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Author Interview: Sally Bellerose Chats about Fishwives

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Get ready to learn more about the book Fishwives in this discussion with sapphic author Sally Bellerose.

Join us for an exclusive peek behind the scenes as we quiz Sally Bellerose about Fishwives, writing, reading, and more.

This book is part of the Opposites Attract category in the 2024 IHS Reading Challenge.

Why did you write Fishwives?

Eighty-nine-year-old Regina and ninety-year-old Jackie, the protagonists of Fishwives, met in 1955, an era when women were rounded up and jailed simply for dancing together. I was born in 1951, so these two people were a little ahead of my time. But I can feel some of our lesbian history slipping away and I wanted to capture and record our lives and experience. I also can also feel some of the not-so-desirable aspects of our history – the prejudice against the LGBTQ+ community – slipping back. I wanted to tell a story about solidarity.

Who is your favorite character in the book?

Jackie, because, well okay, I like butch women. Fishwives follows two women who take a ride and tell each other stories about their long life together. It is also a novel about ‘old ladies’ behaving badly. And by badly I mean autonomously—a condition often discouraged and disparaged in old people. Who can resist a sweet badass butch?

What inspired the idea for Fishwives?

An aging queer woman myself, I have observed that the few elderly characters (and even fewer queers) depicted in fiction are rarely seen in their full humanity. Rarer still are depictions of old people in the fullness of their sexuality. I wrote Fishwives to pull back a long-closed curtain, revealing these aging women as sensual, loving, and flawed beings struggling with the harsh realities of life, including poverty.

What part of the book was the most fun to write?

The dump. My beloved’s happy place is the dump. The dump featured in the book would more correctly be called a landfill. I have a romantic, probably misremembered childhood experience of going to a dump near my Uncle Louie’s farm. There was a bull penned on his land adjacent to a big explorable dump. We were, of course, told to go nowhere near the bull or what lay beyond. It was all I could do to keep that bull out of Fishwives.

How did you come up with the title for your book?

Originally Fishwives was an homage to Mom yelling, “Lower your voice. You sound like a fishwife,” a placeholder until I came up with a ‘real’ title. Fishwife is a term used for a course woman prone to shouting. Traditionally a fishwife was the wife or daughter of a fisherman, a lower-class working woman, as are the protagonists in the novel. The first memory/story takes place in 1955. The term seems to fit the image many people had of lesbians and uppity women. If we can reclaim queer, we can reclaim a slur for women with big mouths. Jackie calls poverty “that fishwife who gets louder and meaner in old age.”

What’s your favorite writing snack or drink?

Popcorn. Popped in a small heavy old pan with plenty of oil and salted. Must be watched carefully so it doesn’t burn the pan. It is very bad for the keyboard.

Are there any books or authors that inspired you to become a writer?

Joan Nestle was an early inspiration for me. Her 1988 Book of Essays A Restricted Country was a revelation. Joan Nestle was also one of the early publishers of my short stories. The Sea Colony, the bar I wrote about in Fishwives was a real bar that I learned about from Joan’s writing. I’ve had three separate friends correct the address for The Sea Colony in my novel. None of the corrected addresses are the same.

Describe your favorite reading spot.

I love to read in a cozy room with someone else sitting nearby reading with me. If they happen to be reading the same book, all the better. And even better, I love to be read to by a real live person with a sexy voice.

Meet Sally Bellerose

Sally Bellerose, a retired RN, has two published novels, The Girls Club 2011, and Fishwives, February 2021. She was awarded a Creative Writing Fellowship from the NEA. She has been published widely including in Sinister Wisdom, The Sun, The Best of Writers at Work, Cutthroat, Quarterly West, and won the Rick De Marinis Award, the Writers at Work Award, the Saints and Sinners Fiction Contest and a Barbara Deming Award. Her work has been a finalist for the James Jones Fellowship, the Thomas Wolfe Fiction Prize, The Backspace Scholarship, a Lambda Literary Award, an Independent Publishers Award, and a Golden Crown Literary Society Award. Class, sex, illness, the absurdity of life, and lately, growing old, fascinate Sally. As an author, Sally loves to mess with awkward emotion and is drawn to humor and transcendence.

Visit Sally’s Website

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Author Interview