Monday, December 31, 2018

Ep 1 - Dharma Kelleher & Murder at the Nightwood Bar


[Direct Download]

Life Changing Book

(A Kate Delafield Mystery)
by Katherine V. Forrest

Murder at the Nightwood Bar 
by Katherine V. Forrest

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Dharma Kelleher

Dharma Kelleher writes gritty crime fiction from a transgender/queer perspective. She is the author of three thrillers including Chaser, the first book in her new Jinx Ballou bounty hunter series, and Iron Goddess and Snitch in her Shea Stevens biker series. She is a former journalist and a member of Sisters in Crime, the International Thriller Writers, and the Alliance of Independent Authors. She lives in Arizona with her wife and three feline overlords. You can learn more about Dharma and her work at

Twitter: @zenpunkdharma Instagram: @DharmaKelleher

Chaser by Dharma Kelleher

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Ellen Hart
Kate Calloway Hollywood Homicide by Kellye Garrett
Kate Delafield Mystery Series by Katherine V. Forrest
Curious Wine by Katherine V. Forrest 
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Pretty Girls by Karin Slaughter 
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Bound to Die by Laurie Rockenbeck
Iron Goddess by Dharma Kelleher 
Snitch by Dharma Kelleher 
Chaser by Dharma Kelleher 
Extreme Prejudice by Dharma Kelleher (Coming Soon!) 
Murders A-Go-Go Edited by Holly West 

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Denise: Welcome the Heart-Shaped Books, podcasts, where storytellers pour out their hearts about books that have changed their lives. I'm your host, Denise Ganley. As with any Heart-Shaped Books episode, there might be some spoilers, but don't let that stop you from listening. This is episode one, and my guest today is Dharma Kelleher. We'll be discussing Murder at the Nightwood Bar by Katherine V. Forrest, but before we dive in, let me introduce you to Dharma, Dharma Kelleher writes, gritty crime fiction from a transgender queer perspective. She's the author of three thrillers, including Chaser, her first book, and her new Jinx Ballou bounty hunter series and Iron Goddess and Snitch in her Shea Stevens biker series. She's a former journalist and a member of Sisters in Crime, the International Thriller Writers and the Alliance of Independent Authors. She lives in Arizona with her wife and three feline overlords, and now on to the interview.

Denise: It says avoid legal snags by telling people they're being recorded. You're being recorded, Dharma. I think it says on your screen too, so there's no secrets.

Dharma: There's a little big, big circle within a circle with the circle. So yeah.

Denise: I just wanted to talk about how we know each other, we might say it was 10 years ago now.

Dharma: That sounds about right.

Denise: Yeah. And we were in a writing class together, um, for novel, novel writing specifically, and then we stayed connected and then you introduced me to the writer's group that we both were in for awhile and then we kind of cultivated the best funnest people in that group and made our own little group-

Dharma: Yes we did. We won't talk about the reasons why we had to make that change.

Denise: Yeah. It was a challenge when you have a public group sometimes you have a lot of voices and things like that. Anyway, you joined me today on my first episode of Heart-Shaped Books.

Dharma: Woohoo!

Denise: Yay! And so I asked you to tell me what book changed your life and you told me Murder at the Nightwood Bar by Katherine V. Forrest. And so that's what we're going to talk about today. To start out with, I'd never heard of this book.

Dharma: Not surprising.

Denise: Tell me first what your life was like just before you discovered the book.

Dharma: Uh, okay. Um, I think I discovered it around in 1996. So at the time I'm transgender and at the time I was married to my husband, we had recently moved from Atlanta to Phoenix and I, um, uh, I was still exploring my gender identity, my sexuality, figuring out who the heck I was. We'd been sort of basically married for about a year I guess at that time, but I was still trying to figure out who I was and so, and I was especially drawn to the queer community as a trans person and that included the lesbian community and all the other aspects of the community. So that's about where I was.

Denise: What was your role in life? What were you doing or how did you identify yourself at the time?

Dharma: I was, let's see, around 29, age 29 I guess, and I identified as transgender of course, and this was the first, my marriage to my ex husband was my first relationship with a man. I mean I'd been with a few men, you know, off and on, but my first serious relationship with a man. So I still primarily identified as lesbian. So I really didn't know who or what I was. And now I just identify, mainly identify as homo-flexible, which is primarily lesbian, but I've had some experience, I find some guys attractive.

Denise: So what was your biggest challenge around then?

Dharma: Financial. At the time I... See, and this is one of the questions I said I don't want you to ask me now. And well no, because at the time I was saving up for my gender reassignment surgery and, see, it's okay if I bring it up, it's not okay if you bring it up. At the time nobody covered it as far as insurance or anything like that. And we're talking, gosh, how much was it? Like $15,000 I think at that time and out of pocket.

Denise: Yikes.

Dharma: And so I was trying to save up for that and everything else. I was trying to rebuild my career because when I finally, when I came out as transgender a few years earlier, my, you know, I was fired from my job and I was kicked out of my family and all that stuff. So I was basically in the process of rebuilding my life. So just trying to get life back on track.

Denise: How did you find this book then? Like how did it fall into your hands at that time?

Dharma: There used to be a bookstore called Obelisk and it was a queer bookstore and it was like Central and Camelback in Phoenix and I was just perusing the lesbian section and I found this. And so many of the books that I read up to that point where either coming out stories or romances or erotica, and this was the first one that I found, uh, that was a step beyond that where the character's sexuality wasn't main part of the plot. So I'm like, wow, we can be represented in stories beyond just romance and coming out stories. It's like, oh, okay. So that's really kind of got my mind to thinking I want more of this.

Denise: Well, and I was doing some research on it and I had no idea this is the first lesbian police officer in American literature and that was, that's a big deal.

Dharma: Right. It is, it really is. And of course it's the second book in the series, but it was the first one that I came across because as with physical bookstores, they're not necessarily going to carry all the books in a given series. So that was the one that I found. I later did end up reading the first book, which was Amateur City. Um, which is also a good book. But yeah, it really started kind of a genre of lesbian murder mysteries and because there were other people, uh, Ellen Hart, there was a Kate Calloway who was writing a series for a while and a few others that followed suit. But yeah, she was definitely a pioneer in that aspect.

