The Transcendence of Love and Intimacy with Nicole Olila and Paula Martinac

Welcome

Welcome to our LGBT podcast! In this episode we’re talking with Nicole Olila (she/her) about the Lambda Literary Award winning novel Out of Time by Paula Martinac. Today’s conversation is one of those life imitates art imitates life moments as Nicole’s work as an archivist and owner of a vintage feminist and queer bookshop mirrors Out of Time’s main character Susan who finds a scrapbook in a vintage store that leads her on a ghostly journey into the past lives of the four Lesbians featured in the scrapbook.

Plus, Paula (she/her) joins us for the conversation and we talk about her training as a historian, how queer storytelling has changed, and the persistent question she asks in her work: how do queer people find each other?

Episode transcript below!

Episode Credits

Host/Founder: J.P. Der Boghossian
Executive Producer: Jim Pounds
Associate Producers: Archie Arnold, Natalie Cruz, Bill Shay, and Paul Kaefer

Patreon supporters: Awen Briem and Stephen D.

Guest info

Connect with Paula!
Facebook: facebook.com/pmartinac
Website: paulamartinac.com

Nicole Olila is an ardent bibliophile and library advocate on the verge of obtaining her Master of Library and Information Science degree from Saint Catherine University in Saint Paul, Minnesota. She is dedicated to the work of promoting intellectual freedom and facilitating the free and open access to information around the world, practicing critical librarianship, and utilizing her aptitude for needs analysis and instructional design.

When Nicole is not working or studying, she enjoys mucking about with her brilliant wife and kids—including the furry ones. She enjoys learning about her Finnish heritage—including the history, politics, spirituality, and cuisine. A few of her favorite things are winter walks, used book sales, folk music, off beat films, dark roast coffee, lentil soup and chocolate stouts.

Visit Nicole’s website lspotshop.com to learn more about her, and connect to her vintage bookshop on Etsy—The L Spot Bookshop—where she holds space for Sapphic, feminist and offbeat reads.

Nicole is always interested in connections and collaborations. If you want to chat about open access issues, vintage LGBTQIA materials, recommend a chocolate stout, or anything else, do not hesitate to reach out.

Announcements

Become an Associate Producer of our podcast through a $20/month sponsorship on Patreon! A professionally recognized credit, you can gain access to Associate Producer meetings to help guide our podcast into the future! Get started today: patreon.com/thisqueerbook

Buy the books featured on our podcast at bookshop.org/shop/thisqueerbook

Quatrefoil Library has created a curated lending library made up of the books featured on our podcast! If you can’t buy these books, then borrow them!

Transcript

J.P. Der Boghossian: Coming to Minneapolis on Wednesday March 22 is the one and only Betty Who live at First Ave. Born in
Australia, living in Los Angeles and always on the road, Betty has been at the center of the pop scene with Somebody Loves You since 2014. Her opening act will be Shea Coulee. At 6’2”, Bi Betty’s new album is called, BIG! I know what you are thinking. You can get tickets at axs.com.

[theme music]

J.P. Der Boghossian: On today’s episode

Nicole Olila: It was a quite lovely to be taken on this tour of the internal landscape of a woman, who in a lot of ways is seemingly lost, Susan, the protagonist, you know, just not quite sure, and that’s really where I felt.

J.P. Der Boghossian: I’m talking with Nicole Olila about the novel Out of Time by Paula Martinac. And today’s conversation is one of those life imitates art imitates life moment as Nicole’s work as an archivist and owner of a vintage feminist and queer bookshop mirrors Out of Time’s main character Susan who finds a scrapbook in a vintage store that leads her on a ghostly journey into the past lives of the four Lesbians featured in the scrapbook.

Plus, Paula joins us for the conversation and we talk about her training as a historian, how queer storytelling has changed, and the persistent question she asks in her work: how do queer people find each other?

My name is J.P. Der Boghossian and you’re listening to This Queer Book Saved My Life!

[theme music ends]

J.P.: As we’re getting started today, I want to thank Quatrefoil Library in Minneapolis, they are a promotional sponsor for our podcast and they’ve been so supportive in getting the word out and sharing episodes. For those folks listening today who don’t know who Quatrefoil is, they are a community center based in the Twin Cities of Minnesota and their mission is to make accessible LGBTQI plus materials for education and inspiration. You can go to their website qlibrary.org  and you can check out their Queer reading lists, lending library, Queer book clubs and community events plus all sorts of amazing Queer stuff.

