, she wrote a series of non-fiction (and controversial) titles printed in from 1955 to 1972. In 1970, Gene Damon (Barbara Grier, co-founder of Naiad Press) in The Ladder (Daughters of Bilitis newsletter) referred to Ms. Meaker as "the evil genius" for her excellent writing about unpleasant and unsatisfactory lesbian themes. Ms. Meaker has written award winning teen novels under the name, M.E. Kerr and in 2003 released a memoir of her two year relationship with Highsmith. Spring Fire has been re-released by Cleis Press in 2004 and is now available in ebook formats.

Odd Girl Out, Ann Bannon, 1957. The first of five novels in the "Beebo Brinker Chronicles" was Odd Girl Out and while the Beebo books have a certain campy quality of the time; they were a relatively positive depiction of lesbians. They granted women an alternative to heterosexual “Susie Homemaker” in the years before Stonewall. Ms. Bannon has said that Vin Packer's novels were an inspiration to her.

Desert of the Heart, Jane Rule, 1964. Perhaps better known for being the inspiration behind the movie, Desert Hearts, Jane Rule's work was groundbreaking in the matter of fact quality of the lesbian relationship. After several rejections as not negative enough toward lesbianism, it was originally released in hardcover. The relationship is touching and thoughtful, but it's not the focus of the novel which has much to say about gambling and capitalism as well as loneliness.

Ruby Fruit Jungle, Rita Mae Brown, 1973. Ms. Brown is better known today for her anthropomorphizing mysteries, the Mrs. Murphy series and Master of the Hunt Sister Jane series. However, Ruby Fruit Jungle is arguably the best selling lesbian novel. First released by Daughters Inc (a now defunct feminist press), it went through numerous editions before Ruby Fruit Jungle was sold to Bantam. With her humor and outrageous adventures Molly Bolt has seen unknown thousands of women out of the closet with a new defiant joy and affection. Reading Ms. Brown’s bio on her website is rather fun.

Annie on My Mind, Nancy Garden, 1982. One of the most banned books in America, Garden dared to te
ll the charming, confusing, touching story of two high school girls falling in love and coming out. Garden has written dozens of books for children and teens and others since Annie have dealt with lesbian and gay themes, most notably The Year They Burned the Books, 1999 and Endgame, 2006. The former was inspired by the controversy around Annie while the latter deals with the violent response of youth to repeatedly hostile bullying. My personal favorite of Garden's lesbian themed books is Good Moon Rising, 1996. However, Annie and Liza’s story (which has even been adapted into a play) still reigns for its groundbreaking.

Curious Wine, Katherine V. Forrest, 1983. Forrest didn't just raise the bar for lesbian romance with Curious Wine, she built a whole new jump course. The story of Lane and Diana is romantic, erotic and quintessentially female and feminist in ways that nothing had been before it. Further, Amateur City (1984) was the first mystery to feature a detective who was a lesbian, Kate Delafield. Ms. Forrest is now the Supervising Editor of Spinsters Ink.

Mists of Avalon, Marion Zimmer Bradley, 1983. MZB re-set the standard in how women might look at our cultural mythos, giving a new life to the divine female. Under the name Miriam Gardner, she wrote lesbian themed pulp novels and contributed to The Ladder. None of MZB's Darkover novels were honored by GLBT awards, nor was The Catch Trap, 1979, which featured two men who starred in the flying trapeze in the circus world and struggled with their love during the 1940s and 1950s.

Toothpick House, Lee Lynch, 1983. This was the first title of a dozen that Ms. Lynch has written, including Dusty's Queen of Hearts Diner, the first of the Morton River Valley trilogy. There is a review for her most recent title, Sweet Creek here. She is perhaps best known for her for her column the Amazon Trail, which appears
in GLBT periodicals across the country. In the 1960s, Ms. Lynch also wrote for The Ladder.

Other Women, Lisa Alther, 1984. Some folks might rather Kinflicks which was released in 1976 or Original Sins, 1981, but I have a soft spot for Other Women, as it were, which focused more on lesbians, in my opinion. And therapy, a favorite pasttime for lesbians. All three books were best sellers and book club selections, which resulted in putting stories about lesbians in the hands of lots of closeted women who might not have found them otherwise.

Yes, many of these authors have been honored with other accolades and successes and obviously, they could not be honored by organizations that didn't yet exist at the time these
titles were originally released. Indeed the existence of these titles without a doubt served to prompt the creation of various GLBT literature award programs. This list is by no means complete and I welcome additional suggestions via comments. Nevertheless, it reminds one that books might not win awards, and can still win the hearts and minds of readers.

-MJ Lowe