March 22, 2022

Barbara Wilson On Spinster Sleuths

Barbara Wilson On Spinster Sleuths

Ep:106 Author Barbara Wilson, recipient of the Golden Crown Literary Society 2020 Trailblazer Award discusses with Brad what it means to be a trailblazer, the spinster sleuth and having series characters grow older, and diverse types of lesbian love. In addition, Barbara describes the Beguines who were women living in communities of up to 60 or 70 mostly supporting themselves and spent time in religious contemplation. 

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Love Dies Twice by Barbara Wilson

Not the Real Jupiter by Barbara Wilson

Barbara Wilson's Website:

Barbara Wilson is the author of eight previous mysteries, including the recent Cassandra Reilly mystery, Not the Real Jupiter, praised by Foreword as “a fascinating mystery novel that probes women’s stories and exposes niche publishing corners in delightful ways.” Her mystery, Gaudí Afternoon, was made into a movie starring Judy Davis and Marcia Gay Hardin. She is a winner of two Lambda Literary awards and the British Crime Writers’ award for best thriller set in Europe. As Barbara Sjoholm, she is the author of memoir, travelogues, and nonfiction, and an award-winning translator of Norwegian and Danish. She was co-founder of Seal Press in Seattle. For her contributions to lesbian literature, she received the 2020 Golden Crown Literary Society Trailblazer Award.

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Brad Shreve  00:02

My guest founded a Feminist Press in the 1970s and began writing lesbian mysteries in the 1980s which makes it no surprise the Golden Crown Literary Society honored her with a Trailblazer Award. We talk about putting having a character age during a series, and different kinds of loving relationships,  Come along and join my conversation with author Barbara Wilson. 


Announcer  00:22

It's time to pit on your sleuthing cap seal nailbiting dread and face heart racing fear. This is Queer Writers of Crime, where you'll get book recommendations and hear interviews with LGBTQ authors of mystery, suspense and thriller novels. Here's your host, Brad Shreve.


Brad Shreve  00:45

Hi, this is Brad and welcome to Queer Writers of Crime. My guest today is Barbara Wilson, and she has been awarded by The Historical Novels Society, the British Crime Writers Association. She's been nominated six times for Lambda Literary Awards and won two Lammys in those nominations and her next book is Love Dies Twice. It is currently available for preorder. So remember that it is currently available for pre order. Barbara wants you to remember that, and it's coming out in May. And Barbara, I'm so glad to have you.


Barbara Wilson  01:19

Oh, I'm glad to be here, Brad.


Brad Shreve  01:21

Thank you. Probably the biggest reason Glad to have you there. It's fun to have you on the podcast. But because of the podcast, I get very little pleasure reading. So because I'm always reading books by my guests, and because you, you're on the show, and you sent me your book. I'm like, I get to read her book. And it was a great follow up to the last one. I really enjoyed the not the real Jupiter and love days twice as well.


Barbara Wilson  01:46

Oh, thank you very much. I'm glad to hear that.


Brad Shreve  01:49

So this is the sixth Cassandra Reilley mystery. Right. And Cassandra trait as a translator, she travels the world and gets into a lot of mischief. By mischief, I mean, finds dead bodies or gets involved in murders. As a translator yourself. You have traveled the world quite a bit. I'm going to presume you haven't come across a body. But what has been your biggest adventure? Gosh,


Barbara Wilson  02:17

I've fallen in and out of love a few times more than a few times. But I actually have seen a bank robbery. So maybe that was a great adventure. That was in a we're in London one. Yeah. In though I was staying there for about six months. And just going about my business. And I came walking up to the bank. And this man ran out. And then the police came and everyone was shouting and I realized I had actually witnessed a crime. How did that feel? I was exciting. There were no guns involved, which I was grateful for. And I suppose that they caught him. I actually never heard that he just dashed off. And I don't even know if he got the money. He didn't have a big bag over his shoulder or anything like that. Like in the movie, right, right. And there's no getaway car.


Brad Shreve  03:16

Well, my guest is in London, it's same or in England. It's the same as here in the States, tellers in bank managers are told don't fight. Just give it over. Yeah. Yeah, that makes sense. He may have had some cash somewhere. Yeah. I didn't ask you a question when you were on before, and I'm going to ask you now. Not the real Jupiter came out in 2021. The Case of the Orphaned Basoonist came out in 2000. So book number four, the Cassandra mysteries was in Year 2000. And then 21 years later, she's back. Why did you stop writing? Cassandra Reilly mysteries.


