May 25, 2021

Barbara Wilson, A Trailblazer

Barbara Wilson, A Trailblazer

Ep:085 Barbara Wilson is the author of seven previous mysteries, including Gaudí Afternoon, which introduced translator-sleuth Cassandra Reilly and 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. Her books have been translated into German, Italian, Finnish, and Japanese.  

As Barbara Sjoholm, she is the author of memoir, travelogues, and nonfiction, and an award-winning translator. She was a co-founder of the feminist publisher, Seal Press, in 1976, when she was twenty-five. For her contributions to lesbian literature she received the 2020 Golden Crown Literary Society Trailblazer Award.

 QueerWritersOfCrime.com

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Barbara's Websites:
barbarawilsonmysteries.com [for mysteries as Barbara Wilson]
barbarasjoholm.com [for other books of nonfiction and translation]

Murder on the Lake of Fire by Mikel J. Wilson

So Horrified! podcast episode with Brad on Spotify

Brad Shreve's Website

Requeered Tales.com

Transcript
Brad Shreve:

In this episode, my guest is trailblazer Barbara Wilson, who wrote one of the very first lesbian mysteries. And Justene gives a book recommendation. where the murder was in a way that you won't believe I'm Brad Shreve and you're listening to Queer Writers of Crime, where we feature LGBTQ authors of mystery, suspense, and thriller fiction. Justene do you know what kind of guests I love to have?

Justene:

So I'm pretty sure on the kind of guests who you like to have are authors that you have looked up to for a very long time and authors that make your job easier by. Just taking a question as a suggestion and going off.

Brad Shreve:

Both of those are very good. It certainly helps when I enjoy their story. But Barbara Wilson is my guest today. And what I love about Barbara is she. was delightful to talk to. I had fun talking with her and she has a fascinating background at the same time.

Justene:

Great.

Brad Shreve:

So you're in for a treat very interesting and her book is very good. as well. So that always helps. And now I want to let the listeners know something. You may hear the chirping birds, and I don't want anybody ever to be confused and think they tuned into a nature podcast. Uh, I didn't realize

Justene:

I'm always in nature.

Brad Shreve:

yes you are. I didn't realize until I listened to a few episodes how clearly you can hear the, the birds and the barking dogs. So I will explain Justene is at home and the best wifi she gets very frequently is on her back patio. And sometimes she gets very loud crows or blackbirds that don't like her talking to me. And other times she has barking dogs and that's sorta thing. So, just enjoy the wilderness sounds in the background as we chat.

Justene:

That's fine. I'm sure that we have at least a listener or two, who find it engaging.

Brad Shreve:

it certainly makes it real. They know they're not listening to NPR.

Justene:

That's right. And you know, not all of us can afford the fancy and podcast set up.

Brad Shreve:

No, no, that is for sure. I also want to bring up So horrified! Again. I mentioned it in last week's episode and I told people would be on Friday and Saturday. Uh, but it didn't come out till this past Sunday, just a few days ago. So again, I was the guest on a podcast called So Horrified! And we watch absolutely terrible. horror movies. as the guests, they allowed me to pick one and I'm sure they regret it because I remembered it being bad. I don't remember it being bad, nearly as bad as it was. And we had a lot of fun and a lot of laughs talking about it. So, the best way to find anywhere you're listening to this show, you can find them as well, It's Sadie and Matt are the host of the show and it's called So Horrified!

Justene:

Well, like with Mystery Science Theater or Svenghoolies Mo the worst, the movie is the more fun the event is.

Brad Shreve:

that is. true. If somebody wants to see the movie first it's Blood Beach and they can watch it on YouTube, but we watched it so they don't have to. So it's up to you. It's up to you. And the reason it's on a YouTube only is because the, producers. went out of business almost immediately after the film was released.

Justene:

Probably in the middle of it. I have a represented some film producers. They run out of money off a lot. You're lucky they finish that one.

Brad Shreve:

yes, yes. Yeah. And it doesn't even look like they spent that much money on it, but anyway, that's really all I had today. I don't have a whole lot, and I'm anxious to hear what you're going to talk about.

Justene:

Well, I found a new author new to me offer author, and it's a new series, um, called Morning Dove Mysteries. And it would be really fitting in the theme because some of those birds you hear in the background here are called morning doves. Uh, they're the ones that, Ooh, Ooh. And.

Brad Shreve:

say the, birds today are, very nice to listen to song. Whereas usually you have the crows that are just bak bak.

Justene:

Well, I tell what time it is in the morning by the birds. It starts with the parrots the wild parrots from Pasadena, then the crows, and then it goes to the songbirds. And I know when songbird start it's time to get up.

Brad Shreve:

well, that's a nice clock to have. Anyway, I'm going to let you get back to a Morning. dove.

Justene:

in the, Morning, dove Mysteries is Murder on the lake Of Fire. And it is a, as I say, there were two of the series out. And then the third one plan for later this year, author is Mikel, M I K E L J Wilson. And his rule of thumb is no guns or knives for the murder. So the murders are unique to say the least the first murder in his book. And you know how you love books where I say it's the only, the first murder. There's always more to come. So the first murder is a skater on a frozen ice rink and an Olympic hopeful who ends up catching fire and how and why she caught fire in the middle of a lake and the lake is known as Lake of Fire. So it's, you know, doubly poignant doubly symbolic is

Brad Shreve:

you to, I want you to say again, how is this person killed?

