Today the Lesbian Historic Motif Podcast interviews author Catherine Lundoff about her historical and historically-inspired fiction featuring women-loving-women. Catherine also writes some great science fiction and fantasy and has started a new publishing house: Queen of Swords Press. Find out more about her projects in the interview!
* * * Now, with transcript! * * *
Lesbian Historic Motif Podcast Episode 13b: Interview with Catherine Lundoff - transcript
(Originally aired 2017/08/12 - listen here)
(Transcript commissioned from Jen Zink @Loopdilou who is available for professional podcast transcription work. I am working on adding transcripts of the existing interview shows.)
Heather Rose Jones: Today, the Lesbian Historic Motif Project is talking to one of the talented authors who are writing queer women into historical fiction. Catherine Lundoff writes fantasy and science fiction as well as historic stories and blends of those genres. And she has an alter-ego who focuses on erotica. Welcome, Catherine.
Catherine Lundoff: Hi, Heather. Thanks so much for having me on the podcast.
H: I particularly wanted to talk to you about some of the fiction in your new collection, Out of This World: Queer Speculative Fiction Stories, such as your take on Shakespeare’s fictional sister. But there’s another story I remember very fondly based on the operatic swordswoman Julie D’Aubigny. Why don’t we start there; how do those come out of your historic interests?
C: Well, I have a background in history. It’s one of my BAs, so it’s one of the things I studied when I was in college. And I’ve always been fascinated by historical figures. I’ve also always been fascinated by the kind of people who get written out of history. It’s been something that’s kind of been an ongoing thing. The story that you’re referring to is a story called “M. Le Maupin,” which is actually my first published story, that was part of a magical interlude in which I used to be a bookseller. I had closed up my bookstore and I was attending law school. Law school and I were not sympatico in a way that made me telekinetic and, really, I broke things with my mind. It was a very scary time. My partner at the time, now wife, suggested that I try my hand at writing a bit of fiction. So, I sat down, and I wrote that story, I sent it out the door, and it got accepted. It got accepted for a magazine that no longer exists, unfortunately, called Lesbian Short Fiction. Alicia Austin, who’s a famous fantasy [artist], was, at the time, dating the editor, and she did the front cover based on my story. Which, I gotta tell you, was the coolest thing ever.
H: Yeah, I think they were partners at the time. I remember Lesbian Short Fiction very fondly.
C: Yeah, they were.
H: They bought a story of mine and, unfortunately, it was never published when the magazine folded. We were almost magazine sisters.
C: Almost, almost. One of the things that I got really interested in was looking at how women, in general, but queer women in particular, had presented themselves, had survived, had had adventures, had gone and done things. Alexandre Dumas was the way I maintained my sanity when I was a child living with my family. I read a lot of Walter Scott, I read a lot of Howard Pyle, I read Robin Hood things, but Alexandre Dumas was the guy.
H: And none of them had enough women.
C: None of them had enough women. But Dumas had Milady and Milady, of course, does not come to a particularly good end. I don’t that’s much of a spoiler for your audience. But she’s a fascinating character and she’s actually based on a real person. There was a spy in the Caribbean who was actually doing some of the things Dumas based that character on. There are all these fascinating women who got written out of history. There are the women who were able to disguise themselves as men and go on sailing ships, some of them for years at a time. There were the women who fought in the Napoleonic armies and some of them presented as men, some of them actually came to regard themselves as being male and would be called trans at this point in time. Some of them were, in fact, straight and they were there for their lovers but then they were having such a great time, like Deborah Sampson during the American Revolution, they just stuck around. There are some fascinating things out there. One of the ways I got into discovering some of these women was a book by Jessica Amanda Salmonson, The Encyclopedia of Amazons.
C: I started there and then a press that no longer exists, unfortunately, called Conari Books, did a whole series of Wild Women. There was Wild Women of the West…
H: Oh yes, I have those.
C: Wild Women of Medieval Times, or… (cross-talk)
H: They’re not very well-cited, but they’re fascinating to read.