Ok! Why don’t we start some with the introductions. Nicole. How about we start with you? Can you start with your name, pronouns if you’d like to, and then a little bit about yourself?

Nicole: Thank you so much. It’s great to be here. This is really wonderful. My name is Nicole Olila and I am using the pronouns she and her.  I am at the Quatrefoil Library right now and we are happy to be supporters. I’m actually sitting in the non-circulating periodical room or office. I’ve been here for many years in different capacities. I’m also finishing up my master’s of library and information science at St Catherine University in St Paul Minnesota and I am married to a lovely woman and live with her and her children and a couple of cats and our newest addition which is Hugo the german shorthaired pointer who keeps us very busy! I’m excited to be here. Thank you so very much.

J.P.: Thank you for being here. I’m looking forward to this conversation. Paula, would you like to introduce yourself including name, pronouns and a little bit about your background?

Paula: Sure, thank you. My name is Paula Martinac. My pronouns are she and her. Right now, I live in Charlotte, North Carolina but when I wrote Out of Time, which we’ll be talking about, I lived in New York City for about 22 years. I’m a novelist and Out of Time was my first novel. But I’ve written 7 novels and 3 nonfiction books and had some plays produced. I also teach. My wife and I both teach in the English Department at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte.

J.P.: Thank you. I always ask our guests and our authors about favorite books and or stories that they enjoyed growing up because I love seeing how it plays out in the conversation that we’ll have today. So Nicole, what was a book or a story that was a favorite of yours as a child?

Nicole: Well, we were avid readers. I think that probably my most favorite books now that I’ve been preparing for this and thinking about it, I didn’t really realize the similarities but I’m a big fan of Madeleine L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time. I was a big fan of Meet the Austins and all of that. Then also the Chronicles of Narnia were important to me. I think it’s interesting because I realized that A Wrinkle in Time uses a portal trope which I didn’t really grasp as much when I initially read it. I have sort of realized now the similarity which was very interesting to me.

J.P.: That comes up so often, thank you. Paula, how about for you?

Paula: This will be strange but my absolute favorite book when I was little was a biography of Florence Nightingale! I read it over and over and over again. I remember it had pictures. I was just entranced by this book. That was my absolute favorite. So it wasn’t fiction at all and then I guess my favorite fiction was Louisa May Alcot, but not Little Women. I liked lesser known books by her. There was one called Rose in Bloom and there was one called Eight Cousins. They were a little duology before we called them duologies and and those were really my favorite books growing up. Both of those women you know in retrospect have been reclaimed as Queer so it’s interesting to me that both of the authors, Alcott and, well not the author but Florence Nightingale herself has been in some circles reclaimed as Queer. So I think I think that’s kind of interesting that that was what I gravitated to when I was little.

J.P.: Thank you Paula! So, what we’re all here to discuss today. Nicole, what is the book that saved your life?

Nicole: I’m sure Paula is like, what? Saved my life? I get the feeling Paula that you’re a fairly modest person and I appreciate that. I think you may enjoy this story. I actually discovered the book by serendipity as the protagonist in your book. Susan ducks into an antique shop in the rain. I ducked into an antique shop on the internet and it’s just. really funny to me that it was called The Lavender Path Antiques. It is not an LGBT store by any means but it has a huge variety of different things including a substantial book collection: used book collection. It was probably ten years ago that I discovered it. I just found it. I didn’t know who you were. I didn’t know what it was about. I purchased three books. I don’t remember what the other two were. I hadn’t really consumed a book in a long time. The living environment that I was in at the time really didn’t facilitate reading as much. I was thrilled when that book came. It’s funny now, that I actually stumbled upon it as Susan did and then found this book which was like a portal for me in a very timely period.  I had recently come out of a period of time thatI call another life. I had actually been married twice to men. I gave him my best shot for sure and then I came out even though I had come out when I was younger. I came out to my mother when I was very young, probably seven in a very open environment. For whatever reason things went the way that they did but here I was back trying to be myself and have the opportunity to do that. I really was lonely and  not really a social person per se. Books have always been my friends. They have been my windows and have been the places that I go to when I was young. We read just all the time. I  was born in 1969 and lived in St Paul. We were either outside or we were reading or coloring or helping around the house. It was quite lovely to be taken on this sort of tour of the internal landscape of a woman who in a lot of ways was seemingly lost. Susan, the protagonist. was not sure where she’s going in life or what she’s doing. She’s got degrees but is just not quite sure and that’s really where I’ve felt I was. Her girlfriend, Catherine is a little bit more organized and you know I didn’t feel very organized. She has a lot of passion and has a lot of desire and sincerity.  I love how honest and reflective the character is. I related to that as well. I’m very self-reflective, very introspective and yet not self-absorbed. She is truly trying to do right by her girlfriend and trying to do right by herself. But, she is not sure what she’s going to do. A portal opens up and sort of pulls her in. It’s not your sort of you know obvious Alice in Wonderland falling down a rabbit hole. I kept seeing myself in Susan.