Justene:

This person is ice skating on a frozen rink and catches on fire.

Brad Shreve:

okay. I want you to repeat it again. Cause if there's ever a grabber, that is one. Cause you just, you've just got to know what the hell is that about?

Justene:

That's right. It's really, I would have read it even for the horrible book, just to find out what the answer was. Not sure. I would have told you guys to read it, but this is certainly worth the read along the way. He he's got some other, uh, you know, interesting vignettes, the main character from whose point of view, the story is told, has insomnia. And so he ends up some nights having to sleep in a bathtub while candles drip on him.. Yeah. And in another part are the secondary character A PI has. His office built with a series of rooms behind, hidden bookcases. So you, you, you pick up a book and the door opens and you see an office. And the PI also has a pet bobcat it's really chock full of, of, of new and original things.

Brad Shreve:

Well, I want to ask, but I don't want an answer because I'm so curious. I don't understand how being in a bath tub with candle wax dripping on you would help you sleep if I'm understanding you correctly.

Justene:

That's right.

Brad Shreve:

All right.

Justene:

to read the book.

Brad Shreve:

Yeah. I don't figure out how that one works, but

Justene:

He makes it work. He makes it work. So this is a murder. The main character is a agent with the Tennessee bureau of investigation. PBI. The murder takes place in his hometown where his father is a sheriff. then he also hooks up with a professional, uh, private investigator. Who's also investigating the crime. So the, procedural mismatch between these three organizations is a tale in of itself. And at the end, somehow they managed not to make too many mistakes. the PBI investigator. cuts a few too many corners. And at the end, I, he, uh, well, the second book in the second book, he's a member of the PI firms. So you can just imagine how the first book goes Along the way. He's got a couple of other interesting and unique sorts of murders. the clues are. well-placed every now and then you see something, you know, I bet that's a clue, but you really have no idea how it's going to fit into the final puzzle. The characters are all unique in their own, right. And the way they interact is particularly intriguing. The murder suspects keep changing. And every time you think there's a suspect and it's going to end up this way, um, because along the way, you've got to, you know, they've got suspects on the run and you have to catch them. So you're never quite sure who the final suspect is right until the end. it's a. It's what I call. It's getting my cracker Jack recommendation. There's a bit of flaming involved. There's a bit of intriguing as you've already been intrigued. And there's a little bit of thrilling. Like a cracker Jack box was a little bit of every flavor, crunchy nutty, sweet and salty. Uh, that is a cracker Jack recommendation from me.

Brad Shreve:

If you had asked me, I would have guessed cracker jack because with a flaming body on ice and multiple body counts, which, you know, I enjoy and. an ending where you couldn't guess who did it? That sounds like cracker Jack. That sounds like cracker Jack to me.

Justene:

Yes. Yes. And along with the. Twisty you know, winding three sorts of procedures stepped in and, and, one of the main characters really can't be trusted. And at the end, I'm not sure he completely can be trusted, but we'll have to wait for future books to find out whether that assessment is true or not. And I'm hoping that the series continues for a good long while. So, people need to pick up the first book and read it, let the author know if you like it. And that always encourages authors to just keep writing.

Brad Shreve:

Yes,

Justene:

You know, we had one on author who I had found this book was a couple years old and it was really good. and I wanted to see that author write more, but the first book just, you know, just didn't sell and he moved on to other things in his life besides writing. So it's always important to one up and read books and buy them. And then also tell the author what you think. Leave reviews on Amazon, but also contact the author directly.

Brad Shreve:

Yes, contact the author directly. it's thrilling when somebody does that. I'm always surprised when somebody will reach out to me and they're like, Oh My God, the author responded. And I don't know. I don't know any author that won't respond. At least I haven't met one so far. And yes, reviews are wonderful. And if you've read something recently, that was good. and you did not leave a review. Please go leave a review. It really, really, really helps. And not only does it help books, but it helps podcasts as well. I have to throw that in there. I Tunes or Apple was, are the most common ones that. have reviews, but there are some other apps out there as well. So you can look and see if yours does

Justene:

Yep. Always, always a good thing, as they say on many podcasts rate, review and subscribe.

Brad Shreve:

Yes, because Justene and I get lots of messages. I've gotten quite a few emails this week, Tweets about how much people enjoy the show and keep sending those, but then go type up a review.

Justene:

Yeah. Yeah. And recommend it to your friends, recommend the book to your friends and recommend the podcast to your friends.

Brad Shreve:

You got, this is our public service announcement. The more, you know,

Justene:

and not just for our books or our shows it for, for every author and podcasts that you like.

Brad Shreve:

Absolutely, absolutely. And that's what I mean.

Justene:

So that's this short and sweet Brad and I'm going to let you get on with your interview today.

Brad Shreve:

Okay, well, enjoy listening to Barbara Wilson. I hope you enjoy listening it as much as I enjoyed having the conversation with her. Barbara Wilson is the author of seven previous mysteries. She has a winner of two Lambda Literary Awards and the British Crime Writers award for best thrillers set in Europe. Her books have been translated into German, Italian, Finnish, and Japanese As Barbara Sjoholm. She is the author of memoir travelogues in nonfiction and an award winning translator. How well did I do on your last name?

Barbara Wilson:

Great.

