In Their Own Words: Part 2

To celebrate the 20th Annual Lambda Literary Awards, we asked 12 of the world’s best out writers to share their insights into the genres in which they tell their stories. 

Today, we feature interviews with Kelley Eskridge (science fiction), Sarah Waters (historical fiction), Shamim Sarif (international fiction), Rebecca Walker (memoir), Val McDermid (mysteries) and historian Lillian Faderman.

Val McDermid: Crime Fiction

Val McDermid, whose books include six mysteries featuring lesbian journalist Lindsay Gordon, is one of the world’s leading crime writers. She also writes the Tony Hill and Carol Jordan mystery series, which has been adapted for British television as the ITV series Wire in the Blood, now co-starring former Bad Girls star Simone Lahbib. Before you wrote Report for Murder, had you read a mystery novel that featured a lesbian character?
Val McDermid: Yes. I’d read Barbara Wilson, Mary Wings and Katherine V. Forrest. In a sense, reading them gave me permission to write a lesbian detective. They made it OK for me.

AE: Is there pressure on mystery novelists not to feature lesbian protagonists out of fear that such books will not appeal to mainstream audiences? How do you respond to that fear?
VM: I suspect mainstream publishers are aware that novels with lesbian protagonists may not appeal to mainstream audiences. But that doesn’t necessarily translate to putting pressure on writers. My own experience has been that my editor has let me get on with writing the books that matter to me, regardless of the sexuality of the characters. And I’ve always written the books I wanted to write.

AE: Do you intend to write more Lindsay Gordon mysteries, or to feature lesbians in other novels?
VM: Almost all of my novels feature lesbian characters; they are among the regular returning characters in the Tony Hill and Carol Jordan novels. I try to write about lesbians within the landscape of the wider community most of us inhabit. So they’re there, a presence not an issue.

As to Lindsay, I don’t know if she’ll return. Hostage to Murder came as something of a surprise to me, but it was a happy surprise. If she comes knocking at the door of my imagination, she’ll always be a welcome guest.

AE: What do you look for in a good mystery novel? What determines whether you’ll keep reading?
VM: A story that intrigues me, characters whose fate I care about, and good writing.

AE: Could you name a few mystery writers who inspire you?
I don’t know that I’d use the word inspire; more that there are some writers whose work I always grab hot off the shelves. They’d include Denise Mina, Peter Temple, Stella Duffy, Reginald Hill, Steve Mosby, Allan Guthrie and Ellen Hart.

AE: What types of books do you like to read outside the mystery genre? Any particular favorites?
VM: I look for the same things in literary fiction as I do in mysteries. Among my favorites are Ali Smith, Margaret Atwood, Peter Carey and Sarah Waters.

AE: Could you list some of your favorite mystery novels that feature lesbian characters — perhaps a few that may be overlooked?
Sisters of the Road by Barbara Wilson
With Child
by Laurie R. King
by Abigail Padgett
Mouths of Babes
by Stella Duffy
Hen’s Teeth
by Manda Scott
Everything You Have Is Mine
by Sandra Scoppettone
Idaho Code
by Joan Opyr
Merchant of Venus by Ellen Hart
The Blue Place by Nicola Griffith
Miss Pym Disposes by Josephine Tey

Next page: Shamim Sarif on international fiction