I’ll just read really quickly if I may, just one of the first paragraphs where she talks about stepping into this antique store ducking in out of the rain and then sort of looking around and she says “I gradually made my way to the bookshelves once or twice lifting an object from a table to inspect it but less out of interest than out of a feeling of obligation. I was more comfortable at the bookshelves. My eyes scanning the titles quickly and zooming in on the interesting ones. I was always looking for the same thing and every now and then I found it. Once I located an old copy of Radcliffe Hall’s The Well of Loneliness in another store with shelves of old paperbacks I found several Lesbian pulp novels from the 50s including Vin Packer’s famous Spring Fire. It had been inscribed on the title page to ‘My Charlotte. You set me on fire. Yours forever, Genie”.

I had a small shelf in my apartment for these books. It wasn’t really a hobby yet. Maybe just a passing phase that I would someday look back on and say oh yes, that’s when I was buying old books about Lesbians. I never read them. I just stacked them on the shelf. More than being interested in the books I was fascinated by trying to imagine the women who had owned them, who read,  re-read them, who dog-eared the pages, who dusted them every week, whose fingerprints oiled the pages and whose tears made circles on the paper. When I held the books it was almost like holding the women protecting them from the silence of time because it wasn’t a real hobby yet. I didn’t know exactly what to look for. I didn’t know the titles I should be hunting beyond the most obvious ones and I must have passed over a lot of valuable books because the titles were vague. I tended to look at anything with the word woman in it which was usually not very fruitful. I had a few authors’ names like Helen Hall and Joe Sinclair but I almost never found anything written by them. So mostly it was luck and that day I remember I had almost turned away from the bookshelves and I was thinking of looking at the pins because I needed a present for Catherine’s birthday. I thought I had spent a reasonable amount of time shopping so then leaving wouldn’t be rude. Just as I was turning my eye I caught an oversized green Moroccan leather book on the table next to the bookshelves which looked as if it had just been tossed there and on the cover in gold leaf was stamped the word scrapbook. That’s me. I mean that’s me in a shop.  I have my own bookshop on Etsy. It’s called the lspot bookshop. I’ve read very few of the books that are in there. It’s a very eclectic collection of vintage Sapphic and Feminist books. My wife is an avid reader. She reads books from the beginning to the end and compared to her I’ve read next to no books. Yet I am in love with these books and I love the line when I held the books it was almost like holding the women protecting them from the silence of time. I’m also at heart an archivist and at the time my father had passed away, I was given a box of his writings. He was a writer and a teacher and the box had my name on it. When my grandmother passed away she passed on all of the things that my father had. I’ve just recently become acquainted with Shahanddi hi Han. They are an archivist and has talked about archiving as  not just keeping but extending. I think that’s something that really resonated with me when I heard them say that. I feel that this book talks about somebody who’s keeping a book of memories and then how that’s extended to the future. How meaning is found in that finding due to that keeping. I love the fact that there’s this connection and this ability to interrupt or disrupt time as being a linear concept. That’s where I think the connection with Wrinkle in Time is that it was like the explanation of the Tesseract. It’s a Wrinkle in Time where we can cross over and connect. The archivist that I’m referring to was just listening to this podcast put out by Sinister Wisdom which is a Lesbian publication that’s been going on for some fifty plus years. It’s called enduring value with Caitlyn Abadir Molali. They talk about breaking down the idea of what archiving is and then they expand on the idea of archiving. I guess I didn’t really understand at the time until I read the book what was my meaning. What was I here for? What was I doing? Why was I collecting things? Why was I receiving things? Why were things coming to me? The intimacy, the sensuality and the tactileness of the book and the writing is amazing to me.