Brad Shreve:

And shoe-holm. Great.

Barbara Wilson:

Yep.

Brad Shreve:

Well, welcome to the show.

Barbara Wilson:

Thank you, Brad. I'm glad to be here.

Brad Shreve:

I have to tell you when I first opened your novel, Not The Real Jupiter. I was extremely excited. And let me tell you why It's because it was in Uruguay. And not only that it started in the Pocitos barrio of Montevideo, which happens to be where my husband and I are seriously considering moving. And you so rarely hear anything, anything about your right? How did, how did that come by? Have you spent some time there?

Barbara Wilson:

I never have, but many years ago I was quite friendly with, uh, a woman and she was from Uruguay. I stayed with her and her partner once and heard a lot about Uruguay. And, so I've always been curious to visit there. I'd love to go, but I have not yet been.

Brad Shreve:

yeah. If it wasn't because of the pandemic, we probably would've gone this past year. So we're, we're hoping to get there sometime soon. So you didn't keep Cassandra there very long. You moved her up to the Northwest United States, but I at least got that little bit of excitement in the beginning of the novel. I want to tell you, as I was reading your novel, I was thinking of Michael Nava the entire time. I interviewed him about a month ago. I believe it is. And as you're probably aware, I mean, we know Michael has been writing novels for quite some time, but recently became the editor of Amble Press. And during my interview, I asked him how has being in the editor different from being an author and he laughed and he said, well, I've learned writers are difficult to work with In reading, Not The Real Jupiter. It sounds like everybody in the publishing industry is not easy to work with. Is this true based on your experience?

Barbara Wilson:

No, that's not true at all. Um, I have a wonderful editor at the University of Minnesota Press. I've done now, four books with on different subjects to do a Scandinavia Christian Tibet, and he's a Paragon. He's wonderful. And I work with many, many wonderful, editors as well as some wacky ones. Um, I certainly worked with very demanding editors when I was, um, well, When I was working at Seal Press and I was the co-founder, as you might know of that feminist press and worked there 18 years. So I worked with other editors. I worked with a lot of writers and I've kind of exaggerated a lot, um, because of stories I've heard and stories I remember, but no, not everyone is crazy and publishing. It just seems like it's sometimes.

Brad Shreve:

Well, of course we're going to exaggerate, but I want I'm like how much this is real, what, there's gotta be some of it. Yeah.

Barbara Wilson:

Right.

Brad Shreve:

Cassandra Riley, your first book was in 1984 with her

Barbara Wilson:

No. My first book, with her was in 1990. Um, I think that was Gaudi Afternoon or was it in 91? Yes, 1990 at any rate. Um, but I did start writing mysteries and published the first one in 1984. And those were with Pam Nilson. She was printer in Seattle. So I wrote three with her Murder in the Collective, Sisters of the Road, and The Dog Collar Murders. And then I switched to Cassandra.

Brad Shreve:

In 1984 was Murder in the Collective. That was a very early for a lesbian mystery.

Barbara Wilson:

It was the first, uh, one really with an amateur sleuth, Katherine Forrest published one, I think the same year, but she had a, uh, police detective as her detective. But yeah, they were the first, there was a time when there were no lesbian mysteries.

Brad Shreve:

What was your experience like being one of the first lesbian mystery authors?

Barbara Wilson:

To tell you the truth. It was incredibly positive. Um, before that I had been writing short stories that were published, um, In lesbian journals and in small literary journals and you know, about five people read those things. Um, so my experience of publishing, Murder in the Collective was suddenly books flying out the door. Um, it was published in England. They brought me over to London. It was published. Germany. It was really popular and suddenly everyone said, what's the next one? And the next one, um, people were really eager to read them. So that was quite not that wasn't unexpected. I thought I would just write the first one kind of as an experiment. but because of that, I was sort of launched into a mystery writing career without quite knowing what that meant. I don't, um, you know, everyone commented on the fact that Pam was a lesbian, but, um, I think they were also quite struck by the fact that it was a collective and it was a political, and it tried to bring into the mystery form, uh, discussions about politics, international politics. So all those things were wrapped in one package in all of those things were quite discussed at the time.

Brad Shreve:

So you, weren't just trying to put out some entertainment. You were trying to teach a thing or two as well.

Barbara Wilson:

I suppose I was, yeah. While putting it in an entertaining form and a fast paced mystery with a kind of, um, semi incompetent amateur sleuth.

Brad Shreve:

Not The Real Jupiter. When this show airs will have released last week, so everyone can go out and get it. This is a May of 2021. Anybody that may be listening in the future. However, the last Cassandra Riley story was The Case of the Orphaned Bassoonists. That was book number four. And that was back in year 2000. What has Cassandra been doing all this time?

Barbara Wilson:

She's been translating, she's been traveling, um, she's been getting into trouble. Good trouble. Um, What I've been doing is doing a lot more translation. And I started writing non-fiction and challenging myself a great deal more in terms of academic writing, and publishing with university presses as well as the mainstream presses. And, uh, I also undertook some. travels of my own to the North Atlantic by sea, and also up to Lapland where I spent four different winters. So things kind of got away from me. Um, and I've been enjoying myself, but I did miss, Cassandra and I think that especially doing more academic writing with, um, and notes and bibliographies, I really long for the freedom. That I had experienced writing mysteries and especially those with Cassandra, which are a lot about language and about, uh, gender and sexuality. And I thought I've got to get back to her and find out what she's been doing. She had aged quite a bit by the time I reencountered her, but she hadn't lost her spirit.

