If you’ve been reading Paste’s Young Adult book lists, chances are you recognize Robin Talley. She’s one of our favorite authors, and her inclusive contemporary reads about LGBTQ+ teens are so very needed in the literary world.
So we’re thrilled to reveal the cover and share an exclusive excerpt from her next novel, Pulp. Here’s the scoop from the publisher, Harlequin Teen:
In 1955, 18-year-old Janet Jones keeps the love she shares with her best friend Marie a secret. It’s not easy being gay in Washington, D.C. in the age of McCarthyism, but when she discovers a series of books about women falling in love with other women, it awakens something in Janet. As she juggles a romance she must keep hidden and a newfound ambition to write and publish her own story, she risks exposing herself—and Marie—to a danger all too real.
Sixty-two years later, Abby Zimet can’t stop thinking about her senior project and its subject—classic 1950s lesbian pulp fiction. Between the pages of her favorite book, the stresses of Abby’s own life are lost to the fictional hopes, desires, and tragedies of the characters she’s reading about. She feels especially connected to one author, a woman who wrote under the pseudonym “Marian Love,” and becomes determined to track her down and discover her true identity.
Told in dual narratives, New York Times bestselling author Robin Talley weaves together the lives of two young women connected across generations through the power of words.
Harlequin Teen will release Pulp on November 13th, but you can read the first chapter and view the gorgeous cover below.
Cover design by Kathleen Oudit and illustration by Chris Arran.
“The entire time I was writing Pulp,” Talley tells Paste, “I was crossing my fingers that one day I’d see it on a shelf with a gorgeous illustrated cover. Pulp is a celebration of 1950s lesbian pulp fiction—a genre that was known for its art as much as its language.”
“So I was delighted when I heard that my publisher’s design team, led by Kathleen Oudit, was planning to work with a fantastic illustrator, Chris Arran. And I was even more thrilled when I saw the final cover! That’s my heroine, Abby (well, she’s one of two heroines since this book has two different timelines with two different sets of characters, but she’s the modern heroine so she’s the anchor to the story). Abby’s the one who, in 2017, discovers the decidedly old-school lesbian pulp novels, and quickly becomes obsessed with tracking down one mysterious author who wrote under a pseudonym and vanished after publishing a single bestseller. Meanwhile, in the other timeline, set in 1955, a closeted 18-year-old named Janet is just discovering lesbian pulp novels herself—and decides to take a huge risk by writing one of her own.”
“But the part of the cover that still astonishes me is the blurb from Ann Bannon—the Ann Bannon, who wrote the Beebo Brinker series of lesbian pulps, starting with Odd Girl Out in 1957. I can’t believe I was fortunate enough that she agreed to read Pulp when it was still in draft form, and to say such wonderful things about it. Seeing that book cover with her words on it—well, it’s overwhelming, in the best possible way.”
You can read Chapter 1 below, and you can pre-order Pulp ahead of its November 13th release here.
Friday, September 15, 2017
It took all of Abby’s willpower not to kiss her.
She’d gotten pretty good lately at staring at Linh without making it obvious. Most of the time, at least. Some days were harder than others, though, and today might be the hardest yet.
They’d just gotten back from a Starbucks run, and Abby kept darting looks at Linh out of the corner of her eye. They were sitting only inches apart on the lumpy old couch in the senior lounge, and as Linh sipped her drink and scribbled in her notebook, Abby couldn’t shake the memory of precisely how the echo of iced coffee tasted on Linh’s lips.
She knew she should stop thinking about this. Or at the very least, she should pretend to. She and Linh were officially “just friends” now, for reasons Abby was still trying to forget, and she was supposed to be doing her very best to act like that arrangement was perfectly fine with her.
So as she sat next to Linh, her feet tucked under her, Abby really did try to focus on the laptop screen balanced on her knees. Even though it was basically impossible to tear her eyes away from the spot where Linh’s soft brown hair curled into the nape of her perfectly sloped neck.
The senior lounge was nothing special—just a tiny room in a far-off corner of the fourth floor, with a few couches and a dusty TV that had probably last worked in the nineties—and everyone at school except Abby and Linh seemed to have forgotten it existed. Which made it the perfect place for Abby to secretly pine after her ex-girlfriend, since no one else was around to notice and make fun of her for it.