J.P.: Before we get too much further, Paula, could you give us a description of what the book is about?

Paula: Nicole gave you a little insight into it. The book was published in 1990 so I was writing it in the late 80s so it would be a historical novel now but at the time it was contemporary. Susan Van Deine is a graduate student who is having trouble finding much meaning in her graduate studies. As Nicole said she wanders into this antique stock store and finds this scrapbook. When she opens it, there are pictures of women from the 1920s who she intuits to be Lesbians. It’s a group of four women in various configurations. They obviously are two couples. She becomes obsessed with the women and with finding out more about them. Her girlfriend is an historian and a history teacher who talks constantly about research and having proof and going to archives and things like that. But Susan feels like there’s another aspect to historical research when you’re talking about Lesbians and that is intuition. What can you intuit about what these women’s lives were like? The novel is her process of coming to terms with that research and intuition and how they play a part.  I think it’s a novel about historical process. How do we discover our Queer ancestors who were hidden from history because of criminality and secrets and all sorts of things that we don’t always have access to in the traditional ways through archives and libraries and things like that. The ways of finding out things about people’s lives that  we might have access to if  they were not Queer. She actually becomes so obsessed that the women are speaking to her. She has sexual encounters with one of them. It is like a portal in time though it’s interesting that I never read A Wrinkle in Time when I was little. 1 didn’t like fantasy very much. But it’s interesting to me that the first novel that I wrote was that! I think it was chosen for that  reason of not being able to know about the past that has been hidden and having to intuit things or imagine things sort of fall through a crack in time in a way.

J.P.: There’s a moment that I want to unpack here. Paula, can you take us through why Susan is in the antique store. How did she get to that moment?

Paula: She comes in from a rainstorm. She is a person who is drawn to old things and to books and antiques and so it is a place that she would have gone but it’s lower Manhattan. It starts to rain and she doesn’t have an umbrella so she goes into the store and she’s looking around and that’s really how she gets into that space and eventually as the story goes along she does become involved in working at what would more kindly be called a junk store. It’s a kind of antiques junk store that has no real rhyme or reason but she becomes an assistant there and works there with books and looking for evidence about these women that she’s so entranced with.

J.P.: Nicole, take me through the journey of your own stumbling into a virtual antique store.

Nicole: I’m not sure how that happened honestly. I was already doing the work. I’m on kind of a hiatus at this moment. I had started a podcast called Les Talk Girl Pond and became kind of a production company called Girl Pond Productions which then years later morphed into the l-spot which is still in existence. I think I was always scouring I mean the sense of this sort of seeking behavior that Susan has of trying to find meaning and trying to find connection. I’m trying to find myself, you know? I’m trying to see myself and the representation. My mother had all kinds of books on her shelves when I was young and we had Collette; we had Annais Nin; we had Doris Lessing. I had amazing access to a lot of women but they weren’t necessarily Lesbian or Queer. Yeah, I think Annais would identify Queer and probably Collette would probably too. I had access to things but I still just really hadn’t found exactly what I was looking for. Hence you know this is what I’m doing is my draw to archives especially as a marginalized community. I spent a lot of time in the Amazon bookstore when I was younger that was in existence here and in the longest operating Lesbian bookstores in the country in Minneapolis: a Minnesota connection to Alison Bechdal  who you had on the show which was great. I remember going in and touching the books. I didn’t need to know who the women were that wrote these books. I just remember running my fingers along the spines. There’s really not a place like that now. I’m guessing I was online and that’s why I started the lspot bookshop because I wanted something that was dedicated to that. That’s the energy that I got from Susan. Do right by the people in your life but yet I was getting kind of obsessive.