Brad Shreve:

And actually that I was just about to ask you because in Not The Real Jupiter, there's a lot of references to graying and retirement and aging in general. So she has actually aged over that time period.

Barbara Wilson:

she has unlike a lot of mysteries where they stay. Vaguely 30, 40, maybe 50. I thought it'd be really interesting to just bring her up to her late sixties, which was my age when I started writing about her again. And I think that I'd always been kind of intrigued by this elderly spinster in mystery fiction. You know, you've got Miss Marple, you've got, um, Miss Paula Facts and Miss Silver, and I thought. We still haven't had an elderly, lesbian sleuth. So why not see what that would be like? And of course it's very, very different. Um, she's not sitting at home in Mary St. Mead sort of knitting and observing. she's still out and about, um, as most lesbians are actually.

Brad Shreve:

Older women in general, now you don't see them in house dresses, knitting with their hair in a bun all the time. Like I know when I was growing up, that was always the image I had and that certainly doesn't seem true anymore,

Barbara Wilson:

exactly. That was my grandmother. That was my grandmother to a T you know, she still wore the stockings with seams and these big clunky shoes and a little hat and these kind of cotton nylon dresses. Um, you know, she seemed as old as the hills when I knew her. Starting probably. I mean, I can remember her when she was in her fifties. She was old, but Cassandra is not old. That way her hair is gray. Um, she's still getting up to tricks.

Brad Shreve:

What I noticed as well, She is alive and kicking in, in getting into mischief. I will say that. Uh, tell us about Cassandra Riley.

Barbara Wilson:

Well, I don't ever go into huge amounts of backstory for her. and I don't know why that is. Um, I think I have a clear idea of her in some ways through how she speaks and what she does. And in every book I tell a little bit more about her. I like to keep it light. Um, but I think there are ways in which she's developed in my mind. I, um, even though I'm. Partly Scandinavian Swedish. I'm also about a quarter Irish. My grandfather was born in County Cork and, uh, lived in the Midwest with my grandmother. And so I had thought it would be interesting to make Cassandra and Irish American. And that's when she is. Um, she grew up in Kalamazoo where my mom went to college and, she lived in a big family and she had to get out. So she left on her junior year to Spain and she never really came back. Um, she spent, has spent most of her life traveling. Um, but her base is in London where she has a lot of friends. And so some of what I write about her is set in London and about British publishing and about friendships with, um, all kinds of women. but some of the stories are set in other countries from Mexico to Romania, to, uh, Hawaii, um, and Iceland and, Europe, of course, this one is kind of unusual in that it's set in America. And, uh, it shows Cassandra kind of returning after a long period where she hasn't been in this country. And I suppose it occurred to me that it'd be interesting to, to write about her re-encounter during, uh, who she could of been if she had stayed in and sort of become a West coast dyke.

Brad Shreve:

You have actually done quite a bit of living in Europe and around the world back and forth, moving back and forth and. obviously that's reflected in Cassandra's life. Now you're here in Oregon and your wife is a wildlife biologists with the forest service.

Barbara Wilson:

Right. We're in Washington though. Um, in the Olympic National Forest.

Brad Shreve:

I guess since she was in Oregon I assumed you were, but I knew you were up that way.

Barbara Wilson:

Right in the Northwest. Exactly.

Brad Shreve:

You seem very settled at this point in your life is. the way it's coming across to me, Do you feel like that's being reflected in Cassandra at this time?

Barbara Wilson:

No, I don't think Cassandra is settled at all and, um, and that we diverge, I think, for the last. Uh, 15 years, um, since I've been living in Port Townsend, my life has been more stable though. I do travel still quite a bit and have been to Europe probably once a year, at least. since I've been living here. So I usually spend about a month in Scandinavia and, other countries I've been to Greece, spent a lot of time in England, um, France, so on, but it comes from a place of having a garden and having a life here, having friendships. and I like that. I it's good for me to be in one place as well as to travel.

Brad Shreve:

Yeah. I live in Los Angeles, but I don't feel settled. I'm looking for the day that I can actually have a garden too. So I envy you.

Barbara Wilson:

Yeah.

Brad Shreve:

The travels that you've been talking about has any of that been due to doing some translations?

Barbara Wilson:

Yes, I've translated from, uh, Danish and Norwegian. And, I've also written quite a bit about, um, Lapland and the indigenous Saami people. And I've been working on a book for the last year about Saami material culture, how it ended up in museums and, uh, how it has been being returned and acts of repatriation. So I'm, I'm really familiar with Scandinavia. I spent a lot of time in Sweden and Norway in particular.

Brad Shreve:

I found it interesting. I know quite a few people that had their books translated, but mostly the, I believe they were, self published authors and I always just pictured a translator, just sitting in the little office and in Cassandra's life, she's traveling all over the world doing these. And it seems like a very interesting and exciting life, much more than I would expect is it sounds like there's some truth to that.

Barbara Wilson:

Yeah, I think that's true. Um, I mean, she's a restless person anyway, but she gets invited to go to different conferences and she works with different authors in South America and Spain. And she has a lot of friends in Spain where she lived in Barcelona for quite some time. So I think that, especially with the laptop, she can do her translation anywhere. And, um, even though I don't translate from Spanish, I did live a year in Spain and went to the University of Granada. So I feel comfortable, uh, working with her as a Spanish translator.