“I can’t believe Mr. Knight already wants my first lab done by Monday.” Linh wrinkled her nose down at her notes. Abby didn’t know if it was good or bad that Linh was so oblivious to her silent yearning. “Don’t the teachers know fall of senior year is supposed to be about college applications? We shouldn’t have to start our projects until next semester.”
Abby didn’t want to talk about college applications or senior projects, but she did like it when Linh made that cute wrinkly-nose face. “Yeah, you’re totally right.”
“Do you have something due next week, too? What did you pick for your topic, anyway?”
Abby scooted over to peer down at what Linh was writing. It was a blatant and probably pathetic attempt to get close to her, but Linh didn’t seem to mind. She glanced up at Abby with a smile and went back to jotting notes about molecular techniques.
When they were this close, it was so easy to remember how it used to feel. Kissing her. Being encircled in a pair of arms that had no intention of letting her go.
Kissing was Abby’s favorite activity in the entire world. It was pure sensation. When you were kissing someone, all you had to do was follow your instincts. There was no point stopping to worry about what came next.
That was the best part of being in love. The way it set the rest of the world on mute.
“So for real, what are you going to write? Poetry?” Linh finally met her eyes, and Abby blushed. Ugh, as if she wasn’t transparent enough already.
Not that Linh seemed to mind that, either.
“Nah, I’ve decided my poetry sucks.” Abby tried to arrange her face into a casual smile. They were halfway through their free period, and she was determined to get through the rest without giving herself away. “In eighth grade I had to write a love poem for French, and the best I could do was Je t’aime, ma puce, je t’aime tellement.”
Linh took Chinese, not French, so she asked, “What does puce mean?”
“Flea.” They both laughed.
It would be so easy to close the space between them. Last year, that was exactly what Abby would’ve done. Linh would’ve leaned in, too, and they would’ve kissed, and everything would’ve been perfect. No need for pining or pretending.
But this wasn’t last year, so Abby forced herself to keep talking instead. “No, but in France calling someone your flea is the same as calling them, like, sweetie or something.”
“You wrote a poem about how much you adore your sweet pet flea?” Linh grinned.
Their faces were still only inches apart, but Linh had made no effort to move away. Was Abby imagining it, or was there some decidedly nonplatonic tension in the air this afternoon?
When they’d broken up, back in June, Abby had been sure it was temporary. They were both going out of town for the summer, Linh to visit family in Vietnam and Abby to creative writing camp in Massachusetts, but once they were back home in DC she was positive they’d put their summer-of-breakup behind them.
So far, though, there had been no definitive progress in that direction. Sometimes the two of them still acted mildly flirty with each other, and sometimes they acted like friends. But since Linh never gave any clear signals of what she wanted, they seemed stuck in this constant awkward limbo.
And so, once again, Abby kept talking.
“It was the only term of endearment I could find that had a female pronoun,” she explained, trying to sound breezy. “You know how I was back then—all about the gay.”
“Oh, as opposed to now.” Linh was still smiling.
Okay, this really, really felt like flirting. And more than just the mild kind.
Fortunately, Abby loved flirting almost as much as she loved kissing. She loved all the trappings of romance. Sending flowers on Valentine’s Day. Picking each other up for dances. Posing for couple-y selfies and going for long walks in the park hand in hand on sunny afternoons.
And being held. Abby loved being held most of all.
She should really know better than to get her hopes up. It had been months since there was anything romantic between her and Linh. Still…
“Well, I have a more nuanced understanding of gendered pronouns these days.” Abby held her gaze. She remembered how to flirt, too. “I’m still all about the gay, though.”
“Obviously.” Linh smiled again. “So when’s your project plan due, anyway?”
Oh, who cared about the stupid project plan?
Abby broke eye contact and flipped back against the couch. The moment between them evaporated in an instant.
Everything had been going so well. Why did Linh have to keep asking about her project? Sometimes Abby wished she went to one of those schools you saw in shows, where everyone cut class and no one cared about homework.
