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Saturday, August 10, 2019 - 07:00

Lesbian Historic Motif Podcast - Episode 37b - Interview with Penny Mickelbury - transcript pending

(Originally aired 2019/08/10 - listen here)

Show Notes

Interview with Penny Mickelbury

The Lesbian Historic Motif Podcast - Episode 37b with Heather Rose Jones

A series of interviews with authors of historically-based fiction featuring queer women.

In this episode we talk about:

Links to Penny Mickelbury Online

If you enjoy this podcast and others at The Lesbian Talk Show, please consider supporting the show through Patreon:

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Friday, August 9, 2019 - 14:52

By some miracle, I got a full night's sleep Thursday night (that is, a full night plus going to bed around 7pm), briefly interrupted by a very resonant rainstorm in the wee hours. But the placement of my room means I get no street noise, which is nice.

I went off for breakfast at a place that Yelp indicated was promising only to find that it didn't exist any more. So I wandered the streets until I found a cafe that offered scones and a place to sit with a nice view. I may go back there again. I didn't feel like I had enough time to do serious sight-seeing before taking the train south for the wedding (Liz Bourke and Charlotte Cuffe) so I spent some time in my room sorting out my Worldcon schedule (that is, the programming I want to see, as opposed to the items I'm on). Did some podcast editing. Then wandered off and found the light rail station which did a very good job of hiding itself on a side street.

The wedding was lovely and congenial. The ceremony was at the Maritime Museum in Dun Laoghaire which is a converted church (all the ambience with none of the religious restrictions), then we all took the train several more stops to the hotel where the reception was. I was one of maybe a dozen SFF-related guests and we had fun explaining why the event got so many international guests.

Tired now, and looking up the train schedule on the assumption I'm going to do my day-trip to Waterford tomorrow. I don't have a specific itinerary yet, but the train trip is a couple hours and has wifi so I can sort things out on the way. And since I've scaled down my estimate of how much walking I'm interested in doing, it looks like catching the 10:15 train is more reasonable than trying for the 7:30 one.

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Thursday, August 8, 2019 - 08:44

Despite all my self-deprecating mentions of getting to airports entirely too early for Significant Trips, I didn't actually spend that much time hanging out twiddling my thumbs. After check-in and security, I had an early dinner--or rather a late and substantial lunch. I figured they'd feed us something dinner-like on the plane but didn't want to count on it too heavily. (They did, but it was fairly light.) Then I really only had half an hour or so of wandering around the gate before they started boarding. Bumped into Ellen Klages and Madeleine Robbins, who happened to be on the same flight, and chatted briefly until boarding started.

The plane was only about half full, so no problems with elbow room or people wanting to climb over you just as you were trying to sleep. With the help of sleeping pills and a good supportive pillow, I did manage to get about half a night's sleep. Arrived in Dublin around 11am local time and made it to my hotel by around 1pm. Checkin starts at 3pm, alas.

I dropped my suitcase at the hotel desk to hold until check-in time and then spent a couple hours grabbing a bite to eat sitting by the river and then orienting myself to some part of the transit system. I've bought an unlimited transit pass which means I don't have to worry about details of fare--only about which system and which line get me where I want to go. I downloaded a couple of transit apps for my phone, but they seem to be oriented towards people who already know which bus line they're taking. The tram lines are a lot simpler, with one running east-west and the other north-south. Tomorrow I get to sort out the DART train (commuter train for more outlying routes). I took the tram out to the convention center and the other venue for Worldcon overflow events, then walked back from there to the hotel I'll be staying in for the convention proper. The distances between things are close enough that one can walk between them, but just far enough that it isn't entirely unreasonable to take the tram either. My plan is to aim for as much walking as I can manage to make up for the lovely food.

Despite the weather app showing rain today (and for the next week), it's been warm and sunny so far. (The weather app had convinced me to make the one coat I packed a raincoat. If that act has resulted in fair weather, you may thank me.)

Got back to the hotel and checked in and was grateful for being forewarned that it's a walk-up. This is why I bought a convertable rollaway-backpack. The place used to be a hostel and has evidently only recently been converted to more hotel-like service and acommodations. The decor is...interesting. (The wall behind the bed is covered with deeply tufted cherry-red velvet upholstery. A sort of Victorian bordello look. I will post pictures on facebook.) I have a "single" which is barely bigger than the twin bed, but has en suite facilities. A shower has made me feel more human, but it's going to be a struggle to stay up long enough to reset my internal clock properly. I have deployed the coffee maker in my room to address this issue.