Brad Shreve:

Well in her world, she has a lot of. friends and cohorts who are also translators. It seems more like cohorts even her friends don't seem like the closest of friends. cause there seems like a lot of competition between them all. Is it really such a close knit, almost a society that works close together like that.

Barbara Wilson:

In some ways. I do think there's, um, both working together and there's competition. I have several close friends who are also translators, who I've known for a long time. Um, I think that, uh, translators have gotten much more organized in the last 20 years. And I think that, the American Literary Translators Association ALTA has had a huge effect on the lives of translators and. abilities for people to get together. And there's a lot of political consciousness and really exciting things happening in translation around, um, Queer translators, translators of color who gets translated, who gets published lots of really interesting discussions at the moment. I don't really, at the moment, I don't put those into the Cassandra books too much. Um, but I'm aware of them and I think they're really interesting developments.

Brad Shreve:

You know, quite a few languages and you've just really seemed to have a passion for translation or translating. What attracts you do, you know?

Barbara Wilson:

I love language and, um, I. I like reading in other languages. Um, but I also like bringing those into English and sharing them. and I think with Cassandra, it gives me a way of playing with language too. There are lots of jokes and puns and, um, you know, intellectual things, but also silly things that, um, she does with language. And I think that, um, It gives her in some ways, a reason for being in lots of different countries, but also for looking kind of below the surface of what's being said. So I've tried to use translation as a metaphor for. sleuthing in some ways, because there's, um, a way of paying attention to what people are saying to sort of parsing the meaning of things that you develop as a translator. And I think that's actually somewhat similar to detection. And I think probably what interests me most about mysteries is the figure of the detective. The plots I love, but I think it's always the detective who stays in my mind with all their eccentricities and, ways of approaching problems. And I think that the role of translator kind of is analogist to the detective. And I'm, I'm not so aware that anyone else has written a mystery with a translator. There could well be. Um, but I think it is fun to have a translator is my main detective.

Brad Shreve:

I have never heard of another mystery that had that. And I found that extremely interesting. Speaking of the meaning of words that you've just brought up, let's get to your novel, Not the Real Jupiter. What is the meaning behind the title?

Barbara Wilson:

Well, the story starts out in, um, Montevideo with Cassandra visiting her old friend, Luisa Montiflores, um, who has, uh, she's translated before and she's appeared in a couple of other Cassandra stories and a publisher in Oregon who has agreed to. publish Luisa's book, which is called Jupit... If I can switch to Spanish, Jupitor y sus lunas, um, Jupiter And Its Moons, wants to give it a different title, Unraveling Jupiter, and, um, putting a horrible cover on it. And she's involved Cassandra in her histrionics around this and Cassandra, Is arguing with her and it becomes apparent that Luisa doesn't even think it's about Jupiter. So that's where the title comes from. that Luisa says it's not the real Jupiter. And that kind of lends itself to the whole book because nothing is what it seems and nothing is the real Jupiter in the book, but it also has kind of a science fiction theme, a little bit, or a speculative fiction. And I, I play around with that, you know, in the categories and, and, I've got Asimov in there and, uh, various discussions of what makes something science fiction or speculative fiction.

Brad Shreve:

And you actually get right into that, right, at the very beginning of the novel, the speculative fiction and even discussion of science fiction.

Barbara Wilson:

right, right. That was really fun to read from that perspective and to try and work that into the book.

Brad Shreve:

Well, we have a mystery, so we can't tell too much, but what more can you tell us about this story?

Barbara Wilson:

Cassandra goes to California. Um, uh, she's been invited to a conference and she's supposed to be working on a translation. She has a deadline back in London and she's experiencing problems with her editor there. And, she then. has been convinced by, uh, Luisa that she should talk with this editor, uh, Giselle in Portland and try and sort this whole mess with a cover and the, um, title out and Cassandra is intrigued by Giselle and her voice on the phone. sort of makes her want to go stay with her. Giselle, is not in Portland, however, she's on the coast of Oregon and Newport. And, uh, so Cassandra is persuaded to borrow car and drive up to Oregon. And, uh, when she gets there, it turns out that Giselle has, met with a very unfortunate accident. And Cassandra's somehow a person of interest she's told she can't leave the country, which is a big problem for her. And one thing leads to another. She ends up going to Portland and deciding to take on the investigation herself, um, to speed things up so that she can get to an important conference in England so that she won't be tossed from her job as a translator of, of a book. So that's kind of the basis. Um, she's, um, thrown into investigating, everyone who works at this publishing company, plus a few others. Caryn Morales, who is the marketing director, a woman who is the partner, a business partner of Giselle, and some other interesting figures to an older woman. That's a little bit based on, Ursula K. Le Guin, a famous author of children's books is in the mix too.

Brad Shreve:

What I found really interesting with your novel is there were tensions in different directions. We have her trying to solve the crime. In addition to the tension, she's feeling wanting to get to Europe in time, as well as dealing with other individuals that just say competition that she's working with as well.

