(Originally aired 2020/11/07 - listen here)
Welcome to On the Shelf for November 2020.
What Did I Wake Up To?
Such is the timing of podcast recording that I have no idea how to introduce this show. And, of course, I’m showing my American focus here, but it’s what I’m immersed in. Am I giving a deep sigh of relief as we start the hard work of reclaiming the soul of our nation? Am I reeling with the same stunned shock I felt four years ago? Am I biting my fingernails to the bone still waiting for a resolution? Whichever it is, one of my small parts in the struggle is to keep putting out queer content.
The New Podcast Site
Setting all that aside as unknowable at this point, the big new thing for the Lesbian Historic Motif Podcast is the move to our new independent site. All the existing content has been moved over, so it won’t be lost when TLT shuts down. Starting two episodes back, the new shows have been released real-time in parallel on both the TLT channel and the new LHMP channel. You should be able to subscribe directly through almost any popular podcatcher app. And I’d like to urge you to do that: subscribe. Especially if you were a subscriber to TLT previously and enjoyed the show.
It’s easy for details to fall through the cracks during a transition like this. I don’t want you scratching your head months from now thinking, “Huh, I wonder why the Lesbian Historic Motif Podcast hasn’t released any new episodes for a while?” I don’t do this show for the money. (There isn’t any.) I don’t do it for the fame and glory. (Well, ok, maybe just a little bit for the fame and glory.) I do it to share my love of queer history and my love of sapphic historical fiction with all of you out there. And one of the few concrete metrics I have for knowing that I’ve succeeded is those podcast listener numbers.
So right now, if you’re listening to the TLT version of this episode, put the show on pause, go to your podcatcher’s search function and plug in “Lesbian Historic Motif Podcast”, or follow the link in the show notes that says “new podcast distribution links,” and add the new show to your feed. And if you’re already listening to the independent show, thank you! And tell a friend about us.
Just to remind you, in January we’ll be changing the schedule a little to two shows per month, plus the quarterly fiction episodes. The On the Shelf show will still be a magazine format with news of the field, new book listings, but now the interviews and book appreciation lists will be included in that show as well and the content may vary from month to month. The essay shows will be just as before, with discussions of people, topics, and themes from history, or sometimes more analytic pieces on the process of researching, envisioning, and writing queer historical fiction.
As always, if you have a topic or a guest you’d love to hear, or if you’d like to appear on the show either as an author or as a reader, or if you have or know about a book you think should be included in our new release listings, please don’t hesitate to reach out and contact the show. It’s one of the best ways you can let us know we’re providing content you enjoy.
I’m always looking for new ways to expand engagement with the Lesbian Historic Motif Project as a whole. We have our own Twitter feed now, and if you’re interested in becoming part of the LHMP / Alpennia community, contact us for an invitation to our Discord. I’m looking forward to doing some live events there, and we have a 200th episode birthday coming up in May that would be a great excuse.
And don’t forget about the submissions period for the 2021 fiction series, coming up in January. You still have lots of time to polish up a short story for consideration.
Publications on the Blog
The Lesbian Historic Motif Project blog started October with a bonus book that was a footnote in Betty Rizzo’s Companions Without Vows: Relationships among Eighteenth-Century British Women. Rizzo mentioned two women frequenting lesbian bordellos in 18th century London, as mentioned in E.J. Burford’sWits, Wenchers and Wantons – London’s Low Life: Covent Garden in the Eighteenth Century.
That sounded intriguing enough that I tracked down the book and winkled out all its references to female homosexuality. Then I spent another blog tracing down further historical information about the women who were mentioned in Burford. I have yet to find a solid historical reference for anything resembling a lesbian bordello in this material, but there was certainly a lot of gossip recorded about various women, both aristocrats and actresses, whose lovers included both men and women.
It’s an interesting exercise in trying to trace down the known facts behind what often turns out to be a game of historical telephone, where offhand comments get exaggerated or reinterpreted and turned into far more serious claims than the original evidence supports. But I was able to determine that if you want to explore rumors of which 18th century society women were said to have female lovers, the diaries and correspondence of Horace Walpole and Hester Thrale Piozzi are a good place to start.
