Archive for Jill Emerson

Forthcoming: Jill Emerson’s Getting Off (Hard Case Crime, 2011)

Posted in Lawrence Block, pulp fiction with tags , , on March 11, 2011 by vintagesleazepaperbacks

This September, Hard Case Crime will publish a new, original Jill Emerson novel, Getting Off.   The cover, for maximum marketing, reads Lawrence Block writing as Jill Emerson, who in the 1960s-70s wrote lesbian novels for Midwood, erotic and mainstream stuff for Putnam and Arbor House.

This will also be the imprint’s first hardcover.  Other titles have switched from mass market to trade paper.

We love Hard Case, but we wonder if this shift will work. The whole novelty and charm of the line was emulating vintage mass markets with the cover art, delivering books in the 40-60K word range like the old days, not these padded 80-120K word paperbacks that are now the market norm.

The market norm is also pushing the mass market trim size into memory.  We have been seeing paperbacks in a size somewhere between the mass and the trade.

We wonder if readers may be annoyed that they have to fork out more money rather than the under ten bucks price you can get a mass market for. Trade paper and hardcovers will make Hard Case like every other line out there, and not unique, kind of the way Random House took away the uniqueness of Black Lizard by re-issuing everything in trade paper with covers that look like everyone else’s covers, and not the uniqueness that the Creative Arts Black Lizard editions have.

Is this not typical of all conglomerates? They buy out a company that is small and cool and has its own style and slowly make it generic. And we’re not talking just publishing — films, music, art, it happens across the board when a big company’s board thinks people want the same thing rather than something original, and grumble when sales diminish because the fans get bored.

Anyway, we are looking forward to Getting Off.

Read an excerpt.

Enough of Sorrow by Jill Emerson aka Lawrence Block (Midwood Books, 1965)

Posted in Lawrence Block, lesbian pulp fiction, Midwood Books, pulp fiction, Vintage Sleaze Paperbacks with tags , , on September 21, 2010 by vintagesleazepaperbacks

Lawrence Block stopped writing as Andrew Shaw and Sheldon Lord by 1964, but he kept at the lesbian novels as Jill Emerson with two titles, Enough of Sorrow and Warm & Willing. As previously noted, Block would use his Emerson pen name for more commercial, hardback womens and erotic fiction.

Enough of Sorrow exhibits much more maturity in authorship and seriousness in theme than previous lesbian titles by Block, as Leslie Evans, Benjamin Morse, Ben Christopher and Sheldon Lord.

The novel opens with a depressed and lost woman, Karen Winslow, who checks into a cheap New York City weekly rooming house with the plan to commit suicide. She is pregnant and the married man who gave her the baby skipped out when she told him, leaving her alone to deal with a child.  She is saved by a neighbor amd wakes up in the hospital alive, but told she lost the fetus.

She later gets an apartment and meets a new tenant named Rachel. The two become friends, then lovers. Karen realizes she may have been a lesbian all the time, never knew it, maybe this is why her relationships with men were always bad.  She and Rachel (Rae) move in together and are happy lovers for a while. Karen gets a job as a receptionist for a talent agent who deals mostly with TV and bit actors and exotic dancers.

Karen starts drinking a lot, a gradual downswing from too such social drinking to drinking at home and then needing booze to function. Rae is worried,. Karen says it is no problem until she tries three dry days sober.  It is hard at first, then hellish, as she cant type at work and she has a headache and the shakes.  On the third day she gives in to her addiction and gets sauced, comes home and fights with Rae, then goes out on a bender, hitting up a number of lesbian bars, dancing, making out, and fingering all kinds of dykes, from lipsticks to bulls to skinny young girls exploring the scene.  She wakes up in bed with a drooling, snoring bulldyke and runs out…when she gets home, Rae has left a note saying she needs some time away from these troubles.