Barbara Wilson  03:58

I think I wanted to try something else. I mean, I had always sort of balanced writing mysteries with writing short stories. And I had turned my hand to writing a memoir about my childhood, called blue windows, which was published in 1997. And I really liked writing nonfiction. I liked writing essays, and I just had never really had the chance. So around 2000 I, you know, I had been the owner of one of the owners of Seal Press and we sold the press and I decided that I'd like to do some traveling. And I traveled first to the North Atlantic, and I wrote a book about women in the sea called The Pirate Queen. And then I spent three winters in Lapland and wrote a book called The Palace of the Snow Queen about that. And as a result of writing about In the north of Scandinavia and the indigenous Sami people, I, I started just working in that field much more. And doing a lot of research doing a lot of translation. And I suppose in the back of my mind, I thought, well, maybe I'll write a mystery again sometime, but kind of got postponed. And I think that I'd been thinking about Cassandra quite a lot in the last year, sort of, that's my character Cassandra Riley, the translators Sleuth. And I had been sort of missing her and wondering what she'd be up to, if I were allowed to allow her to grow older with me. And one day, the idea came to me for Not the Real Jupiter, and I just started writing. I think that was a few years ago. And I worked on it and put it aside and worked on it again, and finally published it last year. And by that time, I was already writing another one. Because I enjoyed the period so much. So I'm not sure exactly how often I'll be publishing the Cassandra Reilly books. But I'm glad that I've kind of returned to them. They're fun for me. And I think they allow me to play around with language and ideas about translation. whole mystery genre is one I actually really adore. So it's been it's been so nice, just to be back in that world again.


Brad Shreve  06:30

Well, you mentioned when you were North Atlantic that you wrote a book on feminism and


Barbara Wilson  06:35

women in the sea. Yeah, stories of women in the sea and odd places that I went to, to ask information and, and tell stories about everything from mermaids to fisherwomen to Vikings.


Brad Shreve  06:52

Well as because in the Cassandra Reilly's Mysteries, feminism is very much a part of the novels, not just because she's a woman, issues are brought up. So I'm curious over the 20. Year, yeah, over that 20 year period, she not only is age, but tell me how you feel about the status of women in literature and writing these days? Well,


Barbara Wilson  07:14

it's always changing, some things remain the same women don't make the same living or get the same awards as men, often. Men don't often read women's literature, the women read men's literature. So some things are the same. But many things are much better. I think. Lots of the most popular books in the most honored books these days are written by women. So that's really different from the past when women struggled even to get published. Yeah, I think it's two steps forward one step back, usually, violence against women is still very much with us. And not just in this country, but all around the world. And even though more women are heads of companies and heads of countries, women still struggle with preconceptions about whether they're able to lead able to take charge able to run things. I think we see that in this country very much so.


Brad Shreve  08:18

Well, we think we've come a long way. And then let's say you look at a picture of Congress. And yeah, there's women in there, but not nearly enough.


Barbara Wilson  08:25

Right? Yes. And some of those women are actually crazy. The Republicans. So that's not an advanced in my.


Brad Shreve  08:35

No, I didn't even think about that. Maybe that helps to be a crazy woman to get elected. I don't know. So you kind of touched on it. Cassandra aging. Nero Wolfe was first written, I think, in the 1930s. And those books spanned about 50 years. Nero Wolfe didn't age, but New York City did around him. Richard Stevenson, Donald Strachey novels his first one Death Wish that came out during the AIDS crisis. His most recent novel that came out I think last year, they were arguing about Trump, yet Donald Strachey he had are hardly aged at all. And he said, he said, his publisher told him in the early days that nobody wants to read about old people. So if you were starting as a new writer today, this your first novel, would you feel comfortable writing about an older Sleuth? And do you think it would be more difficult to get published? Well, it


