LITTLE FALLS -- Since 1987, mystery writer Ellen Hart has churned out 15 critically acclaimed novels from her Twin Cities roost, emerging as one of the nation's leading figures in gay and lesbian fiction.
Her Jane Lawless series, for example, has garnered three Lambda Literary Awards for best lesbian fiction and a couple of Minnesota Book Awards for best crime fiction, along with several other best-novel nominations.
In the meantime her Sophie Greenway novels -- featuring a husband-and-wife amateur sleuthing team -- have been nominated for Minnesota Book Awards, adding to her literary reputation among the country's "traditional mystery" readers.
As a writer and storyteller, she's been compared to such literary luminaries as P.D. James and Agatha Christie, pretty good company for a novelist whose early writings filled a void for heroic lesbian characters among gay readers.
Hart will appear for a book signing from 6 to 8 p.m. today at Bookin' It Bookstore in downtown Little Falls, along with three other Minnesota mystery writers: William Kent Krueger, Deborah Woodworth and Carl Brookins.
The writers organized a joint tour of bookstores and libraries across the Upper Midwest, appearing as the "Minnesota Crime Wave."
Hart's Lawless series long ago traversed the gay and lesbian market, finding readers among mainstream mystery lovers.
A Star Tribune reviewer has called Hart "a mistress of character and relationships."
"I started writing in the gay mystery sub-genre ... and I've been successful following my heart," said the author, who lives with her partner of 23 years.
"I've been very lucky as a writer, but I think there's been an impact," she said, "meaning my books would probably sell better if they were not within the gay and lesbian market.
"I want to be considered a writer, not just a lesbian writer," she added. "The fact that Jane (Lawless) is a lesbian has some bearing in some of the books, but none at all in others. I live in the whole world and want my books to reflect that."
Both of her series are ripe with Minnesota settings and story lines, reflecting Hart's self-described regional approach to writing.
"I think of myself as a regional writer," she said. "It's very important to write from a place and for me that's Minnesota, a subtext in all my writings."
Lawless is a Minneapolis restaurant owner who routinely finds herself in the middle of murder and mayhem. The Greenway couple is culinary experts who mingle with the upper echelon of society, forced to solve mysteries that envelop their acquaintances.
Her novels are published by Ballentine Books and St. Martin's Press, as well as small imprint Seal Press.
Reviewing Hart's 1995 Greenway installment "For Every Evil," the Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine said: "It's a dilly ... A fair-play plot and contemporary characters that leap off the page ... Stir Martha Grimes with P.D. James and add a dash of Christie and ... you begin to get the idea: a cozy with a brain."
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