“I keep forgetting.” Abby turned away. “I just need to pick my genre.”
“What? You don’t even know when it’s due?” Linh’s tone had shifted from flirty to concerned. “Do you seriously not have any ideas at all?”
Abby squirmed, but this time she didn’t laugh.
Fawcett was a magnet school, and all the seniors had to do a yearlong thesis project. Linh was doing a big, complicated experiment Abby didn’t understand for her Molecular Techniques and Neuroscience Research class, and Abby had chosen to do hers in Advanced Creative Writing. She was supposed to write a novel, or a collection of short stories or poems that was long enough to be a novel.
Usually, for Abby, coming up with creative writing ideas meant choosing from the dozens of possibilities that had already been circling through her mind. This time, though, she was at a loss. The creative part of her brain had fizzled sometime around the day she and Linh broke up.
Or maybe her entire brain had fizzled. That would explain a lot, come to think of it. Lately, Abby seemed incapable of remembering anything she was supposed to do except obsess over her ex.
“This is a big deal, Abby.” Linh sat up suddenly, putting way too much space between them. “I turned in my plan two weeks ago. If you don’t get started soon, how will you have time left for your college applications?”
“I know, I know.” Abby tried to think of some explanation that would get Linh off her back. “My brother’s been sucking up all my time lately. I keep having to take him to dance class since my parents are always out of town.”
The truth was, just thinking about college applications made her shudder. She hated how competitive everyone got over that stuff. As though they were all suddenly reduced to SATs and GPAs and other quantitative acronyms that had nothing to do with who they really were. And the essays weren’t any better. How could anyone seriously sum up their view on the world in five hundred words?
Senior projects were the same way. Everyone at Fawcett obsessed over them as if they were curing cancer or painting the Sistine Chapel instead of doing glorified science fair projects and book reports.
She had to come up with a way to get Linh off this topic.
“Hey, maybe I could get credit for writing Broken Dreams fanfic instead.” Abby grinned. “Do you think I could just write a bunch of short stories about Velma being a lesbian and change the names?”
That did the trick. Linh laughed and pulled off Abby’s cat-eye glasses, balancing them on the tip of her own nose.
Okay, this couldn’t only be happening in Abby’s head. They were definitely flirting.
“You and your fifties obsession.” Linh flipped the glasses up at Abby, giggling. “That show’s been canceled for, what, a year?”
“Two years. Anyway, Broken Dreams wasn’t the fifties, it was the early sixties.” Abby smiled and grabbed her glasses back. As much as she wanted to keep up the playful vibe, she couldn’t let Linh have her glasses. Abby loved how they looked, but she could also barely see without them.
“Is Broken Dreams fanfic even a thing?” Linh asked.
“Definitely.” Abby reached for her laptop. “Want to read about Walter and Earl getting it on in the back of the accounting office?”
“Ew. Although kind of, now that you mention it.” Linh pulled the computer onto her lap and started a search.
Abby laughed. In ninth grade, she and Linh used to read fanfic together every day. They used to be obsessed with a dumb show called The Flighted Ones. Their favorite pairing was Owen/Jack, or “Ojack,” as the true fans called them. Abby stayed up late at night writing long, overwrought stories describing Ojack’s first date, or their first kiss, or their First Time. (This was back before Abby had had a First Time of her own, so writing fictional versions had felt deliciously scandalous.)
“Ha, look at this.” Linh turned the screen to face her. “Someone made a list of all the gay stuff that ever happened on this show. Do you remember a woman trying to lick Velma’s neck?”
“What? No!” As Abby leaned in to see the screen, an ad off to the side of the main article caught her eye.
In the image, a woman in a tight red dress with a gorgeous flipped hairstyle stood behind a bed. In front of her another woman, wearing an old-fashioned skirt and blouse, was lying down. The words I PREFER GIRLS loomed beside them in giant red font.
Abby pointed. “What’s that?”
“Huh, I don’t know.” Linh clicked on the image. “Are those characters from Broken Dreams?”
“I don’t think so. Those look like fifties outfits to me.”