Barbara Wilson:

Right,. You know, with mysteries, you're sort of trying to crank up the tension in different directions. And I'm trying to raise the stakes a little bit for someone. I mean, I, I was conscious of trying to make her life as difficult as possible while she's trying to solve this mystery and feeling like she has a deadline. She has also desperately got to get out of the country. She doesn't want to be stuck in Portland.

Brad Shreve:

Well, you definitely made her life very messy. So you succeeded there You see it more more today, but I really enjoy when it's a good mystery. and I really like the protagonist at the same time where I could almost just read a story about the protagonist themselves without the mystery. And that's the way I felt towards Cassandra.

Barbara Wilson:

Oh, thank you. Yeah, those are my favorite mysteries too. I'm really reading for the detective and the story.

Brad Shreve:

So let's go back to you were one of the founders of Seal Press. How did that come about? What needs were you fulfilling? What was the whole purpose behind starting Seal Press?

Barbara Wilson:

Well, initially my friend, Rachel and I, um, were interested in printing and design and I was 25. She was 24 and I had been studying. Printing. Um, I was really interested in bookmaking and she was studying art and she had bought a letterpress. A lot of places were getting rid of their old clamshell letter presses. So she put this in her mother's garage and, uh, we started printing chapbooks and. small books of poetry. And it was only really gradually that I kind of became aware that this could be something more. We started publishing Northwest women in a magazine called Backbone, uh, an annual journal of fiction poetry, Northwest women of color. And then a woman came to us with a book about domestic violence, um, called Getting Free, which was the first handbook for how to get out of domestic violence relationships. And we decided to take that on. So with that, we took a big step. And that book ended up being reviewed by the New York Times and selling about 3000 copies the first month practically. And that completely changed what we were doing. Um, we then sort of launched into a whole series of books on domestic violence for black women, for Latinas, for. Lesbians, uh, for everybody who was in a bad relationship with violence, We also started publishing translations and fiction. And the more we publish, the more we saw what we could do. And at the same time, a lot of feminist presses were also banding together, um, in networks and there were women's bookstores. And I think because these books were not. being published by mainstream presses and they didn't see that there was an audience. We saw that there was a huge need, um, in the absence of books, media, any kind of representation of, of lesbians and of, of feminist thought, that we could do something really important. And so Seal Press is actually still going, even though I left in. 1994. And, um, we sold it in 2000. It now belongs to Hatchet. and, they're still publishing women's books. Believe it or not.

Brad Shreve:

I'm fascinated that you. in the late seventies were working to put a focus on women of color different ethnicities. That, seems very early for that to be a big focus like it is today

Barbara Wilson:

Yeah, I know. I don't think most people are aware that, um, many of these issues were being discussed in the late seventies, early eighties, and that there actually was, an effort by the women's presses to publish women of color. Firebrand published Audre Lorde. Um, Zomi and, Cleis has published a number of books by women of color. And so did we both, international women of color from Africa and the Caribbean, but also women closer to home, like Becky Birtha. And I think that's been forgotten and I think people often, um, sort of think, Oh, Feminism was only about white feminism. And I think that's, I mean, in the main that's true, we were still reproducing, um, that hierarchy, but I do think that there was a sincere effort and there were a lot of, important books that came out then that are, are either forgotten or only now starting to be really taken as important as they are.

Brad Shreve:

If you, think I'm right in saying this, you know, looking back, especially in the early seventies, there was a large focus on feminism and when was the ERA that was the late seventies. Am I correct?

Barbara Wilson:

Yeah, sometime in there, the effort to get it passed.

Brad Shreve:

Working the challenges, of women. feminism and women of color. It seems it's back again. But for a while there, it seems like we were lost. Am I accurate in saying that.

Barbara Wilson:

I would definitely say that there was a big backlash that began to happen, uh, in the nineties and, you know, feminism took different forms. but I do think that, um, Feminism the Me Too movement really rejuvenate it. And also black lives matter has been hugely important in bringing black women to the fore. So these things go in cycles, you know, we don't completely lose what was done before, but people sometimes forget what was done before. Um, and then when backlash has happened, or things turn out a little bit differently than you expected, It's such a complicated process and I don't understand it at all historical cycles. I, I think we're all sort of reeling from thinking. We thought things were getting better and then they seem to be getting so much worse. Um, but sometimes, they're worse and then they get better again. And I would say that I'm so impressed by Black Lives Matter and by the renewed discussions that are deeper discussions and more widespread discussions than we were having, even when Obama was in office.

Brad Shreve:

Part of it, I wonder, you know, things did get better to the degree we had. women moving up in, in higher positions in industry, even though we know the wage inequality was ridiculous and still is. I wonder if part of that was younger individuals growing up were taking for granted the thing trailblazers such as yourself had to go through.

Barbara Wilson:

Yeah, I. I think that's true. I think every generation takes for granted the progress that has been made. and I certainly did too. Um, you know, my life was really, really different than, my mother's, and my grandmother's, so, of course, you know, younger generations would take for granted, um, progress that has been made. And I think that it's, It's important to recognize that the change happens. And it's also important to remind people not to take it too much for granted because we can lose many of those freedoms. you know, older people sometimes like to harp on about, Oh my God, it was so different in our day. And it was so hard and you don't know, and it's important for us to tell those stories and to remind people, many things. are better. A lot of things are still very difficult.