Barbara Wilson  09:38

depends on how old I was if I was starting with my first novel, but was as old as I am now. That would be quite an accomplishment, actually. So I think it's more interesting to me that I started writing about Cassandra way back when I about 30 years ago, and she was actually Oh, than I was at that point, and I was just kind of curious, when I was in my 30s, what a woman in her 40s would be like, I thought that is older. And so she's now a little bit younger than I am, because I've had to keep her sort of pre COVID time so that she can still travel. So the last book is taking place in 2019, is taking place in England. And she goes to Barcelona, and she goes to Brussels and brews. And she wouldn't be able to do that really so easily with COVID. I had some interesting conversations after I published not the real Jupiter, because some writers I talked to said, no, they had never aged their detective, they'd been told, don't do that, you know, keep them at least, you know, early 40s. So they can still run around and cause trouble. And I do see the issue because physically as you get to be in your 60s and 70s, you can't jump out of windows. And, you know, a lot of people are not quite as physically fit as they were 3040 years ago. But I think what you gain by having an older detective and having told the story of someone's life is that you have that wonderful retrospective view that they can look back at times in the past, in their own life, and in the culture of gay lesbian life. And they can remember what the bars were like, what the early days were like, what the homophobia was, like, they have that wisdom, and that experience. And I think that's actually very valuable to us, as queer people to have elders who tell the story of what it was like. And I think your elders also can act as role models, I mean, not in terms of being perfect and, you know, being educators. But just showing can survive all these years. You can be happy, you can be still working, you can be energetic, you can fall in love, you can have sex when you're 60. And when you're 70. And for that matter, probably when you're 80. I don't know, I'm not quite there yet.


Brad Shreve  12:24

What it is a you are allowed to be older and queer these days it was wasn't allowed the past once you hit 30. You were you supposed to go away? You talked about COVID? Do you anticipate adding COVID? In maybe your next book? Or do you think you'll skip over it?


Barbara Wilson  12:40

Now I think I will add it I've kind of thought about that in different ways. One is that I have Cassandra sort of stuck somewhere during COVID, like in key lay, for instance, and starting to write her stories of when she was younger, say she's remembering things while still being stuck there. And another is to kind of skip forward a little bit to the time when we can travel again. And so maybe she's masked or maybe she's eager to get out into the world again, times have changed. I think I'll be ready to explore that. And I kind of made a few fumbling attempts to set it after COVID. It's hard because I don't actually feel like it's after COVID. It's sort of getting close possibly to one phase being over. Yeah, that's a tricky question. For most of us as writers, how much are we going to incorporate this strange last couple of years?


Brad Shreve  13:41

Yes, it's been really mixed in when you mentioned it, you reminded me of a email I got from a reader, which is why I asked you and she said, Brad, I'm sorry, I heard you say you're going to have COVID in your next novel, and I won't be able to read it. And I, I sent back I said first of all, I don't remember ever COVID My next novel, I always set my novel a year behind. So I can put real events that I'm going to leave it further behind the next one. And I understand where she's coming from everybody's really tired of it now. And I really hear a lot of different authors. Some are saying they're going to put it because they want to be real. And they think, in fact of reader told me yesterday, that 30 years from now, it needs to be in fiction, so people know what it was like. And actually, that's the second time somebody has said that to me. And it's interesting because others are saying I don't want to hear about it. So an interesting trace that you're choosing to do that. It'll be very interesting to see how you have her operate in a COVID environment


Barbara Wilson  14:40

is a challenge. That's a challenge. Well, it's been a different experience for everyone. Some people who are first responders or who are nurses have had a really different time than those of us who are lucky enough to have a stable living situation and are mostly just bored and sad sometimes We can't see our friends and do what we wanted. That's that's really different. People have kids, for instance, I've had a really different experience these last two years.


Brad Shreve  15:12

Yes really has been different. I, I just moved to the desert, and I'm in the middle of Trump country here in California. And it's really interesting to me to go down to Los Angeles, and people are wearing their mask while they're at the pump, pumping gas. And they come back up here in half after people aren't wearing masks, the, you know, the hospital has the triage tent out in the emergency room and people are being turned away. And everybody's walking around like, nothing's happened. It's very strange.


Barbara Wilson  15:42

It is strange. Yeah. So there are going to be a lot of different kinds of stories, when people finally start writing them.


Brad Shreve  15:49

Lots of interesting ways.


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Brad Shreve  16:37

We talked about Cassandra Riley and I mentioned the book Love dice twice. So now is the time for you. I'm going to start calling this beyond the blurb. Obviously, you can't tell us the whole story. But tell us as much as you can about the novel.