I also have yet to see what effect being located in the Temple Bar area has on nighttime noise levels. (My impression is that it's basically the zone for "tourists who want the full Irish drinking and music experience.") My room doesn't have a window to the street, just a couple of skylights, which may aid in noise buffering. I picked this place in part for the price, but also in part for the "middle of Dublin" experience. So I'm open to the experience. I put out one feeler for a dinner meet-up (generally, not specifically for today), but since I'll need to make an early night of it, I'm not trying very hard for tonight, but hope to find company for most dinners. There's enough of a sprinkling of early arrivers that it's a good exercise in my socializing skills.

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Wednesday, August 7, 2019 - 09:43

Worldcon proper doesn't start for another week, but I'm taking my "extra time" before the convention this time. At the point when I'm writing this, everything is packed, cleaned, organized, set up, checked in, and so forth. (All those little details like "let the credit card holder know I'll be traveling" and "set up the international day-rate plan on my phone" and "remember to withdraw cash for the cat sitter.") And I have hours yet before I have any need to be at the airport--though if you know me at all, you'll know I won't be comfortable until I'm on the other side of security and will head for the airport well in advance of any reasonable need.

Expect random but regular blogs about the trip and convention.

But I have another topic to talk about today. Because, as a well-behaved author, I'm not allowed to talk back to reviews and discussions that have mistaken ideas about my books (this is sparked by a book index website that lists the forthcoming Floodtide as a "contemporary romance"), I thought I might expend some of that frustration in setting up some official FAQs for the series. Now, as is often the case, I'm not going to sit around waiting for people to actually ask particular questions frequently so I can include them, I've drawn up a list that I'm going to answer anyway. Here's my tentative draft so far:

  • Are the Alpennia books romance?
  • Are the Alpennia books historical?
  • Are the Alpennia books SFF?
  • Are the Alpennia books lesfic?
  • Are the Alpennia books YA?
  • What order should I read the Alpennia stories in?
  • Why are there so many points of view? (Expressed variously as: Why are these old characters hanging around? or Why aren’t we getting more of the existing characters’ stories? or Why is the storyline so complex and fragmented? I'll do my best to file off some of the prickles on this one.)
  • How long will the series be?
  • Why are your books so expensive?
  • Will the Alpennia books ever be available in audio?
  • Why can’t I find your books in bookstores?

Can you think of any other questions that fit well under the rubric "frequently asked" that might be worth including? This isn't the place to talk about obscure details of worldbuilding or anything too spoilery. Just the sort of general questions that someone who's either started reading the series, or thinking about reading it, might want answered in advance.

Many of the answers will start out, "It's complicated..." because, of course, it always is.

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Writing Process
Tuesday, August 6, 2019 - 07:00

Between the time between when I established floodtide as a facet of life in Rotenek and now with the book with that title is moving towards publication, the effects of weather fluctuations have become a lot sharper in people's awareness. The massive persistent flooding in the American midwest this year is shocking, but less in the general news than more focused floods due to hurricanes and the like. Technological attempts at long-term flood control in places like the Mississippi basin have not always produced the benefits they promised...or have simply moved the damage from one location to another.

The river's behavior in Floodtide is not entirely natural, but the city treats it as simply part of the natural variation in behavior: unpredictable and to be endured. The engineering controls focus on human behavior. Those in the potential path of a flood--whether because they can't afford a house in the safer parts of town, or because they're willing to trade hazard for the prestige of the Vezenaf--shift their belongings to minimize damage. Those who can afford to do so leave town.

When the river shows signs of rising, you act. You can't wait to see how high it comes. Hence, the public service provided by the floodtide bell. And those who know the river best don't need to wait for that warning. Most years, the precautions are wasted effort, but you can't expect the Rotein to show mercy to the complacent.

The details associated with the floodtide declaration are all my own invention: measuring the rise of the river by the water-steps (which have been nicknamed after the apostles), declaring a flood when the water reaches the feet of the statue of Saint Nikule, and the symbolic declaration of the floodtide holiday when the river doesn't rise that far by wetting the statue's feet. They all feel like the sort of hybrid folk-civic-religious rituals that arise over the centuries.

It's facile to say that if a place has regular disastrous flooding, maybe you shouldn't put human habitations there, but habitability has always been hopelessly entwined with bodies of water. The placement of New Orleans at the mouth of the Mississippi river wasn't an unfortunate oversight--the river was what made the city exist. Much closer to me, personally, the Sacramento river has seasonal flooding due to Sierra snowmelt that is mitigated by the use of reserved floodplains (no building allowed) and an extensive levee system in the agricultural areas of the delta. I used that familiarity for some of the "emotional truth" of my stories, but throughout Europe, major cities have always risen up on significant rivers, whether large enough for navigation or simply for water supply. And that has always made them vulnerable to periodic flooding. I have a research folder of images of floods in older European cities to use for reference and inspiration when visualizing the effects in Rotenek.

