5 asked writer Monica Nolan everything we wanted to know about her new book, "Bobby Blanchard, Lesbian Gym Teacher". Below you´ll get your answers about girls´boardingschools, field hockey and why Bobby is such a slut... ; )
-Monica, how has the book been received? And of course we want to know if you have gotten any surprising or funny comments!
-The book has been well-received. It seems to awaken readers' memories of their gym teachers and experiences in gym from way back when. At parties and readings guests have come up to tell me about their gym teachers (lesbians, one and all apparently). And one fellow emailed me about how the book made him think about his teenaged years of collective masturbation in the locker room.
-What inspired you to write a book about a lesbian gym teacher who works at a girls´ boarding school? Is it your secret dream job?
-Ha! I am not very sporty and suffered through gym in my school years. However going to a boarding school was a cherished dream when I was a kid. I loved books about boarding school life (Enid Blyton in particular is an author I remember) and thought it would be really nifty to go to one. Another reason I set my book at a girls' boarding school is that it fulfills the classic lesbian pulp requirements of a women-only community, like Tereska Torres's Women's Barracks, for example, the seminal 1950 pulp that started it all. Other lesbian pulps have been set among student nurses, or even the world of fashion.
-Bobby Blanchard is coaching field hockey. Are you a field hockey player yourself? Or how come you chose this sport for Bobby?
-I am not, nor have I ever been a field hockey player. I took out books from the library that explained the game, and I watched some youtube videos of the game in action. I had a friend who played field hockey through highschool fact check the book for any errors. Initially I was debating between field hockey and lacrosse, trying to decide which had more lesbian associations. Field hockey won, hands down. I also discovered that it was Constance Applebee (she's mentioned in the book, and is a real person) who popularized field hockey in the United States around the turn of the previous century. Since Constance Applebee had been a gym teacher at my alma mater (Bryn Mawr College), where there is a building named after her, that really sealed the deal for me.
I should mention that I regularly play bicycle polo, and I drew on my experiences of that for the book--more for the feeling of competitiveness and the energy, than technical details. After all, any game that involves one group of people trying to get a ball into a goal while another group of people tries to stop them is similar at a basic level.
-There are plenty of references to Sweden and Denmark in the book. Do you have friends in Scandinavia or is it just that you think we talk funny..?
-And don't forget Norway! Well, that comes from a couple different places. Part of it is that the book is set in the midwest of the US, which, as you may know, was heavily settled by scandinavians back in the 1800s. So I wanted to reference that. Also, the Daughters of the American Pioneers (an organization I made up) sort of parodies a real organization, the Daughters of the American Revolution, or DAR. The DAR was (is?) notorious for its racism and conservatism, and I wanted to make fun of that, and also point out how idiotic these patriotic organizations are in a land where we are all immigrants who basically killed or imprisoned the people who were here before us.
I also am entertained by places like Solvang, a "Danish" town in southern California, and New Glarus, a town in Wisconsin which sells itself as "Little Switzerland" with festivals of Swiss culture and such like (I visited once and had the most delicious rösti potatoes). The book's humor is more about Swedish-American or Norwegian-American culture than about actual Swedes or Norwegians (whom I know little about besides what I read in the mysteries that get translated into English). I've always wanted to visit Northern Europe--Denmark, Sweden, Norway, Iceland, Finland--so that's probably part of it too. I loved looking up the food, and would get quite hungry writing about eplekake, for example.
-Is it more fun to read about confused and unexperienced girls?
-Oh, I think so. It can be fun to know more than the book's protagonist. It can give the reader a pleasurable feeling of superiority: the reader knows where the heroine is going, she just reads to see how book's characters arrive and what happens along the way. On the other hand, I think there's a limited amount of times you can write about such a character before it gets tedious. My next protagonist won't be so dumb.
-Why is Bobby such a slut? I mean, we really liked that she was, but the book wasn´t as innocent as we expected it to be after having read Lois Lenz.
-Well, that was a conscious effort on my part. I worry that readers will find the books too tame, and be disappointed that they don't live up to their racy covers. This dates back to the first book I co-wrote with Alisa Surkis, The Big Book of Lesbian Horse Stories, when that was indeed a criticism. So I've tried to up the sex quotient in succeeding books.
I also wanted to be true to the appeal of the original lesbian pulps which was that they gave readers some vicarious action. To this day my girlfriend will ask about a lesbian book we pick up, "does it have content?" meaning, is there some girl-on-girl action? There are many admirable literary lesbian books out there, but sometimes you just want "content." Call me cheap and sleazy, but there it is. I aim to provide what I (sometimes) want.
And finally, part of Bobby's character is that she's used to a lot of quick and easy sex, so really I was forced by literary logic to put all that sex in.
-How would you describe the book to someone who hasn´t read it yet?
-A gay romp, which mixes mystery with romance, set against a sizzling backdrop of boarding school, birdwatching, and highly competitive field hockey. Finding your career vocation was never so much fun.
9. Don´t you think this book would make a lovely movie?!
-Indeed! Who to cast...