Barbara Wilson  16:51

Well, the novel takes place in London for the most part. And it begins when Cassandra has a lunch date with an agent that she knows literary agent named Avery, who's also an American living in London for a long time. And Cassandra is always trying to get her authors translated, and she translates from Spanish. So in this case, it's a writer who lives in Spain who is writing about a detective who's a former Matador a woman. And in the middle of this lunch, the agent suddenly tells Cassandra that she wants her to come to a talk lecture. And it's on medieval. It's on medieval women. And Cassandra heads off with her. And it turns out it's has to do with a woman named Stella Terwicker, who was a historical mystery writer, maybe gay, maybe not that she's been dead from for 10 years from pneumonia. And her sister in law has written a biography about her. And this kind of, is the catalyzing event that ends up with someone dead, someone drowned in a pond on Hampstead Heath. And Cassandra being drawn into it in various ways, even though she doesn't know the person who was killed. She becomes involved in the in the world around this woman and in the story of Stella Tur. Wicker too, and all of these historical mysteries, which play a role in the mystery that I'm writing. And they take her to the southern coast of England, and also to Bruges in Belgium, following people, putting yourself in danger, getting a cold, that turns into a very, very terrible cough, being submerged in water herself. So of course, eventually, she finds out who might have done it and solves the murder in the best possible way.


Brad Shreve  19:08

So regarding Cassandra, you your first novels were the pen Nelson mysteries. I'll get to your earlier writings later, but your third Pam Nelson novel came out in 1989, I believe. And then your first Cassandra novel came out in 1990. Pam stopped at three. So I'm curious about Cassandra because I really liked her as a character and obviously you do. What do you think compelled you to switch? What was it about the Cassandra character that pulled you away from Pam Nelson?


Barbara Wilson  19:40

Well, the PAM Nilsen novels I'm very fond of and a lot of people always urged me to go on with her. She reflected a time in my life in the 80s when a lot of people worked in collectives. And in this case, it was a printing collective and it was based on Some people I knew, and early days of sail press as well in Pioneer Square. And I think that world was starting to dissolve a bit, I would have a hard time now sort of figure figuring out who Pam was and what she ended up doing with her life, I kind of brought things to a close in the third novel, with her finding love with her girlfriend, Hadley, and kind of coming to the end of that way of writing mysteries that were about feminist issues in particular, like, I tackled race, I tackles pornography, and abuse and issues around SM, you know, kind of will like touch. But they were a little bit didactic in some ways. And I think people like them, because they they brought lots of questions to the fore, that in the 80s, women, lesbians were very preoccupied with, what should our community look like. And I think that I just came to the end of that. The other thing is that I was living in England, I had a lover who was British. And I was there for several years and going back and forth. And I think for a time I actually thought I might even move to England permanently. But I was traveling a lot, and I was doing some translation. And I think I wanted a character who was not such a strong lesbian feminist who was more fluid, who slept with a lot of women who traveled and moved in cultures where, you know, people were just lesbians, they were married, they were bisexual. I was interested in exploring those sort of outer edges of the lesbian world. And I had been asked to write a short story for an anthology, and I kind of came up with this character of Cassandra. And from then on, I really wanted to stick with her. And I know that that was a kind of a shift and a shock for some of my readers, because she was a really, really different character than Pam had been, I think Pam was easier for people to identify with. But it was also interesting because Cassandra was someone that kind of cross more borders. And those books were read by, I think, a slightly wider audience than just lesbian feminists.


Brad Shreve  22:41

Over that 20 year period, that when we came back to Sandra, she is still single, did she have a relationship during that time period? I don't think so. And what are why have you chose not to,


Barbara Wilson  22:53

she's always seeing someone, she's got a very roving eye in. And she doesn't get in tragic affairs, and she doesn't hurt people's feelings. You know, things are getting complicated, she'll leave the country. So I think she and her best friend Nikki are sort of alike in that way. They're flatmates in London, and Nikki is a retired bassoonist. And they don't have a sexual relationship. They're sort of family to each other. But I think they both have an eye for the ladies. And so they joke about that, and from time to time, one of them is involved in relationship. That's, you know, usually short, but they always kind of come back to each other. So Cassandra has that long term relationship with her friend, Nikki, in all of the books, and sometimes Nikki is playing a larger role. And that's true and love dies twice, that Nikki is actually with her on some of her investigations, and they go to Bruges together, and Nikki is kind of spinning some ideas off as well about what might have happened.


Brad Shreve  24:06

That's not uncommon, the long term relationships that can last decades with it just stained friendship, and that kind of fulfills that desire to be settled. But then there's the wandering eye sight of a person. That's not uncommon, is it?