C: No, no, but they’re very inspirational. If you’re just looking for, “Wow, I want to do this,” it’s a lot of fun to play with. And the reason I got into, you know. I’ve had a couple of other historical stories that are not in Out of this World, which is the new collection, they will be in a later collection. I’m working on another collection that will be more historical fiction.
H: Oh, good.
C: And I do some other things outside of that. I’ve been doing mysteries, and gothic horror, and a number of other things that play with that. The protagonists aren’t necessarily queer, although you could read my story, “A Splash of Crimson,” which is in an anthology called Respectable Horror that just came out a couple of months ago, as queer because she’s a governess and she’s very obsessed with her dead mistress. It’s a ghost story, but it’s got all that Du Maurier Rebecca-ish theme going on.
H: I was about to mention Du Maurier.
C: Yes. It was just part of the inspiration. One reason I started writing about Judith, Shakespeare’s presumably apocryphal sister, was that I had read Virginia Woolf’s essay, and I was looking at it again and Connie Wilkins, who is a prominent editor in the field, who also edits as Sacchi Green. She does erotica under Sacchi and she does other kinds of fiction under Connie, had asked me to come up with an alternate history story. So, I was looking at Virginia Woolf’s essay that day and it was like, “Ok, so what if this was a real person.” You know, what are some other things that could have happened to her instead of what… Woolf sets her up where she’s basically going to go to the city and because she’s a woman she’s going to fail. It’s like well, “What if she didn’t present herself as a woman?” And I’m also fascinated by Christopher…
H: I was going to say, and it’s irresistible to bring Kit Marlowe in.
C: Yes. Well, Kit Marlowe, for those who many not be as familiar with him as you are, is sort of the great gay playwright of Elizabethan England, and he was, among other things, also a spy. He’s commonly believed to have been assassinated in a tavern in Deptford as part of a connection to some of his spy work. But he was also gay, he was atheist, he ran around with Sir Walter Raleigh and some of the other members of the Elizabethan court who were subsequently disgraced because of their lack of religious beliefs, among other things. And he was a really fascinating character and I had just, I think, finished, right around the same time, I’d finished reading Anthony Burgess’s A Dead Man in Deptford. Which is one of those historical novels that I would probably give an internal organ I wasn’t using to have written. I mean, it’s amazing. The whole thing, he never breaks out of dialect. It’s all in Elizabethan dialect, it’s absolutely gripping. In part because you’re working so hard to read it. But it’s beautifully written, and it’s fascinating, and it brings up a lot of really interesting things about Marlowe. And I went on to read some of the other biographies and so forth afterwards, but Burgess really pulled me in and made him come alive. Once I put it together as Judith Shakespeare – Christopher Marlowe, wacky hijinks ensue! I came up with that particular story which is called “Great Reckonings, Little Rooms.” And it’s from a line that Shakespeare wrote about Marlowe’s assassination. Because the official story about Marlowe’s death was that he was killed over the reckoning, the bar bill, in this tavern in Deptford. One of the things that Shakespeare says at one point in one of the plays, I would have to check this one, which one it was, but he says in one of the plays that, “A rumor kills a man more dead than a great reckoning in a little room.” Just a beautiful line. And if you don’t know the history behind it, it’s just kind of, “Oh, that’s interesting.” But that’s actually what he’s referring to, is Marlowe’s assassination because they were colleagues and they were probably, to some extent, friends. Of course, recent scholarship has suggested that Marlowe did, in fact, write some of the plays that are now attributed to Shakespeare. It’s all fascinating.
C: But I also write Regencies. I have a story called “[Regency] Masquerade” and I’ll be doing another Regency that I’m working on now. I love Regencies. Regencies are fun.
H: Regencies are irresistible somehow.
C: That’s true.
H: There’s just, you know, it’s almost the same as fanfic where there’s this existing world to play in that you don’t have to recreate from scratch.
C: It is true. Yes. If I had to pick my absolute two favorites it would probably be Regencies and Pirates. If I could blend the two I would, but I think its going to consist… stick with Regencies and Pirates. But I’m also working on a… I’ve written one story so far and I’m looking at writing a sort of continuation, a sequel, and do it as more of a serial about a couple of women, who were real women in the Caribbean who were spies and pirates, and how they all intersected with each other. So, that’s a new thing that’s kind of bubbling away right now.