* * *

[Liv] pushed off and prayed to Mama Rota as she kissed the river. Then she made a face and tasted the water again. Instead of keeping close to the edge, Liv pulled out into the middle of the river like she meant to cross or to catch the current to go all the way down to Urmai. Liv pulled one oar in and let us drift briefly as she dipped her hand in the water and brought it up to taste again.

“It’s coming,” she said. “Don’t know how high or how long, but it’s coming.”

“Floodtide?” I asked.

She nodded as she put the second oar back in the water and angled back toward the north bank again.

People were muttering about it in the Nikuleplaiz over the next few days. The rivermen had seen the signs in a streak of color toward the middle of the current. Mefro Dominique took Liv’s word and rather than sewing, we spent two days carrying all the stock upstairs from the workroom.

“It isn’t often the water rises high enough to fill the streets,” Mefro Dominique said. “It’s only happened three times while I’ve lived here. But if it does, we won’t have time to move things.”

So the fine fabrics were tied into bundles and carried up to the bedroom. The baskets of ribbons followed them, and the printed magazines with their fashion plates and anything else the water might spoil, until the upstairs rooms were stuffed like a warehouse and the downstairs was bare except for the worktable and the dresses we were sewing.

The muddy streak in the middle of the river grew wider and the river crept up one step toward the statue of Saint Nikule then part of another. Three days went by without the water rising farther. Whoever it was that decided to declare floodtide must have figured it was all we’d get, so Father Mazzu went down to the edge of the steps and dipped a bronze bucket on a little chain into the water, then took and poured it over the saint’s feet.

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Monday, August 5, 2019 - 07:00

This is a rather delightful analysis that puts a different interpretation on the motif of “Christ as bridegroom” for virgin saints. I like the idea of Katherine as simply resisting marriage in general as unnecessary and only belatedly realizing that holy virginity was a tool she could employ to that end. Or rather, that this interpretation could be developed by medieval writers in the context of popularizing marriage resistance outside the convent. I rather like that there is room in this medieval text for the idea that a woman could be whole and complete and a participant in society without the need for marriage--indeed, viewing a husband as superfluous. To be fair, the Saint Katherine of this version of her legend is depicted with a sort of "wink wink, she's actually having a premonition of Christ" but within the story-context, her attitude is, "Eh, men, who needs them?" And whether or not the author felt that Christ-free singlehood was truly a viable option, it's a concept and a motif that was presented to the audience with the expectation that they wouldn't find it unbelievable. (Or at least, not more unbelievable than any of the other things one finds in saints' biographies.)

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Full citation: 

Price, Paul. 2003. “I Want to Be Alone: The Single Woman in Fifteenth-Century Legends of St. Katherine of Alexandria” in The Single Woman in Medieval and Early Modern England: Her Life and Representation, ed. by Laurel Amtower and Dorothea Kehler. Arizona Center for Medieval and Renaissance Studies, Tempe. ISBN 0-06698-306-6

Publication summary: 

A collection of articles on the general topic of how single women are represented in history and literature in medieval and early modern England. Not all of the articles are clearly relevant to the LHMP but I have included all the contents.

The legend of the virgin martyr Katherine of Alexandria became immensely popular in the 14-15th century. It presents the fairly standard story of the Christian daughter of a pagan ruler who resists marriage and supports the Christian community despite increasingly violent threats and punishments. With her increased popularity in the later middle ages, there is a shift from the tone of the earlier texts as “passio” (focused on suffering and martyrdom) to a more detailed “life story” (focusing on the details and context of the subject’s life).

Unlike legends of virgin martyrs who resist marriage after--and due to--converting to Christianity, Katherine is still pagan when she initially resists marriage. She is not resisting as a “bride of Christ” who is therefore unavailable to an earthly bridegroom (which stories omit singlehood as an option) but rather because she sees no need to marry in order to be an effective ruler to her people. She envisions the perfect husband who might overcome her objections but only as a hypothetical impossibility (not recognizing that she is describing Christ). Thus, her legend creates a transition between “bride of Christ” as the only alternative to marriage, and singlehood for its own sake.

This theme is even more developed in John Capgrove’s version of the biography (mid 15th century) which focuses on individual and personal details of Katherine’s life and the reasons for her choice of singlehood. He depicts Katherine as expressing a desire for a single vocation apart from a focused dedication to Christ. Capgrove’s Kathering uses the idea of the “perfect man” whom she’d be willing to marry as a rejection of marriage, not a premonition of Christ.

