Lesbian Historic Motif Podcast - Episode 36a - On the Shelf for July 2019 - Transcript
(Originally aired 2019/07/06 - listen here)
Welcome to On the Shelf for July 2019.
Summer is here: time for lazy afternoons reading in the hammock and then panicking about whether we have enough time to finish all the projects we wanted to complete in 2019. My July is looking fairly laid back, but I've rested up from the last schedule crunch it's time to start new projects.
I want to start off with an apology to the author of last week's story. I had one of those brain errors and used a shortened version of the title for Catherine Lundoff's story "By Her Pen She Conquers." I've fixed it in all the online text, but the recording refers to the story as simply "By Her Pen." It was entirely my error and I'm sorry for any confusion.
But speaking of the fiction series, one of my new projects is planning for the 2020 fiction series. This time I want to do a lot of advance publicity to keep it in people's awareness, so expect a cheerleading session every month through the end of the year.
There's a minor change this time around in the pay rate. The standard I set when I started the series was that I'd pay the professional rate set by the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America, of which I am a member. As SFWA is raising their standard from 6 cents a word to 8 cents a word, I'll be following suit. This means that previously my upper word limit of 5000 words paid $300. Now it will pay $400. In case anyone is wondering, the Lesbian Historic Motif Podcast is not a money-making venture. When I buy stories and pay narrators, it comes out of my own pocket currently. Some day the blog and podcast may have a large enough audience to make it self-sufficient. But I'm a firm believer that you get what you pay for, and I want the fiction series to be able to attract the best stories available. That means meeting professional standards for pay.
I'm going to experiment with another change to the fiction series this year. Just as my author interviews and the new book listings include works with fantasy elements mixed into the history, in 2020 the LHMP fiction series will be open to stories about queer women in history that can include fantasy elements. The stories still need to be rooted in a specific actual time and place. And the fantasy elements shouldn't be treated as a free wild card to write modern stories with historic window dressing. But I want to give writers a little more elbow room to play around in those historic settings. The full version of the call for submissions is on the website and will provide additional guidance on this point. And, of course, purely historic stories are still very welcome!
I'm not the only person looking for story submissions. Molly Llewellyn of the website Bi Bookish Babe posted a call for submissions that listeners might be interested in. She says, "I’m currently putting together an anthology of fictional short stories reimagining the lives of real lgbtq+ women from history. You can find more submission rules and important info in the announcement post." I've linked to the announcement in the show notes. She provides a "wish list" of historic figures that she'd love to see stories about, to provide writers with inspiration.
Check out the link in the show notes to see that wish list and get inspiration for stories you might consider writing. The deadline is November 5th, 2019 and the maximum word count for submissions is 2500 words. The pay rate isn't listed on the call and the editor says it won't be set until they line up a publisher.
Publications on the Blog
Last month on the Lesbian Historic Motif Project blog, we covered Precious and Adored, an edited collection of letters that give evidence for a romantic relationship between Rose Cleveland, who served as First Lady for her brother, US President Grover Cleveland, and her long-time friend Evangeline Simpson Whipple. I also reviewed the book for The Lesbian Review. This was followed up by a series of publications that either were relevant to my paper on medieval cross-dressing narratives, or that I picked up at the conference where I presented the paper, or that I'm reading for an expanded published version of the paper. Many of these, naturally, revolve around themes of cross-dressing or gender identity.
First we have Abbouchi's bilingual edition of the romance of Yde and Olive, then a paper on socially licensed cross-dressing among 13th century Ashkenazi Jews by Lena Roos. Victoria Blud's book The Unspeakable, Gender and Sexuality in Medieval Literature wasn't quite as fascinating as I'd hoped, though only because of my specific interests, and similarly I found Susan Morrison's A Medieval Woman's Companion to be a bit too light-weight for my purposes, although it put me on the track of another interesting primary source mentioned among my new acquisitions. Sandra Lowerre's "To Rise Beyond Their Sex" has some interesting thoughts on the legends of early cross-dressing saints. And I have another slot in the July schedule that I haven't filled in yet.
I don't have any new book purchases for the Project, but I've turned up some interesting material online. One is an edition of the early 13th century Greek historian Nikolas Choniatus who appears to be the source of a description of Queen Eleanor of Aquitaine and her ladies wearing masculine clothing while accompanying the Second Crusade. This is one of those anecdotes that I've been seeing mentioned time and again in surveys of medieval cross-dressing stories, but for the first time I found a mention that included a specific source.