J.P.: I know you just shared that reading and it seems like that was the area that was really speaking to you. After you read it the first time, what was opening up for you? What was different? What was possible after reading the book?

Nicole:  I’m not really into ghosts per se and I don’t know if Susan was either. Her girlfriend definitely isn’t and I think that Paula is sort of alluding to this sort of dichotomy between the two of them: this disparity between the two of them. Catherine is more like nuts and bolts: black and white and science. Susan is a little bit more willing to go to the edges of things and I’m definitely willing to go to the edges of things. I think that that’s what I enjoyed about it. I enjoyed  that there is this self-reflection which sort of keeps that character stable so her feet are on the ground. She’s even aware that I can’t believe this is happening to me. The verisimilitude of  the idea that you can actually connect with women of the past or people of the past and that they’re actually soliciting her. They’re actually reaching out to her. It’s not like she was trying to make this happen. It’s more like Alice in Wonderland and then she sort of fell into it and it resonated with me. I found a sappho fragment that I have on my bookshop header. That is the guiding principle for me in the work that I do as I move into doing archiving.

Hence this is my favorite room where I am at the Quatrefoil Library which is where the non-circulating LGBTQ periodicals are for decades and decades and decades. They were donated and given to us by generous members and folks. I really enjoyed being taken to the edge of this sort of thinking and without being scientific about it. The fact that Susan is so open and willing and yet still trying to stay grounded.  I mean the relationship between Catherine and Susan is interestingly somewhat paternalistic. Susan is kind of like a child in her openness. I mean they adore each other clearly. They respect each other greatly but they definitely differ in that. I feel that too. My wife  is often skeptical of some of the things that I get into but she enjoys me and she respects me and so I appreciated that tension as well. I literally could talk about this book for hours. It’s ridiculous how much I love this book. I have read other things by Paula Martinac but this is probably my favorite.  The verisimilitude of how you can pull this off is so subtle and  so nuanced. If you’re not into ghosts, don’t be like I’m not going to read that because it’s like that at all. It’s so understated. It’s absolutely brilliant.

J.P.: You’re sharing this idea of women reaching forward from the past, have there been women that have reached out to you that you feel have come through the archive?

Nicole: God I wish: like Amelia Earhart. My first love! I wish she would reach out to me! Catherine actually gets into it too. Susan’s like I don’t really know if I want her involved because we kind of have this thing that’s going on. That’s pretty nice and she kind of ruins things with her book smarts. You know they want to be heard and that’s something that this podcast that I’ve been listening to has enduring value. One of the ideas that I have is that yes, there’s so many good cutting edge, amazing radical books that are coming out and being written by Queer folks. There’s also some amazing books that were written that have not really been even cracked or maybe they need to be reread. We also need to be listening for those voices and what they can tell us. What can they share? This is actually based on heterodoxy which was an actual group of unorthodox women in the 20s. Based on the experience of the author of the book that you mentioned,  Judith Schwartz, it was the inspiration. I’m assuming that Paula knows this because this is you. It’s in the book.

Paula: Yes, that’s big.

Nicole: This experience of finding an actual album that was found by Judith Schwartz who ended up working with the Lesbian History Project. She talks about having the same experience of having this call, like there’s this pull. If you read The Magician’s Nephew, you have like the rings that would draw you into one world or another. You’re getting pulled into something and you have no idea what’s going on and not that you’re unwilling but that you were unsuspecting. I do feel that and I want to make time to listen. I love the fact that Susan took time and carved out time and actually pushed Catherine away to some degree or let Catherine sort of distance from her. She’s like, okay, obviously this is what you’re doing right now. We can’t have a relationship and you’re doing this too. That was also very interesting to me, navigating the relationship. How do you follow your passion trying to negotiate that sort of a perennial question of how can we both be ourselves and yet be together at the same time? That all resonated with me.

[music]

J.P.: After the break, I’ll ask Paula about how queer story telling has changed since she first wrote Out of Time.