Denise: You know, I hadn't read the first one either first, this is the only one I've read in the series, but I actually didn't have a problem with that, like jumping in. Usually I hate jumping in the middle of things, but she did all right as far as bringing you up to speed without really overdoing it. So she, she balanced. In fact, if I had just picked this up, I wouldn't have necessarily realized there was a book before it.

Dharma: Exactly. Yeah.

Denise: It holds to a lot of the traditional mystery, what I know of as the traditional mystery elements as well.

Dharma: Sure.

Denise: So let's talk about the book. How would you describe it as, uh, as far as the plot and stuff?

Dharma: Basically it falls as a police procedural. She's really adept at capturing the detail and, of what it's like to be a police officer. I assume, I'm not a police officer. But based on my research, like she really brought it to life and a lot of the, uh, just the way that they have to follow an investigation. The way that different experts and crime scene specialists are brought in. And Kate Delafield is the main character. She's a closeted lesbian. And in this particular story, the victim is a, a lesbian who was murdered in the parking lot of a lesbian bar. I really found that it captured the state of the culture at the time. A lot of people were very much closeted for fear of reprisal, of being fired, of harassment either at work or at home. And so, and fear of the police. As a police officer, as a lesbian police officer, she kind of stands at the crossroads of the two communities, the police community and the queer community. And she has to thread that needle. She's longing to connect with the people that she meets in this bar that she's having to question about in regards to the murder. And at the same time, she doesn't want her partner, uh, Detective Ed Taylor to find out this is, she's, she's lesbian and this is part of, her people. She's really having to walk that line. And I, I feel that Ms. Forrest really captured the tension that that creates because I know what that's like. Even now, 2018, I have to remain somewhat closeted in my work situation, which I don't want to get into what kind of work I do. But I, with my clients, I have to remain somewhat closeted in order to keep my job. And I hate doing that. It hurts my heart to do that. And that's why reading, reading stories like this, even re-reading it after 30 years, really connects with me, um, because I understand what it's like.

Denise: What did it change for you then, like describe how you felt when you first read it?

Dharma: I was delighted that there were stories about queer people where the plot of the story didn't revolve around the character's sexuality. This is a police procedural. In this case, the character happened to be gay or the victim happened to be gay. The protagonist happens to be gay, but it's not about gay, gay, gay, gay. There are a couple of sex scenes in there. But the story isn't about a romance. It's not about her coming out because she doesn't come out, really, except for I think a couple of people at the bar, later towards the end of the story. It's just about solving a murder mystery. And that's really what changed is like, oh, okay. So it kinda opened my horizons like I want more of this. And it also, I felt that it was very reflective of my experiences both at the time and even now.

Denise: Did the sex scenes feel risque at the time?

Dharma: Well, to me they didn't.

Denise: Well in public, you know, like if somebody had picked this up and didn't have any context.

Dharma: I mean, it's kinda hard for me to speak on behalf of how the general public would feel. At the time they were, they were for crime fiction, because it was lesbian sex. Oh my goodness. Yeah. I guess it was kind of controversial, but a lot of that appears in other lesbian fiction before that. This was really stepping into crime fiction. Um, so it was kind of crossing into that genre. And that's kind of one of the reasons why I enjoy being a crime fiction writer myself.

Denise: Well, I think even some of the crime fiction or mystery that we're, we're familiar with, like Agatha Christie didn't have anything like that or can you imagine Hercule Poirot- Dharma: Right, but, and she was from a different time. There's different genres of crime fiction. Cozies, you're not going to have sex. You don't have swearing. You don't have a lot of violence. In more of the grittier ends of crime fiction, you will have some of that. So, um, I mean I've read sex scenes in Lawrence Block novels and in those cases they are straight couples, you know, so it's not, it wasn't that controversial.

Denise: Did you feel like the impact was immediate or kind of like a slow burn or do you feel like it's still impacting you today?

Dharma: I think it's still impacting today. I think that she really changed the game saying that as far as crime fiction, it doesn't have to be just the straight white male. And so I think that she, along with like Sara Paretsky really helped to say that it's not just the, uh, not just in crime fiction in general but even the grittier, more aggressive thrillers, the hardcore thriller crime fiction. Um, because a lot of times women were relegated to, oh, well you have to just write cozies and women come in all different shapes and sizes. Some of us like the cozies. I prefer the grittier stuff and it's okay.

Denise: Yeah, I like both.

Dharma: I do too.

Denise: Depends on my mood. My inner 13 year old will absolutely read young adult or cozies or anything like that. And then I always want a little bit of like Kill Bill or something more violent.

Dharma: Definitely on the hardcore end, almost to the point of being like spoofy, the way the blood gushes. It gets absurd sometimes.

Denise: I like to read that stuff. I don't know that it can write it. Every time I try to write something when I'm thinking I'm going to Kill Bill this style. I'm like writing Karate Kid, PG-13, I've yet to figure that out.

Dharma: I find as a writer, the two toughest types scenes to write are sex scenes and fight scenes, because you don't want to focus entirely on the mechanics. You know, Part A slips into Part B, blah, blah, blah... licking this... And then you get into what kind of language do you use for body parts? Kind of step away from the mechanics of, and even with the fight scenes. He punches this guy there and then that guy grabs him and it can be a little bit clunky and it can really drag the story down. You really want to kind of bring in the characters point of view and show like, okay, okay, you want to show the power dynamics shifting more so than punch by punch by punch.

Denise: For those of you just listening to the audio she's doing punch moves for us.

Dharma: Punching punching punching. You want to, you want to take it beyond just the mechanics of these types of scenes because otherwise you risk boring the readers. I mean even if they're really good, it's like, oh, okay that's really exciting. You gotta advance the plot somehow or develop character somehow.

Denise: Are there storytelling aspects in the book that have influenced you as a writer?

Dharma: I'm sure there are, nothing specific comes to mind. I mean it helped me in my overall understanding of story structure I think. And scene structure and character development. But I mean there are other books that helped me learn that as well. So yeah.

