The Always Anonymous Beast By Lauren Wright Douglas: Review/Giveaway/Interview

Jun 26, 2021 | 2021 Articles, Lorie Lewis Ham, Mysteryrat's Maze

by Lorie Lewis Ham

As we continue to feature several LGBTQ+ authors in honor of Pride this month, this week we are reviewing The Always Anonymous Beast by Lauren Wright Douglas, we also have a very interesting interview with Lauren. Details at the end of the post on how to enter to win an ebook copy of the book and a link to order it from Amazon.

The Always Anonymous Beast by Lauren Wright Douglas
Review by Lorie Lewis Ham

The Always Anonymous Beast was originally released in 1987 and has recently been re-released by ReQueered Tales. It is the first book in the Caitlin Reece Mystery series written by Lauren Wright Douglas.

Caitlin is a private detective, but it’s not completely clear in this book if she is officially one or someone who simply is paid to help right wrongs. While Caitlin is definitely tough and capable she isn’t a stereotypical hard-boiled kind of detective—she is an ex-lawyer who once worked for the Crown Prosecutor’s office (think the D.A.’s office in this country), a Shakespeare scholar, and a classical music aficionado. Her past connections help her with her investigations.

Caitlin is hired by well-known Victoria TV anchor Valerie Frazier to retrieve some letters that she is being blackmailed with. They are love letters between her and lesbian feminist professor Tonia Konig. Val can’t afford to have them leaked to the press or it might hurt her career, or even worse to her abusive husband. As Caitlin investigates, it becomes clear that there is much more going on here than what she has been told. Her life is further complicated by Tonia, who seems to despise everything about Caitlin, and yet at the same time she is attracted to her.

It was interesting seeing someone investigate without some of the technical advantages that we have now, and to think about how much things have changed. Sadly, things such as homophobia haven’t changed enough since 1987. The mystery is filled with twists and turns that keep you guessing, and well-written characters. Caitlin is tough, intelligent, and interesting and I can’t wait for the rest of the books in the series to be released. If you enjoy a good mystery with great characters, I highly recommend this book!

Lorie Lewis Ham is our Editor-in-Chief and a contributor to various sections, coupling her journalism experience with her connection to the literary and entertainment worlds. Explore Lorie’s mystery writing at Mysteryrat’s Closet.

Interview with Lauren Douglas Wright aka Linda J. Wright (as Linda she recently wrote a fun guest post for us about her work in animal rescue and her cute pandemic cat books):

KRL: How long have you been writing?

Lauren: I’ve been writing since I was 11. I got a poem and then a short story published in the school newspaper. The poem was about the Eiffel Tower (we were living in France at that time – my dad was in the RCAF) and the story was about some kid earning to ride a horse and getting thrown off but getting back up. Repeatedly and, as I recall, humorously.

When I was at University in Canada, I fancied I might become a poet, and asked my Old English professor (a famous published poet) for advice. He gave me the names of three or four Canadian literary magazines (also quite famous) and I promptly embarrassed myself by sending a few of my poems off to one of them. The editor was quite kind and wrote back telling me gently that my work, while interesting, seemed a little “derivative.” I think I was in my Dylan Thomas phase. So, I gave up on poetry!

Lauren Wright Douglas aka Linda J. Wright

I worked as a journalist at a Toronto newspaper for a while, then moved to the US where I decided I’d take up short story writing again. I wrote a lot of fantasy and SF until Stanley Schmidt, the editor of Analog Science Fiction, returned one of my stories to me with the notation that an SF story needed to have at least a “nodding acquaintance” with some branch of science. As I had a BA in literature and philosophy and possessed no such acquaintance, I figured I ought to stick to writing fantasy.

In 1986, I entered St. Martin’s Press’s contest for $10,000 for an author’s unpublished PI novel. I had no experience writing crime fiction, but I read a lot of it and figured, hey, how hard can it be? Well, I didn’t win the contest, but the editor, Martin Greenberg, told me to send the novel to Barbara Grier at Naiad Press and Naiad bought my novel.

KRL: When did your first novel come out? What was it called? Can you tell us a little about it?