Barbara Wilson  24:21

No, it's not at all. It's not. And I was very interested in love dice twice in exploring lots of different kinds of lesbian lives. And also lesbian loves. Some of them are friendships. Some are there are obsessions. Some of them are long ago relationships that you just can't get out of your mind that are still kind of wreaking havoc in your psyche. You've never gotten over that person. And some are very chaste, sort of romances, and I've seen all those things in the circles that I move in, and I don't but I haven't seen them really written About over a long period of time. I mean, I think that lesbian novels are so much about youthful relationships, especially these days with YA novels, taking up such a share with the market, I think we're lacking not only examples in our literature of really healthy, happy married life, where that's a little bit boring, maybe we're also lacking pictures of women who are older who are still on the make, basically. And I think that's really true to not everyone is just married these days.


Brad Shreve  25:43

I am now as you were describing that, I'm thinking, well, she's married.


Barbara Wilson  25:52

I know. It's good, though. I didn't settle down until I was older.


Brad Shreve  25:58

I love being settled. Yeah. Though, I have my day, and I had a good time. Yeah. So sticking with the aging thing you wrote an article for crime reads and you said that one of the reasons you had Cassandra ages because you wanted to explore the idea of a lesbian spinster? As I was reading that I'm thinking of Miss Marple. Do you think Cassandra is a spinster?


Barbara Wilson  26:26

Well, the traditional definition of a spinster is not married. You know, up until recently, most of us were spinsters because we couldn't marry so many people were in committed relationships. Yeah, I think she's a spinster. And I think that what makes it really interesting is that there is this whole tradition and mystery writing of the spinster sleuth, and they're usually older, at least in their 60s, and they've got their knitting, and they've got their white hair and they live in a little village in England somewhere, and they're very observant. They're very nosy In fact, they ask a lot of odd questions, but they're cogitating the whole time. And that's a real tradition, especially in British mysteries. You know, we don't really have that in the same way in American literature, we've got private eyes, who drink a lot, who are depressed, often who have complicated family relationships. And who are usually about 35, maybe 40. And they go on kind of year after year, in the mean, streets of Chicago, or wherever their city is, are usually very urban. But we don't have older women generally. And we almost have no older lesbians. I think that's one of the reasons that I'm actually quite interested in what Katherine forest is doing, because she is one of the few who has led her character, Kay Delafield age, and I think that's wonderful. And I have talked to Catherine about it, and she says it's the best decision she ever made. And I think you see it in her books that there's now this sort of weight of time, and what Kate has been through in terms of what she's seen in her job as a police detective. The PSD, she sort of suffers from the alcoholism, the recovery, the friends who stayed with her the life she's led, it's a really, really valuable portrait of lesbian life that she's created over the course of those books.


Brad Shreve  28:41

You're correct. The definition of spinster is just an unmarried woman. But I think most people tend to think of the the older lady with her hair up with a teapot, right? That's why I thought was an interesting choice of words. Two years ago, in 2020, the golden crown Literary Society. Typically the awards are known as the Goldie's, they gave you a trailblazer award. Do you consider yourself a trailblazer?


Barbara Wilson  29:10

Yes, I suppose I do.


Brad Shreve  29:13

What does that mean? Well, I


Barbara Wilson  29:15

think those of us who've been chosen to be Trailblazers by the golden crown society, were probably chosen because we were sometimes the first to do something. And in my case, my lesbian mystery murder in the collective was one of the first lesbian mysteries, and it came out the same year as Katherine for us, amateur city, and she's a trailblazer, too. So there was that kind of original, being at the right place at the right time and just thinking this would be a good idea. I think the other reason that they chose me as a trailblazer was because I was one of the CO founders of steel press in 1976, when I was 25, and that was one of the early was a feminist presses because we published both lesbian and non lesbian authors. But it was successful. And it published lots of lesbian authors. And in fact, it's still going even though it's an imprint of hatchet now, and still publishing nonfiction anyway, by feminist and lesbian writers. So I think of that as an achievement. It was, it was alternately fun and kind of grueling to be a publisher for that long. But I, I'm really glad that I did it. And I feel like I did sort of help make lesbian literature much more widely available, and including voices of women of color, and women from all walks of life, published with seal press.