Price considers the question of why a text with this angle should become particularly popular in 15th century England. He suggests it is part of a trend for lay people, and especially lay women, taking ownership of their religious lives. Price provides as supporting evidence other works by Capgrove that are clearly designed and intended for a female patron and reader. There is a shift in women viewing religious life as requiring rejection of the world to including religious devotion as part of a secular life. There is a comparison to anchorites (religious recluses not part of a convent community) who reject the model of religious devotion as a “bride of Christ” and for whom a broader set of options and motivations are considered valid.

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Saturday, August 3, 2019 - 07:00

Lesbian Historic Motif Podcast - Episode 37a - On the Shelf for August 2019 - Transcript

(Originally aired 2019/08/03 - listen here)

Welcome to On the Shelf for August 2019.

Setting up the blog and podcast for August is being a bit more chaotic than usual as I'll be off in Ireland for two weeks in the middle of the month to attend Worldcon -- the World Science Fiction Convention -- in Dublin, with a bit of sightseeing and visiting along the way. If, by some chance, you also happen to be attending Worldcon, I'd love it if you track me down to say hi and let me know that you listen to the podcast. In fact, I'm scheduled to be on a panel discussion about podcasting as well as a couple other programming items.

That's not the only item complicating my life at the moment because I've also gotten the edits for my next novel Floodtide, so I'll be adding revisions into the schedule for this month. Floodtide will be coming out in November, so expect me to take shameless advantage of this podcast and boost it a bit as the date approaches. I'd only just barely started this podcast when my last novel came out and didn't have space in the format for book promotion.

And because I'm not multi-tasking well or tracking calendars carefully, I got blindsided by the due date to get the next story set up for the fiction series. Last year all the fifth Saturdays were evenly distributed at three month intervals, but the fact that this year there was only two months between the June story and the August one took me by surprise.

And speaking of the fiction series, keep thinking about next year's fiction series for the podcast. As I announced last month, we're opening it up a little to include stories with certain types of fantasy elements. See the call for submissions for more explanation. And because of that "calendar creep" thing, I'll buy looking to buy five stories this time because there will be an open slot in January 2021 and I won't have time to fill it with a January submission period that year. Now that's looking far ahead! I really enjoy helping bring new lesbian historical fiction into the world. I hope you're enjoying listen to it just as much!

Publications on the Blog

In July, the Lesbian Historic Motif Project blog covered several publications I picked up at the Kalamazoo medieval conference, finishing up with a book I bought several years ago, Daughters of London: Inheriting Opportunity in the Late Middle Ages by Kate Kelsey Staples. Although I hadn't originally intended it as a book for the blog, the subject--daughters' inheritances and financial expectations in medieval London--contributed to last month's essay on the lives of unmarried women. I'm continuing that theme in August by working through the papers in a collection titled The Single Woman in Medieval and Early Modern England: Her Life and Representation. That collection will take me into early September.

Book Shopping!

There are books that I don't necessarily expect to find much new material in, but that might be useful to point out to readers of the blog. I picked up The History of Sexuality in Europe: A Sourcebook and Reader for that reason and will add it to the growing stack of general purpose books that I need to review. I ordered another rather exciting looking book Invisible Agents about female spies in 17th century England. I suppose it might have tie-in potential since I expect that it will include Aphra Behn, but mostly I bought it as background research for a future fiction project.

Author Guest

This month’s author guest will be Penny Mickelbury, talking to us about her new historical novel Two Wings to Fly Away.


I haven't decided on an essay topic for August yet. At the moment, I'm still drafting the show that came out last week. (Time is getting tangled as I write this.) So it will be a surprise--maybe even a surprise to me!


But the month will end with our next fiction episode: "The Black Handkerchief" by Gwen C. Katz.

Recent Lesbian Historical Fiction

Now for the recent, new, and forthcoming lesbian-relevant historical fiction list! As usual, I'll begin with catching up on a few titles I missed in the last couple of months' releases.

June books included a couple of cross-time stories--my term for any book that blends events in multiple eras. The Pages of Adeena by C. M. Castillo from iUniverse starts out in the mid-20th century, but it isn't clear that it stays there.

It’s the summer of 1952, and Adeena “Addie” Kahlo loves her life in Chicago, where she helps run her close-knit family’s nightclub on the south side. But Addie has a dream that she is determined to make a reality; attending college in New York and becoming a published author. Through a blind date, she meets Alan, who becomes her best friend and closest confidant. They share a secret that they can never divulge. Together, they discover a door that opens to a magical place that leads to other worlds and to times past and future; Cafe du Temp, a nightclub like no other. At Cafe du Temp they listen to soulful jazz, drink fancy cocktails, and slowly begin to understand that its opulent and stunning ambience means something unique and special to each person who enters its doors. It’s here, in this strange and elegant place, where Addie meets and falls in love with the beautiful poet, Isabelle Androsko. Their chemistry is immediate and powerful. Despite this, they soon discover that their vastly different worlds pose near impossible obstacles to the life they want to build together. Addie believes that the mysterious Cafe du Temp, and its serendipitous existence in their lives, is the catalyst to their future, but can this belief transcend time and heartbreak to bring her to her ultimate destiny?