Lauren: My first novel came out in 1987. It was called The Always Anonymous Beast (a nod to that early pretentious Dylan Thomas preoccupation). It’s a novel about a refugee from the law, PI Caitlin Reece, and her first case, a head-scratcher about who might be blackmailing two closeted prominent lesbians in Victoria, BC: Tonia Konig, a professor of women’s studies at the University of Victoria, and the other, Val Frazier, a local news anchor.

The news anchor has a rabidly jealous MP for a husband (jealousy is the “beast” of the book’s title) and Caitlin has to tread carefully in her investigation. I loved developing my secondary characters almost as much as I loved developing Caitlin – Gray Ng, an animal psychologist; Lester Barnes, a bad-boy student turned ally; Sandy Macpherson, Caitlin’s cop friend; Tonia Konig; and of course Caitlin’s cats Repo and Pansy.

KRL: What brought you to choose the setting and characters for that book/series?

Lauren: I lived in Victoria for a number of years – I fled Toronto for the west coast and considered it to be one of the most beautiful places I’d ever seen. Alas, it’s been discovered now and is crowded and expensive, but it’s still a gorgeous setting. I love islands and lived for a while in Friday Harbor on San Juan Island, but I still love Vancouver Island. I haven’t been there for a while (the pandemic) but will revisit as soon as I can. Research, y’know!

My character? I wanted her to have a Celtic background. She comes from a Welsh family, so I could make her a little spooky, a little inclined to listen to her heart. An attorney, she finally got fed up with working in the Crown Prosecutor’s office (think the D.A.’s office in this country) when she realized how little good she was doing for humankind. When she left the CP’s office, she championed cases involving women and children, the “clients” who, it seemed to her, rarely got justice under the law.

KRL: You mentioned something about thinking that you were breaking new ground with her. The first lesbian P.I. in literature? Can you tell us more about that.

Lauren: Ah, yes, hubris. At that time (1986) women sleuths were: Sara Paretsky’s PI V.I Warshawski, who was straight, and Sue Grafton’s PI Kinsey Millhone, who was also straight. Naiad’s Katherine Forrest’s LAPD detective Kate Delafield was a lesbian, but not a PI, so I figured I was a unicorn. Little did I know that in Toronto lived a writer named Eve Zaremba, who had already claimed that honor. Her series, featuring lesbian PI Helen Keremos, began in 1978 with publication by Paperjacks. I was unaware of Eve Zaremba’s work for most of my time at Naiad. Talk about a moment of major embarrassment when I finally discovered the truth!

KRL: How many books are in the series? Who published them the first time around?

Lauren: There are six books in the series. Naiad was my first publisher. They were subsequently re-published by Bella books also.

KRL: Why did you stop writing that series?

Lauren: It’s complicated. Barbara Grier told me that my stories were getting darker and darker. They were, as the social issues I was writing about were incest, child abuse, serial killers and that my titles were beginning to scare bookstore owners. So, I thought it best to part ways with Naiad as we were having these creative differences.

KRL: Interesting. I understand you won a Lambda Award for one of the books in this series what was that like?

Ah yes, the Lammy. There’s a funny/not-so-funny story behind that. Ninth Life, my Lammy winner, was about a social issue – cosmetics testing on animals – which was not the standard Naiad fare. In fact, Barbara Grier, when I handed the book in for editing, called me to object to the first scene of the novel (the rescue of a tortured cat) telling me no one would read past that.

I stood my ground and asserted that people would read past it, and the novel did get published with that scene in it, but Grier never believed in that book, which I think was the best book I wrote at Naiad. In fact, Barbara was so certain that I would not win the Lammy that she told me not to bother going to the ABA dinner.

I didn’t, and missed the thrill of having comedian Kate Clinton hand me the Lammy! Barbara did call me up at midnight and tell me “I was wrong,” and that I’d won, but that was cold comfort. Yes, I was vindicated by the Lambda Committee, which chose it as the winner in the Mystery category, but the win was a bit tainted for me.

KRL: Have other of your books been nominated?

Lauren: My recent PI novel, the first in my new Kieran Yeats series, Stolen: A Kieran Yeats Mystery, was a finalist in 2018 for the Lammy but did not win. I treated myself to a trip to New York, as I’d never been there, for the ceremony, and that was a terrific experience. I stayed in Greenwich Village at the Washington Square Hotel (where Bob Dylan and Joan Baez stayed in the sixties!), took a cab to the Mysterious Bookshop, walked in Washington Square Park. It was great.