Brad Shreve:

Well, the listeners can't see me, but I'm, nodding my head quite a bit here as you're, as you're talking. I mentioned trailblazers and in 2020, The Golden Crown Literary Society honored you with the Trailblazer Award. What is that recognition? I know what it sounds like, but can you give a breakdown of the criteria?

Barbara Wilson:

uh, well, I, um, I was very pleased and surprised to find out that they had awarded that to me. And, all of what I understand about it has to do with contributions to lesbian literature. And, um, it takes different forms. I think that you've been doing it for maybe 15 years and I was very moved actually, to get that award, I was sorry that I couldn't attend other than. Zoom. Um, It made me think of a lot of things. And I think what I thought about a lot was when I had been, um, shows how old I am, but in 1969, a girl that I was just starting to be in love with. Laura I've called her when I've written about her. Um, she, I was visiting her in Sacramento and, we went to hear Betty Friedan speak and, you know, she was the author of The Feminist Mystique. And, she was also known for all of her feminism. Um, in spite of that, she was very anti-lesbian. And I remember when she spoke, um, She didn't mention lesbians at all. And Laura and I were sort of wondering where's the place for us in this. sort of great story of, of women, you know, taking their place in the world? And somewhere in the audience. And the question time a woman stood up and she felt, she looked to us very alone and kind of frightened. And she asked that same question that we were thinking, Where are the lesbians? What about the lesbians, who haven't said anything about the lesbians and Betty Friedan pretty much shut her down and said, well, they're of no interest to me. And I don't see them playing a role and, you know, elsewhere, she had found them very threatening. She called them the lesbian menace or the lavender menace because she felt that, um, that would, make, uh, the women's liberation have so many more problems if it started talking about lesbians because, um, I would just drag down the whole thing. And I, I thought about that a lot because it was very frightening to me to see this woman. So disparaged, the woman who stood up and I felt like I didn't have the courage. I didn't have her courage to stand up and say, but what about us? In fact, I couldn't have imagined in 1969 that there could be lesbian Writers that I could be a lesbian writer. I couldn't have imagined there could be presses. I couldn't have imagined, um, there would be the whole LGBTQI movement. Yeah. Um, that we would stand in solidarity, just millions of us, That we would demand our rights. I. It was impossible to imagine that. And so to have lived through this and to have been able to have been privileged, to contribute to this huge change in human society and American society has been astounding. And so I suppose that's what I think of as, uh, you know, uh, as a trailblazer is that I'm part of something. I was part of a wave and I was able to play a role in that. And I'm really, I was honored. I was honored by The Golden.

Brad Shreve:

So, you feel like a trailblazer yourself? That you have been?

Barbara Wilson:

I do actually. Um, you know, that, wasn't my intention when I was a little girl to say, I think I'll grow up and try and make some change in the world. You know, I always wanted to be a writer, um, but I did not. Have any kind of clue what books I would write and, um, effect that they might have.

Brad Shreve:

Well, I referred to you as a trailblazer earlier, and it's certainly our discussion. it's quite obvious to me that you are. So I want to say, I don't want to say congratulations because you didn't win a prize. You earned this so great job on being awarded The Trailblazer Award.

Barbara Wilson:

Thanks, Brad. Yeah.

Brad Shreve:

Well, deserved. Now you left Seal Press, in the 1990s. And you worked with Women In Translation, which is a non-profit agency. What do they do? And why did you see the need to go there?

Barbara Wilson:

Well, um, Women In Translation had actually been an imprint of Seal Press that I was mainly responsible for. And, I was juggling many, many things at that time. I felt like I, my books were popular beyond what I had expected. Um, Seal Press was getting bigger and bigger. And then I had also taken on this, hat, uh, of. trying to publish translations. And I think it just got to be too much actually. and I thought, I was still an owner of Seal Press. I was still a vice president, but I just didn't have the time to do everything anymore. I wanted to concentrate on my own writing and I decided to just take over, um, Women In Translation and. we had already kind of turned it into a nonprofit press so we could continue to get some funding from the national endowment. So I continued that on until, 2004, I guess, and we didn't publish very much. It was just, um, me and another woman, June Thomas, who is now with Slate, She's quite the podcaster, but we would do a couple of books a year. Uh, Chech Writers, uh, Bolivian Writers, Korean Writers, women Writers. So that was good. It, it wasn't so demanding for me. Um, It wasn't very well paying though. And we were very dependent on, grants and things. And so I eventually decided this was also a little bit too much work for what I was getting out of it. And so I kind of slowly closed that down too. And in 2004,

Brad Shreve:

Yeah, non-profits are not known for their high wages. Not most of them, not most of them. My daughter is in Germany getting her master's degree with the expectation. she wants to run some type of non-profit agency. and I'm like, you're getting your master's degree to make how much a year?

Barbara Wilson:

I know, well, you're idealistic when you're young and I think that's great. And some things do work out very well. Like Seal Press, actually, staggered along, um, with the staff and, you know, being able to pay royalties. But we did have books that sold quite a lot, whereas Women In Translation, those books sold almost nothing. So it was really unworkable. So I hope your daughter finds something in the non-profit world that also is a successful.

Brad Shreve:

As a proud dad, I can tell you she is going to make a difference somewhere. So I, that I, have no doubt So we've talked about your trailblazing quite a bit, as far as politically and socially, let's go back to trailblazing as a lesbian author of mysteries. What changes have you seen over the years since your initial book and especially how things are today?