I also spotted a link on the website medivalists.net for an article titled "How far did medieval society recognize lesbianism in this period?" by Catherine Tideswell. It's a very brief overview and the content will be familiar to readers of the Lesbian Historic Motif Project, but it might be worth bookmarking to point people to for an introduction to the topic.
There was a book announcement on one of my academic mailing lists for the forthcoming guide Trans and Genderqueer Subjects in Medieval Hagiography, coming out next year, with an advance offering of the book's suggested guidelines for terminology and language usage around discussing potentially trans or queer subjects in historical writing. The authors have asked people to share these guidelines so I may be discussing them on the blog if it seems appropriate, and will link the document in the show notes for those who might be interested.
This month’s author guest will be K.J. Charles, talking about her recent Edwardian country house murder mystery Proper English.
This month's essay will be on the topic of singlewomen, and what the academic field of singlewomen studies has to say to the study of queer women in history, and especially for identifying life structures that are friendly to lesbian historical fiction. Because, of course, the "single" in the phrase "singlewomen" only means single with respect to relationships with men. And many of the historic contexts in which singlewomen existed and even thrived have a lot of potential when developing lesbian plots.
Recent Lesbian Historical Fiction
Time for the recent, new, and forthcoming lesbian-relevant historical fiction list! We'll start by catching up on some May publications that weren't mentioned previously.
The first one is a bit more mythological than strictly historical: Amazons: The Sanctuary of Themiscyra, self-published by Leïla Hedyth. The cover copy doesn't mention same-sex dynamics, but it turned up in my Amazon search (as it were) so I'm willing to take the chance. I suspect you'll find a bit more Hollywood history than the actual past, but it might be a fun read.
In a decadent world dominated by privileged men, Kylla, a rebel who has stolen ancient tablets, gets arrested by the militia. Freed by two cunning and audacious strangers, the young woman leaves her clan behind her and embarks for the island of Themiscyra: the last vestige of the Amazon civilization. Thus open the doors of a quest that could change her destiny forever.
The second book also sits more on the historic fantasy side, with a clear steampunk flavor. 20 Hours to Charles Town: Madame Elvira's Magnificent Excursions is self-published by Charlotte Henley Babb
An airship madam risks her women's spy network for economic influence across continental North America despite rogue operatives, a shadow enemy and betrayal by the one closest to her. In an alternate history of North America, where the Revolt failed, and European superpowers have colonies in the mid-1800s, Elvira Starr and her life-partner, Erzulie Dahomey, run a mile-high brothel in an airship shaped like an elephant. Only the most wealthy and powerful can access her services, and she provides them information that they could not easily obtain elsewhere from well-trained spies as their escorts.
After some 20 years of this business, Elvira learns of a new technology found in the new nation of Texas, recently seceded from Mexico. This technology would allow her airships access to California, so she is working to obtain agreements between British America, Florida, New France, the First Nations Confederacy, Liberia, and Mexico, to cooperate in trade rather than continuing to threaten war. However, the Mauverton Detective Agency has been working to infiltrate her network of businesses, apparently funded by some anonymous person or persons. She has an operative in their organization, but when another of their agents asks her for sanctuary, she sees an opportunity to debrief him. Now she just needs to get the strait-laced Texican to work with her despite his moral opposition to her work, and to make an alliance with the Pirate Queen of Liberia, a nation of former enslaved people, natives and pirates. But Elvira has personal issues that concern her partner, Zulie, and those have to be resolved to get the colonial ambassadors to Charles Towne for their official meeting about recognizing Texas. Can she root out the secrets held by her clients, manage a hoodoo, and deliver all the colonial ambassadors to Charles Town in time to prevent an international incident, or will she lose it all including the love of her life?
I...I need to take a space to breathe here for a moment. That's quite a lot going on in that book.
The June books start off with a new release from Manifold Press: Between Boat and Shore by Rhiannon Grant. If I had to guess from the blurb, this looks like a neolithic murder mystery, which is certainly a combination I've never seen before! I'm looking forward to reading this one.
Life in Otter Village is governed by the changing seasons and the will of the Goddess. Trebbi is held in high regard by her community. Guided by the goddess, the village plants, harvests, and trades with its neighbours. But when strangers arrive by boat in the midst of a storm – on the same day the village leader is found murdered – it brings a time of change for Trebbi, Dru, and the other villagers. Trebbi and Dru must work out who killed Peku while the village listens to the Goddess to guide them to a new leader, and Trebbi must listen to her heart about the visitor Aleuks.