Denise: And you mentioned Sara Paretsky and I know that I had read an interview with Katherine before, I think it was from the LA Book Review and she mentioned her as well as an influence. What do you think it is that you both connected to with Sara Paretsky and V.I. Warshawski?

Dharma: I think that women can be tough. I think it's a departure from like the Ms Jane Marple the um, oh what was the Murder She Wrote character?

Denise: I totally spaced it. Fletcher. Jessica Fletcher.

Dharma: Yes. Thank you. Yeah, and those are wonderful characters too, but just taking not only that women can be tough, but being unapologetic about representing women or a community. With Sara Paretsky, she was unabashedly feminist in her writing. There were storylines about abortion or women's rights or the way women are treated in the workplace and things like that. And so those were common themes in Sara Paretsky's work. And then Katherine V. Forrest's work, we see similar themes but impacting the queer community. In fact, I just finished reading one of the other novels in the series, Murdered by Tradition and that takes on the whole gay panic defense issue, which is still an issue today. The stories aren't about being gay, but they are shaped by the gay experience, the queer experience. And so with V.I. Warshawski, her books weren't about feminism, but they describe what it's like to be a tough woman in the world and was unafraid to show the chauvinism, the sexism, the, um, just the arrogance that women have to put up with even today. And it was very groundbreaking in the at that time. And even this still today.

Denise: Yeah. Have you read the last book in the series, yet, that came out in 2013, which I thought was interesting? So Kate Delafield goes from a, I think the first book was published in 1984. And then the last one was 2013 and this whole time Katherine V. Forrest is aging her, like Harry Bosch ages, so like real life. And so she's retired in the last book and I was like, whoa, I've got to go back and read that book because just from what I've read about it.

Dharma: Yeah, I haven't read that one as of yet, but I'm working my way through. I just finished Murder by Tradition. I just started reading Liberty Square and each one is like they're spaced a few years apart from each other, which is kind of interesting because you get to see the way things are changing. So, um, yeah. I'm, I'm hoping to finish the series.

Denise: Well, and, she said that there were going to be even more. Because retirement doesn't mean your story is over.

Dharma: Exactly.

Denise: So, I'm like, yes, bring it on.

Dharma: I've also been reading Lawrence Block's Matt Scudder series. It's interesting to see how the character of Matt Scudder has evolved over time as well. You know, he goes from being kind of a, he was originally a cop and he's just trying to survive and these types of taking little side jobs, not an official private investigator. And then he evolves. He develops a long-term relationship and he becomes an official PI with a license. And it's interesting to see how all these iconic characters, we think of them as they never change, but really in the best stories, they do change, they do evolve, they fall in love, they fall out of love, their professional situation changes over time. And I think that's important and sometimes it can be a challenge because especially one of the challenges is when a character gets into a relationship sometimes, like, how has that change the dynamic is this person is still as edgy as they used to be. Um, I struggle with that myself with my characters. Like, okay, what do I, how do I want to deal with this relationship? Do I want her to fall into a new relationship or, or, you know, how do I want to handle that? And I'm still playing around with it. I recently turned my latest manuscript into my editor and before I did, I had my wife read it. She's my first reader and she said she loved it except she hated the ending. So then I had to go back in and it had to do with the character's relationship and make some changes and then I'm like, okay, well how's this going to affect the storyline, the subplots going forward, how much do I want to make this a part of who they are carrying forward. That's kind of part of the fun of experimenting.

Denise: Let's talk about Kate a little bit. She's an ex marine and Vietnam War veteran, and as you mentioned she's closeted and serving in, at the time, a homophobic Los Angeles police department. How did you connect with her exactly? Well, I mean, you talked about some of this already.

Dharma: Yes. So part of it is realizing that you know, a lot of people that are in the straight cisgender community, community whatever it is, tend to view the police as they're the good guys and everything. Generally speaking, that's true. But, as when I was coming out as transgender, and even before then, they were not considered the good guys. The gay rights movement started because of ongoing police brutality and the Stonewall Riots that happened to the Stonewall Inn in New York in 1969, where the first time, well, one of the first times that queer people fought back and so when I came out of the closet, I was terrified because I grew up. I heard stories of people being brutalized by police with impunity. Who are we going to report it to? No one's going to believe us because we're thought of as freaks and perverts and whatever. And so on that level I could very much relate to what she was doing and the character and understanding that why she remained closeted as she did because for the longest time, you know, I came out of the closet as transgender and then I jumped back into the closet as a woman, not wanting people to find out that I was trans because they were still reprisals. Just a couple of years ago, a good friend of mine was constantly harassed by her local police department to the point where she eventually had to move to a completely different state because they were harassing her relentlessly and no one would help her. No one would believe her. And despite all the proof, I mean she was a victim of a hate crime at work and it turned out the police turned on her and instead of being the victim, she was further victimized by the police. And so we don't come forward. And I think she really brought, Kate Forrest, brought this to life, through the character of Kate Delafield because you see when a Kate Delafield goes to a interview, uh, the patrons at this bar, no one wants to talk to her.

Denise: Yeah, they don't trust her at all.

Dharma: They don't trust her at all because she's the police. She's the enemy. And I'm not saying that police officers are bad, but it's too often they are. And it's like, even if there's like a 50 - 50 chance, I would go, if you... Anytime I would get pulled over by a cop for speeding or whatever I would think is this the day that I'm murdered by a police officer. And this was a very real fear based on real experiences. And that's why I guess I can connect with the Black Lives Matter movement so much because I know what that's like. I know what it's like to be afraid, just to be stopped for whatever. And a simple traffic stop can become fatal in no time through for no fault of your own. And so I think that, um, uh, and this comes out a little bit later on in some of the other stories that she delves into because her, her partner, Detective Ed Taylor is homophobic Here she is saddled with this other guy and she can't even, you know, as a, to be a police officer when you've got a partner your life is in their hands and if she comes out as who she really is, who knows how he's going to react. Is he going to be there when she needs him to save her life? And so it's, it's really, uh, I think, uh, Katherine Forrest really brought that to life.

