You may have noticed Queer Books Please showing up in the Link Round Ups a lot lately! My friend Rie over at Friend of Dorothy Wilde has done an interview with the person who runs it, Mary, and has kindly let me post it here! I’ve added in the covers of some of the books mentioned and linked them to their Amazon pages. Enjoy!
Friend of Dorothy Wilde: One day you sat down and decided to record a podcast about queer books–what inspired you to do this and what made you choose a podcast over a blog or tumblr or other media?
Mary: I’ve been working a pretty regular job that doesn’t have much creative output. I’ve always been interested in reading and writing, so in general I have been trying to find ways to keep my brain oriented on that kind of thing. So not just reading, but also thinking about how the books are written, what makes them successful, what makes me respond to them. What was really fullfilling was when I made a lot of time for reading–and reading lesbian type books in particular. The podcast came about when I realized that I wanted to keep doing what I loved the most, reading, but push myself to doing something constructive with the hobby.
I thought about doing a blog at first, but there are a lot of blogs all ready out there that are doing good work, and I wasn’t sure what else I might have to offer. I’d been listening to a lot of podcasts during my job and realized that I wasn’t finding a lot of good lesbian podcasts at all–let alone anything about books, which is what i really would have liked to hear! So I figured, why not do it myself?
I like the podcast because in some ways it’s more informal than writing, which suits me since I tend to look at books in terms of how they affect me personally rather than trying to present a definitive critical argument. And it’s also really challenging! Trying to stay funny and entertaining and not get stage fright really keeps me on my toes. I hope that the informal presentation of a podcast also helps me from editing my thoughts too much, so that I stay as close as possible to the truth of what I feel.
FODW: I know you have a good post about how you find queer books in general (linked here), but how do books for the podcast make the cut?
Mary: At this point I’m mostly just reading what I want to read. I’m using this as an opportunity to explore some older classics (still can’t believe I didn’t read THE PRICE OF SALT until a couple weeks ago) and really keep up with what’s newer as well. I’m trying to keep a balance of genres, partially because I want to be able to help readers with all preferences, and because I like most genres myself. I also see a lot of readers complaining about not being able to find enough lesbian books, but it seems like they aren’t exploring other genres, so I try to be inclusive because I think it’s a good way to keep your reading list robust.
I mostly only review things if I have positive stuff to say. I need to get so much reading done that I don’t really have to time to finish something if I’m not enjoying some aspect of it.
I will sometimes read romance fiction that might be a little low brow, and sometimes I might do a little gentle mocking, but if I read it, and I finished it, I probably had some fun with it, and so it might be worth something.
FODW: Sometimes, you just need a lesbian Harlequin romance!
Mary: Do you find yourself getting hustled a lot? There’s so much self pubbed stuff out there… I want to give it a look, but I get frustrated too if I catch too many duds in a row.
FODW: I don’t because I’m not actively reviewing at the moment–I do tend to hustle my friends though; my friend Lisa’s book (STARTING FROM HERE) came out last summer and I plug it all the time. Have you been contacted by authors/publishers for reviews?
Mary: Oh, I totally didn’t realize that your friend Lisa wrote STARTING FROM HERE. It’s such a sweet book, and a fresh take on some of the issues that queer kids struggle with. It didn’t feel overblown or overly message-y. The characters felt very real. And I’m a sucker for books with vets and dogs!
FODW: Have you been contacted by authors/publishers for reviews?
Mary: Not yet, but I’ve only been at it for a couple months.
FODW: Do you have a policy in place for when the time comes, or do you think you’ll just wing it?
Mary: No policy at this point. At this point, the podcasting is very much a natural extension of my usual reading habits. Once you’re talking to authors and publishers, I imagine that changes. So I would need to think about how it would affect my reading choices and if that would have any measurable improvement on the podcast itself.
FODW: That’s great–keep it fun and informative and not an obligation, no?
Mary: Exactly. And I think there’s a lot of great places for people to go find reviews of a specific book. I’m reviewing, sure, but for me the podcast is not just about reviews, but about the process of finding books, the experience of reading them, and making connections between different kinds of books.
FODW: How do you pick your themes? Do they happen naturally or do you brainstorm?
Mary: I have some that I know I want to get to. For example, I know I want to do an episode on books with sports in them sometime in the future. I’m thinking about doing a segment of someone of the books I’ve enjoyed that included gay males. So I have those ideas in mind. But one of the amazing things about this podcast is how the connections get made naturally. This week I read a couple different books that featured Lesbian Parenting/Pregnancy, and I realized, duh, of course I need to do a bit on lesbian mothers for Mother’s Day!
