Lesbian Historic Motif Podcast - Episode 30a - On the Shelf for January 2019 - Transcript
(Originally aired 2018/01/05 - listen here)
Welcome to On the Shelf for January 2019.
This podcast has now been running for 29 months and 86 episodes! I’m planning to do something special in April--I think it’s April if my math is correct--for the 100th episode. I don’t know exactly what yet, but maybe you listeners have some suggestions to consider? It would be lovely to be able to include listener feedback about what your favorite episodes have been or how the podcast and blog have changed how you think about love between women in history.
The beginning of the year is a good time to think about format changes. Last year I introduced the quarterly fiction episodes, where we present original audio short stories. I’m continuing that series for a second year and submissions are currently open. I’ll be accepting stories for consideration through the entire month of January. So if this is the first you’re heard of the series, you still have time to give it a try. We pay professional rates of six cents a word for stories up to 5000 words. See the link in the show notes for the detailed call for submissions, which has the full description of what we’re looking for in the way of lesbian historical fiction.
I’m making another minor change in format this year. When I expanded to a weekly show back in 2017, I set up a rotating schedule with this On the Shelf roundup, an author interview, a book appreciation show, and then a historic essay. I’m keeping the On the Shelf and essay shows as they are, but I’m going to loosen up a bit for the other two shows. In addition to author interviews, I’ll include interviews with publishers, book reviewers, historians, and other interesting people who are relevant to the field.
And while the book appreciation show will continue to include book-love from our interview subjects, I’m planning to open it up to more people who are simply enthusiastic readers of lesbian-relevant historical fiction. If you think this describes you and you’d like to come on to the show to talk about some of your favorite reads, please drop me a note. It doesn’t have to be your all-time favorites--it could be your favorites in a particular setting or with a particular theme. I expect to be doing more shows of my own topical favorites as well.
Publications on the Blog
So what’s new on the blog? In the latter part of December and into January, I’ve been reviewing a series of publications about same-sex history in India or generally in Asia to go along with Gurmika Mann’s poignant story “At the Mouth” that ran last week. Before that, at the beginning of December, I finished up with a mini-series of articles on 18th century topics from the Journal of the History of Sexuality. To finish up January, I’ll be continuing with articles from that source with a couple of items on 17th century topics.
Only one new book purchase this month, though as I’m recording this, I have a week of vacation in which I might do some on-line shopping! The new book is an edition of Delariver Manley’s The New Atalantis, about which, more when I discuss this month’s essy. I’m also being very tempted by a new book by Thomas A. Abercrombie titled Passing to América: Antonio (Née María) Yta’s Transgressive, Transatlantic Life in the Twilight of the Spanish Empire from Penn State University Press. Set around 1800 in South America, this is a biography of a person whose life intersects transmasculine and gender passing themes. It’s a bit pricey, so I’m still thinking.
At the time I’m writing this, I don’t have an interview guest pinned down yet. I confess that this is one of the reasons I’m loosening up the format plans for the podcast. While I have a lovely shopping list of people I’d like to interview, and tentative plans with a number of them, actually getting the interviews recorded can be a logistical tangle, especially around the holidays. And especially when much of my creative focus is currently on revisions on my novel Floodtide. So rather than hold to the strict plan regarding interviews, I’m officially allowing myself more freedom to fill the episodes with what I have to hand. I do plan to include a joint movie review of The Favourite with another historic movie fan at some point. Beyond that, we’ll see what I come up with.
The January essay is a reading and discussion of some extended extracts from Delariviere Manley’s The New Atalantis, which I mentioned in last month’s essay on Queen Anne. This is a fascinating political and social satire that includes the envisioning of an all-female cabal in an invented society on the island of Atlantis which is something of a roman-a-clef for upper class circles of late 17th century England. While the original purpose of the work was satirical, and the portraits are not always flattering, it depicts how a woman of that time might envision the lives of women with same-sex interests.
Recent and Forthcoming Lesbian Historical Fiction
What books are coming out this month or have come out recently and haven’t been previously mentioned?
This month’s roundup is nearly all self-published works, many of them fairly short. There’s nothing that jumps out at me to recommend strongly, but maybe some of these will hit your sweet spot.
In November, we have Violets from K.C. Ebanks, published through Amazon digital.
Set in 1950s Nashville, when Rose Brown moves to Nashville with her family after an "incident" in her hometown, she resolves to never end up in the same position again. But with the beautiful Peggy in her school and mysterious violets appearing in her locker, she may just end up right back where she started.