Denise: I was going to ask you what you thought about him in there because, uh, Ed Taylor, he, at one point kinda sorta says I kinda know about you, and I'm kinda okay with it, but it's very, I don't know if you thought that or not. That's kind of how I read it. But I don't know if I would have trusted it either because he says a lot of things that aren't really cool.

Dharma: You know, calling them all these derogatory terms and acting as if the victim wasn't even human. You know, it's like, oh, okay, well this, this murder isn't a big deal because the victim was gay, so we're not going to put too much effort into this.

Denise: Not just gay, but a whore.

Dharma: A whore. Oh yeah, exactly. She's dealing drugs, you know, and that's the other thing is treating sex workers like they're nothing when all too often, so many of us, you know, we get kicked out of our homes and just as a matter of a way to survive, we turn to sex work. I, when I came out and I, I lost my job and I was trying to rebuild my life I turned to doing certain illegal things and I'm not gonna go into details about what I did, but I did some illegal things in order to survive. I'm not proud of it. I would have rather had a simple office job, but it was what it was.

Denise: Survival.

Dharma: Survival. And so other people choose sex work because for whatever reason, maybe they like it or other people get pulled into it by force. And so treating people that are in the sex working trade as low lives, as no good as worthless, is still a problem and it's something that, especially those of us in the Trans community we still deal with.

Denise: Were there any other characters that you had strong reactions to?

Dharma: I liked a lot of the patrons in the bar. I liked Maggie Shaeffer, who runs the bar. She, she's really cool and she shows up in some of the other books as well. And I liked Patton, who's kinda this kinda tough butch character. I often envision Lea DeLaria from Orange is the New Black as playing Patton because she's this big tough butch character, got some attitude. I can relate to her.

Denise: Okay. I could see that.

Dharma: I love that this bar wasn't just a bar. One of the things that I saw after I came to Phoenix is most of the community centered around the bar scene and very, there's a lot of alcoholism, a lot of drug abuse, a lot of unhealthy sexual hookup behavior. I'm not shaming and not tryin to slut shame because I was engaged in it as well, but a lot of unhealthy people, people using sex as a drug. And I was doing this myself. We've had community centers off and on, they'll show up for a few years and then they'll get closed down. And all of our bookstores are gone. All the queer bookstores, Obelisk, they didn't get their lease renewed many years ago and they went away. And for a long time there was Unique on Central, which was on Central Avenue just south of Camelback. A few years ago, they went away. Movies on Central, which was a kind of a Blockbuster, but for queer people, that went away. And so really so much of all that is left is the bar scene. And it's so unhealthy, so unhealthy and yet we need to be able to connect and I'm thankful that we have the internet now and social media that people that are isolated, especially if they're in a very conservative, bigoted community or family even, that they can reach out and realize that they're not alone because community is so crucial when you're dealing with this level of oppression.

Denise: And The Nightwood Bar is definitely one of those havens in the story. Did you have a place like that?

Dharma: I did. It wasn't specifically gay, but I was a member of an organization, informal organization. We called ourselves The Garden Club and it wasn't physical gardening, we weren't growing flowers or anything, so it was kind of a spiritual group. People from all different backgrounds, all different sexualities, all women, all different religion backgrounds, age groups, ethnicities, and we would come together every Thursday night and it was a place to get real, to talk about whatever was going on in our lives, whether it be work situations. A lot of us were recovering from addiction, so there was a lot of the 12 step kind of stuff there. A lot of the new age, new thought spirituality there, in a very positive way. It saved my life, to have a place where I could go every week and just be real and it was run by my dear friend and mentor Kate Grasso. And she was, she still is an inspiration to me. She ultimately had to decide that she had to do some other things with her life. So Garden Club eventually after like 10, 15 years, kind of went by the wayside, but it was a lifesaver for so many women. And so yeah, when it comes to something like The Nightwood Bar, we need a place to go, you know, it's kind of like Cheers. It's like someplace where you can go where everybody knows your name, where were you can be yourself, you know, you're not going to be judged by being honest about the stuff going on in your life. I can be honest about being trans and no one judged me as less than no one would say, well, you're not a real woman. It was always very uplifting and it really got me through some really bad times with relationships, with dealing with my alcoholism, and a lot of the mental health problem shit that I was going through.

Denise: Would you say that was an inspiration for your group that is in Chaser? You have a group of women. Was that where you were pulling from?

Dharma: I make a reference to a support group in Chaser, it's a transgender support group. And I was also a part of a transgender support group when I came out in Atlanta that was started by a trans activist Dallas Denny, and this was, this was in the early nineties and in the deep south. And I only found it because there was a single line listing in the white pages in the phone book at the time and maybe that group became my lifeline. Because otherwise I would have probably killed myself or been killed and they were able to put me in touch with resources for how to get on hormone replacement therapy and to find a therapist that actually understood what trans issues were about. And so that was a lifesaver and yeah, that's the, there I forget what I even called the Phoenix Gender Explorations or something like that. I forget exactly what I called it. But yeah, that was modeled after the transgender support group that I was a member of.

Denise: Would you be friends with anyone in this book? I know you said Patton probably.

Dharma: Patton. Maggie Schaeffer. I would be friends with Kate I think. I would not be friends with Taylor. I would have loved to have a place like the Nightwood Bar to go out and hang out and like play Scrabble and video games and you know, just, you know, you don't have to worry about drinking. Just a safe space and so that would have been nice.

Denise: So LA was the setting, eighties LA, which is kind of weird because I grew up in southern California, Orange County area, so not quite LA, but a lot of the street names and stuff were familiar, but it was kind of a weird familiarity, it was and it wasn't familiar to me. I don't know how you felt about LA.

Dharma: You know I've only been to LA once, I think. Not really my scene, I'm more of an Ocean Beach, San Diego kinda girl. Between the traffic and just kind of that whole LA, you know, everybody's pretty vibe. Just not my scene, which is nothing against people that live in LA, I've got a lot of friends that live in LA and so, but I didn't connect to it in that sense.