H: So, you mentioned that you have an academic background in history?
H: Could you tell a little more about that?
C: I have a couple… two BAs. And one of my BAs is in history and the other is in Anthropology. And the reason being that when I started college, I thought at one point I wanted to be a medievalist. And then I found out what actually went into being a medievalist and then I got over that very quickly. It’s still fascinating, it’s just not for me. I started out in history and was most of the way to my degree and I had started taking some Women’s Studies classes. And I had reached that point of wondering what exactly everybody who wasn’t a white dude was actually doing during these time periods. Oh, excuse me, a white dude or an exception, because they’re always an exception.
H: Yes, yes.
C: You know and that’s women, that’s people of color, you know, that’s people with disabilities. It’s all kinds of things, they’re always an exception. I got curious about all the exceptions, so I started taking anthropology classes. I really got into those, so I got to the point where I ended up with two BAs, one in each major, and I spent several years working as a professional archeologist. That was what I did until I went to grad school and I went to grad school in Feminist Anthropology, which is a blend of Women’s Studies and Anthropology. But history has always been kind of an ongoing hobby. And a lot of my interest in it is… I should mention my father actually was a history professor, but he died when I was very young. But I had this fabulous history teacher in High School, who had been in the Hungarian Cavalry in World War II and was a Hungarian refugee living in New York and teaching history. He was amazing! He was this great, great guy and I learned so much from him. He was the one who got me very excited about things. That was originally how I got into it. But I also always had a real fondness for historical fiction. It was a magical, magical day when I realized that Dumas had actually based a lot of his novels on real people. Once I got into that, Dr. Kari Maund has a really great book, she wrote it with another author, called The Four Musketeers, that’s a history of where Dumas drew his influences, and who he based which characters on, and how they all mesh together.
H: Yeah, she’s a major Dumas fan, I can tell.
C: Yes, yes, she is. That was a lot of where that started, but the thing about it is that, as with fanfic, at a certain point you’re like, “Well, I don’t feel like I’m a part of this story.” What would have to change so that I, as a woman, I, as a, in my case I identified as bi, but as a queer woman, how do I fit myself into this so that I’m a part of the adventure? Because even as a child, even reading stuff… I would read stuff and go, “But there’s no girls!” How come there are never any girls? And that’s usually kind of the basic point that a lot of people start with is, if they’re outside the dominant narrative, why is there nobody like me in this?
H: I think that’s one of the answers to a question that I always think is a silly interview question, which is, “So, why do you write this type of character in this type of story?” And I always think, but, but… it’s because I want to see myself there.
C: Yeah, yeah. When you look at just the sheer wealth of, just focusing for a moment on queer female characters who are villainous, dead, suddenly discover they’re straight, and on and on and on, lose their loved ones, all of the other things that go into that. To get queer women, bi-women, lesbians, trans-women, written into narratives as protagonists is a major thing. And to be able to do it with somebody who really existed, whose story is not very well known, it is… it’s a gift. I mean, it’s a wonderful opportunity to be able to celebrate at least a version of who that person might have been.
H: How do you feel that having a formal background in history has affected your fiction writing other than giving you a running head-start on the research?
C: I think it actually really does impact how I do research. I put myself through graduate school as a research assistant, hired myself out to various professors, and would run around and research things that might or might not be germane to anything I was personally interested in. But learning to go through, and learning the difference between, primary and secondary sources, learning how to evaluate what you’re reading and how it compares to other sources at the time, or other interpretations you can find, has really been very helpful. I mean, that’s how I got into a lot of it. One of the things that I read for fun is social histories and biographies. There are just some amazing things that are coming out now for, again, people who weren’t that well-known, or were well-known, but mysteriously don’t have a contemporary biography. I’m thinking of Aphra Behn, the playwright, who’s the first woman who is known to have supported herself through her writing. And she was an English-woman who lived during the Restoration. Janet Todd, who’s an English historian, has just re-released her fabulous, fabulous biography of Aphra Behn, called The Secret Life of Aphra Behn. Among other things, Aphra Behn was also a spy, by contemporary standards she was probably bi-sexual. She wrote plays, she hung out with all the great rakes of the Restoration court and they had these wild times together. Just a fascinating, fascinating character. One of the points that Janet Todd brings up in this very, very large biography …. Of Aphra Behn.