Another book that weaves together lives in different eras is Jobyna's Blues by Jane Alden from Desert Palm Press.

Jobyna’s Blues is a multi-generational love story, set in post-WWI American South and flashing forward to the mid-1960’s in New York City and London.  In 1924, Jobyna, the Empress of the Blues, and Lily, a dancer in her chorus line, fall in love as they travel in a custom train car and play to adoring crowds in theaters from Nashville to New Orleans to Mobile. Life is both exciting and dangerous in the young country, only sixty years past the Civil War. Looking forward to the mid-1960’s, Jobie Greene, a folk singer in Greenwich Village, meets the charismatic English pop star, Deedee. They struggle to manage their long-distance relationship and their careers against a backdrop of social change.  The connections between the love stories and the women’s challenges and triumphs, as they echo through time, keep us surprised and challenged and rooting for their happy endings.

Paris for Two: Til Death Do We Part by Dolores Maggiore from Sapphire Books looks like a mash-up between a schoolgirl romance, a travelogue, and a thriller. Honestly, I'm not sure how to categorize it from the cover copy.

As eighteen-year-olds Pina Mazzini and Katie McGuilvry speed ahead toward graduation from Albert Academy and the natural evolution of their relationship, Pina flees to Paris to escape the demands of moving on with her life and possibly away from Katie. Pina’s burning desire to hang on to Katie and the status quo traps her in the past along with Europe’s seductive antiquities. Does she imagine the haunting return of Craney and her death threats? How toxic is her anxiety over getting on with her life?  Katie and old friends from Albert Academy, along with a cadre of quirky spiritual guides, join Pina on this psychologically thrilling voyage for answers throughout France, Germany, and Italy. Foremost on Pina’s mind: Will her relationship with Katie survive her great escape? More importantly for all, will the eerie lure of Craney and the past swallow Pina up psychologically—or in her entirety?

Amy Selvidge's self-published The Snow Queen is a fictionalized story of a real historic person from the 17th century who was reputed to have same-sex relationships.

Queen Christina of Sweden was raised to be strong, unyielding, and powerful. Her desires and personal curiosities drove her to make increasingly outrageous decisions creating a whirlwind in Europe. Follow her exploits in this powerful historical fiction based on real events in her life.

The next two books, from July and then starting on the August titles, are also fictionalized accounts of historic women. I wouldn't be surprised if this next book, The Moss House by Clara Barley (from Bluemoose Books), is only the start of a flood of Anne Lister fiction.

In the mid 19th century, neighbouring landowners Anne Lister and Ann Walker find their lives entwined in a passionate, forbidden relationship, but the world isn't ready for Anne Lister, the larger than life scholar, traveller, mountaineer and lesbian.

Valerie: or, the Faculty of Dreams by Sara Stridsberg (translated by Deborah Bragan-Turner) published by Farrar, Straus and Giroux dramatizes a story out of sensational entertainment news of the '80s. Not your usual feel-good lesbian fiction fare but a powerful and painful story.

In April 1988, Valerie Solanas—the writer, radical feminist, and would-be assassin of Andy Warhol—was discovered dead at fifty-two in her hotel room, in a grimy corner of San Francisco, alone, penniless, and surrounded by the typed pages of her last writings. In Valerie, Sara Stridsberg revisits the hotel room where Solanas died; the courtroom where she was tried and convicted of attempting to murder Andy Warhol; the Georgia wastelands where she spent her childhood, where she was repeatedly raped by her father and beaten by her alcoholic grandfather; and the mental hospitals where she was shut away. Through imagined conversations and monologues, reminiscences and rantings, Stridsberg reconstructs this most intriguing and enigmatic of women, articulating the thoughts and fears that she struggled to express in life and giving a powerful, heartbreaking voice to the writer of the infamous SCUM Manifesto.

From a similar era, though more solidly fictional, comes Chelsey Engel's A Summer of Fever and Freedom from Labor of Love Communications.

