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Mabel Maney, 1995

The Case of the Oh-So-Successful Sequel: Nancy Drew and Beyond--A Talk with Mabel Maney

By Owen Keehnen

  The cover of Mabel Maney's
The cover of Mabel Maney's Good-for- Nothing Girlfriend.
Courtesy Cleis Press.
In 1991, Mabel Maney published a howlingly funny and painstakingly accurate parody of young adult female detective and nurse novels entitled The Case of the Not-So-Nice Nurse. Set in the late 1950s, the book expertly captures the feel of the "gosh/golly" genre; only Ms. Maney populates her opus with a lovable band of plucky, loyal, and resourceful lesbians. It's hilarious, sweet, and suspenseful; and it also reestablishes an institution/mythology in gay terms. There are peeks and clues into the hidden world of women who loved women during that socially and politically repressive era.

In 1994, Cleis Press released the plucky sequel, The Case of the Good-For-Nothing Girlfriend. The second in the series picks up precisely where the first novel ends, and once again the results are winning.

[Since this interview, Maney has also published an additional novel in the Nancy Clue and the Hardly Boys series, A Ghost in the Closet (1995), and two novels in a series featuring James Bond's lesbian sister Jane Bond: Kiss the Girls and Make Them Spy (2001) and Girl with the Golden Bouffant (2003).]

For this interview I called Mabel on the telephone in San Francisco, and true to her characters she informed me that, though the interview was going to be conducted by telephone, she had groomed and dressed herself in a most appropriate manner.

Keehnen: I've heard you have been a big fan of detective stories since you were a kid.

Maney: Of Nancy Drew and also Cherry Ames, who is not as well known--she's a nurse character. She was invented in the 1940s to try to get girls to be war nurses, so they focused a lot on uniforms, so they have this incredible uniform fetish going on in them, which is great because so do I. In fact, the woman I'm currently chasing is a cop.

Keehnen: Having just finished The Case of the Good-For-Nothing Girlfriend, I could say that's sort of life imitating art. What was your intent when you began writing the first in the series, The Case of the Not-So-Nice Nurse?

Maney: Actually, I wrote it because I had a back injury and was stuck in bed. I'm very hyperactive and a compulsive worker; and after three days of lying around thinking my life was over, I thought, "This is a good time to write that book I've been thinking about." I think my intent was to write something I wished I had read as a kid, something very positive with sexy lesbian characters. Something fun too--I think humor is really important these days.

Keehnen: You recreate the genre with such a flourish of detail. Do you feel as though you're creating myth, or giving existing myth a gay sensibility?

Maney: I think I'm creating it. I talked about this with a lawyer, about what is true parody. I don't want just to lift a character, but to talk about Nancy as an icon of proper middle-class America and to create characters that show the hidden world of women that's always been there. I wanted to create a world that was a whole lot nicer.

Keehnen: This type of writing was also your thesis in college?

Maney: Specifically on Cherry Ames and the homoerotic subtext of those nurse books. It's this world of women that emerged during the war when there were very few men around. They were always admiring each other, and the cut of one another's uniform. They are very sexy. Often Cherry will stare at a woman and think, "If I were a man I would love her." It's very interesting. In the Nancy Drew books, I was very interested in the missing mother and the sort of incestuous love. She's her father's partner. He's young and handsome, but there's never any mention of a lover. I think it has a creepy incestuous undertone.

Keehnen: That's a theme you definitely explore more fully in the new book?

Maney: Exactly. Plus in Nancy Drew you had George, "The giggly girl with the boy's name." Come on, everybody knew George was a dyke. It was great.

Keehnen: What do you think was the overall contribution of the genre?

Maney: The same man who invented the Hardy Boys invented Nancy Drew--so he gave her some traditionally (for the time) male qualities. She's fearless, though she will stop and change before chasing a crook, which I can certainly understand. She doesn't doubt herself, she's stubborn, she's smart, and she has an incredible energy. That's what it did for girls--it gave girls like me a great role model.

Keehnen: You've really mastered the cornerstones of that style. Do you have more fun naming characters, describing their clothes, or toying with the syntax?

Maney: I try to focus on all three. I fuss and write very slowly. It's a learned language and different from my other writing.

Keehnen: Cluespeak?

Maney: That's a great name for it! I have to read them every night and study these books and keep them in my head. When I get to the point when I talk like that on a daily basis, I know I'm ready to write. I have to be totally in that world.

Keehnen: Which character do you most closely resemble?

Maney: I think Lauren, the bratty girl with a lot of interests. But I'm in love with Midge. I'm really hot for my character Midge.

Keehnen: Midge certainly comes to the forefront in this novel as the voice of reason.

Maney: She's also passionate and a bit of a hothead, and she is extremely loyal. Actually, I think I'm all the characters . . . only Cherry is who I used to be and Velma, Cherry's look-a-like and Midge's lover, is where I'm going.

Keehnen: Your cast is rapidly expanding. Is it fun to create this big gay and lesbian community in 1957 Americana style?

Maney: It's the best. I wish I had two brains so I could do an offshoot. I want to take them to all these different places. I like them as a group. In the next book, the Hardly Boys come to visit them--so there will be a cast of thousands. I'm working out how to do that.

Keehnen: Something else very clear in your books is the delineation between butch and femme. Is that a commentary on lesbianism in general, or more on the sisterhood circa 1957?

Maney: It's fifties and it's fun. I don't think it accurately divides the world, but it does my world. I'm clearly a femme and I love to tease butches. I love to tease butches in the same way that I'm a lesbian. I love my people, my group, my girls . . . but I like to tease girls about romance because everyone knows lesbian romance is a really funny subject.

Keehnen: Does writing this perky prose require a certain frame of mind?

Maney: Absolutely. I'm perky anyway, but I have to be completely into it. Often I'll go days where I don't want to have conversation with anyone--what I really want to think about is the language, the drama . . . the clothing.

Keehnen: The great themes. Tell me about the Hardly Boys book you are working on for release next autumn from Cleis Press.

Maney: It's called The Ghost in the Closet. It's a continuation of The Case of the Good-For-Nothing Girlfriend. Frank Hardly shows up, curious about the announcement that he had been married. Then both Hardly Boys move in and try to save Nancy and Cherry's relationship, and along the way discover some secrets of their own . . .

Keehnen: I'm sorry this is over the phone because after reading the books I've got to know what you're wearing.

Maney: I'm wearing a simple frock. But I'm a writer in San Francisco so I have to wear black. It's mandatory.

About Owen Keehnen
Owen Keehnen has worked as a journalist, book reviewer, and interviewer for a number of years. Currently, the Chicago based author is completing a trilogy of interview books on gay XXX stars, finishing a horror novel, and supporting himself as a massage therapist. He is also launching a website which celebrates independent horror films,
Related Pages

Young Adult Literature

Butch-Femme Relations





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