KRL: How fun!. I know these books are being republished by ReQueered Tales, how did that come about and are you excited to have them out there again?

Lauren: Alexander Inglis contacted me a few years ago and asked me if I would consider having ReQueered re-release them. New covers, the whole nine yards as they say. I was quite flattered. After all, they are “old” books. In those books, people run around looking for pay phones, for heaven’s sake, and Caitlin has just bought her first computer. However, they are still good stories and I’m immensely gratified if people are enjoying them.

KRL: What else have you written?

Lauren: I never had any aspirations to write mystery. As I said, I was a fantasy writer, and a wannbe SF writer until Stanley Schmidt gently disabused me of that idea. Silkie, my fantasy novella, was really the crowning glory of my short fantasy writing career. It’s a re-imagining of the Silkie myth in which seals are thought to be able to come to land, shed their skins, and become human for a time. Male silkies, that is. My re-imagining was the story of a female half-silkie/half-human and a situation in which she has to decide to which race her allegiance belongs.

It was originally published in a feminist martial arts magazine and later won third prize in Ireland’s prestigious…who knew? Aeon Contest and was published in their Albedo One magazine. I think this was back in 2010.

Another (soft SF) short story I wrote which was published quite a while ago in a pretty respectable magazine called OMNI, was called Cat Burglar and is about, well, a burglar, a cat, an ageing biochemist, and an act of compassion. I loved that story and as I have the rights to it, will re-publish it myself as a standalone on my website. Along with Silkie.

KRL: Tell us about your new mystery series and how that came about?

Lauren: My Kieran Yeats series is about another Celtic PI living in Victoria. She’s Irish, a lover of poetry – William Butler Yeats was her great-uncle – a lover of cats, a lesbian, and another refugee from the law. Another former Crown Prosecutor. But Kieran left the law strangely, after she prosecuted and won a horrible case of felony animal abuse and had the satisfaction of seeing the bad guy put away for the full extent of the years that law allowed. Then, the case was overturned on appeal.

The case that broke her back is based on a real case and it didn’t take much for me to feel Kieran’s ire, and her desire to just chuck it all and work for animals while they are still alive instead of arguing for their abusers’ punishment in court. As Kieran says, she works now to intervene for her clients before the dog is beaten to death, before the rabbit is microwaved, before the cats are tortured. Kieran’s cases come out of my own experience with animal abuse and rescue.

KRL: Do you write to entertain or is there something more you want the readers to take away from your work?

Lauren: Well, I want my readers to enjoy a good story, but I always have an animal rights agenda. I like to think of my stories as literary burritos – the message is on the inside, and the entertaining story, secondary characters and sub plots are wrapped around it. I try not to be preachy, and sometimes I feel I am too much of a Cassandra, but there’s always a message. In Stolen, it’s “keep your pets inside”! There really are bunchers who will steal them and sell them to dogfighters, labs, or puppy/kitten mills. In Sacrificed, it’s “Think twice about your shampoo.” More animals than rabbits suffer and die unnecessarily in testing facilities.

In Seized (just about to be published), it’s “Think about the shelter to which to which you are surrendering your pets” – if you have to do that – as so many of them are “seizure shelters” that have obligatory contracts with animal testing labs. I always include actions to take and groups to support in the back of my books.

KRL: Do you have a schedule for your writing or just write whenever you can?

Lauren: Indeed, I do have a schedule. It’s changed a little during the pandemic, but I still keep to a schedule. I usually do any “research” I need to do, like for the book on animal hoarding I’m working/not working on, in the morning. Then lunch, then writing. I write until 7 or so – about 6 hours, watch “Jeopardy” and have dinner, then write for maybe another hour or two, just wrapping up what I wrote that afternoon. Sometimes it’s helpful to get a little distance from my work even if it’s only a couple of hours. Sundays, I take a drive in the country and just look at the river and the alpaca farms and maybe read a little poetry when I come home. I don’t usually work on Sundays.

KRL: Did you find it difficult to get published in the beginning?