Brad Shreve  30:55

What would you say? Maybe somebody has asked, Why does she have to be a lesbian? Who? pam, pam or Cassandra?


Barbara Wilson  31:04

Oh, well, I mean, the easy answer would be because I was lesbian. And so I was sort of exploring life through these personas. But I also think that, you know, it's hard to remember it now in some ways, but there were so few lesbian novels in the 70s when I started writing, and I was kind of always looking for models and examples and stories that were about me and the writers that I read Colette and Virginia Woolf and Simone de Beauvoir. They were not lesbian, like I was more like my friends were, they were literary writers who were always had relationships with man as well. And then there was this alternate tradition, which was the sort of underground press and these great books like people bring her. And I was not quite so aware of them. A little bit aware of them in the 60s and 70s. But at that time, kind of a renaissance of writing about lesbians, and, you know, all gay people, this was going on in gay male writing, as well, in the in the 70s. And I think I was just part of that wave. I wanted to describe the life I was living and the lives of queer people, I wanted to give it the same value and significance and visibility that heterosexual heroines and heroes had. And it's really that simple. I was reflecting what I was living, but I was also trying to create characters who would last and who when people read them in the future, they would say, Oh, this is what it was like to be a lesbian or gay man, in this time in this place.


Brad Shreve  33:02

I was just curious about the question, because I've been asked, Why does your character have to be gay? Well, make him straight, who you'll sell more books. And this, I've been asked that more than once to tell you for sure. I was just dumbfounded. I didn't even I, you know, it took me a few seconds to figure out how do I respond? Because it seems so obvious to me. Because I'm a gay man.


Barbara Wilson  33:25

You could turn it around and say to people, why do you always have to make your character straight? It's boring. But that's the default. Yeah. Or it has been the default anyway.


Brad Shreve  33:37

It's a default, but it's true. It's the default for a reason. Yeah. And I need to tell you that I consider starting cell press in 1976. And starting writing a lesbian sleuth in the early 80s. is most definitely trailblazing. So. Thank you. Yeah.


Barbara Wilson  33:56

You're welcome.


Brad Shreve  33:58

So since those early days, up until today, what changes have you seen in lesbian fiction?


Barbara Wilson  34:05

Well, I'm, I actually am quite interested by this younger generation of lesbian writers. I think they're far more comfortable, of course, making their characters lesbian and gay. And, you know, actually, its gender has really, the descriptions of gender and living gender has really completely changed since the old days and so that lesbians don't live in a kind of lesbian universe. They usually live in a more mixed gender queer world, and I find that actually fascinating, especially since some of those novels are published by major presses. I mean, that would have been impossible to have trans characters to have asexual to have non binary to have all of those in a single book, that just wouldn't have happened. So I find that really interesting and really exciting. I, yeah, I think especially I read a book last summer that I really quite liked by Casey Preston, I think her name is and she was so at ease. With her gay characters that I, I was happy to see that I envied that, because that was impossible. You know, many years ago.


Brad Shreve  35:33

I think I've shared on this show before, when I lived in Los Angeles, I was asked to speak at the local Gay Straight Alliance at the high school. And I said, Sure. And then I thought about and I was actually in tears. Because I could not have imagined anything like that in high school. Now, we have a long ways to go. But boy, we sure come a long ways as well,


Barbara Wilson  35:53

I think so too. And we shouldn't forget that we should definitely celebrate that.


Brad Shreve  35:58

I'm gonna go back to Cassandra, or at least the novel, The story opens regarding the author that wrote the series with begins, can you tell us who they were and how they're different than nuts. Because I've heard of them, but I didn't know that much. And so I had to look a little bit into it, I'd like you to share.