At eighteen years old, Jane is teetering on the cusp of womanhood, a rite of passage complicated and painful for even the most stable of hearts. For Jane, who is anxiously awaiting her brother’s return from the war in Vietnam, the heavy journey is cracking her already fragile foundation. When she attends a party in Greenwich Village and meets twenty-three-year-old gay rights and anti-war activist Maria, the ground threatens to crumble completely under the weight of unexpected infatuation and desire. Maria has been on her own for years since her mother kicked her out in high school. The activist and writer has had to erect a fierce shield around her heart in order to navigate a world actively fighting against her humanity, and she certainly doesn’t expect the quiet, bookish Jane to tug at those defenses. Maria is sent for a rare tailspin when the walls break just as she prepares for a major life transition that leaves her and Jane at a vulnerable crossroads. From Beatnik cafes and student protests to the Stonewall Riots and Woodstock, Jane and Maria explore the bustle and beauty of New York in the summer of 1969 while exploring their friendship, as well as their own hearts. As the heated season nears its end, the young women are forced to make monumental decisions and come to terms with realities neither of them wishes to face, ones that will shape them for the rest of their lives.

And for a rather complete change of pace, we have a light-hearted Regency Romance: A Little Light Mischief by Cat Sebastian from Harper Collins.

A seductive thief. Lady’s maid Molly Wilkins is done with thieving—and cheating and stabbing and all the rest of it. She’s determined to keep her hands to herself, so she really shouldn’t be tempted to seduce her employer’s prim and proper companion, Alice. But how can she resist when Alice can’t seem to keep her eyes off Molly? Finds her own heart. For the first time in her life, Alice Stapleton has absolutely nothing to do. The only thing that seems to occupy her thoughts is a lady’s maid with a sharp tongue and a beautiful mouth. Her determination to know Molly’s secrets has her behaving in ways she never imagined as she begins to fall for the impertinent woman. Has been stolen. When an unwelcome specter from Alice’s past shows up unexpectedly at a house party, Molly volunteers to help the only way she knows how: with a little bit of mischief.

Back to the first half of the 20th century for the last two books.

The Ventriloquists by E.R. Ramzipoor from Park Row doesn't give any indication of character sexuality in the cover copy. But the author says, "My debut is WWII fiction featuring a badass lesbian smuggler and her equally badass partner, who pull off the most elaborate feat of satire in modern history. It’s based on a true story."

Brussels, 1943. Twelve-year-old street orphan Helene survives by living as a boy and selling copies of the country’s most popular newspaper, Le Soir, now turned into Nazi propaganda. Helene’s entire world changes when she befriends a rogue journalist, Marc Aubrion, who draws her into a secret network publishing dissident underground newspapers. Aubrion’s unbridled creativity and linguistic genius attract the attention of August Wolff, a high-ranking Nazi official tasked with swaying public opinion against the Allies. Wolff captures Aubrion and his comrades and gives them an impossible choice: use the newspaper to paint the Allies as monsters, or be killed. Faced with no decision at all, Aubrion has a brilliant idea: they will pretend to do the Nazis’ bidding, but instead they will publish a fake edition of Le Soir that pokes fun at Hitler and Stalin—giving power back to the Belgians by daring to laugh in the face of their oppressors. The ventriloquists have agreed to die for a joke, and they have only eighteen days to tell it. Told with dazzling scope, taut prose and devastating emotion, The Ventriloquists illuminates the extraordinary acts of courage by ordinary people forgotten by history—unlikely heroes who went to extreme lengths to orchestrate the most stunning feat of journalism in modern history.

And we finish with Heroine of Her Own Life by Constance Emmett from Creativia.

In early 20th century Belfast, working class Meg Preston struggles to accept her own sexuality and yearns for forbidden love. Battling the customs and hardships of their time, Meg pursues a relationship with her childhood friend, Lillian Watson. But soon, tribulations of war, violence, and emigration threaten to tear everything apart. Seeking refuge for herself, her love, and her family, can Meg find the courage to become the heroine of her own life?

These lists are cobbled together from publisher listings, Amazon keyword searches, and word of mouth. If you have, or know of, a forthcoming book that would fit with the theme of this podcast, drop me a note to make sure I don't overlook it.

What Am I Reading?

And what have I been reading since the last On the Shelf show? I finished up Theodora Goss's European Travel for the Monstrous Gentlewoman, a fantasy about the daughters of various 19th century gothic novel protagonists forming a "found family" and having adventures in pursuit of their origins and to rescue new recruits. There was a minor background lesbian motif when the title character from Sheridan LeFanu's vampire novel Carmilla makes an appearance. The book I'm now in the middle of is Two Wings to Fly Away by this month's author guest, Penny Mickelbury. I'm way behind on reviewing the books I've read this year and keep hoping I'll have time to catch up, but somehow it never comes. And now that the tv series Gentleman Jack is available through iTunes, I have another distraction, though I'm virtuously ignoring the fact that it's now sitting on my computer while I get other things done.