Denise: Yeah, it was, you know, it was there, but it was, I didn't feel like it leveled up to the point of being its own character. Um, what's your favorite part of the book?

Dharma: Oh man.

Denise: I can tell you mine.

Dharma: Um, yeah, I, I really don't know. I really haven't given it a lot of thought. I mean I liked, I just liked the whole story, just the realness of it.

Denise: I really like the ending. I felt like that's the first time I feel like Kate really opens up to her feelings in a way. I think she has them all throughout, but she's very distant...

Dharma: She is.

Denise: the beginning. And she's reaching out to her community that kinda of really, I think things change. And so that was like a breakthrough moment for me. So I was like, okay, yeah. Well it's a very hopeful ending actually too.

Dharma: I think it is. And I don't want to give away any spoilers as far as who is the culprit and everything, but I think the way that the victim was treated by her family was very telling of the times because I went through the same thing. But yeah, and I think the way that she evolved because as a cop she was viewed as the enemy by the lesbian community and as a lesbian she's viewed, even though she's not out, but if they knew who she was, she would be treated as the enemy by the police community. And so she's caught in kind of a catch 22. It's like who can she trust to be who she is, where she can find a safe space, and I liked that the way she finally reconnected at the end of the story with the people at the bar.

Denise: And there's a point in there where she has to prove herself to the bar patrons, the group she has to go to bat for them against the little low-level thug, and it's nice because she can demonstrate actively, you know, that she's, she's looking out for them. That's really what it takes, I think to prove it to them though.

Dharma: Yeah. Because they've been so brutalized for so long. I mean just because Stonewall happened, didn't stop the police brutality. It didn't change the laws. The laws were still on the books as far as uh, the sodomy laws and all that stuff. So people in the queer community, were still considered persona non grata. And as a cop she did have to prove herself as worthy of trust to the, the lesbian community that, like you say, you're going to help us out, you say you're going to find this killer, but we've heard that before. And it wasn't until she really demonstrated that, that they came to trust her.

Denise: And she manages to prove herself to the police department too because she takes out a bad guy. So both in that one action, she proves herself to both communities.

Dharma: Right.

Denise: Which is a tough thing to do, I think. Well, okay, I'm just going to share the part, where I was kinda like that was the best part and it's actually the last paragraph, which I don't think there's any spoilers.

Dharma: You mean it's not the sex scene?

Denise: Uh, not really.

Dharma: Ok, but go ahead. Go ahead and read.

Denise: All right. So, um, Kates the 'she' in question. "She remained standing and watching, looking down Santa Monica. As far as her tear-blinded eyes could see there were thousands of gay people. Thousands and thousands." And that just really struck me that she was just seeing the community in such a big way. And just before that she saw a sign that said, you know, we love our gay daughter and just all the support parents and friends of lesbians and gays. And that's partly why I was thinking it was, it was so hopeful is that there, she was seeing and connecting to that community. She was kind of trying to be incognito. So she's like wearing a hat and sunglasses and stuff, but she's putting herself out there in a more intense way than she had before. So I thought the ending was satisfying to me. Did you feel the same?

Dharma: Oh absolutely. Yeah.

Denise: You know, a lot of books, you're like, okay, so what happens next for the characters? But in this case there's a whole series.

Dharma: There is a whole series.

Denise: This is only book two of nine books, there's seven more books and as I mentioned earlier, she ages as she goes kind of real time. So you really see what Kate Delafield is going to be like and the other characters as you go through life. So there's not really much to ask about that, that's not already canon from the author directly. Anyway, I just thought I'd put that out there. I really want to read. I really want to read that last one. Although in order to really connect with the story, you should probably read all those in between so I'll start with those.

Dharma: I think so too. I liked that... One of the things that I saw in some of the other lesbian murder mystery series is a romance of the week kind of thing, or a romance of the book where there's each episode, the character falls in love with someone new. And then what's the next book you find that relationship didn't work out and now she's with somebody else and it's usually someone connected to the investigation or something. From what I'm reading, I've since read Beverly Malibu, which is the book after Murder at the Nightwood Bar and then I read Murder by Tradition and she does fall into what seems to be a long-term relationship and because I had read so many other kind of romance of the week kind of books from other authors. I was afraid that it was going to be that when she fell in love with this one character. I was glad to see that she really treats this as, really, the character evolving because we see Kate come out of her shell a little bit more because like you pointed out, she's very isolated at the beginning of this book. She's very, she holds the world, both the lesbian community and the police community, at a distance. She wants to do her job. That's her focus in life. And she had a romance that ended because the partner died and she's just really shut down emotionally and doesn't want to get involved with anybody else. And I think you're right, this story is kind of her opening up a little bit and realizing you can't just live in your shell forever. So we do see her evolve and become more of a part of the community and where it goes I'm still reading to find out where it goes.

Denise: Between this read and the previous read, did you do any re-reads of the story or is this your first re-read of the story?

Dharma: You know, I don't do a lot of rereading.

Denise: Yeah, I don't either.

Dharma: There's so much great stuff. New stuff, exactly. I started to read Kellye Garrett, Hollywood Homicide, and it's very cozy, kind of an amateur sleuth kind of thing. And that's not really my thing. So it's really well written.

Denise: It's good. I've actually read it.

Dharma: It is. It is. And I think she's a very talented writer. Cozies aren't really my thing. I've read a few of them. Yeah, they're cute and I don't mean that in a derogatory way, but it's, I like the grittiness or like, when it comes to TV shows, I like the series, The Killing, I like Broadchurch. like they're just like, they're really grab you right here, just pull your heart out. I'm taking to reading more of the, uh, Kate Delafield stories and reading more from Lawrence Block and also reading some other stuff, especially from LA writers. But I tend to favor the gritty stuff, the hardcore.

Denise: I can understand that. There was some stuff online that, you know, maybe once upon a time Cybil Shepherd was attached to this book and trying to get a movie made. So clearly she didn't. Um, and then most recently that it's been optioned by film director Tim Hunter and that Mary Louise Parker was going to play Kate Delafield. I don't see that personally.