The Women of Dauphine by Deb Jannerson from NineStar Press looks like it might fall in the paranormal romance genre, possibly with some cross-time elements?
When Cassie’s family moves into a decrepit house in New Orleans, the only upside is her new best friend. Gem is witty, attractive, and sure not to abandon Cassie—after all, she’s been confined to the old house since her murder in the ’60s. As their connection becomes romantic, Cassie must keep more and more secrets from her religious community, which hates ghosts almost as much as it hates gays. Even if their relationship prevails over volatile parents and brutal conversion therapy, it may not outlast time.
There are also supernatural elements in Jules Landry's self-published The Tattooed Witch. The cover copy leaves me wondering a little about the historic grounding, but if you like stories of secret witch cults in the middle ages, this might be your thing.
The Tattooed Witch is a Young Adult Historical Fantasy that chronicles a summer of Ember James, a young farm girl in 15th Century England. Ember finds herself sent to the city to ask the duke for aid on behalf of her village, needing protection from their lord who is overtaxing them to the point of starvation. After being denied help, panicked and desperate, a twist of fate places Ember face to face with a young witch in trouble - the enigmatic Freya Montagne. Despite witchcraft being outlawed by the Catholic Inquisition, Ember makes the bold decision to help Freya which ultimately leads a group of young witches back to her village. Throughout the course of the summer, Ember becomes increasingly mesmerized by the witches’ world. As she begins to delve into witchcraft herself, she also finds herself trying to understand her feelings for the wild and dangerous Freya. Throughout the weeks, Ember embarks on a series of adventures with her new friends, continually dodges the increasingly suspicious Inquisitor Esperanza, and prepares to defend her village from the baron’s personal army.
July brings quite a varied assortment of settings. Bette Hawkins tackles a fairly straightforward mid-20th century romance in In My Heart from Bella Books.
It’s the summer of 1958 and amateur guitarist/songwriter Alice Johnson feels like a stranger in her small Southern town. Everyone knows her business and is pushing her to settle down and marry like all young women are supposed to do. Only Alice’s love of music provides an escape from the stifling expectations of family and society. One night, Alice hears the mesmerizing voice of up-and-coming country singer Dorothy Long and is immediately entranced. Dorothy becomes Alice’s muse, inspiring her to write songs for Dorothy—even though she never imagines that Dorothy will hear them. But then she meets one of Dorothy’s band members who takes a liking to her and brings her to Dorothy’s room for an impromptu audition. Dorothy is so impressed by Alice’s talent that she invites her to join the band. And Alice is so overcome by Dorothy’s talent and beauty that she says “Yes” in a heartbeat. Alice is soon caught up in the whirlwind of a tour—and the unexpected desires she feels sharing a hotel room with her idol. Alice believes that “music be the food of love.” But is Alice setting herself up for a feast—or a famine?
If you like the jazz era with international celebrities and the frenetic precarious era between the two World Wars, you might try this complex story. Delayed Rays of a Star: A Novel by Amanda Lee Koe published by Nan A. Talese.
At a chance encounter at a Berlin soirée in 1928, the photographer Alfred Eisenstaedt captures three very different women together in one frame: up-and-coming German actress Marlene Dietrich, who would wend her way into Hollywood as one of its lasting icons; Anna May Wong, the world's first Chinese American star, playing for bit parts while dreaming of breaking away from her father's modest laundry; and Leni Riefenstahl, whose work as a director would first make her famous--then, infamous. From this curious point of intersection, Delayed Rays of a Star lets loose the trajectories of these women's lives. From Weimar Berlin to LA's Chinatown, from a seaside resort in East Germany to a luxury apartment on the Champs-Élysées, the different settings they inhabit are as richly textured as the roles they play: siren, muse, predator, or lover, each one a carefully calibrated performance. And in the orbit of each star live secondary players--a Chinese immigrant housemaid, a German soldier on leave from North Africa, a pompous Hollywood director--whose voices and viewpoints reveal the legacy each woman left in her own time, as well as in ours.
World War II is also the setting for Lynn Ames' Secrets Well Kept from Phoenix Rising Press.
It’s March, 1943. World War II rages across the globe, and twenty-five-year-old Nora Lindstrom is about to take a huge leap of faith. One of the few women in the male-dominated field of physics, she travels to an undisclosed destination to undertake a vital, top-secret project that the government insists could help the Allies win the war. At eighteen, Mary Trask is ready to put high school and the boy who wants to marry her in her rearview mirror. But what alternative could the future hold for the dyslexic daughter of a train conductor? When a cousin in Tennessee provides Mary with a cryptic job opportunity, she jumps at the chance to rewrite her life. Nora and Mary are drawn together under impossible circumstances. As the fate of the world hangs in the balance, they find solace in their love for each other. But in a place where secrecy is paramount, their relationship is forever changed by the consequences of secrets well kept. (This is a prequel to her book Chain Reactions.)