What are you reading these days in lesbian history?

Lists and Links

  • Recent and upcoming publications covered on the blog
    • Staples, Kate Kelsey. 2011. Daughters of London: Inheriting Opportunity in the Late Middle Ages. Brill, Leiden. ISBN 978-9004203112
    • Amtower, Laurel and Dorothea Kehler (eds). 2003. The Single Woman in Medieval and Early Modern England: Her Life and Representation. Arizona Center for Medieval and Renaissance Studies, Tempe. ISBN 0-06698-306-6
    • Clark, Anna (ed). 2011. The History of Sexuality in Europe: A Sourcebook and Reader. New York: Routledge.
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Thursday, August 1, 2019 - 21:30

I finally--finally!--received the last shipment of books I bought at Kalamazoo. This is the bunch from the University of Toronto Press. It seems that, despite me having filled in my credit card information on the order form, they were waiting for me to tell them where to send an invoice. Invoice, hah! So it wasn't until I emailed asking what had happened that they actually worked on filling the order. So what did I buy? Unusually, all four books are for my "history of magic and mysticism" shelf. The place I go to get inspiration for the magical elements in my fiction.

Rampton, Martha (ed). 2018. European Magic and Witchcraft: A Reader. University of Toronto Press, Toronto. ISBN 978-1-4426-3420-6

A collection of primary sources (in translation) about magic and witchcraft, including a significant proportion of "users manuals".

Giles, Ryan D. 2017. Inscribed Power: Amulets and Magic in Early Spanish Literature. University of Toronto Press, Toronto. ISBN 978-1-4420-4607-0

A study of "word magic" and how the magical power of words used in amulets is then echoed in literary texts that describe those objects. What did written amulets mean to people, whether used directly or written about?

Page, Sophie. 2002. Astrology in Medieval Manuscripts. University of Toronto Press, Toronto. ISBN 978-1-4875-0295-9

Page, Sophie. 2002. Magic in Medieval Manuscripts. University of Toronto Press, Toronto. ISBN 978-1-4875-0294-2

These are both in a series of small "art books" presenting and discussing images on a particular theme.

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Wednesday, July 31, 2019 - 07:00

Every once in a while, you find people in history almost stumbling across some fairly radical ideas. In this case, the use of women’s resistance to marriage as a symbol of resistance to unwanted control and authority in general. Alas, the men using the analogy never quite take the last step. Further, there is a double-edged sword in the idea that the only approved alternative to heterosexual marriage is marriage to the church. As I mentioned on Monday, I'm adding in this extra entry this week to make up for the fairly content-free introduction chapter.

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Full citation: 

Zatta, Jane. 2003. “The Single Woman as Saint: Three Anglo-Norman Success Stories” in The Single Woman in Medieval and Early Modern England: Her Life and Representation, ed. by Laurel Amtower and Dorothea Kehler. Arizona Center for Medieval and Renaissance Studies, Tempe. ISBN 0-06698-306-6

Publication summary: 

A collection of articles on the general topic of how single women are represented in history and literature in medieval and early modern England. Not all of the articles are clearly relevant to the LHMP but I have included all the contents.

This paper looks at three female Anglo-Saxon saints, as depicted in Anglo-Norman hagiography: Osith, Etheldreda, and Modwenna. The women are doubly “other” within the texts: Anglo-Saxon lives being portrayed for a readership of Norman churchmen, and women being portrayed by and for men.

Their lives as singlewomen are significant for their temporal proximity to the audience (as compared with legends of early female saints such as Catherine and Margaret). But they’re also interesting in how these women are used to protect the claims of their associated monastic houses against the Norman religious establishment. There is a focus on their intellectual succesion: the Anglo-Saxon religious houses as the establishers of Christianity in Britain. These biographies are used to justify the legal privileges of their houses as pre-existing the Anglo-Noman church and therefore not being subject to its control. The women’s symbolic exemption from the normative female role was used to support the institution’s exemption from external control.

Of the three women, two marry and one is a “career virgin” but both of the married women resist the married state and win their freedom to serve God instead. Unlike the classical virgin martyrs who are obliterated physically by their moral victory, these women are successful socially as well as morally and live fulfilled lives of religious devotion.

The paper provides details of the manuscripts and their texts. In contrast to earlier Anglo-Saxon versions of their hagiography, which presented religious and secular lives as incompatible, the Anglo-Norman versions of the biographies use the structure of virgin saints’ lives to advance socio-political goals. In the process, the women are shown resisting male authority using “feminine” means that traditionally would be framed more negatively. The details of the biographies are interesting but not germane to the LHMP.