The passage about the evils of booze eminded me of Block going into the same issues with his Matt Scudder character, who destroyed his life with booze and then went to AA. It makes me wonder about Block and alcohiolism, if this is personal ‘… and I am sure Block has talked about it somewhere, I have just not seen it. MMaybe not… this is from wikipedia;

Though it’s been suggested that Scudder’s struggle with alcoholism is in part autobiographical, Block has repeatedly refused to discuss the subject, citing AA’s own tradition of anonymity.

Eventually, Karen does win her battle with booze and disasterously sleeps with an actor she knows, an older man in his 60s, to determine if she is really gay or bi or whatever.

The book ends on a somber note, with Karen finding the strength to move on, move to anther city, and to say enough of sorrow, time to live.

Not a bad little book…would have preferred a darker ending, more in a Block tradition, but this is a moral lesbian tale…

The Curious Case of Sloane Britain

Posted in lesbian pulp fiction, Loren Beauchamp, Midwood Books, pulp fiction, Robert Silverberg, Vintage Sleaze Paperbacks with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on November 17, 2009 by vintagesleazepaperbacks

When pop culture historians and critics write about the lesbian paperback pulp era in the 1950s-60s,  the same names are often use das examples: Vin Packer, Randy Salem, March Hastings, Valerie Taylor, Paula Christiansen, etc., with such classics in lesbian pulp Spring Fire, Three Women, Baby Face, Women’s Barracks,  and so on.  Seldom is the name Sloane Britain mentioned, the pen name of Midwood-Tower editor Elaine Williams, although as both a writer and editor, Williams/Britain etched her own legacy in the history of early commercial lesbian fiction.

Williams started with Midwood in 1959, when the company first formed, acquiring and editing novels by Lawrence Block (Shekdon Lord), Donald Westlake (Alan Marshall), Robert Silverberg (Loren Beauchamp), Orrie Hitt, and Mike Avallone, among others.  It’s not clear when she left Midwood, if she did, but she committed suicide in 1964. Seems her family did not approve of her gay lifestyle and had disowned her, a matter she hinted at in her fiction.  She was 33.

She published her first novel with Newsstand Library in 1959, a paperback house out of Chicago: First Person–Third Sex was a deeply personal account of a third grade teacher’s discovery of her “third sex” passion and desire of a “twilight woman.”  It was reprinted in 1962 by Dollar Double Books as Strumpets’ Jungle (see above pic) , back-to-back with Any Man’s Playmate by James L. Ruebel.

Also in 1959, she published with Beacon Books, The Needle, a story about a bi-sexual heroin addict prostitute.

Her next novels for Midwood were 1960’s Meet Marilyn and Insatiable, like The Needle, written commercially for the market; These Curious Pleasures (1961), however, has the same autobiographical, first-person narrative that her first novel does. In fact, the narrator’s name is “Sloane Britain,” perhaps Williams’ indication that this book is based on her own life, rather than the writer’s imagination. 1961 also saw That Other Hunger. Both books sported cover art by Paul Rader.

Other titles were Ladder of Flesh plus two posthumous short novels published as Midwood Doubles: Summer of Sin and Peep Booth.  Three titles, Ladder of Flesh, That Other Hunger, and Unnatural,  were reissued in the late 1960s with new titles: Taboo and Delicate Vice.

Both First Person–Third Sex and These Curious Pleasures break away from the genre norm of lesbian paperbacks in that they end on a gay-positive note, rather than having the protagonist meet with tragedy for her sins of the flesh or meet a male she falls head over heels with, marries, and lives forever after in heterosexual marital bliss.  Publishers such as Fawcett Gold Medal, Beacon, and Nightstand often required this so the Postal Inspector would not prosecute for mailing obscene material in the U.S. Mails — if the lesbian character meets a horrible end or goes insane over her unnatural lust, or repents from sin and finds true love in the arms of man, then the books were deemed to have social value as morality and cautionary tales; if the books ended on a positive note with women loving women, that, in the 1950s-60s, was considered perverted and sick.  Homosexuality was still considered a mental disease that could be cured with medicine, psychology, or religion…