If there was one thing Abby knew, it was fifties fashion. She’d been a devotee since middle school. She used to make her own fifties-inspired outfits, starting with simple wrap tops and pencil skirts, until the year her grandparents gave her a sewing machine for Hanukkah and she upgraded to sailor suits and cocktail dresses.
Finding the old patterns and sewing them was fun, but it took forever. After she’d spent months making her prom dress sophomore year, Abby decided she’d had enough of ironing musty old fabrics and sorting through tangled piles of thread. Now her sewing machine sat in the attic and she ordered retro-style clothes online.
Which meant the outfits were the first thing Abby noticed when Linh clicked through to the page with a bigger version of the same image. The women under the I PREFER GIRLS label were dressed simply—a clingy sleeveless dress on one, a pink blouse and black skirt on the other. The blouse was unbuttoned nearly down to the woman’s waist, so you could see her slip beneath. Or maybe that was her bra.
The page’s headline read “The Best of 1950s Lesbian Pulp Fiction.”
“Wait a second. Is this seriously from the fifties?” Abby pulled the computer onto her own lap. “Is that a book cover?”
“I didn’t know they had lesbian porn back then.” Linh leaned in to see. “Oh, wait. There’s another one—Wow. Scroll down.”
Abby scrolled. Below the picture of I Prefer Girls was another cover. This one was called Warped Women, and it showed another woman in a red dress. She was holding a whip and leaning threateningly over another woman who was crouched on the floor. The crouching woman’s blouse was unbuttoned, and underneath she was wearing a black lace bra. Her left boob was basically hanging out of it.
“What kind of books are these?” Linh’s mouth was agape.
Abby kept scrolling. Image after image, with more of the same. The covers showed women in varying stages of undress, and they had titles like When Lesbians Strike and My Wife the Dyke and Twilight Girl. The captions beside each cover listed publication dates—1963, 1955, 1959, 1965…
“Fifties lesbian porn.” Linh laughed harder than ever. “Hey, I think we’ve found your genre!”
“Can you even imagine?” Abby kept scrolling. The images got sexier the farther she went. “I can’t believe they got away with this. I mean, there aren’t even books like this today, as far as I know. Plus, they had censors in the fifties. That’s why all the movies sucked.”
“Here, let’s make a new one. For your senior project.” Linh leaped onto her feet and grabbed the cement column that stood next to the couch. She pulled down the neckline of her T-shirt, stuck out her chest, lifted one knee onto a cushion and tilted her head forward, imitating the woman on the cover of the last book on the page, Dormitory Women. “Did I get it right?”
There should be a law banning your ex-girlfriend from doing sexy poses in front of you before you’d officially gotten back together yet. Seriously, this had to be a form of genuine torture.
But Abby did her best to keep acting nonchalant as she held up the computer screen to compare. Linh did look kind of like the woman on the painted cover, with her dark hair and thick eyebrows, even though Linh’s warm eyes and inviting smile were a thousand times prettier than the cover model’s. Not to mention that Linh was wearing a tank top and cutoffs, and the Dormitory Women model was in a tight white blouse and severely belted skirt.
“Hmm—I think your hand needs to be lower down…” Abby carefully adjusted the position of Linh’s hand on her thigh and brushed her hair forward over one shoulder, trying to act as if her intentions were solely artistic. As if touching Linh didn’t activate any still-in-love-with-her segments of Abby’s brain, or other body parts. “Pout your lips more. There, that’s perfect.” Abby lifted her phone and snapped a photo.
“You do one next.” Linh pointed her chin toward the laptop screen.
“Okay!” Abby scrolled until she found a cover she liked. The book was called Woman Doctor, and the cover showed a woman, a psychiatrist apparently, sitting in a chair taking notes on a pad while a younger woman with curly blond hair lay on a couch behind her. The whole design seemed to be some bizarre male fantasy, because the patient seemed to have gone to her therapy appointment wearing an old-fashioned slip and nothing else.
Abby’s hair was brown, straight and boringly plain instead of blond, thick and curly like the woman on the cover’s, and she was wearing a green shirtdress instead of a tight-fitting slip. Still, she tried to imitate the patient’s pose, throwing herself facedown on the couch and twisting so that her butt and her boobs were angled toward Linh at the same time. “Ow. This is not a natural position. Ow.”
