I’m so excited about today’s interview with New York Times bestselling author, Robin Talley. Her new historical fiction queer young adult novel, Pulp, sounds amazing. Check this out:
In 1955, eighteen-year-old Janet Jones keeps the love she shares with her best friend Marie a secret. It’s not easy being gay in Washington, DC, 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.
The 1950s wasn’t the only difficult decade for LGBTQ folks. What is it about the McCarthy era that drew you to set part of your story there?
One thing that’s especially fascinating about this period in history is the contradiction between the overt repression the United States was placing on LGBTQ people — from McCarthy and his allies hounding queer people out of the government, to the frequent police raids on bars catering to the LGBTQ community, to the way the media portrayed us as boogeymen out to endanger the nation’s children — and the incredible popularity of lesbian pulp fiction during the same period. Romance novels about love between women were selling millions of copies, primarily to heterosexual men, while that same demographic was actively demonizing those very women. The more I researched the era, the more I knew I wanted to explore that seemingly bizarre dynamic.
You have another novel set in the 1950s. How does PULP compare? How was writing and researching different?
My first book, Lies We Tell Ourselves, is set in 1959 Virginia during the school desegregation crisis. It’s also a story about a relationship between two queer teenage girls, so it has that in common with Pulp, but the two books are otherwise pretty different. Pulp is a dual timeline novel, for one thing — half of the book takes place in 1955 and the other half in 2017, with the modern story following an out-and-proud high school senior who discovers a lesbian pulp novel from the 1950s and decides to track down its author, who mysteriously disappeared in 1955 after writing a single now-beloved novel under a pseudonym.
What are some challenges you faced when writing a book from two points of view in two different periods of time?
Striking the right balance in terms of the characters’ voices was pretty tricky. The two time periods the story takes place in aren’t actually all that far apart — not even an entire lifetime — but the way we talk has changed a lot over the past few decades. Not to mention the things we talk about.
Anything else you’d like to mention about the book?
One thing that I think sometimes gets lost in media coverage of modern social justice movements is that none of this is new. We’ve been fighting for equality for many, many generations. Some of the arguments we’re having now are different from the arguments we had in the mid-twentieth century, but in a lot of ways, many of them aren’t that different. We’re currently witnessing a movement to go backward, with politicians attempting to re-litigate issues that many in my generation naively grew up thinking had already been resolved. We have to be mindful of what came before us so we don’t repeat the mistakes of the past, and so we can fight back against the people who want to take us there on purpose.
Jillianne Hamilton is the author of Molly Miranda: Thief for Hire, its two action/comedy sequels, and The Lazy Historian's Guide to the Wives of Henry VIII. She is also a graphic designer, a history enthusiast, and a dog mom. Learn more.