Words: J. M. Redmann and Terry Wolverton: authors discuss lesbian mysteries and thrillers

  • by Michele Karlsberg
  • Tuesday February 27, 2024
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Authors J.M. Redmann and Terry Wolverton <br>
Authors J.M. Redmann and Terry Wolverton

Lesbian mystery and thriller authors, with their deft pens and uncanny ability to navigate the complexities of human relationships, have carved out a unique niche within the genre.

From navigating the shadows of clandestine affairs to unraveling the intricacies of psychological intrigue, these writers skillfully blend elements of passion and suspense, creating narratives that captivate readers with both the allure of forbidden romance and the pulse-quickening suspense of a well-crafted mystery or thriller.

As they illuminate the complexities of love and danger, these storytellers challenge traditional literary boundaries, offering readers a riveting and immersive journey into a world where secrets abound and the thrill of discovery is intertwined with the intricacies of the heart.

J.M. Redmann has published ten novels featuring New Orleans PI Micky Knight. Her first book was published in 1990, one of the early hard-boiled lesbian detectives. Her books have won three Lambda Literary Awards. "The Intersection of Law & Desire" was an Editor's Choice of the San Francisco Chronicle and a recommended book by Maureen Corrigan of NPR's Fresh Air.

Two books were selected for the American Library Association GLBT Roundtable's Over the Rainbow list and "Water Mark" won a ForeWord Gold First Place mystery award.

She is the co-editor with Greg Herren of three anthologies, one of which, "Night Shadows: Queer Horror," was shortlisted for a Shirley Jackson award. Her books have been translated into German, Spanish, Dutch, Hebrew and Norwegian.

Terry Wolverton is author of eleven books of poetry, fiction, and creative nonfiction, including "Embers," a novel in poems, and "Insurgent Muse: Art and Life at the Woman's Building," a memoir that received the Judy Grahn Award for nonfiction from Publishing Triangle.

Her twelfth book, "Season of Eclipse," a novel, is forthcoming from Bella Books. She has also edited fifteen literary compilations, including (with Robert Drake) three volumes each of the Lambda Literary Award winning series "His: Brilliant New Fiction by Gay Men" and "Hers: Brilliant New Fiction by Lesbians."

Michele Karlsberg: It's said that lesbian readers prefer romances and not mysteries or psychological thrillers. As writers of the latter, do you buy that premise?
J.M. Redmann: In general, romance constitutes a large share of books sold; that's likely true for lesbians as well. Finding someone to love and spend a life with is one of the most profound journeys many of us take. Why not live or relive it in a book?

I think lesbians read as many diverse books as all other readers. It may also be what is available and visible. Who publishes books with accurate lesbian representation? How do lesbian readers find those books? Small publishers produce most of the books and they have to have a keen eye on the bottom line to survive. How much of a risk can they afford to take with a book that might not find an audience? I've heard lesbians talk about the mainstream mystery writers they like, and my ego likes to think they don't know about all the queer crime writers rather than thinking we don't write good mysteries.

Terry Wolverton: I find it impossible to generalize about "lesbian readers." Many lesbians I know don't particularly seek out lesbian content per se; they want to read whatever is new and interesting and talked about. This is different from when I came out in the 1970s, when there was a genuine hunger for content that reflected our lives.

For lesbians in major metropolitan areas, I think that craving has been satisfied or can be easily. In other parts of the country or the world, that hunger for self-reflection may still be keen. Some readers of any persuasions read for escape. Romance is a genre that allows you to immerse yourself in a hotter, sexier world than most of us live in day-to-day.

Do women characters have limits that male characters don't, like how violent they can be, or how casual the sex is?
Terry: I've received feedback that my female characters are not sufficiently "likeable." This seems rooted in a gender stereotype that is imposed on both protagonists and authors. Bret Easton Ellis wrote about a serial killer, and no one told him his character should be more "likeable." It's related to the notion that men can tackle the big serious issues, and women should approach subjects that are more pleasing or decorative.

In "Season of Eclipse," my protagonist Marielle is difficult; she's driven by ego and vanity and gets taken down. And she engages in two instances of casual sex and resorts to violence in self-defense.

J.M.: In the early books my main character, Micky Knight, was a bit of an asshole; sometimes still is. But, like life, there are limits that women face and men don't. Our characters can be violent and have sex, but we have to write about the context in a way men don't. Some of the macho mystery guys can be very violent, with minimal thought. Maybe It's just me, but I have moral quandaries about killing everyone off. Was the man guarding the gate bad or just needed a job to feed his kids?

In what ways can a thriller or mystery also contain social observation and critique?
J.M.: Mysteries are about justice, seeking it if not always finding it. By writing about lesbian protagonists being the ones who seek justice and therefor the ones who decide what justice is, that alone is a major social critique.

Crime novels are about ways in which the world is broken and it's important to not look away from those broken places. Crime can be committed by those with power and those who are desperate. We need to look at how they gained that power and why some people are desperate.

Terry: I love that answer! Both genres tend to take place in a world beyond the personal and are driven by external events. Because the action takes place in the world, the writer can't help but comment upon its structures and systems. And it's the outsider who usually has a clear-eyed perspective on those systems, so lesbians are perfect protagonists for thrillers and mysteries.

Do women view justice, and its evil twin, retribution, differently?
Terry: I think what determines our view of justice is not only gender but race, class, religion, other positionalities. Some people require retribution to feel justice is served. Others see vengeance as perpetuating an unending cycle of violence. Marielle takes the actions she does not for justice but because she's determined to survive.

J.M.: I think these are the questions we have to ask ourselves as writers; when is it justice and when is it vengeance? As lesbians, one of the many groups who have been other, outside the law, justice may mean something different for us. What is justice in an unjust world? I've always looked for a moral balance in my books. If Micky harms/kills the bad guys, can the ethical scale justify it? An early editor wanted me to not kill a character, but I felt that if he wasn't killed, the end of the book wouldn't be justified.


Michele Karlsberg Marketing and Management specializes in publicity and marketing for the LGBTQ community. This year, Karlsberg celebrates 35 years of successful campaigns. www.michelekarlsberg.com

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