Barbara Wilson  36:18

I've been interested in the begins for quite a while they were lay order. So they didn't take religious vows, per se. So they were not like Benedictines are something else. But they began to be more and more visible and to attract more and more members to their convents in the 1200s, I think in the low countries, and Belgium and Holland, but also in Spain, in Germany, there were beginning groups. And I think part of the reason they were so popular is one, you didn't have to pay a dowry to enter the convent. So you didn't have to come from a wealthy family, you could come from any background. And the other is that there was a lot of freedom within these baby doshas, as they called them, these these convents for their lay women, and that you could stay for a while, and then you could leave again. So maybe you could get educated, you could develop some skills as a weaver, because they often worked in textiles, but then you could go home to your family, or you could get married, you could even have a child, and then you could come back, but they were self sustaining. They work they some were well off, they were merchants and they had their own houses, others lived in dormitories, or rented a room. And there were hundreds and 1000s of women who live like this, they were safe. Within this structure, you know, the doors closed at night. So they were not subject to harassment, they didn't have to get married. They could illuminate manuscripts, they could sing, a compose music, they wrote poetry. I was really fascinated because there's never been until recently much study about these women. And they had a lot of freedom and autonomy at a time when you just don't think in the Middle Ages of women being free. So I had gotten interested in them way back when I visited some of the begun arches. And I'd always thought to myself, Oh, I'd like to write something about them someday. So I sort of invented this series of historical mysteries that were set in the baby nauseous. And I also made it a TV show that was very well known on the BBC, or ITV I guess, in England, and I had duty, Judi Dench playing a role in the TV series. So I have a lot of fun with that. Just imagining what it would have been like if instead of were along with CAD file, we had seen a whole series about women who solve murders within the confines of the vaginas,


Brad Shreve  39:04

but really shows in the novel that you have passion or an interest in it. Without feeling like I was being lectured. I learned a lot. And that's hard to do sometimes. So you did very well with


Barbara Wilson  39:15

Thank you. Yeah, I learned a lot too. And it kind of plays into some of the themes of the novel, which is about groups of women and ways that it's both safe to be in a group of women and it's also full of conflict. And of course, it's a mystery, you know, it has to be full of conflict. So somehow the metaphor of the baggy knowledge and the lesbian feminist kind of circle of the past in particular, work together.


Brad Shreve  39:47

One thing that really jumped out at me it was a sentence in the novel. It's actually right near the beginning. Avery Armstrong, Cassandra is either describing her or Avery is describing one of the other The discussion was basically that Avery had it better than Cassandra. And Cassandra said, Not allowed. I had something Avery didn't. And that was freedom. Is that how you feel?


Barbara Wilson  40:17

Think so, I mean, I have always been really interested in money. Partly because I almost never have had any. And I do feel a sense of financial insecurity, having lived the kind of life I have with a lot of travel a lot of interesting things and writing a lot, but not always getting paid very well for, for my writing, that's explored quite a lot in the novel. And I think one thing Cassandra and I have in common is the sense of being freelancers and being financially insecure. And so she looks at life through that lens. But she's made all these choices. She doesn't, has never wanted a kind of full time job, she's content to kind of hustle for work. As a translator, she feels like she's okay. But she doesn't ever she's never had a house. She's never had a car. So in this scene, she's sort of looking at Avery and thinking, Yes, but I'd rather have my life. Thank you very much.


Brad Shreve  41:22

Other than travel, what other types of freedom do you think you've had being a writer and a translator? Well, I


Barbara Wilson  41:29

think when you work in, in the world of literature, you have to be a little bit of a Jack or Jill of all trades. And so, you know, I was never trained to be a translator, or a publisher, or an editor or writer for that matter. In any of my college classes, like I've got a general sense of the world. And my travels, kind of continued to bring me in contact with lots of interesting people. And I always read a lot of books, but a lot of things I had to learn on my own how to do them. And it gave me a sense of confidence, and freedom to know that there was always something that I could do. I could teach, I could edit other people's manuscripts I could translate my knowledge of publishing has always been really helpful to me, both when I was a publisher, but also afterwards when I was a writer, in terms of contracts and, and just even knowing how to self publish books. I've been able to do that. So yeah, I think in spite of sometimes, wishing that I made more money, of course, I have really enjoyed that. I have never really had a full time job in my life. I have worked part time jobs. And I worked at everything hard. But I've been free to travel, to just say yes to things to move to different places if I wanted. You know, there was a time in Seattle, when I just moved to England, there was another time when I moved to Oakland for two years. I now live in Port Townsend. And I've been able to do all that somehow or other through making a living at what I love, which is literature.


Brad Shreve  43:18

And you've done things that other people can only dream of, in fact, I'm sitting here, you know, I had those opportunities to write she said, This sounds wonderful. Why did I do? Something else happened to you that other writers dream of your novel, Gaudi Afternoon, which I love the title, though it came to the big screen. It was released in 2001. I believe it is. Yes. How do you feel when you got that phone call?