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Candy by Sheldon Lord (Lawrence Block), Midwood #40 (1960)

Posted in crime noir, lesbian pulp fiction, Midwood Books, pulp fiction, Vintage Sleaze Paperbacks with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on October 31, 2009 by vintagesleazepaperbacks

Lord - Candy

Early Lawrence Block is always a mixed bag of good and not-so-good, such as some of the very early Nightstands. Midwood published Block’s first book as a Sheldon Lord, Carla [Midwood #7, 1958]  (later reprinted as Puta), although his first sale was the Lesley Evans lesbian novel, Strange Are the Ways of Love, for Fawcett Crest, 1959.  Seems Midwood had less turnaround time from manuscript sale to publication.

Evans - Strang are the ways of love

Lord - CarlaBock excelled in the lesbian themed novels as Sheldon Lord, some Andrew Shaws, and as Jill Emerson, who went from sleaze paperbacks to several mainstream novels with Putnam in the 1970s.  Many critics were convinced that Jill Emerson was actually a woman, and has been included in some lesbian pulp fiction anthologies without a mention that Emerson is really a man.  Block was more convincing a female writer than Silverberg.

So Block continued to write more books for Midwood, most lesbian themed works, and one he collaborated with Donald Westlake, Of Shame and Joy.

Candy is considered a lesbian novel, or a novel with lesbian sex going on…an instance where the woman, Candy, leaves the narrator for what a wealthy Park Avenue lesbian has to offer a sexy girl from the backwoods of America.

Candy is also one of Block’s finest Sheldon Lord books and early works, better than April North, better than the Sheldon Lords that Hard Case published. His early Nightstands were about college kids and young sexuality, and then he started to move toward crime noir/erotica, like Shame Dame as John Dexter.

In one typical Block line, he has a character reading a book by Alan Marshall (Westlake), with one hand in his pocket…

Jeff Flanders is 34 and works at a finance company that gives personal loans with a high rate of interest.  They are basically legal loan sharks without the leg breakers.

One day a sexpot 19-year-old blonde from the sticks, now in the big city, wanders into the finance company looking to borrow $1000.  She has no job, is new in New York, and no credit or collateral, but she figures her looks and sexuality will get her the loan.  She suggests Jeff co-sign her loan and in exchange he can have sex with her….

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Warm & Willing by Jill Emerson (Lawrence Block, Midwood Books)

Posted in lesbian pulp fiction, Midwood Books, Nightstand Books, pulp fiction, Vintage Sleaze Paperbacks with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on August 30, 2009 by vintagesleazepaperbacks

Emerson - warm and willing

Robert Silverberg wasn’t the only man writing a plethora of lesbian titles under female pseudonyms — Lawrence Block had him beat.

In fact, Block’s first sale, in 1958 (at the age of 19 -20) was the lesbiania novel, Strange Are the Ways of Love by Lesley Evans (again that pun with the first name, like Leslie in Longman/Silverberg’s Sin Girls).  And here you tought Mr. (Ms?) Lawrence Block started off as the great crime fiction writer he is today…

Evans - Strang are the ways of love

He only used that pen name once — he then went on to be Sheldon Lord at Beacon and Midwood, Andrew Shaw at Nightstand, and then Jill Emerson at Midwood for several titles — one, Enough of Sorrow, is considered a lesbian classic, and has been excerpted in a Cleis Press anthology, Lesbian Pulp, where no mention is made that this is a man writing as a woman — as all the other writers in that book are actual women (and lesbians) it seems Block duped the editor, which attests to his skills as a writer.

Enouigh of Sorrow lesbianpulp

He later switched lesbian and bi-sexual novels to Putnam in the 70s, such as the explict The Trouble with Eden, about swingers.

