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Maney, Mabel (b. 1958)  

San Francisco artist and satirist Mabel Maney spins lesbian adventure tales out of perky feminine archetypes from the 1950s and 1960s. Though on the surface her novels play out as mischievous parodies of heroines such as Nancy Drew, behind their convoluted and merrily implausible plots is a conscious awareness of the era's class and gender issues. At the same time Maney, an unabashed advocate for the place of butch/femme relationships in lesbian culture, actively reappraises the gender assumptions of the present.

Born one of four children to an Irish Catholic family in Appleton, Wisconsin in 1958, Maney grew up in Ohio and graduated from Ohio State University in 1985. After coming out in the lesbian/feminist counterculture of the late 1980s she moved to San Francisco. In 1991 she received a Master of Fine Arts degree from San Francisco State University; her thesis explored the subtext of novels featuring 1940s heroine Nurse Cherry Ames.

Before she took to writing novels, Maney's chosen medium was handcrafted books produced under her own World O'Girls imprint. Her art installations--some actually large-scale fabric constructions--probed mother/daughter relationships and 1950s constraints against women. They were mixed media experiments in which images, often kitsch graphics from that era's commercial art, provide environments for text rather than illustrate it.

She exhibited her work throughout the United States. Two of her pieces, "Nancy Clue/Cherry Aimless" and "Hardly Boys," part of the group show "Bad Girls" shown on both coasts in the early 1990s, spoofed the popular young readers' mystery series. When they came to the attention of Cleis Press a book deal resulted.

Her heroines, Nancy Clue and Cherry Aimless, parody the Nancy Drew and Nurse Cherry Ames books written for girls in the 1930s and 1940s. (The latter was created to interest girls in nursing careers during World War II.) Maney brings them together, recreating a postwar setting in which the ingenuous Cherry and the urbane Nancy meet in a San Francisco lesbian bar and carry on a fervent, on-again/off-again affair through the first three novels.

They are accompanied by a cast of dykely personalities: butch Midge and her loyal femme Velma who never can find enough privacy to--well, you know; Jackie, the handsome black city cop (in uniform!) who shows up whenever a cool head is required; and baby-butch Lauren whose brash rebelliousness will cheer anyone who ever chafed at childhood commands to behave like a lady.

Maney's rambling plots are mainly vehicles for lampooning the Ozzie and Harriet coziness of middle-class America where girls fight for justice without scratching their nail polish. In The Case of the Not-So-Nice Nurse (1993) the cast must rescue a clutch of kidnapped nuns and foil the treacherous priest who has evil designs on their property. The Case of the Good-For-Nothing Girlfriend (1994) carries the gang on a road trip to Illinois, where Nancy challenges corrupt society matrons to clear her name and expose her illustrious dad's true nature.

In The Ghost in the Closet (1995) the group teams up with the Hardly Boys, along with their doting uncle Nelly and his well-proportioned "friend." They introduce some not-so-subtle male homoerotic dynamics into a pursuit through secret caves after spies who are surely intent on threatening our way of life.

Maney writes with a conscious attention to class and gender roles. Her Nancy is from a privileged have-it-all background ("a living Barbie") while Cherry must work for a living, and Maney builds their rocky relationship around that axis. By contrast, her butch/femme couples are stable and loving, a deliberate departure from the later archetype. She celebrates the butch/femme dichotomy as sexy rather than limiting; her femme characters are smart and capable, the butches loyal and caring.

She sets the novels in the 1950s and 1960s to allow her characters an innocence that is not possible now. Maney describes Nancy Clue as a deliberate subversion of "pure American girlhood" whose family secret (incest) represents the dysfunctional subtext of both the original series and its era.

