Forrest is best known for her nine novels about lesbian police detective Kate Delafield. The character was the very first lesbian police detective in the American lesbian mystery genre and is described as “Miss Marple with k.d. lang, Sherlock Holmes with Candace Gingrich, and you’ve got Kate Delafield: ex-Marine, homicide detective for the LAPD, queer-as-the-day-is-long heroine. ” The second novel in the series, Murder at the Nightwood Bar, was optioned for film by director Tim Hunter. The screenplay had been written and roles cast with Mary-Louise Parker as Delafield and Tom Arnold as her police partner, but the project was ultimately shelved.
Her romance Curious Wine is considered a classic of American lesbian literature. In discussion of the “light” element of the lesbian romance Forrest said, “I think it’s political as hell… Here were two women who had a lot of choices in life, a lot of options, and out of all of those options they chose the hardest one, which was to love each other. ” The novel is credited as one that “broke through many misconceptions about lesbians and lesbian relationships.”
Of her personal political sensibilities, Forrest said, “We are the only subculture that incorporates both genders, all races, all colors, all creeds… Being visible can make us free…and give us a power we have never known.” After relocating from Los Angeles to San Francisco, near The Castro district, she said, “It would be impossible to live here and not be political.” This was a marked departure from her early life, of which she wrote, “Even after I committed the Big Sin and made that irrevocable passage, and even though I thereafter found women who loved me, and even though I had loving relationships, I remained essentially in the grip of all the early shame and my own powerful homophobia.”
Her work is also noted for unprecedented eroticism and display of lesbian sexuality. Forrest noted that classic mysteries such as Agatha Christie might not even contain a hug. “Sexuality is a part of life and it’s something that readers are interested in as far as characters… Love scenes are unparalleled opportunities to characterize a major character and bring out aspects of them that you can’t in normal everyday scenes.”
She also had a ten-year tenure as fiction editor at Naiad Press and currently serves as Supervising Editor at Spinsters Ink. She has also written science fiction novels and edited numerous anthologies of gay and lesbian interest. As an editor she worked with hundreds of writers, including Jane Rule and Lee Lynch, who wrote of Forrest’s fiction, “Her stories embrace and strengthen us, and give us permission to live our lives fully just as we are.”
Also known for her reviews and articles about lesbian and gay publishing, she authored book reviews appearing in the The Los Angeles Times and San Francisco Chronicle. Articles have appeared in Brother and Sister, The Harvard Gay and Lesbian Review and The Lambda Book Report.
She was a recipient of the Lambda Literary Foundation‘s Pioneer Award in 1998, and currently serves on their board of trustees. In 2008, she received the Bill Whitehead Award from The Publishing Triangle and the Trailblazer Award from the Golden Crown Literary Society. She is also a recipient of The Alice B Readers Award medal. She lives with her wife, Jo Hercus, in the San Francisco area.