The online blurb for Hattie's Homestead: The Other Legend by Marion Grace from Leafgate Publishing is really long and gives away a lot of the plot, so rather than my usual practice of quoting the original, I’ve condensed it down a bit. The book is published in two parts and the links in the show notes are only to the first volume.
In 1904 Hattie is in her last year of finishing school and hates it – she’d rather be a pioneer. A marriage proposal takes her to homestead in New Mexico Territory, but when she falls ill, Rosalinda enters her life as her caretaker. They find an attraction to each other that neither fully understands or dares to express. How do Hattie and Rosalinda survive in a town where they once were loved and accepted but are now endangered by their feelings for each other? In part 2, Hattie and Rosalinda continue the struggle to find a way to share their love and their lives. Unforeseen catastrophes are on the horizon and they’ll need help, but who can they turn to?
This next short story appears to have a historical setting, though the blurb and excerpt don’t give any specifics of the time and place. The title is The Duelist and Her Lover - A Historical Lesbian Adventure Romance by Esther J Autumn from Amazon digital.
Always steady and reliable, Agnes was prepared for anything that threatened her idyllic if somewhat boring life. She couldn't have possibly prepared for Kay. Rushing in to break up a sword duel turned to slaughter, Agnes ends up rescuing a young woman - Kay. As she helps hide Kay and patch up her wounds, they form an unexpected bond. Only, will Kay's mysterious past get in the way of their tentative relationship...? Capable of wiggling her way out of any situation, the daredevil Kay has weathered most of life's storms on her own. While her new stiff companion Agnes offers endless possibilities for teasing, she impresses Kay more with every step. As they rush from the pan and into the fire, will Kay's heart be able to resist and fly away, as she always has...?
The next book is listed as a December publication, but I’m not certain it’s actually new. The author has several new historical releases listed on Amazon that seem to have been released previously in a different edition. This is An Irish Heart by C.M. Blackwood from Amazon digital.
This is the story of Katharine O’Brien, who comes of age in English-occupied World War I Ireland. It’s 1914, and Kate is a young woman with a violent father and an uncertain future. Things start to fall into place, though, when she meets Theodora Alaster: a woman with whom she finds love and, for the first time, a real home. But when Thea is taken by the English during a trip to Dublin, Kate is left alone to navigate through additional loss and betrayal. She comes nearer than she ever wanted to her country’s hot politics, and suffers the consequences. And yet, through all of these hardships, the hope of one day finding Thea never leaves her heart.
The other two releases or re-releases from the same author are Madam Tellier's Lover, set in turn of the century New Orleans, and The Grey Rider, which claims to be set during the Norman conquest of England but looks like it might be better considered as a secondary world fantasy. I’ll put links to them in the show notes, too.
Post-war France comes in for romance in Madeleine by Emma Nichols from Amazon digital.
Madeleine isn’t like other grieving war widows. Claudette isn’t like other young French women. As their lives collide, Madeleine and Claude will discover a depth of connection and desire they never knew could exist. Can their love flourish in post-WW2 France or will their past derail their future? If you like your novels with strong leading ladies, smouldering chemistry and an epic love story that twists and turns, then you’ll love Emma Nichol’s latest lesbian romance.
One of the perennial problems with tracking down book release information for works that fall outside the romance or lesfic publishing communities is how coy the cover copy can be about exactly what goes on in the book. This month’s example is Love’s Refrain: A Victorian Ghost Story self-published by Steven Glick.
A ghost from the past. A chance meeting in the present. A terrifying séance. Charlotte Stanton’s perfect married life is turned upside down when a secret love she buried long ago hauntingly returns. Still the question remains: are the supernatural events intruding upon Charlotte’s life happening only in her mind? Is she heading down a slow, curving path toward madness? Set in Boston’s Gilded Age and accompanied by period drawings and silhouettes, Love’s Refrain explores one woman’s search for love, and the power of the past to emancipate the present.
If you’re looking for a tropey Western short story, it looks like Book’s Pass by Lara Zielinsky, published by LZ Media might fit your interests.
Drifter Emmeline Soule stumbles into a conflict between the brothel owner, Reina Suarez, and the townspeople of Book's Pass. A lesbian romance set in the post-Civil War American West.
And the only actual January publication currently on my spreadsheet is Temper CA by Paul Skenazy published by Miami University Press, which looks to be something of a family saga story with a bit of a cross-time feel.
Joy Temper grew up wandering the woods of Temper, CA, a Gold Rush town her family helped establish in the 1840s. When she returns to Temper for her grandfather's funeral, she discovers that the stories she's long traded on about her hippie upbringing have little to do with reality. Her struggles to face who she once was, and what she now desires, force her to confront family secrets and long-suppressed memories in a novella both familial and romantic, contemporary and historical.