“That’s awesome, though. You’ve almost got it, but you need to pull your hair over your face more.”
Abby pulled. “How’s that?”
“Much better.” Linh laughed and reached for her phone. Abby laughed, too, lifting her head from the cushion. “Hey! You’re breaking the pose. I didn’t get a photo yet.”
“I can’t help it. I’m a warped woman!”
Linh was still laughing, but when she sat back down she moved to the other couch, putting two armrests between them. Abby sat up, trying not to let her disappointment show, and tugged the hem of her dress back down.
“I want to read one of those books.” Linh pointed to Abby’s computer. “I bet they’re hilarious. Plus, those covers are pretty hot.”
“The covers are basically just ads for cleavage.”
“Well, there are worse things to advertise.”
“Very true.” Abby flushed. “Let’s find an ebook.”
She balanced her computer on her knees and turned so Linh could see the screen, then ran a search for lesbian pulp fiction. While the results loaded, Abby drummed her fingers on the edge of her laptop and tried to think of a good excuse for her to move to the other couch, too.
“Huh, okay, so there’s like five million results.” Linh pointed to the screen. “Here, that one has a list.”
Abby clicked through and skimmed the article. “I was right about the censors. This says the books basically always ended with someone either turning straight or dying. Otherwise the publishers could’ve gone to jail.”
“Whatever, I don’t care. I just want to read the sex scenes.”
Abby laughed, delighted, and scrolled down. The article had a list of books at the bottom, with more of those ridiculous covers. “These titles are so weird. Strange Sisters. In the Shadows. Voluptuous Vixens.”
“Voluptuous Vixens?” There was so much glee in Linh’s voice that Abby giggled, too.
“Edge of Twilight. The Third Sex. A Love So Strange.”
“Boring. See if you can find that Warped Women one.”
“Hey, wait, the article says this other one is really good. It’s free to download.” Abby cleared her throat and read.
“The classic and enduringly popular novel of two young girls coming of age in Greenwich Village. The story’s heroines, Paula and Elaine, stand alongside such classic lesbian pulp characters as Beebo Brinker and Leda Taylor.”
Linh cracked up. “Beebo? What kind of names are these?”
“Fifties names. Here, get this—the author’s name is Marian Love. So cheesy. Her book came out in 1956. It’s called Women of the Twilight Realm.”
“Why do so many of these books have twilight in their name? Is there a lesbian vampire subtext?”
“Well, I’m downloading it, so I guess we’ll find out. Wow, check it out, this cover is cheese-tastic, too.”
The image on the screen had rips running through it, as though someone had taken a photo of an old, beaten-up copy of the book and uploaded it as the official cover. The picture didn’t have as much cleavage as some of the other books, but Abby could tell it would still have been shocking by fifties standards. It showed two women sitting on a bed together, one with short brown hair and one with long blond waves. The blond one, dressed in a filmy nightgown, was crying onto the brown-haired woman’s shoulder. The brown-haired woman was smoking, wearing a necktie, patting the other woman’s shoulder and staring at her boobs. Above the title a tiny line of type read “They were women only a strange love could satisfy. A daring novel of the third sex.”
“I didn’t know people were allowed to smoke on book covers,” Linh said, studying the screen.
“Everyone smoked everywhere in the fifties. They didn’t know it was gross yet.”
“Whatever. Turn to the beginning, I want to read about the strange love these two ladies get up to.”
Abby clicked into the text and read the first line out loud.
“Elaine had already had her heart broken once. From now on, she was keeping it wrapped up in cellophane.”
Abby stopped reading. “What’s cellophane?”
“You remember that song from Chicago, right? ‘Mr. Cellophane’?”
“Oh, right.” Abby and Linh had both done theater in middle school, before their schedules got so packed. “Well, is cellophane bulletproof or something? Why would you wrap your heart in it?”
“How would I know? Come on, find the sexy parts.”
“Here, you can look.” Abby passed her the computer.