Dharma: I don't either. She was the one in Weeds, right?

Denise: Yeah, yeah.

Dharma: I mean I loved her in Weeds, but I don't see her as Kate Delafield. She doesn't have the physicality that I see as an ex marine, tough cop. I don't see that. I mean all due respect to Mary Louise Parker. She's not her, not her type of character I don't think. I see someone like Charlize Theron. Denise: Okay. Was she a brunette? Is Kate a brunette? I don't remember what her hair color is but I see her as not a blonde. Although Charlize Theron could dye her hair.

Dharma: She's been all kinds of...I'm not even worried about hair color, but-

Denise: I'm just curious because I'm just having trouble picturing Charlize as her. I dunno.

Dharma: She's played a lesbian before she played...

Denise: It's not that.

Dharma: She has the physicality I think.

Denise: Oh I do agree with that.

Dharma: The toughness. I mean we saw her in a Mad Max Fury Road and she could play that, she has the right energy.

Denise: Even back to Aeon Flux or um, what was the most recent one where she was like an assassin? I forget what it was called.

Dharma: Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah. I can't remember the name of it, but that was, that was awesome.

Denise: I absolutely agree with the, the physicality. For some reason, I don't know who I'd cast as her though.

Dharma: That was the only name that I could come up with. I know you had said Tom Arnold was originally looked at as playing Ed Taylor.

Denise: And I can't see that either.

Dharma: Really? I could see that, I would actually buy more like someone like either, um, Michael Chiklis from The Shield or NYPD Blue, heavyset, brawny kind of older guy.

Denise: Part of Tom Arnold I can see, like his obnoxiousness and I totally see that. I just, I honestly don't see him as being any kind of a cop.

Dharma: I'm with you there.

Denise: I was trying to figure out when they cast this because I'm think Tom Arnold is a little too old to play and Ed Taylor at this point.

Dharma: Maybe. And for Maggie Shaeffer I thought about that. I don't know if you've seen the series, The Killing, but uh, Annie Corley, I think is her name. She played Reggi who's kind of a retired social worker in The Killing and has kind of this gruff kind of voice kind of crunchy but kind of warm and welcoming kind of character and she's been in a number of movies. Uh, in fact she stared with Charlize Theron in Monster, she played Christina Ricci's aunt I think in that one. And I see her as Maggie Shaefer and Lea DeLaria as Patton definitely. I saw Lea DeLaria in an old episode of the one with Andy Griffith, as a cop, Matlock. One of her first screen roles was as a homicide detective, two episodes of Matlock, and I'm like, oh my God it's Lea DeLaria. I could totally see her as Patton.

Denise: Yeah. For Maggie, what just popped in my head is Debbie Mazar for some reason. I was just thinking she might be interesting. I'm loving her on Younger.

Dharma: Interesting. Debbie Mazar, yeah. When I think of her blue eyes, whew. I see Maggie as very motherly and I don't see Debbie Mazar. She's a very talented actress, but I don't see her, she's never, she's never in those kind of motherly roles, but maybe, you never know. It's all how she's depicted I guess.

Denise: So I want to talk a little bit about Katherine V. Forrest. She was a long time editor at Naiad Press, and she was a book reviewer and she taught writing, and of course she has won a lot of awards, a lot of Lambda Literary Awards. One of the things that I didn't mention yet was she wrote, her first book was actually a romance novel, 1983's Curious Wine, and it's considered a best selling classic for the genre. Have you read it?

Dharma: I have not.

Denise: I haven't either.

Dharma: You brought up Naiad Press, and Naiad was also just as revolutionary as Katherine V. Forrest because they were the iconic lesbian publisher and I was so heartbroken when they closed. But I was glad that Bella Books which is currently a lesbian fiction publisher, kind of let them carry over the, the authors Naiad because I've got so many books by Naiad. I could have an entire bookshelf just of Naiad, um, the romance and the erotica because they were the ones, they were the Penguin Random house for lesbian literature. Before I found Katherine V. Forrest, I read Rita Mae Brown's Ruby Fruit Jungle which was very iconic. I read Annie on Your Mind by Nancy Garden. That was the first lesbian book I read. It was a coming out story. It was kind of a teenage romance kind of thing. And that's all there was. There were a few really iconic authors, and it's not surprising she started, Katherine V. Forrest started with romance because that's what it was. That's what the genre was. If you were a lesbian, you got pigeon holed into that.

Denise: She was 44 when the first book published, which gives me hope being 42 and having not published. There's never a timeline everyone's got a different pace.

Dharma: Exactly. That was just a few years ago. I was 50 when my first book published. I'm an old lady. Middle aged, trans woman, you know,. Assuming I don't develop dementia anytime soon, I hope that I have a long career as an author and I think the fact that I waited as long as I did helped because I draw heavily on my experiences, coming out and transitioning and going and really claiming my own strength and my own space gives me so much to draw on. Trauma plus time equals art or something like that. Because I don't know how normal people come up with this stuff because it's like, oh, okay, I can pick at that old wound and put that on the page. There's so much to draw on. Okay, I've got all this stuff to play around with and to reinvent. It's like in dreams, your subconscious mind takes things from your life and reinterprets them and that's what I'm doing, I'm reinterpreting the stuff that I've experienced and putting it on a page in a new way.

Denise: And hoping that other people will connect with your story.

Dharma: I write for myself initially, but I also want to write for my readers and connect with other people. You know my market is two pronged. On the one side I've got the trans/queer community and on the other side I've just got the crime fiction community, crime fiction readers and I found that the crime fiction community is very welcoming. I've never had anyone treat me as less than because I'm trans or queer and that's been so reassuring. I've been really treated well. I'm really grateful for that and now people are really interested in hearing from the more diverse voices, so I'm very diverse.

Denise: I'm excited about that. I think it's been a really long time coming. I mean, eons probably.

Dharma: I'm one of like three authors writing transgender crime fiction and I've got a really tiny representation, but it's an opportunity too.