If you know of any historical fiction with lesbian relevance that’s coming out in February, or anything already out that I’ve managed to miss, please do drop the podcast an email or comment on the blog and tell me about it. At this point, I haven’t found any February publications and I’d hate to leave this segment of the show empty.
The bin of listener questions for the Ask Sappho segment is still sadly empty, so once again you have to put up with me rambling about some topic I find interesting.
I’ve been putting together a database of lesbian-interest historical fiction that some day I hope to make available in a user-searchable form. One part of the project is identifying themes and tropes that people might want to search for. And one fascinating pattern I’ve found that I’d like to talk about is the number of stories that involve some sort of cross-time connection. I’ve been trying to develop a terminology for these--ideally one that corresponds to terms that other people use.
All of these approaches have the effect of telling a story that follows events in more than one point in time and that makes connections between the different time periods, either directly in the story, of in the reader’s understanding. Sometimes the framework is an entirely historical story, sometimes it involves non-physical connections between people in different times, such as past life memories, dream states, or a sort of astral projection. And sometimes it involves physical time-travel of the protagonist (or some other major character).
Wikipedia has a great survey of time-travel motifs in fiction but it doesn’t include my first category, which I’ve taken to calling the “cross-time story”, although other people use that term in a number of different ways in describing plots. When I describe a book as a cross-time story, I mean that it involves two different sets of events at different times where a meaningful connection is made that supports the theme of the story. Often this involves a modern protagonist researching past events that then change her understanding of her own life, or even simply her understanding of the past. Some examples of this motif are Sandra Moran’s Letters Never Sent where a woman discovers a packet of never-mailed letters written by her mother which changes her understanding of her mother’s life. Another good example is Robin Talley’s Pulp which just came out a couple months ago, where a high-school student is researching an author of lesbian pulp novels, and we get both lives depicted. Several of Caren J. Werlinger’s books have cross-time motifs, though often with supernatural elements as well.
The traditional definition of a time-slip story is any story involving time travel where the focus isn’t on the mechanism of the travel and the character has no control over the process. This is more or less how I used it, though I expand it a little to include psychic connections across time. For me, a time-slip story involves two time-lines just as in the cross-time category, but where the protagonist is somehow present in consciousness in both times. This might involve remembering a past life. It could involve connection with a ghost or other lingering psychic remnant of the past. Or it could involve the character being projected into the past to experience events in real-time. When Justine Saracen isn’t writing World War II novels, she’s usually writing stories with this type of time-slip element, such as in Sarah Son of God. Catherine Friend’s Spark is another example, where a modern woman’s consciousness is exchanged with that of a woman in Tudor England, although this might also fall in the time-travel group, as the mechanism of the exchange is a significant plot element. When the connection is purely psychological and, indeed, can be read as being a purely internal experience of the character, this category can sit at the edge of being a realistic story (if we consider the character to be imagining things) and being a fantasy story.
Out-and-out time travel stories are necessarily either fantasy or science fiction depending on how they treat the mechanism of travel. Catherine Friend also has a good example of the plain old time-travel motif in the series starting with The Spanish Pearl, where a modern woman bodily travels into the past, has adventures there, and then moves back and forth between times as part of the ongoing plot. A recent book that uses time-travel themes is Jane Fletcher’s Isle of Broken Years, although I hope saying so isn’t a spoiler! And there’s a novella series in the process of coming out from Tor.com that clearly falls in the time-travel category: Alice Payne Arrives by Kate Heartfield, soon to be followed by the second in the series Alice Payne Rides.
What is the appeal of cross-time and time-slip stories when writing lesbian characters in historical fiction? I can only speculate, but one thing these themes provide for the reader is a way to bridge the gap between our contemporary understanding of sexuality and gender, and the sometimes very different understandings of those concepts in the past. We are shown how the protagonist grapples with integrating those different concepts. Or sometimes it’s as simple as dodging the question of how a woman in history would understand same-sex desire by putting a modern character into the role--someone who share the same understanding as the reader. For the cross-time stories involving a character researching the past, it can sometimes recapitulate the author’s process of discovering and exploring same-sex themes in history. A way of sharing the delight in making those connections on a personal level. Whatever the reasons, cross-time, time-slip, and time travel stories make up a significant proportion of the lesbian historicals I’ve been cataloging. Let me know if you enjoy lesbian stories that play with time and what some of your favorites are.
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Recent and Forthcoming Books
Books Mentioned in the Ask Sappho Segment