Lauren: Yes. It took awhile…five years, I’d say. I was writing horrible SF/fantasy stories, but I persisted. I found little magazines (some very little) and just kept submitting. I had a chart on my wall on which I listed the stories I’d written and the magazines I intended to submit them to, and just checked them off. I had a stack of brown envelopes ready to send off the rejected story to the next publisher on the list…and that’s what I did. Luckily, I got good feedback, so my stories improved, and I developed a lit of writing credits which always helps.

KRL: Do you have a great rejection/critique or acceptance story you’d like to share?

Lauren: Oh yes. I was doing pretty well getting my fantasy and soft (very soft) SF stories published here and there and was certain that Marion Zimmer Bradley, the editor of a well-known feminist fantasy anthology called Sword and Sorceress, was going to snap up my novella called Silkie. When she rejected it, telling me that I had “the words but not the music” I had a tantrum. Calling her a misbegotten daughter of an orc (to myself), I promptly switched genres and entered the St. Martin’s Press’s contest I alluded to earlier.

I never did aspire to be a crime writer, and still mourn the loss of my fantasy-writing career, but things happen, the worm turns, and here I am. I still have a fantasy novel cooking up in my imagination. Oh, funny story. When I entered Silkie in the contest for the Aeon Award in 2010 guess who the judge was? Marion Zimmer Bradley.

KRL: LOL how funny! Future writing goals?

Lauren: Hmm. I’d like to keep writing the Kieran Yeats series, as well as write funny cat stories. So, I guess I have no great goals. It would be nice to win the Lammy again, and one of these years I might submit a Kieran Yeats novel for the Lammy.

KRL: Writing heroes?

Lauren: Well, my “influences” were the late Robert B. Parker, Andrew Vacchs, and early John Sanford. They all wrote/write uncomplicated plot-driven crime fiction, and I learned a lot from them.

KRL: What do you read?

Lauren: I haven’t found any fiction that has held my interest for ages. Well, I did like News of the World by Paulette Jiles. I read it a while ago. although I didn’t care for the rest of her work. So, I’ve been reading nonfiction. I liked Soul of an Octopus by Sy Montgomery and Feline Philosophy: Cats and the Meaning of Life by philosopher John Gray. I haven’t finished Gray’s book yet, but I like it. It’s pretty interesting and is less about cats than about us and our never-ending quest for the meaning of life. I re-read Mary Oliver’s poetry regularly, and Kim Stafford’s (Oregon poet and essayist) essays about Oregon and Vancouver Island. Oh, about fiction: I’ve been seduced into reading The Plot by Jean Haff Korelitz, about a failed writer who steals one of his writing students’ plots.

KRL: Favorite TV or movies?

Lauren: I don’t watch television anymore, alas. Apart from Jeopardy, that is. I find I have no time. Before the pandemic I used to go to the movies (yes, the actual movie theatre) to watch the Oscar nominees. I enjoyed most of them: The Shape of Water; Arrival; Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri. I don’t like horror or romcoms. I’d like to see Nomadland and The Father, but I’ll have to rent them. Oh, and I’m a Trekkie. Anything in the Star Trek (but not Star Wars) franchise I’ll happily watch. I just like good stories. Lordy – tell me a story, take me away!

KRL: Yay a fellow Trekkie 🙂 What is something people would be surprised to know about you?

Lauren: Well, I already confessed to being a Trekkie and a crazy cat lady. What’s left in the Weird Department? But here goes! I make my own marijuana Gummi Bears; I love rock concerts; I’m a tai chi enthusiast and have been participating in it for 5+ years.

KRL: Website? Twitter? Facebook?

Lauren: My website is although I’ll soon be migrating my little cat books over to their own website I don’t Twitter or Facebook as I’m philosophically opposed to both those platforms.

To enter to win an ebook copy of The Always Anonymous Beast, simply email KRL at krlcontests@gmail[dot]com by replacing the [dot] with a period, and with the subject line “beast,” or comment on this article. A winner will be chosen July 3, 2021. U.S. residents only and you must be 18 or older to enter. You can read our privacy statement here if you like.

Check out other mystery articles, reviews, book giveaways & mystery short stories in our mystery section. And join our mystery Facebook group to keep up with everything mystery we post, and have a chance at some extra giveaways. Be sure to check out our new mystery podcast too with mystery short stories, and first chapters read by local actors. A new episode goes up next week.

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1 Comment

  1. We have a winner!


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