The blog has moved on to Martha Vicinus’s Intimate Friends: Women Who Loved Women, 1778-1928 which is a collection of biographic sketches of couples who illustrate various types of homoerotic relationships in that period. This book may take up not only the rest of November but on into December, since I’m planning to spend some of my November writing time doing NaNoWriMo for the first time.
While putting together the research for the podcast on the Anandrine Sect, I ran across another of Jeffrey Merrick’s books on French homosexual history that I needed to get. This is a collection of articles: Homosexuality in French History and Culture, edited by Merrick and Michael Sibalis. So that, along with Burford’s book mentioned earlier were the book shopping for the blog in the last month.
This month’s author guest will be Jane Walsh, whose debut novel Her Lady to Love is out from Bold Strokes Books this month, adding to the popular field of sapphic regency romance.
For this month’s essay, I thought I’d return to my chronological tour through poetry by or about women who loved women. I’ve worked my way up to the 18th century at this point, which fits well with other material I’ve covered recently. I have another slot to fill this month, so let’s see what I come up with for a book appreciation show.
Recent Lesbian Historical Fiction
That brings us to the new and recent f/f historicals. I have three October books to catch up on and five November releases.
We’ll start off with one where I confess the cover copy rubbed me the wrong way. I’m simply not fond of books that spend all their time promising you an unexpected surprise twist ending but don’t give you much of an idea of what you’ll experience along the way. The Sappho Romance by Jacquie Lyon and Sam Skyborne published by Dukebox claims to give us the true story behind the legend of Sappho in ancient Greece. The cover copy rambles a bit so I’m going to condense it a little.
Sappho, the ancient Greek poet and teacher of legend, known as the ‘Mortal Muse’, had a secret so well guarded that centuries of scrutiny and academic debate could not unearth it. Until now. You know the speculation and controversy surrounding her private life. Was she the quintessential lover of women? The devout wife of Kerkylas of Andros and mother to his ten children? The tragic suicide out of love for the ferryman Phaon? What if the real story were different... holding fragments of all these legends, yet hiding a splendid alternative twist?
The regency genre gives us two titles this month, one from our featured guest author Jane Walsh, titled Her Lady to Love published by Bold Strokes Books.
Country mouse Lady Honora Banfield arrives in London with one mission: to catch a husband. A perpetual wallflower, she’s going to do whatever it takes to win a proposal from London’s most eligible bachelor, including teaming up with the most popular (and least proper) woman in London. Miss Jacqueline Lockhart is having too much fun in her sixth season to ever consider settling down, even though she’s been unsuccessful at mingling with the upper echelons of London society. When Lady Honora agrees to exchange invitations to the most exclusive events in return for Jacqueline’s introductions to eligible gentlemen, neither expects their friendship to ignite passion. Nora and Jacquie begin an affair with the strict understanding that it will end once Nora is married, but as a proposal becomes more imminent, choosing between a conventional life without love, or certain ruination if they stay together, isn’t as simple as it seems.
The second regency seems to be part of a connected series, following up on one of last month’s books. This is The Enigmatic Steward, self-published by Stein Willard.
After losing her husband in an accident that left her with a noticeable injury, Lady Florence Hampton, the Viscountess of Clarence, was used to the looks of pity she received when she ventured out in public. However, it was the loneliness that her condition forced upon her that wounded her most. Surely, no man would want to be seen with a middle-aged, damaged woman on his arm. Chester Vaughn knew everything about hardship and violence, but nothing about love. As the Viscountess’ land steward, she protected her employer from the attentions of an unscrupulous, gold-digging neighbour whilst at the same time struggling to hide her own deep affection for the aloof woman.
The American Civil War and the wild west period that followed provide us with three titles this month. First up is The Coffield Chronicles - Hearts Under Siege: Book One, by T.L. Dickerson from Sapphire Books.