Emerson - troible with Eden

As Dr. Benjamin Morse, he wrote the faux sexology studies The Lesbian and The Sexually Promisciuous Female (discusses lesbianism and bi-sexuality) akin to Silverberg’s L.T. Woodward, M.D.’s Twilight Women, for the same publishers (Monarch and Lancer).

Morse - Lesbian

In a funny act of postmodern reflexivity, in the Andrew Shaw novel, Butch, a confused woman sees and buys Morse’s The Lesbian on a newsstand; after reading it, she realzies this is what she is and sets herself on a stange sexual journey (such references to other books is common in the Shaws and Sheldon Lords, plus a continuous ref. to a film/book, The Sound of Distant Drums).

BUTCH

So: a fake gender study influences a fictional character’s life path…this begs a question with moral and ethical undertones: did any actual women read The Lesbian at the time and were influenced by what was fiction masquerading as fact?

Back to Warm and Willing

This certainly is Block’s style (another one, by Sheldon Lord, The Sisterhood, I’m not sure) and is set in Greenwich Village — so lush is the detail (and in other Block books) we know Block loves this part of New York, and lived there at the time (he may still).

The protagonist is Rhoda, 24, just out of a loveless marriage (usual set-up for many lesbian novels).  Why did she marry?  She thought that’s what young women do by age 22.  But she did not care for sex, did not love her husband.  She was “frigid.”  She let her husband go out and have affairs.

She works in a gift shop in the Village, lives in a small room nerby, lives an uneventful, invisible existence until one day a 28-year-old blonde, Megan, comes in to buy a gift (for the woman she juts broke up with, we later find out).  There is an odd connection.  Megan comes back the next day and asks Rhoda out to lunch.  Rhoda accepts, and she has no idea Megan is gay.

Later, Megan lures Rhoda up to her apartment on the West Side and plies Rhoda with scotch and proceeds to tell her that Rhoda probably doesn’t know, but the reason she could not enjoy sex with her ex-husband is because she’s a dyke, in the closet.  Megan “knows.”  Rhoda is shocked. But Rhoda lets Megan have sex with her and the doors to escstasy com flying open and Rhoda has never felt such “release” before.

She moves in with Megan.  Megan is an interior decorator.  They hang with a group of lesbians at lesbian-only Village bafrs and events.  At a party one night, a tall woman, a trust fund baby, a 19 year old girl named Bobbie, dances with Rhoda all night because Megan does not like to dance.  Megan gets very jealous.

Then Rhoda gets jealous of any woman that pays Megan attention.  Soon the two are living in constant battle of distrust, they fight and argue, etc.  They are like any straight couple: the same issues of insecurity and fear.

Megan turns to Bobbie for love, and moves in with Bobbie, and whioe it seems magical at the start, the two are worse than Rhoda was with Megan: constant fighting and jealousy.

Rhoda sees a lot of “disfunction” among the lesbian crowd: attempted suicides, infidelity, going from one meaningless relationsip to the next, hurt feelings…thinking she may have made a mistake, one week while Bobbie is out of town, Rhoda acceopts a dinner date with a man who comes in to the store.  She decides she will sleep with him and find out if there is passion, if she’s not gay…

Now, this book was published in 1964 — had it been 10 years, five years earlier, the set-up would have been obvious and common: Rhoda would sleep with the guy, stars would fly, she’d fall in love and marry the man, denouncing her lesbian past.  But that was for Beacon and Nightstand books…for Midwood, Block takes a funny turn —

Rhoda stops the man from sex, half way through foreplay.  She admits to him that this was an experiment, but she says she feels nothing and does  ot find the male sex attractive.  She says she will go through with it for leading him on but he says no, he says, “Go away.”

So Rhoda leaves — back to her apartment with Bobbie, back to her lif as a realized, maybe empowered lesbian.

Well-written, well-crafted, maybe a tad slow in parts — I was disappointed that none of the Block/Shaw/Westlake/Marshall/Lord in jokes were absent from the text, but perhaops Jill Emerson, being a lesbian, did not hang with those “guys.”