[music ends]

J.P.: We have a new opportunity for you to support this podcast as well as 7 Minutes in Book Heaven. How? We are seeking Associate Producers! What does that mean? Well, if you head to Patreon.com and support us at the $20/month level, you will officially be an Associate Producer of our podcasts. And what does that mean? We will recognize you as an official Associate Producer, which is a professional credit that you can use on your resume/CV, LinkedIn page, anywhere you want to share it! Plus, you will have access to our Associate Producer meeting that we will hold once every season. This will be your opportunity to give feedback to us and allow us to run new ideas past you for your thoughts. You will also receive the list of authors for our upcoming seasons and the chance to give us a question for an author that I will ask during the podcast and credit you with the question (i.e. “Our Associate Producer Archie would like to ask…”). Our current Associate Producers are Archie Arnold, Bill Shay, Natalie Cruz, and Paul Kaefer. Thank you for your support! You can join them right now at patreon.com/thisqueerbook.

If you’re not ready to support us as an Associate Producer, you can also sponsor us at $10/month or $5 month. You support gets us on the air, keeps us there, and supports transcription services to keep our podcast accessible. Shout out to Stephen D and Awen Briem for supporting us at these levels!

Bookshop.org is an independent retailer alternative to Amazon. We are an affiliate of Bookshop.org, so if you buy any of the books featured on our podcasts, we get a 10% commission when you do. And, bonus! We have a Bookshop.org search engine on our website. What does that mean? If you search for ANY book through that engine and then buy it, we also get a 10% commission. All of your book buying can support us! We’re including links to all of this in the show notes and on our website. So, buy all the books and be our ally at the same time!

[music]

J.P.: There’s that old truism History repeats itself, or the other version: History may not repeat itself, but it rhymes. But in the queer community how do you find your history when so much of it had to be hidden away in the margins? As a historian, Paul dives into this head first, considering how we can write historical fiction, how can we know, what can we intuit about historical queer life. Here’s more of my conversation with Nicole and Paula.

[music]

J.P.: Paula, this was your first novel correct? When you look back on it now, having this whole career of amazingly successful books. What comes up for you when you think back on Out of Time?

Paula: That is correct. I’m still very proud of Out of Time. I honestly have not looked back at it very very often and I actually don’t know very many novelists who look back at their own work. A few years ago, I was talking to a college class taught by a friend of mine who teaches Out of Time in the class. The students were asking me specific things about the plot and I was like, oh my God, I can’t remember, this is like a long day ago. I do have a sense of what I was doing and I think it was sort of the prelude to a lot of other stuff that I’ve done which is that I really did want to write historical fiction. For me, it was a process of how do you do that? How can you write about people whose lives have been hidden? I think it was when I said it was for me kind of a novel almost about the historical process because I was trained as an historian. Then I decided that I didn’t want to go on in graduate school and that I was really a creative writer. I always knew that that history would come back into my novels. The four novels that I’ve written most recently have been straight historical novels. Well, not straight, but they’re Queer historical novels. They’re set back in time as opposed to Out of Time which is set in temporary times but takes these forays back into the past. I was sort of dipping my toes into it and trying to figure out how is it that you can write about Queer history when we don’t know very much about it!  How is that? How is that really possible to do? I think it was a prelude to the rest of the work that I’ve done.

J.P.: As an historian, are there particular Queer women or time periods that call out to you to say write this?

Paula: I think this one was. I’ve sort of dabbled all over but mostly in the 20th century. My most recent novel is about the 19th century. The 20 s were such a very pivotal time for women. So it would have been a big time when there was more recognition. There were the beginnings of recognition of Lesbian identity. There was a whole generation of women who had gone to women’s colleges. There was a generation of women who were making their way in the world independent of men. I don’t mean just middle class women but working class women as well. I’ve always been drawn to this question of how did women meet each other in the past? That’s something that really resonates for me. I’ve heard stories about the great Mabel Hampton who was part of Lesbian history archives. She was an African-American woman and a working-class woman who met her partner of many years at a bus stop! How does that happen in 1930 or 1932? It’s just kind of astonishing to me.  These questions of how this might have happened in the past is something that fired my imagination. We are lucky now in having so many archives and having people who’ve donated their private collections of photographs and things like that. As you go back in time to the 20 s and before it it becomes harder to to have that material. That’s what I was doing in Out of Time was talking about how you really have to be kind of a detective. You have to be imaginative and you have to see it as sort of a mystery to be solved.

J.P.; What are the answers that you’re finding as you’re asking those questions of how folks met?