FODW: What were some of the first queer books you read, and how did you find them?
Mary: If you mean in my life, we’re going back to about 1999 or so in my very early teens. I think I may have simply typed in “lesbian” into the library catalog and looked for YA books. I read ANNIE ON MY MIND and GOOD MOON RISING from Nancy Garden. Also DARE TRUTH OR PROMISE by Paula Boock. I remember reading a lot of Francesca Lia Block, who didn’t really write about lesbians specifically but did include gay males in her books, and just had a magical sort of queer possibility in her books. Have you seen the cover of VIOLET & CLAIRE? I don’t think that book ending up being gay at all, but the cover featured two bare lady stomachs, and those two friends sure did love each other a lot….
Dorothy Allison was probably the first adult lesbian fiction I ever read, which means I really jumped into the deep end there.
FODW: (FLB is one of my roots, specifically “Dragons in Manhattan” in GIRL GODDESS #9)
FODW: What’s a book you loved that you didn’t expect to, maybe, from the copy? Alternately, is there any book that gets raved about that isn’t really your cup of tea?
Mary: I’m going to answer your second question first. I have yet to get into Jeanette Winterson. I tried reading WRITTEN ON THE BODY many times as a younger person, never got very far. I did read her memoir and ORANGES ARE NOT THE ONLY FRUIT and found them both very good, but didn’t find myself particularly moved by them in any sort of emotional way. I know her books are much beloved, and I am going to do some reading of her work and see if I can get to the bottom of my reaction to her, but yeah, at this point, not my cup of tea.
I think the last book I was really surprised and pleased by was MAP OF IRELAND by Stephanie Grant. I thought, well, it’s a coming of age story but is anything going to happen? And 70s Boston isn’t exactly a time or place that I know about or have much interest in. But then I read it and was completely blown away. CARRY THE ONE by Carol Anshaw also surprised me. I went into knowing very little, and kind of being tired of contemporary literature, and then found it to be so deft and funny and sad.
FODW: What is your dream queer book? Like, this author writing about this subject in this genre
Mary: So many possibilities! Emma Donoghue writes another sweet, thoughtful romance–but this time in space!
FODW: love it! (mine is Stephanie Perkins writing a cute lesbian YA set in NYC and at a queer music festival)
Mary: I’d like to see Malindo Lo write an adult fantasy epic.
FODW: is there a genre you really like that you wish had more queer books?
Mary: I’d like to see science fiction and fantasy featuring more queer characters, but with strong focuses on the genre conventions rather than romance. Take lesbian mysteries in the late 90s. Ten years ago, when I was really starting to seek out lesbian fiction, I loved that there were a lot of mystery series that featured tough lesbian heroines, but didn’t focus too much on romance.
I’d like to see that happen in the other genres. You get a lot of stuff that’s hybrid romance/sci-fi/fantasy from Bold Strokes and the like. But the romance part has one crucial downside–it pretty much guarantees a happy ending. Which isn’t so good for generating excitement and suspense.
FODW: Would you ever try your hand at writing again, or is reviewing where it’s at for now?
Mary: I’d like to think so, but right now I’m enjoying the podcast so much that it’s hard to see when writing could be fit in There’s a possibility that some more nonfiction pieces by me about my life–stuff that isn’t strictly reviewing books–may pop into the podcast in the future. If it seems like listeners might enjoy it, anyway. Right now I like to think that I’m contributing to the field by encouraging talented writers to keep writing and getting there stuff out there!
FODW: do you want to share some possible upcoming themes, or let that be a mystery?
Mary: Yeah, I can give some hints as to what might be coming up. I’m just finishing up a crash course on Willa Cather and will share some of my thoughts on her and her letters. I’ve got a pile of great historical fiction novels that I’m working my way through. Hmm. I can also tease that I’m working on an exciting project that should start to trickle out in the next couple weeks.
And it’s related to lesbian vampires!
FODW: Fantastic! Any parting thoughts?
Mary: Thanks for doing this interview and thanks to everyone listening to the podcast. It’s really a pleasure to share my reading experiences with you. And I want to encourage old and new listeners alike to let me know if there’s anything they’d like to hear me talk about on the podcast. If you’re looking for specific recommendations or want to recommend a book to me, feel free to email me, hit me up on twitter, or leave a comment on the blog.
FODW: Fantastic! Thank you so much for the opportunity to interview you 😀
Mary: Thank you! This has been a lot of fun.