Katherine V. Forrest


Katherine V. Forrest is the author of 15 novels including Hancock Park, Curious Wine, and Daughters of a Coral Dawn. She is twice winner of the Lambda Literary Award for best mystery: for The Beverly Malibu and Murder by Tradition, both part of the Kate Delafield series. She has two books due to be published in 2005, Daughters of an Emerald Dusk (Alyson) and the anthology Women of Mystery (Alice Street Editions). A winner of the Lambda Literary Foundation’s Pioneer Award, Katherine Forrest lives in San Francisco.

Lesbian Pulp Fiction

"A pioneer in lesbian literature.... A believer in the power of stories." —Lambda Book Report

"Forrest moves beyond the narrow confines of an ordinary suspense novel.... She has come of age as a writer on the national scene." —The Advocate

"Ms. Forrest's Los Angeles homicide detective Kate Delafield makes a strong impression...[she] plies her trade with admirable efficiency and hard-to-come-by integrity." —New York Times Book Review

"Forrest writes extremely well, and she manages to address the social and sexual issues of being gay...while never losing sight of the story she's telling.... She's one of the best in the trade..." —Women's Review of Books

"Few mystery writers combine such an intelligent take on issues with such solid storytelling." — Publishers Weekly


A grande dame of lesbian literature, Katherine V. Forrest has published classic coming-out novels (Curious Wine), the beloved Kate Delafield mystery series, science fiction novels, and now the groundbreaking and surprisingly steamy Lesbian Pulp Fiction: The Sexually Intrepid World of Lesbian Paperback Novels 1950–1965. Regina Marler caught up with Katherine in San Francisco.

Regina Marler: What a fun project this must have been. How did you find and gather all these terrific old books?

Katherine V. Forrest: Other than my own knowledge of authors who would obviously be included (Ann Bannon, Paula Christian, Valerie Taylor), I used today's indispensable tool, the Internet, to locate existing scholarship, and went back to those early mainstays, Jeannette Foster's Sex Variant Women in Literature, Jane Rule's Lesbian Images, and especially Barbara Grier's The Lesbian in Literature, a work I seem to refer to at least once a week just in the normal course of events.

RM: Did you make a thrilling "discovery" or two?

KVM: I did indeed. The major overall one was that the books were far better written than I had been led to believe. My standout discovery was Twilight Girl by Della Martin, a remarkable, potent, very moving, still relevant novel from 1961 about a teenage butch. I wish I could have tracked down this author, or at least uncovered some information about her. Which brings up another of my discoveries—this, a sad one—that a number of authors of our lesbian pulp novels have faded into invisibility. My hope is that a skilled detective of our history will uncover additional information about more writers of this era.

RM: What were the grounds for including (or excluding) a book?

KVM: There were several. The books had to be original paperbacks (which excluded such great classics of the era as The Price of Salt and Desert of the Heart) and had to be published during the golden age of pulps, 1950–1965. Since many male writers authored lesbian fiction in the fifties and sixties—outnumbering women by about five to one!—I sought only books written by women, a commitment I can't guarantee because of our sheer lack of knowledge about some of the authors. I thought readers might be interested, though, in reading one such male-authored excerpt, and so I chose Enough of Sorrow by Lawrence Block, who wrote several quite good lesbian novels under the name of Jill Emerson.

RM: I've noticed that everything you included is well-written and fairly realistic, even if it featured a lurid cover and campy or moralistic jacket copy. The books seem true to the time. But were there others that just seemed trashy or exploitive? Since the pulps were very much a commercial venture, I'm wondering where the line was drawn in quality and taste (such as it were).

KVM: For sure there were trashy and exploitative books, lots of them. In The Lesbian in Literature, Barbara Grier provides rankings—and many of the pulps, some of them by "our" writers fall under her "T" (for trash) designation. Writers came into the genre because there was money to be made, and many books are hastily, poorly written to formula. Most of the male-authored novels were prurient exploitation, and that old chestnut about "write what you know" comes very much into play here; a bright line separates those novels from the authenticity of incident and detail and heartfelt emotion inhabiting the novels by our "real" writers.

RM: Do the pulps change much over the period in which they were published? And what marks the end of the lesbian pulp era?

KVM: As we came out of the smothering moral climate of the fifties into the sixties with its whirlwinds of sexual freedom, you'd think lesbian novels would change to some extent. In my opinion they didn't, much, because the times didn't change all that much for lesbians and society's oppression of us until the seventies and the rise of the feminist movement. I believe that each lesbian writer told her truth as best, and as honestly, as she could under her circumstances, and I respect every novel and every writer for that integrity.

As for the ending of the pulp era, societal sexual mores changed, and writers became more and more sexually candid in their mainstream-published novels. I remember the shock that greeted a novel titled Couples by John Updike in 1968—shock because a major literary writer had entered America's bedrooms and boldly told us about it. The golden age of lesbian pulp fiction was an anomaly, and when the factors creating it changed, the era ended. Until the 1980s, when the rise of our lesbian-feminist presses led to a much more solid and lasting wave of lesbian literature.

RM: You've said this was an emotional journey for you. Tell me about that.

KVM: It was a revisiting of my past. After all, I grew up during that era and lived many of the emotional experiences described in these novels: The discovery of my sexual identity, and my desperate attempts to make it not be so. The isolation. My discovery of our bar society, and those first connections to community. Living life as a sexual outlaw. I think women of my generation have an inordinately powerful connection to our books because our early literature was literally our lifeline—our books were a key to our survival.

So yes, it was an emotional journey, very much so—the best part of it being the opportunity to say a personal thank you to these brave lesbian writers who meant so much to my own life, who dared to put their words on paper in the darkest of times to tell all of us about themselves, to tell all of us we were not alone. It's a debt too enormous to ever be repaid, but with Lesbian Pulp Fiction at least I've helped some of their words live on.