Denise: Okay, so that Curious Wine novel, from what I've read about it, even though neither of us have read it. It was probably the first lesbian romance novel written by a woman, for women, ignoring the male gaze like some of that stuff before in the fifties and sixties was more erotic pulp fiction novels. And according to, that novel is credited with breaking through some misconceptions about lesbians in their relationships, but I feel like that's similarly in Murder at Nightwood Bar is that she just continued that, that message.

Dharma: Basically, I mean we fall in love just like straight people fall in love. You know. We're just attracted to people of the same gender and we have the same kind of feelings though, you know, we want to be loved, we want to be nurtured, we want the same kind of thing. So it's not like some, you know, a lot of lesbian porn kind of. So I'm like, oh, that's just so not reality. One of the terms that's largely been abandoned is the term lipstick lesbians, which referred to lesbians that were very feminine in appearance as opposed to the butch community. And I kinda fell somewhere in between. That's kinda of one of the other things that's changed over the years is that the two kind of blended in, you could be aspects of both. You know, I don't wear makeup very often and I'm usually just tee shirt and shorts, but I've also got long hair and I kind of identify with a little bit of both. I think that she, she helped to explore this idea that well, which one of you is the guy? And the answer is none. That's the point. Which one of you is the man? It's just, it's just a different kind of energy. I always wondered how do straight women react to reading lesbian sex scene.

Denise: I read a lot of gay romance. More male-male, than female, but I just think of it as similar, like the same. Just different parts of me as a person connects with different parts of the people involved. So yeah.

Dharma: I find it interesting that so much of the writers and the fandoms of male-male, romance and erotica are straight women.

Denise: I've told you kind of why I read it. Because a lot of the male-female stuff, the men in those relationships are alpha assholes. I don't like that. But when you start reading a romance between two guys, because generally I'm attracted to men, then I get to pick from two not-so-much assholes. There's just something about the dynamics that feels more in line with what I want. And not every story, because sometimes the women who are still writing these stories and sometimes they still have the same idea that one of these guys has to be a broody male asshole. But not as much. Not as much.

Dharma: There's a lot of equity in same sex relationships.

Denise: And that is what I connect to that more equitable relationship. You don't have the same tropes, the ones that anger me. I just love love stories.

Dharma: That makes sense.

Denise: So was there anything else you wanted to say about the book before we move onto a couple other things?

Dharma: No, I think we've covered it. It's a good book. I'm glad that I had this prompt to reread it and reconnect with it because she's been in the back of my mind. I see her name every once in a while, I've always had such great respect for her as an author and ever since I read her books really been meaning to get back and read the rest of the Kate Delafield series and I'm glad that I'm doing that now.

Denise: And I really appreciated being introduced to something that I had never heard of, and something that has meant a lot to so many different people. I can tell already, you know, like how this would have impacted me and others and it has a historical context and I really like that part of it. And I'm gong to be recommending it to people going forward. So moving away from Murder at the Nightwood Bar. What are you reading right now?

Dharma: Two books right now, one in paperback and one ebook. In ebook, I'm reading Liberty Square, which is number 5 in the Kate Delafield series. I just finished reading Murder by Tradition and before that was Beverly Malibu. I'm reading that in ebook and in paperback, I'm reading Pretty Girls by Karen Slaughter. I'm really enjoying that one because it's set in Atlanta and in Athens and that's where I grew up. I grew up in Atlanta and I went to school in Athens, Georgia, University of Georgia, so it's really kinda cool and about the same time where the story was set, so I was like, oh yeah, I know where that street is, oh, I remember that restaurant, or I know where that bar is. Oh wait a minute, is that right? She'll mention a certain dorm, and like, oh yeah, I know where that dorm is. I remember going down Baxter Hill, oh yeah, the Tate Student Center. So it's kind of interesting to read that and I'm really enjoying that. Although I tend to read more in ebooks.

Denise: Any books that you're not necessarily reading that you want to give us recommendations for our listeners?

Dharma: I'd probably have to pull up my ebook library. Like I said I'm a big fan of Sara Paretsky and Lawrence Block. Those were some of my biggest influences. I'm, I'm a big fan of Jess Lourey who's written a number of books. I do want to mention one more. Bound to Die is by Laurie Rockenbeck and it features a trans male detective. Although Laurie herself isn't trans, I believe she has a trans son. It's a great, great book. I'm looking forward to the second book in the series coming out, so I highly recommend it. It's really well written.

Denise: Any podcast recommendations?

Dharma: Oh gosh, I listen to so many. Uh, I'm a member of the Alliance of Independent Authors. So, uh, they have a series of podcasts you can look for Ask ALLI, I think is what the podcast is called and ALLI is spelled A-L-L-I. Also, Joanna Penn's Creative Penn podcast. The Writing Well. Uh, let's see.

Denise: Any for non-writers?

Dharma: Criminal. Uh, let's see here.

Denise: I haven't listened to that one yet.

Dharma: Criminal's great. I listen to The Inciting Incident podcast, which is not a writing podcast, despite the fact that the inciting incident usually refers to writing. They tend to interview a lot of people, kind of a progressive activists kind of thing. Generation Why? is interesting. It's kind of a true crime podcast. Writing Excuses. Reveal. It's also connected to some of the NPR podcasts. Invisibilia also a good one, they're between seasons on Invisibilia, but they have some really interesting shows and that's kind of what I listen to.

Denise: Cool. Alright. So let's pitch your books to our listeners. Let's start with the Shea Stevens series.

Dharma: Shea Stevens. These were my first two books, Iron Goddess and Snitch, and Shea Stevens is a lesbian biker, former ex convict. She builds custom motorcycles for women for a living. She comes from an outlaw biker family and while she's trying to live the, a legit, like, I want to say straight life, but not in the straight, in the sexuality, but noncriminal life, she keeps getting pulled back into dealing with gang bangers and outlaw bikers and drug lords, all things like that. So, uh, if you like gritty, tough biker chick kind of thing, think of it as a feminist, Sons of Anarchy. The next book that I'm going to be working on is actually going to be a crossover between the two series.

Denise: Oh, are they going to meet each other?

Dharma: There will be blood.

Denise: So tell us about your other series then.