“Okay.” Linh clicked through the pages. After a minute, she frowned at the screen. “This is all just talking so far. Everyone’s sitting around in a bar with all their clothes on.” She clicked again and again, still peering down. “Okay…and that’s the end of chapter one already. What kind of porn is this? These covers are false advertising.”
“Keep going. Maybe the porn’s in chapter two.”
While Linh clicked on, Abby turned to her phone to look up cellophane.
The characters on the cover of Women of the Twilight Realm didn’t look that much older than Abby. She wondered who’d broken Elaine’s heart so badly that she needed to protect it.
And would that even work? Wrapping your heart in armor? Maybe you could keep yourself whole just by concentrating hard enough.
Before she could find anything, her class-reminder chime popped onto the screen.
“Shit!” Abby’s panic bubbled, wiping away all thoughts of vintage lesbians in one stroke. She snatched the computer from Linh and shoved it into her backpack. “I forgot. I’m supposed to meet with Ms. Sloane in three minutes. Shit, shit!”
“Ms. Sloane?” Linh didn’t get up, but there was alarm in her eyes. “Isn’t she your project advisor?”
“Yes. Shit, shit!”
“Wait—is this your meeting about the project proposal? The one you still don’t have a topic for?”
Abby pinched the bridge of her nose. “Yes.”
“Abby, this is serious! You could get in real trouble.”
“I know, I know. I’ll figure something out on my way there.”
Abby threw open the door without waiting for Linh to say anything more and charged down the hall, ignoring the sophomores who turned to stare from the doorway of the art classroom.
She tried, desperately, to come up with an idea. Any idea.
Maybe she really could write fanfic. She’d posted a Flighted Ones story back in middle school that had ninety-seven chapters, and some of them had even been good. Maybe she could pull out some of the chapters, change the names and rework them into something Ms. Sloane would find acceptable.
It wasn’t a great idea, but it was all Abby had. She raced across the hall and down the stairs to the third floor, her platform Mary Janes thundering on the tiles. She’d probably have to take the story offline before she turned in her project, in case Ms. Sloane ran one of those plagiarism searches. She’d hate to lose all those reader comments, though.
“Abby?” Ms. Sloane stepped through her classroom door. Abby came to an abrupt halt. “Are you all right?”
“I’m great.” Abby tried to smile, but she could barely catch her breath.
“What were you doing? Did you go for a run during your free period?”
“Um, yes.” Abby cursed inwardly as Ms. Sloane peered down at her Mary Janes. Her creative writing teacher was an old-school lesbian, and Abby should’ve known she’d have strong opinions about sports attire.
Ms. Sloane was Indian-American, and in the wedding photo she kept on her desk, her curly dark hair was striking next to her wife’s sleek blond chignon. The effect made their simple, matching cream-colored wedding dresses look that much more practical-lesbian-chic. It was obvious they’d planned every last detail to maximize the striking visuals while also making sure there would be no long trains to trip over or bobby pins poking their ears. The two of them probably shared a whole closet full of affordable, top-quality, carefully coordinated running shoes.
“All right, well, come on in.” Ms. Sloane held the door open. At least she wasn’t dwelling on Abby’s feet. “I’m excited to see what you’ve got for me. The rest of the seniors have already started their projects, so we’ll have to play some catch-up. I was surprised you signed up for the last advising slot. Last year during our workshops you always tried to be ahead of the game.”
Abby tried to breathe evenly as she followed Ms. Sloane inside. This classroom was her favorite place in the whole school. It was narrow and cozy, with a long, oval-shaped table where everyone sat for their discussions. Abby used to relax the second she entered this room, but today it was having the opposite effect.
“Um, well.” She tried to think of what to say. Teachers never understood that homework couldn’t always be priority number one every second of every day. When you were deep in postbreakup withdrawal, were you really supposed to work ahead in every single class? “Nothing to fire up the creative muse like tight deadlines, right?”
“Wrong, in my experience. Nonetheless…” Ms. Sloane smiled and sat at the head of the long table, gesturing for Abby to sit beside her. She’d always been easy to talk to, and she was the main reason Abby had stuck with creative writing, even when the boys in last year’s workshop had made her roll her eyes into the back of her skull when she was forced to critique their pretentious wish-fulfillment hetero foreplay scenes. “So, let’s see your proposal.”