Barbara Wilson  43:46

Well, you know, I never really thought it would happen. To tell you the truth. I think it took about 10 years. And I think when I got the first phone call, it was someone at sale press. I was at home and someone had cell press had given this guy, my home number. So he called me and I was washing the dishes. And he said I read your book Gaidi Afternoon  I would love to you know, write a screenplay and see if I could get it published. And he had actually no qualifications. And he was a big dreamer. He later became a great friend of mine, James  was his name. You know, he I think he optioned it first. I said, Well, fine, why not? But it seems so unlikely that a book like that would be ever made into a movie. And he would surface you know, every year or two and say, Oh, I've made contact with so and so or someone's interested or Now Susan Seidelman was interested in becoming the director, but we need to have some people attached and we're thinking about Helen Mirren. And I would just think to myself, Helen Mirren, are you nuts? This is never going to happen. But it did happen. They found a Spanish producer And they got Judy Davis attached. And Marcia Gay Harden and Julia Louis, and Lily Taylor. And they did make a movie. So it was quite an interesting event. I did go to Barcelona, and I saw them filming it for a few days. And that was totally fun. And that was really fun. And I did see it before I came out. I was I had not participated in the screenplay at all, I think I read one version and thought it was really horrible. And so I just said, I'm not getting involved in this. And it didn't come out as I would have wished I didn't actually like all of the scripts, or well, I like the language that they took directly from my book. But some of the other things were problem. And they had decided early on, they didn't want to make Cassandra lesbian, because they felt that would make it too difficult to draw the actors they wanted and get an audience. And of course, by the time it finally came out, 10 years later, they could have just as well have made Cassandra lesbian because some of that homophobia was gone by that time, and then it would have been regarded as a really great lesbian film, whereas in fact, she's a little bit ambivalent. I think she kisses someone at the end, but that's


Brad Shreve  46:16

about it. That must have been disappointing.


Barbara Wilson  46:20

It was disappointing. Yeah. And, you know, I also was very disappointed with how they dress because Sandra more than anything, she wore this shabby green coat throughout a lot of it. She also smoke cigarettes, which I thought was awful. Sandra doesn't smoke, and she's a little bit more. I don't know, she's more Butch than that.


Brad Shreve  46:43

It's interesting. They chose to have her smoke. That's I wonder what the reasoning would be for that. And the cast. It was a great cast. Judy Davis played Cassandra and I'm curious. Richard Stevenson said he would never have chose Chad Allen to be Donald stretchy when the movies were made. But he was quite pleased in the end. How did you feel about Judy Davis? Being cast? And would you have chose someone else?


Barbara Wilson  47:09

Well, Judy Davis is really an icon. And I had always liked her movies. So I was thrilled. She's a tough cookie. When I met her. I could see that she's got a real edge to her. And apparently she and Marcia Gay Harden didn't get on at all. I mean, I think that was all Judy's fault. Probably. But Susan Seidelman Like that they didn't quite get on together since there was conflict between them in the story. I don't know. I mean, I, again, I thought it would never be made. So I didn't spend my idle hours thinking, Oh, maybe so and so it'd be great to her. But I would probably like someone maybe a little bit younger than she was. She was kind of the same age as Cassandra, I suppose. But it was just a different vibe. You know, Cassandra is Butch. She's been around the world. She's she's very easygoing, in lots of ways. She's not actually that edgy at all. She's curious. She's observant, and she's got a wry sense of humor. So any actor who could have captured that probably would have been a good one for me. I mean, I'm not sorry. I learned a lot. And I thought it was a very fascinating experience to be part of. But the book and the film are quite different.


Brad Shreve  48:31

I would never describe her as edgy. Because I know. So before I let you go, it is time for awkward questions authors get done. If you remember from the first time you're on the show, I spin the wheel and we get a question. And it's a question that sometimes we're asked that are awkward, or we're not sure how to answer and sometimes are downright rude. So are you ready? I'm ready. All right. Let's spin the wheel. Okay, this is one of my favorites. Why not write erotica? That's where the money is.


Barbara Wilson  49:13

Is it Is that where the money is? Well, I guess I'll reconsider, then maybe I will write erotica.


Brad Shreve  49:19

I don't know if that's where the money is. You certainly see a lot of them on Amazon but they all tend to be a lot more 99 cents. Barbara has been delightful to have you back on. And again, it's Love Dies Twice and it's available in May, but you can preorder it now. Thank you, Barbara.


Barbara Wilson  49:39

Thank you, Brad. It's been great talking to you again too.