Dharma: My other series is... Jinx Ballou is a bounty hunter. She's a female bounty hunter. She's also transgender. She's a former cop. She was a cop for about a year, but she wasn't a real big fan of procedures and regulations and paperwork and all the stuff. Not a big fan of uniforms, so she, she met this one guy, Connor Doyle, who's a bounty hunter, and she said, oh, this is, this is what I want to do for a living. So for the past seven or eight years she's been a bounty hunter and so the first book Chaser, she's pursuing a teenage murder suspect who's jumped bail. She tangles up with human traffickers and Chechen mafiosos and it gets really gritty. The second book in the series, Extreme Prejudice, is currently at the editor and is expected out in December, and then the third book in the series will be the crossover.

Denise: When do we get to see the cover for Extreme Prejudice?

Dharma: Probably be in about a month or so. I wait until after it's done with the editor, so I know the page count. Learned that the hard way. Okay. Designed the cover and page count? Oh, well for the paperback you have to know exactly how many pages to design the spine with. Yay. There it is. Denise: Chaser. It's this many pages.

Dharma: It's about 300 pages. The first two books that I had published were through Alibi, which is a ebook only division of Penguin Random House, and after going that route I decided to go indie and self published, um, because I went a little bit more freedom in terms of marketing and I also wanted, you know, it was kind of two and done with Alibi. I felt very hamstrung with the marketing and I just wanted to be able to determine how many books in the series, how it's marketed, when I do a discount and all that stuff. And so that also meant stepping up and having to pay up front for a cover designer and an editor and everything. So I wanted to make sure that the book that I publish is every bit is indistinguishable from a traditionally published book.

Denise: No, this cover is awesome. I love it. And it's formatting is excellent. You can see the little logo, pariah press, I love your little black sheep logo.

Dharma: The little black sheep, because I'm the black sheep of the family. So that's what... I'm the pariah. I write about people that are kind of throwaways, the people that don't always get a choice between good and bad choices. So that's kinda what I like to write.

Denise: So what is next for you besides the publication of Extreme Prejudice, what else are you doing?

Dharma: Well, I've, I started doing a podcast, not a podcast a vlog on Youtube, talking about my experiences as a trans woman that came out almost 30 years ago because so much has changed and so much has remained the same. And so I'm kind of talking about my experiences there. I'm just playing around with it. I don't know where that's going to go. I've got a short story that's going to be in an anthology that's coming out in March called Murder-A-Go-Go.

Denise: I don't think I knew about that.

Dharma: Yeah, Holly West who is a fabulous writer. She's connected with kind of the LA writing crowd. She's putting together an anthology and all of the short stories in this anthology are named after tunes by the women's band GoGos from the 1980s.

Denise: That's great.

Dharma: So like 'Vacation'. I got 'Kissing Asphalt' and I love that. Just totally fit. And so it's kinda a prequal short story for Jinx Ballou. So this will be coming out in March and the proceeds for that are going towards Planned Parenthood, which I am so happy about that. So that's coming up in March. I'm looking into doing some of the local book festivals like Tempe and Mesa Book Festival and Phoenix, uh, I think I forget what they call Local Books or Read Local Reads or something like that and I've applied to that. So we'll see what happens there. I'd like to be, have a booth at Pride, but uh, they're super expensive. That's not going to be happening anytime soon. Or at the Tucson Book Festival there. They're like $600 for a table.

Denise: Super expensive.

Dharma: So we'll see how it goes. What else have I got going? I'm thinking about starting up a Patreon account. I mean, part of the challenge is I have a full time job, a day job that's not writing. So everything I do in addition to that, you know, the writing the books, the self publishing, the marketing, everything else is like takes away from my own time. So I, I, it's tough to balance all that time and personal time with my wife and my cats.

Denise: They are very demanding.

Dharma: They are very demanding. Trust me. You know, it's trying to negotiate, um, to market yourself as an author these days. There's so much competition, which is a good thing, but to get your name out there and connect. It's a slow process, but it's, it's very demanding on my time. So I experimented with stuff and I might continue with things. I may let some other things go so I'm just playing around with things.

Denise: And where can people find you online?

Dharma: I am at I'm on Facebook at I'm on Twitter @ZenpunkDharma. I've got an Instagram account but I'm not on there very often. I had to take a lot of social media accounts, or apps off my phone because I've got a really old phone and I can't afford to buy a new one. It's like, oh, we just came out with this new phone, it's only a thousand dollars. And I'm like a thousand dollars, geez.

Denise: I thought you were going to say it was because they were distracting and you're like, I need to write, and-

Dharma: It's kind of a double edged sword, you know? Yeah. I've got an iPhone 5 that's how old my phone is, you know. I'm not on certain media, but I'm now on Youtube and playing around with that. That's where they can find me. My books are on Amazon. They're on Kobo, Barnes and Noble. If you've got a favorite independent bookstore near you, you can go there and say, I'd like to order a copy of Chaser in paperback because I'm through IngramSpark so they can order it. I'm on iTunes and wherever fine crime fiction has sold.

Denise: Well, and now that you mentioned where you can buy the books, you can use our affiliate links on the Heart-Shaped Books website for Amazon Indie Bound or Ingram Spark, so you can buy directly from Ingram Spark through our little bookstore, and if you tweet or Facebook or Instagram something with the #HeartShapedBooks, you could win a copy of Chaser by Dharma Kelleher, by Katherine V. Forrest, because I have a copy of each to give away. And that's all we've got for today. Thanks so much for joining us.

Dharma: Thank you so much for having me. It's really an honor to be on your debut podcast.

Denise: Thanks for listening. You're the best. As usual, you can find the books we discussed in the show notes at If you enjoyed the episode, please share the podcast with other book lovers and add a review wherever you listen. If you plan to buy these books, please consider purchasing them using our affiliate links through Indie Bound, Aerio Ingram Spark, and Amazon. You can also support the podcast via Ko.Fi And Patreon. For all the details, go to Be sure to connect with me on Twitter at HSB podcast or via email at You can even leave a voicemail for the show via Speakpipe, which I might share on the podcast.


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