We finish up July with a couple more paranormal stories. The first looks like a classic Edwardian-era gothic novel: The Haunting of Heatherhurst Hall self-published by Sebastian Nothwell.
Heatherhurst Hall, Cumberland, England, 1892. American heiress Kit Morgan is heartbroken at the wedding of her dearest school-friend. At her lowest moment, she is rescued from her agonies by the mysterious and alluring Alexandra Cranbrook, sister of a visiting English baronet. Alexandra is beautiful, charming, and effortlessly beguiling. Kit cannot help but fall in love with her. When Sir Vivian Cranbrook proposes marriage, it seems natural for Kit to accept—if only to live with the woman she desperately loves. But the Cranbrook’s ancestral home of Heatherhurst Hall is not all it seems. The attic is forbidden. Strange scratching noises echo from within the walls. Wraiths stalk the corridors by night. And worst of all, Alexandra’s love has turned to scorn. Still, Kit is determined to earn her happily-ever-after and save the Cranbrooks from the horrors of Heatherhurst Hall. If only she could know Alexandra loved her in return.
I don't always include vampire stories as historic if the historic elements are simply the vampire's back-story across the centuries, but don't play a major role in the action of the current book. But in The Vampire's Relic: A Gothic Paranormal Romance, self-published by Gillian St. Kevern, the setting of the story is the Victorian era so it fits my criteria.
Does a vampire ever really die? Actresses Hester Wilson and Kitty O’Hara have taken some strange gigs in their careers, but their latest is something else. The aptly named Lord Cross has hired them to investigate the disappearance of Leighton, his secretary. Kitty’s convinced this opportunity will secure their fortunes. Hester’s not sure. The more she hears about Leighton, the more skeptical she becomes. It’s the 1870s, after all. Who in their right mind believes in vampires, let alone voluntarily hunts them? Countess Kohary, Vanda de Szigethy, is beautiful, charming, secretive—and cursed. Wherever she goes, sickness and dead bodies follow. Cross believes she has a hand in Leighton’s disappearance, but when Hester takes a position in Vanda’s household, she discovers a woman fighting the cruel legacy of her late husband. Vanda’s desperate struggle wins Hester’s admiration, even as her strange beauty casts an almost hypnotic spell. Is Vanda victim or vampire? Can Hester discover the truth in time to save Leighton? And what will it take to end the vampire’s legacy for good?
And that's it for the recent and forthcoming books I've been able to find. If you have or know of a book coming out in the near future--or a recent one that I've missed--that features queer women in historic settings, drop me a note, either by email or on social media. I know there are books that I miss. Don't let it be yours!
What Am I Reading?
So what have I been reading since last month? There have been a couple of novels and collections that don't fit into the category of queer women and history: specifically Stephanie Burgis's delightful YA Regency fantasy Kat Incorrigible, and A.C. Wise's collection The Kissing Booth Girl and Other Stories, which is full of queer characters but is more fantasy, sci fi, and horror than historical. I started on the collection Sword and Sonnet, organized around the theme of "battle poets" which I'm fairly certain has content that fits the podcast's themes, but I don't seem to have been in the right head-space for the collection and put it down after the first couple stories. I similarly bounced off of Gabrielle Goldsby's lesbian Regency The Caretaker's Daughter without finishing it. But I greatly enjoyed Benny Lawrence's story of chess-playing automatons in the 19th century, The Ghost and the Machine, although the book comes with strong content warnings for sexual and psychological abuse.
I'm currently reading Theodora Goss's European Travel for the Monstrous Gentlewoman, the second book in her historical fantasy series about the Athena Club, a household of women drawn from the fantastic literature of the late 19th century. I've been assured by trusted sources that this second volume in the series has queer content, though I'm finding that story a bit slow going (and it's a very long story, at that).
What have you enjoyed recently in the field of lesbian-relevant historical fiction?
I don't have an Ask Sappho question again this month and at this point I think I'm going to drop it as a regular podcast feature due to lack of listener interest. If there are features or types of information you'd like to hear about in the Lesbian Historic Motif Podcast, or if you simply want to let us know that you enjoy the show, we always enjoy feedback in whatever form of social media you most prefer.
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