Maney switches gears in her next two novels, Kiss the Girls and Make Them Spy (2001) and The Girl with the Golden Bouffant (2004). In the insouciant 1960s, the renowned Agent 007's sister--Bond, Jane Bond--must thwart a plot against the queen and outsmart some really obnoxious FBI rivals in a Las Vegas showdown (respectively). She is abetted by two cagey and tenacious operatives, Bridget and Bibi, fashionista femmes whom one is well advised not to cross. It is amazing what kind of high-tech weaponry you can pack into a charm bracelet.

Although created as parodies of earlier times, Maney's novels are mordant commentaries on the conformity of a lesbian culture that, in her opinion, takes itself too seriously. She notes that gay men have a longstanding camp tradition and feels that lesbians need something similar. Her characters may well provide the foundation.

Maney's published short fiction are brief vignettes of women ensnared in marital or gender limitations, who live vicariously through the icons of popular culture. In 2001 Kiss the Girls and Make Them Spy was a finalist for a Lambda Literary Award in the Lesbian Mystery category.

Ruth M. Pettis


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Mabel Maney.
Image courtesy of Cleis Press.

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Brownworth, Victoria A. "The Secret life of Nancy Drew." The Advocate 669 (November 29, 1994): 58-60.

Gibson, Michelle, and Deborah T. Meem. "The Case of the Lovely Lesbian: Mabel Maney's Queering of Nancy Drew." Studies in Popular Culture 19.3 (April 1997): 23-26.

Harris, Laura, and Elizabeth Crocker. "Mysteries, Mothers, and Cops: An Interview with Mabel Maney." Femme: Feminists, Lesbians, and Bad Girls. Laura Harris and Elizabeth Crocker, eds. New York: Routledge, 1997. 68-81.

Keehnen, Owen. "The Case of the Oh-So-Successful Sequel: Nancy Drew and Beyond--A Talk with Mabel Maney." (1995):

Lain, Katy. "Clueing In: Mabel Maney and the Nancy Clue series." Stim 6.2 (October 25, 1996):

Maney, Mabel. The Case of the Not-so-nice Nurse. San Francisco: Cleis Press, 1993.

_____. The Case of the Good-for-nothing Girlfriend. San Francisco: Cleis Press, 1994.

_____. Nancy Clue and the Hardly Boys in a Ghost in the Closet. San Francisco: Cleis Press, 1995.

_____. Kiss the Girls and Make them Spy: An Original Jane Bond Parody. New York: HarperEntertainment, 2001.

_____. The Girl with the Golden Bouffant: An Original Jane Bond Parody. New York: HarperEntertainment, 2004.

_____. "Jumping through Hoops." Signs of Life: Channel Surfing Through '90s Culture. Jennifer Joseph and Lisa Talpin, eds. San Francisco: Manic D Press, 1994. 82-84.

_____. "Lucky in Love." Beyond Definition: New Writing from Gay and Lesbian San Francisco. Marci Blackman and Trebor Healey, eds. San Francisco: Manic D Press, 1994. 44-45.

_____. "That Day in a Strange City." Girlfriend Number One: Lesbian Life in the 90s. Robin Stevens, ed. San Francisco: Cleis Press, 1994. 63-76.

_____. "Wish You Were Here." Queer Cultural Center [San Francisco], Qcc Web Commission. (1999)

Perkins, Penny. "Meet Mabel Maney! Alternative Author Veers Toward Mainstream Success." Badpuppy Gay Today (January 12, 1998).

Rush, Suzanne. "Mabel Maney--Past Imperfect." S.F. Weekly 14.46 (December 14, 1994): 11-13.


    Citation Information
    Author: Pettis, Ruth M.  
    Entry Title: Maney, Mabel  
    General Editor: Claude J. Summers  
    Publication Name: glbtq: An Encyclopedia of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual,
Transgender, and Queer Culture
    Publication Date: 2006  
    Date Last Updated February 27, 2006  
    Web Address  
    Publisher glbtq, Inc.
1130 West Adams
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    Encyclopedia Copyright: © 2002-2006, glbtq, Inc.  
    Entry Copyright © 2006, glbtq, inc.  


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