Gateway Girls – A Guest Blog by Evangeline Jennings

14 Apr

evangeline jenningsToday we have the pleasure of welcoming Evangeline Jennings as guest blogger. Born and raised in Liverpool, Evangeline now spends most of her time in Austin, Texas. She is the author of Riding in Cars with Girls, a crime-themed collection of essentially feminist, very noir, and almost entirely queer short stories and novellas, and she is the founding editor of the Pankhearst writers collective. She describes herself as an unreliable narrator who tells lies for fun and profit. Mostly fun…

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When I was younger and confused about all kinds of things, it was a rare pleasure to discover a writer or character I could connect with. Val McDermid’s Lindsay Gordon was one. Mary Wing’s Emma Victor another.  I found them sitting on my father’s bookshelves, side-by-side.

Looking back, they were my gateway drugs. The Women’s Press was my dealer. And my life was never the same again.

Lindsay was a Scottish journalist. Emma a burned-out publicist working on a women’s help line in Boston. Later she moved to San Francisco – where else? – and set up as a proper licensed detective. One day, Emma introduced me to Pam Nilsen, Barbara Wilson’s Seattle-based printer and part-time detective.

dog collar murdersIn The Dog Collar Murders, Pam took me to a conference on sexuality, taught me about safe words, and openly discussed all kinds of tantalizing ideas I had thought were better left unspoken.

That was when I was hooked.

Crime fiction, I realized, wasn’t only Belgian moustaches, country houses, ageing spinsters, and dashing rough-tough heroes with a glint in their eye, a quip on their lip, and far too much testosterone stuffed down their pants. And it could say much more about my life than whodunit?

Katherine V Forrest’s Kate Delafield came to me next – a University friend had noticed a trend in my reading – and that was pretty much that. Kate was hot.

Sure, I’ve flirted with straight women from time to time. The Women’s Press published Marcia Muller, whose early Sharon McCone might as well have been queer, and suggested I take a look at Sara Paretsky’s VI Warshawski. Suddenly I was on a long and winding road that took me through Liza Cody, Lauren Henderson, Linda Barnes, Carol O’Connell, and Karen Kijewski. Sue Grafton and Laura Lippman were next. Eventually Stephanie Plum. But my Women’s Press books were the ones.

They taught me what crime fiction could be. A way to talk about life. A context for any story.

They told me it was OK to be me.riding in cars

And they inspired me to write.

My first full length book is called Riding in Cars with Girls. It’s a very noir, mostly queer, and thoroughly feminist crime fiction collection. My women are heroes and villains. Their sexuality is multi-faceted and explicitly depicted. Their streets are mean. Their worlds are wrong. And their solutions frequently lack in subtlety. There are, I have just realized, precisely no whodunits in this book. Not one murder is solved. But there are mysteries and, at heart, these are stories that go all the way back to my very first night with Lindsay Gordon. I’m very proud of that and I hope that maybe one day these stories may help someone just like the teenage me.

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If you’re tempted to take a walk on the Noir side of the street, Evangeline has sent us some of her top reading tips:

collectiveMurder in the Collective by Barbara Wilson (1984)
This intricate mystery is the first Pam Nielsen book and therefore the start – I think – of the first amateur lesbian detective series. If that wasn’t enough reason to read, here’s some more. First, this book is steeped in the women’s movement of the early 80s. It’s a story of two print collectives – one left-wing, one radical lesbian – and when they meet and plan to merge, it’s moider. Of course. Second, as if aware that she’s defining a new genre, Wilson’s Nilsen (ahem, giveaway rhyme ahoy) is straight when the book begins and only begins to realize the truth about her own sexuality in parallel with her search for a murderer.

murder at the nightwoodjpgShe Came Too Late by Mary Wings (1986)
The first of the Emma Victor series. Not the best, but a good place to start.

Murder At The Nightwood Bar by Katherine V Forrest (1987)
Strong, smart, and caring, Kate Delafield is an LAPD detective. This is the second of nine Delafield books, and it’s so much better than the first that I recommend you start here.

Common Murder by Val McDermid (1989)
In her second outing,  Lindsay Gordon investigates first an assault and then a murder at a Women’s Peace Camp. It’s so clearly based on Greenham Common that it’s hard not to compare and contrast with Wilson’s Murder in the Collective for different takes on the feminist politics of the nineteen-eighties. It’s a purely personal point of view, but I think Wilson’s work has aged better.

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Riding in Cars with Girls will be published on April 16th. You can find out more about Evangeline and her books, here at her blog.

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