The year is 1862. The war between the states has been raging intensely for a year now. The country is in complete and utter turmoil, and brother is fighting brother to the death, dying for what each believed. It seems it’s all the townsfolk of New Albany, Indiana can speak of, and Melody Coffield is paying attention. Through a series of heartbreaks and sorrow, she settles on the decision to cut her hair and don men’s attire. Going under the alias of Melvin A. Coffield, she leaves her childhood home, the only home she had ever known, and enlists in the United States Army. Chewing tobacco and drinking liquor were ways of men, and she learns quickly how to behave like one. She would soon know the horrors of battle, and what was called the glory of war, through roads that led straight to Vicksburg, Mississippi. However, her biggest concern was making sure she was not detected by the others. Keeping her secret would not only be challenging, but trying as well. Will she remain in this solitude the rest of her life, never allowing anyone into her heart again? Or will she find love, once more, in a world that was intolerant and unaccepting of who she truly was?
Rivers of Eden, self-published by R.E. Levy gives us a story of conflicts and contrasts on the frontier.
Margaret Hatch is a good woman. She has a husband, a homestead, a baby, and always heeds her preacher. But when things in Eden begin to go awry she can't help but feel guilty. Guilty for that night five years ago. Guilty for kissing her best friend. Guilty for wanting more. Emma Johansson is not a good woman. She is loose, unmarried, and employed. Three things a woman should not be. She also happens to be in love with her best friend Margaret, a fact both of them have kept buried all of their lives. Now, the two women must reconcile their hidden history with the terror that has taken hold of Eden, a malevolent force keen to expose their truths to the world. Emma and Margaret must face what they unleashed five years ago before it takes both of them, and their secret, to the grave.
We’re offered a touch of fantasy with our wild west in Martha Moody by Susan Stinson from Small Beer Press. Unfortunately what we aren’t offered is any sort of clear indication of the plot. So if you’re up for a surprise, this might tempt you.
At once a love story and a lush comic masterpiece, Martha Moody is a speculative western which embraces the ordinary and gritty details ― as well as the magic ― of women's lives in the old west.
Another historic fantasy is the latest installment in Geonn Cannon’s Trafalgar & Boone series: Trafalgar & Boone at Magic's End (Trafalgar & Boone 6) from Supposed Crimes.
Trafalgar and Lady Dorothy Boone, still shattered by the consequences of their last mission, have decided to heed a warning from the future and put an end to the widespread use of magic. While Dorothy sits vigil for someone she loves, Trafalgar accepts the invitation from a fellow Society member to investigate an ancient queen's burial site. A simple mission quickly turns sour, and Dorothy finds herself racing to save not only her friend and partner, but the whole of London. While the Society is stronger than ever, Dorothy herself is alone without her closest allies and advisors. Faced with the choice of a horrible loss and a potentially catastrophic future, Dorothy makes a decision which could change the world forever... and cost her the very thing she hopes to save.
The last title is an anthology that got a lot of buzz on book twitter when the kickstarter was first announced: Silk and Steel edited by Janine A. Southard from Cantina Publishing. It isn’t strictly historic, but is likely to appeal to our listeners.
Princess and swordswoman, lawyer and motorcyclist, scholar and barbarian: there are many ways to be a heroine. In this anthology, seventeen authors find new ways to pair one weapon-wielding woman and one whose strengths lie in softer skills. “Which is more powerful, the warrior or the gentlewoman?” these stories ask. And the answer is inevitably, “Both, working together!” Herein, you’ll find duels and smugglers, dance battles and danger noodles, and even a new Swordspoint story!
Let’s just say that I was excited enough by the premise that I was inspired to try my luck at one the handful of open submissions slots. My story wasn’t selected, alas, but I think you’ll love the ones that were.
What Am I Reading?
My own reading is still picking up. I finished Melissa Bashardoust’s Persian-inspired historic fantasy, Girl, Serpent, Thorn and can highly recommend it, not only for the lovely queer ending. I’m working on an advance copy of Malina Lo’s Last Night at the Telegraph Club, in preparation for interviewing her in January. And I hope to get an advance copy of my December guest’s book as well.
Podcast Cross-Promotion: SweetBitter
I’ll close the show this month with a chance to cross-promote a new podcast that might be of interest to listeners: Sweetbitter is a podcast all about the poet Sappho and her work. And I was able to get some of the hosts on to talk it up.
[Transcript for the interview will be added later.]
Your monthly roundup of history, news, and the field of sapphic historical fiction.
In this episode we talk about:
Links to the Lesbian Historic Motif Project Online
Links to Heather Online