Paula: I think  things are remarkably similar. I mean we’re very fortunate now in that young people can go to Queer community centers or Queer groups and things like that. People met each other in ways that made sense to them. Women who like to read met in libraries. Women who were like Mabel Hampton and her partner were taking the bus to their working class jobs so they met at bus stops. How they intuited  that they would be open to each other is something  that we can only speculate about: how people did that and how they  worked around each other and figured it out. For Del Martin and Phyllis Liness,  I think I remember hearing that they met at a publishing company where they both worked. When I had first written this book, I took  a workshop with Alan Barabbay who was a Gay historian. He died some years ago but he asked us (a group of Gays and Lesbians) to imagine how would we, if we were living fifty, sixty, seventy years earlier how would we meet people? How would we meet lovers and friends? Most of the women were middle class and said well, I’d work at a women’s college and that’s that’s where I’d find like minded women. The men said because men’s experiences were so different. One of my good Gay male friends said oh I’d go to parks!

J.P.: I was just going to say that I bet you anything they’re going to say in a park!

Paula: Totally different experience between men and women. But, those are the kinds of things that have come down through time and how  we could imagine meeting lovers and friends if you don’t have access to the kinds of things that we have today in clubs and that kind of thing.

J.P.: Between Out of Time and your most recent novel, Paula, how has Queer storytelling changed for you? I mean is it totally radically different from your first novel and what you were able to do and how it was received through to today?

Paula: In terms of research I think I’m still doing the same kind of thing. I was very fortunate in that right after I published that book I was invited to speak  at Outright but not the conference that’s currently held in DC but it was an old one that was in Boston years and years ago. I actually wrote down my experience of what I was trying to do with Out of Time and interestingly, Nicole,  the paper was called Holding the Women. Because that was the theme but I looked back at that to see what kind of research I had done because I couldn’t quite remember everything that I had done but I did pretty much what I do today. In that case I lived in New York City so I did go to the Lesbian Herstory Archives and did research there. I did the same kinds of things I do now where I am looking in newspapers and magazines. In my most recent novel the young woman is an actress on the New York stage in 1953 and there are almost no 19th Century theaters left in this country, specifically mid-19th Century theaters except there’s one in Wilmington, North Carolina. It was only three hours for me so traveling there and being able to take a tour and stand on the stage and see what it might have felt like was important, so there’s.

I’m still using intuition and imagination. How would two girls, the love interests in that novel are young: 18 & 20.

How would they know about each other? How would they figure that out? A lot of that is imagination. I’m old enough that I remember what it was like when I was coming out in my early 20s.  I was very secretive you know and my girlfriend and I were not out so trying to remember what that was like , how you negotiated spaces and how you had to be cautious and all those kinds of things I can bring to bear on my writing. I think a lot of those things translate into the past and into the novels that I’ve written. I wanted to say too that to talk about your other point was that Out of Time sold better than any novel that I’ve ever written. I think at the time there was so little in 1990 or at least there just was a lot less. We didn’t have the richness that we have now of of Queer literature. There really was a very small group of us writing and publishing. So that book stayed in print for 20 years and then was out of print for a little while and then Bywater Books brought it back as an ebook so you can still get it. It’s interesting to me that it spread through word of mouth and it spread through things that we don’t have the luxury of today. We don’t have as many Queer publications for example and that book was reviewed in every single.

Queer newspaper and sometimes twice! That kind of thing really helped spread the word. There were so many more Queer bookstores and Women’s bookstores. We’re living in this time of great. information. You can get anything on the web. That book that was published at a time before the internet and yet,  actually you know got out to a much wider audience than my work now.

J.P.: Wow, That’s interesting.