Ms. Sloane held out her hand. Abby stared at the outstretched brown palm.
Riiiiiight. She’d somehow forgotten she was supposed to turn in a proposal.
“Um, well…” Abby tried to act as if this was all going exactly as she’d planned. “I wanted to ask if I could have until Monday for the written portion. My computer had a meltdown last night when I was going to hit Print.”
“Oh, that’s too bad.” Ms. Sloane didn’t blink, but she glanced down at Abby’s backpack. A corner of her laptop poked up through the zipper. Shit, shit. “You know, I’ve been told I’m talented with computers. Why don’t you let me take a look. I’ll see if I can get the file to load, and then we can review it together here on your screen.”
Shit shit shit shit shit.
Abby tried to think rationally. What was the adult thing to do in this situation? Whatever it was, she should do that instead of freaking out.
But Ms. Sloane was wearing her you-won’t-fool-me expression. No matter what she said, Abby was going to disappoint her.
Abby gave up on being an adult and just focused on not crying. “I… I’m sorry, Ms. Sloane.”
“You’re sorry,” her teacher repeated. After a moment of pained silence, she sighed. “Abby, this isn’t like you. Last year, you turned in all your assignments early. You always came to class prepared, even eager, to join the discussions. Is anything wrong? Maybe something going on at home?”
“It’s nothing. I’m sorry. It’s senioritis, that’s all.”
“Senioritis comes in May, not September.” Ms. Sloane’s expression was so serious it was making Abby’s head hurt. “You can talk to me, Abby. If there’s a problem, I want to help.”
Ugh. Adults could seriously be the worst. If they weren’t ignoring the fact that you existed, they were falling all over themselves acting like they knew better than you did.
As if Abby couldn’t be just plain heartbroken. Of course, in Ms. Sloane’s mind, there had to be “something going on at home.”
When, in reality, nothing was going on at home. That was kind of the definition of Abby’s home, in fact. She could barely remember the last time anyone in her family had voluntarily interacted with anyone else.
“No. There’s nothing.” Abby shook her head forcefully. “Can you please just take points off my grade, or whatever?”
“That’s not how senior projects work. It isn’t about earning points, it’s about creating something worthwhile. It’s about coming out of the year with a concrete result that’s meaningful to you on a personal level.”
“I know.” Abby wished desperately that she were somewhere else. Anywhere else. Words like worthwhile and meaningful always made her want to hurl.
“All right, well.” Ms. Sloane leaned back in her chair and frowned. “We’ll talk through your plan today and you can email me your formal proposal over the weekend.”
“Okay.” Abby frantically began reworking her Flighted Ones story in her head.
“I must say, I’m already looking forward to reading your new work,” Ms. Sloane went on. “I know you’ve been struggling to break away from the fanfiction you used to write and create something wholly yours. Not that there’s anything wrong with fanfiction, of course-I always tell my younger students that it can be a lot of fun, and a great way to develop your writing skills-but this new project is a real opportunity for you to force yourself out of your comfort zone so you can mature as a writer. You’ve been on the verge for quite some time, and I hope that with this project you’ll truly allow your creativity to take hold.”
Shit. Ms. Sloane had seen through her again.
Abby tried to think fast, but the only story on her mind just then was Women of the Twilight Realm.
“I—um, well. I’ve been thinking lately about lesbian pulp fiction,” Abby heard herself say. “You know, those books from back in the fifties.”
“Have you?” Ms. Sloane’s eyebrows shot up. As though Abby had genuinely surprised her for the first time today.
“Yes.” Abby tried to figure out where to go from here. She’d always been good at bullshitting. “I’ve been researching the genre, and I thought it might be interesting to try to reclaim it from a modern queer perspective. I mean, apart from the gorgeous clothes the fifties were basically awful, especially for marginalized communities, so I thought it would be worthwhile to examine the books from a contemporary point of view.”
“Well, the genre’s already been reclaimed, of course.” Ms. Sloane’s usual I’m-an-expert-in-everything tone had already returned. “Although surely you came across that in your research. Lesbian-owned publishers have been rereleasing the pulp classics specifically for queer audiences since the eighties.”