H: Yes, I know, I have it.
C: Love that book… is how little is really known about her. So, you have like these signposts where she publishes something. She wrote and published a play, which eventually did get performed, called Oroonoko, which is about an African prince who’s enslaved. It was read, even at the time period, as being an early abolitionist work because she makes him a very noble character. You have a signpost for Oroonoko, and you have a signpost for when she left Surinam, but nothing about why she left Surinam or was there to begin with. And then you have The Rover and a couple other things and then she dies. But there’s like nothing about the details in between there. And one of the things I think historical fiction does is the opportunity to fill in those spaces.
H: And she did a certain amount of fictionalizing of her own life as well, is what I got the impression. So, that muddies the waters even more. Muddy waters are a great place to find treasures though.
C: It is true.
H: So, what projects that you have coming up would like to tell us about?
C: Well, one of the things that I’m doing right now is, in January, I launched my own small press. This has been in the planning stages for a couple of years now. It’s called Queen of Swords Press and, eventually, what I want to do is to have one of the imprints focus on historical fiction with fantastical elements. So, alternate histories, what’s known as manner-punk, which is kind of like, Regency fantasies, but it’s not strictly Regencies, it kind of spills over into other time-periods. All the different permutations of that… Time travel… There’s a whole subset of fantasy literature that has no explicit fantastical elements but it’s very historical. I’m thinking of things like Ellen Kushner’s Swordspoint and some of Delia Sherman’s work, and some other authors. I love that stuff. That stuff’s really fun. Your Alpennia series is another example, Ruritanian romances, so there’s all these things that are out there, that really engage me. Ultimately, I want to have an imprint that focuses on that. There’s going to be other imprints as well. Right now, we’re still in the launch phase, so I’m going through my own back-list and I’m re-releasing things in different packaging, and different covers, with different edits, and so-forth. There will be a subset that will be LGBT science fiction, fantasy, and horror. I would like to get to a point where I’m publishing some authors that are otherwise not getting much play right now, who I think are unjustly forgotten, or don’t get quite the publicity that they really have earned with their work. I’ve got some big plans for it going forward. I think it will probably be next year before I’m even ready to start looking at other peoples’ book proposals and queries and so-forth. Right now I’m talking to somebody else who does editing and we’re talking about co-editing a project. We’ll probably be doing that at the beginning of next year. That’s kind of the on-going big thing. With that, I’ve just re-released my lesbian menopausal werewolf novel, Silver Moon. Which is a coming-out novel. It ended up, when it came out originally in 2012, it finalled for both the Goldie Award for Lesbian Fiction and the Bisexual Book Awards in Science Fiction and Fantasy, which I found kind of interesting. It was nice to know that it spoke to a broad audience. I’m working on a sequel for that… The long-promised sequel that people occasionally send me peevish emails about. I’m working on it.
H: In addition, how can people contact you or follow you on social media?
C: I am out on twitter as @CLundoff, Queen of Swords also has its own twitter feed, and then Emily Byrne has her own twitter feed. All of which you can pretty much find off my twitter feed. I have a Facebook author page, I’m also out on Facebook. Presumably, if one doesn’t want the political rants, then I have a Facebook author page where it’s just about books. Queen of Swords also has its own Facebook page and its own website. I do update all of the things that I am personally doing in my various personas in the Queen of Swords Press Newsletter, which is free, and you can sign up for it on the Queen of Swords website, which is, oddly enough, www.queenofswordspress.com.
H: Thank you so much, Catherine, for sharing your time with the Lesbian Historic Motif Project.
C: Thank you, this has been a lot of fun.