(Originally aired 2018/04/21 - listen here)
Heather Rose Jones: This month, we have a special guest for the book appreciation segment. Liz Bourke is an Irish book reviewer and critic who writes regularly for science fiction and fantasy sites such as Tor-dot-com and Locus magazine. Just last year, she had a collection of some of her critical essays published as Sleeping with Monsters, from Aqueduct Press. Liz has a deep and intense hunger for good lesbian genre fiction, so I invited her onto the show to talk about some of her favorite lesbian historical fiction. Liz, it’s lovely to have you on the show.
Liz Bourke: Thank you for having me, though I should like to include a correction. It’s not necessarily lesbians only that I’m interested in. As a bisexual woman myself, I’m interested in all variety of queer female experience.
H: I’m sorry for the shorthand there; I tend to condense it down.
L: I know, it’s easier to just bung it up, but I come across the sort of bisexual erasure thing a lot, so—
H: Yes, thank you very much for correcting me.
L: So, yes. So, historical fiction with queer women in it. Well, you know what? It’s very fortunate today because I have just come across, in fact, just finished reading a book about—a very interesting historical called The Covert Captain by Jeannelle Ferreira.
H: Oh, you finished that one already?
L: I have. I probably am pronouncing the name wrong, but—let me just bring up the description here, so’s I can remember the characters’ names, because I’m not really that great at names unless I’ve got them in front of me. So, it’s a book about a woman who—a pair of women, one of whom has disguised herself as her dead brother and gone to the wars and spent, like, twelve years in the army. She’s a veteran of Waterloo. And now she’s staying with her commanding officer in his country house because he’s an earl, and she meets his spinster sister, who’s 28 years old, never married, and not really all that interested in getting married either because her three older sisters died in childbirth. Nathaniel, who’s the army veteran captain woman, whose original name was Nora, finds herself having a little courtship with Harriet. Of course, the problem is that Harriet doesn’t know Nathaniel’s not who he seems to be, and Nathaniel doesn’t exactly know whether or not Harriet’s going to be open to finding that out.
L: When they do find things out, there is quite a bit of a blow-up.
L: Including dueling.
H: I will wait and be surprised by who is dueling whom.
L: Yes, no spoilers. But it’s, I mean, it’s—as a historical it’s really well written, and it’s quite short. It’s a little distanced in that at the beginning it takes a little bit of time to kick into gear, and there’s sometimes a little bit of confusion because Nathaniel has post-traumatic stress—kind of flashbacks to the battles—so sometimes things are a little bit confusing in terms of the timeline. But once it gets started, I mean, it’s really hard to put down, and it’s probably—apart from your own work—one of the best examples of historical fiction with queer women in it that I’ve come across so far.
H: I’m really looking forward to reading that one. I’m not sure I’m going to survive waiting until the iBooks version is available. It’s only out on Amazon now, I guess.
L: I know, that’s a pain in the ass. I ordered it.
H: Well, people do what they need to do.
H: I’m actually thinking of doing a special show on Regency settings for queer women’s historical fiction because I think I’ve got enough titles to actually make a thematic show about it.
L: That probably—I mean, that sounds like fun to me. The other sort of historical that’s been on my mind recently, because I just read the novella sequel to it, is Elizabeth Bear’s Karen Memory, and the novella sequel to that is “Stone Mad.” And “Stone Mad” is—I mean, I’ve written a review of it for Tor-dot-com, so—I really liked it. It’s a sort of steampunk historical setting in the Northwest, sort of Pacific area of America. And “Stone Mad” is basically about what happens after you’ve started a relationship with someone but before you’ve worked out all the kinks in how you’re going to live your life together and what it means to be essentially married, and what happens when you break someone’s trust.
H: Yeah, how do you weave that relationship to last.
L: And how you work on sort of fitting in with each other. So, Karen and Priya—Karen—there’s a line where Karen says that her lover and partner Priya should tell her that you’ve done fucked up good this time, Karen, and well, she did. She has to figure out how to come back from it. And that’s while there’s a hotel falling down around their ears, a pair of sisters who are probably charlatans, a woman—the widow of a famous magic act, and a tommyknocker who’s got quite a grudge against staying in the hotel. But the main sort of thematic part of this novella is Karen and Priya, and trust and family.
H: Yeah, that strikes me as a good place to take those characters because Karen always struck me as—you know, she’s used to sort of bowling her way through and taking charge, and surviving, because, you know, she isn’t worrying too much about other people’s feelings in it. And yeah, that—
L: Yep, she’s too used to being on her own, and she has to figure out that now her actions aren’t just for her anymore.
H: Uh huh.
L: Which is sort of an interesting—I mean, it’s very seldom that you sort of get established relationships that have to work out things within it.
H: Uh huh. So, how about any older books that have really stuck with you over the years?
L: Oh—to be honest, you know, I only really started reading specifically genre queer women stuff in the last few years, so I’m not really sure I have any sort of idea of what the older stuff is.
H: Okay. I guess you’ve been talking about it—about queer genre fiction—since I’ve started knowing you, pretty much, so I assumed it was a long-term love.
L: No, you probably came across me just after I started discovering that I liked it, so…. It’s only been four or five years, so—
H: That’s true.
L: So yeah, that’s—there’s nothing really older than that. Well, nothing that I know that’s older than that, because I would’ve read it in the last four or five years, really. So, I’ve really—the way my reading goes, I could really only keep up with new stuff at this point in time because of the sort of reviewing schedule. If I can’t fit it into a review or a column, it really tends not to get read—well, if I can’t sort of see the potential for fitting it into a review or a column, it really tends not to get read so much.
H: Yeah, that’s the problem with trying to combine reading for pleasure and reading as a profession.
L: It is just a little bit of a problem, yes, just a very small one. I mean, I do not want to complain at all because it’s an enormous privilege to be able to read as much as I do and essentially to get quite a lot of books sent as publicity copies, but— Yeah, trying to catch up with the backlists, any backlist from a few years ago is—I kind of have to try and carve out space for that. The other fun historical book that I’ve read and that’s stuck in my mind recently is a book by an author with only one name, Jae, called Shaken to the Core, which is about a relationship that starts around the time of the San Francisco earthquake and has—[it] goes through that. It’s quite good about depicting the entire sort of city being on fire sort of thing, and a couple of women who are quite different but find each other anyway.
H: Yeah, for some reason the San Francisco quake seems to be a popular setting for lesbian romance. I’m not sure why.
L: Well, I suppose it’s easy to find information about it. And it’s modern enough that I guess people feel it’s relatable.
H: True. Thank you for sharing some of your favorite historicals, Liz. I know you’ve been working on some fiction of your own, but I won’t ask you to, like, to divulge anything about that. I hope someday I can have you back for an author interview as well. But in the meantime, where can people follow you online if they want to check out your reviews and essays?
L: Well, I’m on Twitter as @hawkwing_lb, and you can find my reviews and essays in Locus magazine and on Tor-dot-com, as well as occasionally on my Patreon, which you can find basically by searching my name on Patreon.
H: I’ll include those links in the show notes along with links to all the books you mentioned. So, thank you again for joining us.
L: Thank you for having me, Heather. It’s been fun.
In the Book Appreciation segments, our featured guest (or your host) will talk about one or more favorite books with queer female characters in a historic setting.
In this episode reviewer Liz Bourke recommends some favorite queer historical novels:
A transcript of this podcast may be available here. (Transcripts added when available.)
Links to the Lesbian Historic Motif Project Online
Links to Heather Online
Links to Liz Bourke Online