Two sapphic San Francisco stories by local lesbians pay homage to classic pulp novels of the 1950s and ’60s.
In Katie Gilmartin’s “Blackmail, My Love,” Josephine “Josie” O’Conner comes to town in search of her gay brother Jimmy, who has disappeared. Striking out as a woman gumshoe, she puts on Jimmy’s clothes and becomes “Joe.” The only comment from Mr. Wilkinson, the desk clerk at the Chadwick Arms Hotel is, “San Francisco changes people.”
Told in Joe/Josie’s first-person voice and illustrated with Gilmartin’s own handsome full-page graphics, each chapter opens with an image of a Corona typewriter, ostensibly the one on which the story is being written.
Set North Beach and the Tenderloin in 1951, the noir-influenced story is an inspired cocktail of fiction and historical fact, juxtaposing real places such as the Black Cat with fictional ones, like the lesbian bar Pandora’s Box. The potent mix includes dollops of blackmail, butch/femme identities, McCarthyism, bar raids and police extortion.
Gilmartin, whose biography points to a “checkered past [with] stints as a graduate student, buoyant union organizer, bona fide sex researcher and deeply engaged college professor,” also one of the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence, as well as a fine artist who teaches linocut and monotype classes in The City.
In a lighter vein, Monica Nolan’s cute and campy “Dolly Dingle, Lesbian Landlady” features lots of alluring alliteration, wittily nodding to 1960s lesbian pulps filled with fabulous female fashion.
Dorian “Dolly” Dingle has resolved to focus on her career as an actress and move out of the Magdalena Arms Residence for Women when landlady Mrs. DeWitt breaks her hip. What can Dolly do, but step in to help out?
Among the rooming house’s diverse residents are: aspiring actress Jackie; Dolly's old friend Kay, a potentially new love interest; Arlene, a buxom theater designer with dramatic secrets; and Ramona, back in town and instigating gossip again.
When the girls get wind of a scheme to shut the place down, they decide to set aside their differences to raise funds. Perhaps a Christmas variety show will save the day? And will Dolly at long last find love?
Nolan, co-author of “The Big Book of Lesbian Horse Stories” and a lesbian career girl series, also has worked as a film editor, reporter and cannery and construction worker.
Blackmail, My Love: A Murder Mystery
By Katie Gilmartin
Published by Cleis Press
Dolly Dingle, Lesbian Landlady
By Monica Nolan
Published by Kensington Publishing Co.