Nicole: I mean that makes a lot of sense. There is a lot of Llesbian fiction. It is ubiquitous now. I mean there’s so much of it and it’s very consumable. of a majority of it. I think there’s all of everything that you said Paula but I also think you’re extremely modest. That’s just my sense. I’ve read some of the reviews and one of the words that stuck out for me is that it was very atmospheric. It’s definitely in today’s parlance a vibe. It’s a trope of ducking  in the rain to an antique store, a portal type thing. Maybe it’s been done before or done again, but it stands the test of time. I also read Chicken and I read the sisters shorts piece. I will confess I haven’t read your later historical fiction books but you do have an ability to write in an atmospheric way.  There is a vibe there and it’s great. It works. There’s a line in the book where one of the women from the past is saying to Susan of something or Susan saying something about writing. You know what women want. They’ll love this. The Lesbians will love this. There is a sense of getting what you want from this book you know? It’s about finding connection, of belonging, of believing in magic. That time could wrinkle and that you can be heard from the past and you can listen and hear things from the past. You can make connections from the past. The transcendence of love and intimacy between women. I think it all is enduring and amazing and I hope that you know people hear this. They do look at your other books because I don’t doubt that they’re as good but there is something special about this one.

Paula: Thank you. I think there’s the idea to that.  When I used to read from this book in public, people would come up to me and ask me if it was true and it always sort of took me aback because it’s like how? It’s a ghost story. I was like yeah. What they really wanted to know was if there was a scrapbook.

J.P.: That’s so interesting.

Paula: It’s not though. It’s loosely based on Judith Schwartz. She found a scrapbook of the women from the heterodoxy club. This was a personal scrapbook. The one that Susan finds is a personal scrapbook. I think there was this desire or need on the part of a lot of people to see the scrapbook you know? Yo have that history or to know that we go on and that people will find us. So much has been lost because Queer activity was criminalized. So many women burnt their letters or burnt their photographs. Some didn’t and so those are the ones that are left. I think there can be this hunger to know that it’s not just that we existed in the past but that we go on and that people will know about us in the future.

Nicole: I think that’s absolutely correct. I think that speaks to this sort of struggle that I had in my personal life as I knew that I was a Lesbian. At some points it was just like I’m a Lesbian you know…politically you know? That’s hard to explain to people. But if you are Gay, Queer, Trans you understand it’s not something you can get away from as much as you may try. I think for me there was this sense of like is it real? Is it true? It almost becomes a metaphor for me. You know it is true. You know, women have been this way before and they were able to continue. If you know to go to Instagram’s Lesbian Hearst story, they post pictures all the time. Amazing photographs from hundreds of years ago of women dressed in a masculine fashion. They were getting jobs. I think there’s a great encouragement in that even in today’s culture. Well, now we’re under attack in a very overt way again, but it is very interesting that people ask you that. I also think it’s because of the verisimilitude of the book.

You are wanting to believe and to know that it’s real. It was really important to me to be able to be connected to women who had lived and struggled.

[music]

J.P.: I want to thank Nicole and Paula for being on the show today.

Nicole is finishing up her Master of Library Science degree and continues to serve in acquisitions at the Quatrefoil Library. Visit her website lspotshop.com to learn more about her, and connect to her vintage bookshop on Etsy—The L Spot Bookshop—where she holds space for Sapphic, feminist and offbeat reads. Links in the show notes and on our website! Nicole is always interested in connections and collaborations. If you want to chat about open access issues, vintage LGBTQIA materials, recommend a chocolate stout, or anything else, do not hesitate to reach out.

Paula is at work on a historical mystery novel set during World War I which takes place in her hometown of Pittsburgh. For updates on when this new book will be ready, and to keep up with all the new news from Paula, visit paulamartinac.com. You can also connect with her through Facebook, we’re including a link in the show notes and on our website.

[theme music]

Cheers for listening today. All of our episodes are Executive Produced by Jim Pounds which these days includes keeping me sane by giving me digestible to do lists for each week.

Our show’s Associate Producers are Archie Arnold, Bill Shay, Natalie Cruz, and Paul Kaefer.

If you haven’t subscribed to our show, you should! Like us too! The algorithm gods look at those numbers to help queer folks who are looking for new podcasts to find this one!

Don’t forget to listen to Season 1 of our podcast every Saturday morning on AM950 the Progressive Voice of Minnesota.

And in the meantime, stay tuned to this space every Tuesday for new episodes of This Queer Book Saved My Life! and 7 Minutes in Book Heaven. And next week is a new episode of 7 Minutes in Book Heaven with author Tess Sharpe talking about her upcoming YA novel 6 Times We Almost Kissed (And One Time We Didn’t).

Until then, see you Queers and allies in the bookstores!

[theme music ends]