Most librarians are intimately aware of the stereotype: a bookish, stern, glasses-wearing, mousy-haired, disheveled woman ceaselessly shushing patrons and silently disapproving of non-literary selections. Sula Smith, latest in a family line of librarians populating Deerhaven Pines, defies predefinition with her "wild aureole of black wavy hair, vivid red lips and cheeks, and snow-white skin." Sula and her ancestors all have at least three things in common: their name, their profession, and their sexual orientation.
"Two ideas inspired Deerhaven Pines," explained author Diana McRae. "The concept of a brave and resolute librarian, a sexy one, guarding a family secret ... [and] the image of a young woman fleeing heterosexuality, which does not work for her." So in addition to the Ursula Smiths we find Lesley Windsor, heir to the Windsor mansion after her husband's mother passes, seeking a family secret; exploring the septagonal library and all the lore it holds; and learning about herself and the women — literary, fictional, and real — who preceded her on her journey.
McRae, whose publication party for Deerhaven Pines is hosted by her favorite bookstore, Diesel (5433 College Ave., Oakland), on Friday, April 20, had ample opportunity for inspiration and research — she's a librarian in Alameda County. If you happen to be in an actual library or bookstore, Deerhaven Pines is listed under both speculative and lesbian fiction, which the author/librarian approves of. After all, proper categorization, McRae knows, "helps the right reader find the book," which in this case is written for "women who enjoy fiction about lesbians, and open-minded men" as well as "librarians and people who love libraries."
Even as the novel quickly jumps into a generations-old mystery surrounding the stately mansion tucked in the woods of Gold Country, its characters pay homage to librarianship, discussing everything from Beverly Cleary's Socks to Sappho. Indeed, the final piece of the mystery is solved through careful research and finding just the right tome for the occasion. "Being a librarian pervades my writing," McRae admits. Spirits, shades, ghosts, were-vamps, witch-hunts, madwomen in the attic, and almost cognizant jewelry can be attributed to her love of "too many gothics, thrillers, and novels to list." But Deerhaven Pines is also a love story to the foothills of the Sierras, and the Stanislaus and Tuolumne rivers. Every rugged location and bit of flora, fauna, and wildlife McRae describes can be traced back to her mother, a "self-made naturalist" who worked for Walnut Creek's Lindsay Wildlife Museum and inspired her daughter with frequent trips into nature.
McRae counts being a Bay Area writer as a privilege. "This is a magical place filled with wonderful fellow writers, a myriad of cultural resources, and something to liven the mind from minute to minute. ... We live in a place where there is a multitude of people with open minds." For every book its reader, a sage librarian once said. 7 p.m., free. 510-653-9965 or DieselBookstore.com.