Barbara Wilson:

in lesbian mysteries?

Brad Shreve:

In, in lesbian mysteries? Changes over the time?

Barbara Wilson:

I haven't seen so many changes to tell you the truth. Um, I think there are a lot of lesbian mysteries published and I think overall they presented an amazing, portrait of lesbian lives because so many have been published. Um, thousands, I would estimate at least hundreds, And, they come out regularly and they cover all aspects of lesbian life and some are more literary than others. Um, some are more stylistically, uh, challenging, but for the most part they're realistic. And I think that they give this kind of incredible changing portrait of lesbian life. over the last, 30. 30 years. I was trying to think, is it 40 years, but maybe 35. Um, because initially say in Murder in the Collective, we're talking about people who lived in group houses, who were in a collective later, we're talking about lesbians who live in penthouses and are, CEOs of this and that. We're talking about lesbians who are married. We're talking about lesbians who have children. We're talking about women of color who are lesbian detectives. And I think all of those things are. rich and descriptive of changes in society and the role of the detective as sort of following, um, clues and confronting people and moving around in society, um, as an open lesbian, but also dealing with sometimes with issues of homophobia and closeting and, many, many things that are part of lesbian life. Um, I also think that, the early, lesbian mysteries probably didn't have such a. Rich variety of people, um, characters in them. I think things were a little bit more separatists in the early days. And I think that changed with AIDS and with women working together with gay men and also with transgender people. Um, I think you see that. lots of different people represented in lesbian mysteries now and, and probably more men. Um, I think lesbians have good gay male friends in lesbian mysteries in a way that in the early days, I don't think was so true.

Brad Shreve:

Well, you mentioned, uh, that they are coming out in the thought or there've been thousands written at this point. I am always, I guess I shouldn't say I'm shocked when I'm interviewed or on another podcast, sometimes being interviewed. And I tell them, you know, on my podcast that I interview gay, lesbian, transgender, bisexual, queer, individuals who write crime novels. I get this look and they're like, Are there really that many?

Barbara Wilson:

Okay.

Brad Shreve:

I'm like, you know, I've been doing this for almost two years and I barely scratched the surface. Yes. There are a lot of us more than, more than you think. And, and the re the fact that you don't know, this is the whole reason I'm doing this here. So,

Barbara Wilson:

Yeah.

Brad Shreve:

We are approaching the end and towards the end, I always do awkward questions that authors get, And I surveyed dozens of authors and they gave me listings of questions that they get that are just odd, sometimes uncomfortable, difficult, or sometimes just downright bizarre to answer. So if you hold on, I'm going to spin the wheel and we're going to see what you get. Okay. I like this one. When are you going to write something mainstream?

Barbara Wilson:

I have written mainstream things. I don't know if, uh, I can, um, you know, I, it's complicated to answer that because I think in some ways I have written mainstream things. I had been published by Counterpoint and Picador, and I have had a lot of books that were read by, uh, Straight people. Um, I always bring my queer sensibility to whatever I'm writing. So I think that's sometimes, um, I don't, that's a paradoxical question. That whole idea of the mainstream, because I think I do write for the mainstream, but they don't always see the Queer, um, undertones. And the perspective that I have, that also informs my work. Does that make sense?

Brad Shreve:

Yes, it does. How do you feel about that word mainstream?

Barbara Wilson:

I have some idea of what it means. I think, you know, a long time ago when I was first starting out and I faced so much homophobia, um, It was clear to me what the mainstream was. I would say now it's less clear to me what the mainstream is because I'm always being surprised at how many people are queer and how many young people identify in a broad array of, pronouns and practices. So mainstream is almost a confusing term to me at this point. Yeah, I'll stop there. What does it mean?

Brad Shreve:

Okay. I'm with you too. That's why I asked the question. I think, well, you mentioned queer sensibility and it reminded me of something that I read that you said, about Cassandra Riley. And I'm very curious about it. You said that she's a lesbian, but she's not an American lesbian. She's not fully British lesbian either. does that mean?

Barbara Wilson:

I think it's because she spent so much time abroad. And she spent a lot of times in Spanish speaking countries and especially in the early days and, um, in the novel, like Gaudi Afternoon, How lesbian and gay life did not express itself in exactly the same ways as it is. It did in England and America. And that there was, no people were married, people, didn't live with their partners. There may not have been, um, uh, as many venues for them to express themselves. And I think that Cassandra has had relationships with a number of women who don't. I identify as lesbian. I think, um, there was no separatist movements in Spain and quite the same way. There was no sort of counter-culture women's music festival, Women's music. There were lots of expressions of queerness, and, and feminism and certainly in, Spain and South America just to generalize hugely. Um, but I think they, they were different than what was happening in the U S and in England. So I suppose that's one of those throwaway lines where I kind of want to suggest something vast, without specifying too much. exactly what I mean by it.

Brad Shreve:

And here I made you, uh, respond to that comment.

Barbara Wilson:

It's a good one. It's a good question, actually.

Brad Shreve:

I want to Thank you, for your time. And I want to remind the listeners. I'm talking with Barbara Wilson and her latest novel is Not The Real Jupiter which is available now. So you can go out and buy it or order it away and I will have plenty of links in the show notes to help you find it. Barbara, thank you very much for your time. I've enjoyed it.

Barbara Wilson:

Thank you, Brad. I've enjoyed it too.