Summary: each finds a strategy to resist marriage (or the duties of marriage) and emerge successfully as a virgin-by-choice established in a religious life. This struggle and success is then presented as an analogy for attempts by Norman religious and secular authorities to claim power over the religious houses that they founded.

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Tuesday, July 30, 2019 - 07:00

Since last week's teaser, the editorial revisions on Floodtide have been completed--the quickest and most painfree editing process I've ever experienced! It'll be nice not to have that hanging over me during my upcoming travel to Worldcon.

I'm not going to lie: I love to embed intellectual "Easter eggs" in my stories that may pass under the radar of 90% of my readers and only be fully appreciated by maybe 1%. I never want anyone to feel excluded by those hidden treats, but I do want to reward close attention and familiarity.

I think I mentioned in a previous teaser that at one point in the plot noodling for Daughter of Mystery I had a vision of my characters winding through underground passages that had fallen out of the awareness of most citizens of Rotenek. The episode ended up not fitting into that book, but it was part of my background vision of the city and at some point I realized it had a role to play in the eventual concluding book. But that meant laying down the groundwork well before that point.

When I needed some sort of "hidden resource" as a MacGuffin in Floodtide, given that I was already thinking in terms of water symbolism, the thought of a long-lost spring somewhere under the city felt promising. An ancient fountain that had been covered over by the changing needs of city planning--not a deliberate secret, just forgotten and unused.

It made complete sense for that hidden spring to provide the reader with backstory for the legend of Saint Rota and a key to her origins. As I mentioned in the teaser about river deities, Rota was originally the local water goddess or the Rotein river. (People may have guessed that the Rotein is a sort of parallel development of the Rhone. Not the Alpennian name of the real-world Rhone, but a fictional duplicate of the river with a different course.) She might have managed to linger in popular imagination purely by oral tradition, but what if there had once been concrete evidence of her existence available for reinterpretation and adaptation as a Christian saint?

* * *

At the top of the steps a fountain stood against the wall. The fountain didn’t look like much: just a half-round base about six foot across. Behind it, on the wall, was a carving with a picture of a woman and writing scattered around her. Below the woman, water tumbled out of a hole into the basin. There was another spout at the front where it spilled down a channel cut into the middle of the stone steps and into the chanulez. I would have thought the water would be green and slimy without anyone to clean the fountain, but it was clear enough to drink.


“Who is she?” Celeste asked, looking up from the water in the basin to the carved stone behind it.

In some ways, the lantern made it harder to see, because of all the shadows it threw off. You could tell the stone was supposed to be a lady with a long flowing dress. It wasn’t a very good statue, though. I don’t think they’d have paid a sculptor like that to do saints in the cathedral. Maybe it had been better at first but the stone had worn away. You could tell she was holding a branch of something in her hand. And there was something round near her feet—maybe some sort of beast—but I couldn’t tell what it was any more.

You could still read the letters, though. Maisetra Iulien leaned closely with the lantern and started reading them out one at a time. “R…O…D…A…D…E…D…”

“No,” said Mesner Aukustin and took the lantern from her again to go around the other side of the fountain. “It’s an old Roman stone. I’ve seen some like it in Akolbin. You read it all the way across. RODANAE DED…and then MA— The rest is too faint to see. Chautovil would know how to read it. He thinks I should study the ancient Romans more. But Rodanae is a name—Rodana—and Ma-something, that would be the man who set up the stone.”

“Rodana?” Celeste said wonderingly. She whispered, “Mama Rota?” And then more loudly. “It’s Saint Rota. It must be. When people talk about water from Saint Rota’s well they usually just mean the river. But it’s a real well. A real well that flows into the river.” Her eyes followed the flow of water from the rim of the basin down to where it led into the chanulez.

“Are you sure?” Maisetra Iulien asked.

Celeste made a quiet noise. I could tell she thought it was a silly question but didn’t dare say so to a maisetra.

“It’s a holy well. My eyes can tell me that.”

* * *

And of course I spent entirely too much time researching exactly what the Roman dedicatory inscription to a river goddess would look like. The inscriptions were frustratingly compact for standard formulas. I've given the readers more of a hint with the partial "DED..." (for "dedit" or "dedicavit") where a real inscription would probably just have "D". And while the partial name of the person who set up the inscription (MA...) could be many things, I've allowed for the (erroneous) guess that it might be Mauritius, the region's patron saint.

I envision the plaque layout something like this, with X's where the image is, and unreadable or omitted letters in brackets:

MA[??] XXXXXX [????]

This isn't the first time I've played around with ambiguous inscriptions, of course. Tanfrit's gravestone was rather fun to design as well, and it still has some secrets to tell that will keep until I tell her story.

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