“Of course.” Abby nodded, hoping she didn’t look as thrown as she felt. If that was true, she had to switch tactics fast. “Well…what I want to do is write one of these books that’s genuinely, you know—good. I want to break away from the gay tragedy trope.”
Ms. Sloane nodded. “Some would argue that many of the books from that era are already good, if that kind of value judgment is possible with literature, but I understand your perspective. It’s an unusual proposal, but I think it has a lot of potential. My concern, though, is that this could wind up simply being another fanfiction exercise for you. It’s important that your senior project be written entirely in your voice. That it be unique, not simply following a formula or imitating an existing style.”
“Oh, I agree. Ah…” Abby tried to think of what else Ms. Sloane might want to hear. “I was thinking I’d invert the formula. Take a critical look at the conventions of the genre and turn them on their heads. Examine the notions of romance and oppression and come up with something unique. Particularly in light of the election, and how so many people’s opinions on social justice seem to have started regressing in the past year or so.”
Abby only had a vague idea of what she was talking about, but it must have sounded as if she did, because Ms. Sloane raised her eyebrows again.
“All right, you’ve sold me.” Her teacher held up her fingers and began ticking things off. Abby took the hint and reached for her pencil. “You’ll still need to submit your formal proposal, and since you’re writing historical fiction, you’ll need to research the period as well as the genre. Which of the pulp books have you read so far?”
“Women of the Twilight Realm, by Marian Love.” She’d read a few sentences, at least. Plus that one-sentence plot summary.
“Only one? Okay, then you’ll need to read at least three more before the end of the semester. Aim for a wide range—no two books by the same author. One of the books you read should be The Price of Salt, but you can get it from the public library. Patricia Highsmith had a lot of terrible beliefs, but the writing itself is unparalleled. You’re familiar with the conventions of the genre already?”
“Totally.” Abby tried to remember what the article had said as she jotted Ms. Sloane’s instructions into her binder. “Lesbian romance novels that ended with the characters dying or turning straight.”
“Of a sort. Still, a lot of them, whether intentionally or not, also touched on the bigger issues facing the LGBTQ community in the fifties and sixties. That means you’ll need to spend even more time at the library. Read up on the bar raids, the Lavender Scare here in DC, all of it. Start a research journal to keep track of what you learn. Remember, this was pre-Stonewall and pre-second-wave feminism, so there’s a reason all the pulp authors wrote under pseudonyms—it might as well have been the Dark Ages for queer women. It was also the Jim Crow era, so you’ll need to read about racial segregation, too. The pulps were overwhelmingly white, but you’ll need to know about the real world of that time regardless. You should really study up on the overall postwar American economy while you’re at it.”
“Uh.” That was a lot of research. It was a good thing Abby liked the library.
“After you’ve made some headway, let me know and I can set up a meeting for you with a friend of mine,” Ms. Sloane went on. “He’s a historian focusing on LGBTQ political movements. He can point you to more resources.”
Abby nodded, though she had no intention of meeting Ms. Sloane’s historian friend. She hated going up to strangers and asking them for stuff.
“I’ll expect your proposal by email tomorrow, and an outline for the novel and at least twenty hard copy pages from your first draft a week from Monday.” Ms. Sloane stood up. “Don’t worry. We won’t critique them in the workshop until I’ve given you notes and you’ve had a chance to revise.”
“Okay.” Sensing the meeting was over, Abby climbed to her feet. Ms. Sloane held up a finger.
“And…” Ms. Sloane watched her pick up her backpack, her fingers fumbling as she wound the straps over her shoulders. “I’m here. If you ever need to talk.”
Abby nodded briskly and left the room. That kind of talking was the last thing on her agenda.
There were still five minutes left in her free period, so Abby found an empty spot in the courtyard and took out her laptop. Women of the Twilight Realm was still open on the screen.
Elaine had already had her heart broken once. From now on, she was keeping it wrapped up in cellophane.
Abby wanted to know who had broken Elaine’s heart. But most of all, she wanted to know if the cellophane had worked, and where she could get some of her own.
She clicked through to the next page.