Lesbian Historic Motif Podcast - Episode 17e - 2017 Roundup - Transcript
(Originally aired 2017/12/30 - listen here)
It’s an extra Lesbian Historic Motif Podcast falling at the end of the year, so I thought I’d use if for some musings on the podcast and the blog. On what I’ve been doing with it, what I have planned, and where I hope to go.
The Lesbian Historic Motif Project blog started out as one of those cataloging projects I do for myself. For decades, I’d been collecting up research materials and bibliographic references to use in my own historic fiction projects. Originally I thought I might publish a sourcebook based on the material, but just like every soucebook idea I’ve ever had, I realized that a single finished product was neither a convenient end product nor a realistic way to motivate myself. I’ve had this happen with my catalog of surviving medieval garments and my database of medieval Welsh personal names. The project keeps expanding as I work and eventually I move on to other things.
So I knew that if my goal was to write a comprehensive sourcebook of historic materials on lesbian history, I’d never actually finish it. And so in a fit of rationality in 2014, I decided to start blogging about the materials I’d collected. I’d read each book or article, summarize it, add content tags for convenient searching, and make it available to the world. I’ve often found that success is a matter of tailoring your goals to your natural method of working. And from that point of view, the blog has been very successful.
At this point, I’ve blogged summaries of 170 books and articles for a total of about 360 blog posts. When I started this research back in the ‘80s I never would have believed there would be that much relevant content in the world--and at the time, there wasn’t. There has been an immense expansion of historic research into issues of sexuality in the last couple decades. The available resources for authors who want to research historic settings for lesbian historical fiction, while far from perfect, are so much better than they were when I first contemplated entering the field. But it’s still the case that many people who want to write these stories have only a limited amount of historic data avaliable to them.
This is the second purpose of the blog and podcast. In addition to re-familliarizing myself with the research materials I’ve collected, I wanted to share knowledge of those resources with authors who might not have the same access to academic publications that I do. In any research endeavor, the most immediate and important step is to know that the information you’re looking for actually exists. To know that there’s a hope of success. The second most important step is to have some clue where to look for it. These are the two steps where I hope to be of some use to my fellow authors of historical fiction.
The blog is far from any possibility of completion. I’ve covered 170 publications so far, but my database of references to follow up on contains 470 listings. At some point, I may stop adding new titles faster than I can possibly read them, but it hasn’t happened yet. What has happened, though, is that for my core area of interest--pre-modern Europe--I’m running across less and less new historic data that I haven’t encountered before. There are still occasional new discoveries--new either to me or to the historians writing about them. But mostly I’m finding additional discussions and analysis of the material I already know about. In part, this is because the cutting edge of historical research moves from topic to topic. In the 1990s, there was a lot of interest in medieval sexuality. In the first decade of the 21st century, there has been something of an explosion of interest in lesbian history of the 18th century. So I have high hopes of learning something new for as long as I keep the project going.
When the blog had been going for about 2 years, there was an opportunity to add the podcast, thanks to the offer of being hosted by The Lesbian Talk Show. I think Sheena and I had started talking about it maybe half a year before that. We’d kind of come up with the idea simultaneously and when I pitched it to her she was right on the verge of suggesting it to me. It took me a while to sort out exactly what sort of approach I wanted to take, and I wanted to have a few shows worth of ideas written up before committing myself. That’s something of a regular theme in my project expansions, but it’s because my time availability can be variable and I always try to have a buffer of material available.
So I started out in the podcast by taking examples of specific women from history whose stories I thought woud be inspiring and interesting to people who read lesbian fiction. Not all of them are women that we can clearly identify as lesbian, but just as with the blog, the core idea is to identify themes and people that can serve as a basis for creating fictional lesbians.
As the podcast has developed, I’ve also done programs with a theme, such as medieval love poetry between women, rather than focused on a specific person. Because of the audio nature of a podcast, I’ve tried to look for topics where I can include historic texts, such as my episode on translations of Sappho’s poetry across the centuries, or the episode on Catherine Vizzani, that included excerpts from the 18th century biography of her life.
The idea to expand the podcast from a monthly schedue to weekly was another step that took some time to prepare for. I didn’t entirely commit to the idea until I had the idea of doing a rotation of 4 weekly topics--a structure that I’d found worked well for me in my blogging. The idea of including author interviews grew out of a discussion I’d had on facebook with some other authors of lesbian historical fiction, where we were trying to brainstorm ways of encouraging readers to take a chance on our genre.
It took about half a year of setting things up from my first stabs at lining up interviews. Try to imagine what it’s like for a shy introvert to tackle the cat-herding challenge of chasing down authors for interviews! But with half a year of episodes in the bag, I think I’ve got the hang of things. From the start, I wanted to use the interviews not only to showcase authors within the lesfic community, but to expand people’s idea of lesbian historical fiction by bringing in people pubishing in the mainstream or at the intersection of history and fantasy.
The next big step for the podcast will fulfill a dream I’ve had for some time. One way to support lesbian historical fiction is to write my own, of course. But I’ve long dreamed of supporting and encouraging it as a publisher. Currently I have neither the time nor the skills to set up my own publishing house. I have a very realistic notion of what that would take, having had a chance to watch my friend Catherine Lundoff work through the process of setting up Queen of Swords Press.
But when I realized that my rotating schedule of podcast topics meant that I’d have the occasional 5th show, I started thinking about the idea of using it to publish original audio fiction. One of the models for this idea is the SFF fiction podcast group Escape Artists, which includes the fantasy show Podcastle where I’ve had two stories published. Looking at their format, and seeing how they operated, it felt like a framework that I could adapt relatively painlessly.
So as this episode come to air, I’ll be right on the verge of my first open submissions window to select two (or maybe more) stories to produce as part of the Lesbian Historic Motif Podcast. It’s an experiment. If it doesn’t work--if I don’t get enough good submissions, or if it turns out to be more work than I can manage--I haven’t committed myself to more than I can handle. And if it works really well...well, the sky’s the limit, isn’t it? Though if it works really well, I’m going to need a more sustainable financial model!
I’m always looking for more ways to get the listeners interacting with the show. I’ve received some lovely questions for the Ask Sappho segment from the facebook groups associated with The Lesbian Review and The Lesbian Talk Show, but people can always send questions directly to me either through my website, on twitter, or through facebook. And I’m always looking for suggestions of authors to interview, especially people outside the usual lesfic circles, and very especially people writing in less common settings or with marginalized characters.
I hope you are enjoying the blog and the podcast so far and that you will enjoy the new directions coming up.