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Lesbian Historic Motif Podcast Episode 194 - On the Shelf for February 2021

Saturday, February 6, 2021 - 07:00

Lesbian Historic Motif Podcast - Episode 194 - On the Shelf for February 2021 - Transcript

(Originally aired 2021/02/06 - listen here)

Welcome to On the Shelf for February 2021.

When this airs, the submissions period for the 2021 fiction series will have closed, the stories will have been read, and contract offers will have gone out but probably not yet been finalized. Isn’t it fun to write in the future perfect tense? If you don’t want to wait another month to find out what this year’s offerings will be, keep an eye on the blog where I’ll post as soon as everything’s finalized. (See the link in the show notes.)

Every year the submissions are a slightly different experience. As I’m writing this now on the 24th of January, we’re way above the submission numbers for previous years at this point. And if a pile of submissions come in during the last few days of the month like usual, we’ll definitely have a new overall record. There are some interesting shifts in what’s being submitted and by whom as well, but maybe more on that later when I have the whole picture. Even if my only goal were to encourage people to write more short sapphic historical fiction, I’m already winning!

It's amazing to think that this is the fourth year for the fiction series. Every year there’s been at least one moment where I thought, “You know, maybe this is where to close. It was a good run.” And so far, every year, there’s been a point where I think, “This is great! Where can we go from here?” I don’t really have ambitions beyond the current model. I know my own limitations too well. But I’m confidently looking forward to the 2022 fiction series. Five years sounds like an accomplishment to be proud of. And if the submission numbers this year follow the pattern of past years, I think that next year I’ll have to bring in a couple of other readers to help make the selections. Because more submissions means more great stories, which means much harder choices!

Publications on the Blog

So what publications have I been covering on the blog? January was full of articles from the collection Homosexuality in French History and Culture edited by Jeffrey Merrick and Michael Sibalis. We see a variety of forms female intimacy can take in the 17th and 18th centuries, from Leonard Hinds’ study of the theme of female friendship as the foundation of ideal love in the works of Madeleine de Scudéry, to David Michael Robinson’s interpretation of the memoirs of Madame de Murat in the context of police records about her tempestuous affairs with women and wild behavior, to Olivier Blanc’s discussion of the differential treatment of the privileged known to indulge in “the Italian taste” as homosexuality was called, to Susan Lanser’s argument that sapphic themes in the 18th century developed from libertinism to a politically-tinged separatist philosophy.

The article on Madame de Murat convinced me to make her the topic of this month’s essay podcast, so stay tuned for French aristocrats gone wild!

In February I’ll be finishing up the last article in this collection and then looking for a few more shorter articles to get my momentum back before tackling entire books again.

I’d be doing the Lesbian Historic Motif Project blog for my own purposes even if nobody else read it, but it’s great when I overhear people recommending it as a resource, or when I get tagged in on questions about research for particular topics. In January, a random twitter question led to putting together a list of my 25 favorite books from the blog to recommend for those who want to start their own dive into lesbian history. Check it out!

Book Shopping!

I’ve been turning up some intriguing leads on publications from the bibliographies of works I’ve been blogging recently. Bibliographies are my most common source for titles to track down, followed by mining the tables of contents of journals in JSTOR, and browsing through the publisher’s displays at conferences. But my most recent acquisition is a brand new 2021 book: Sapphic Crossings: Cross-Dressing Women in Eighteenth-Century British Literature by Ula Lukszo Klein. And I think I ran across this one online, though I don’t recall if someone mentioned it on twitter or if it was in a book catalog email from the publisher.

I’ve accumulated several books that address the fuzzy intersection of gender and sexuality that is the phenomenon of assigned-female persons living lives that are read as male, and that examine the topic both in terms of trans identity and of gender disguise.

Recent Lesbian Historical Fiction

It’s new and recent books time! Just five titles this month, two from previous months. And I’m holding back one title for next month because it’s an Audible original and they don’t do pre-orders so the link isn’t up yet.

We have a historical fantasy from December: Beloved Daughter, self-published by Ellis Brightwell. Set in the 6th century in the English kingdom of Kent, a young woman with eerie powers is accused of the death of a wealthy nobleman. But when she is seized by the king’s men, she and the king’s daughter find themselves helplessly drawn to each other. It’s a bit hard to tell whether this is a romance or a supernatural thriller.

A January book with a relatively early setting is Brother Mary Michael,  self-published by Henry Bennett. Set in Tudor England, a young woman escapes the consequences of murder and an accusation of witchcraft by cross-dressing to enter a monastery. I wasn’t sure what to make of this book so I peeked at the preview. Content note for graphic violence and sexual assault, though the framing story indicates a happy romantic ending.

February books start off with this month’s author guest, Anne Shade, talking about her new release Masquerade from Bold Strokes Books. In the exciting atmosphere of the Harlem Renaissance in prohibition-era New York, Celine is introduced to the world of drag balls and nightclubs and tumbles into a chance to explore feelings she’s always kept hidden. But her heart is pulled in two directions: the lure of comfortable happiness and the seductive excitement of a gangster.

Next month, our author guest will be Aliette de Bodard, and her novella, Fireheart Tiger, is released this month from Tor-dot-com. In a historic fantasy set in a version of pre-colonial Vietnam, a princess is sent to a neighboring kingdom as a hostage and makes the mistake of falling in love there before returning home in failure. Now her beloved arrives on her doorstep but she is the diplomat who must confront her in negotiations.

And this month’s books conclude with a 1950s dream of Broadway in Melanie Crowder’s Mazie from Philomel Books. Mazie has the chance of a lifetime to leave Nebraska for a chance to audition in New York. But big city dreams aren’t that easy to realize. The lesbian representation is from secondary characters, not the protagonist.

The Annual State of the Field Report

The past two years, I’ve done an episode summing up the year’s sapphic historical fiction in terms of trends and themes. With the new podcast format, this review doesn’t get its own episode, and I suspect most of the detailed statistics are of limited interest. So the full summary and comparison to previous years is on the blog, but here’s an overview with the high points.

The number of books I can find that fit my parameters seems to have stabilized around 100 titles, though all of my conclusions here must be taken with a grain of salt as they rely on how successful I’ve been at finding the books. The proportion of self-published books seems to be fairly constant as well. I can’t give a precise percentage for self-published books because that would mean figuring out which authors have set up their own named imprint, but the proportion of books that don’t list a publisher name is still running around a quarter of the total.

It continues to be the case that a slight majority of titles from named publishers are the only lesbian historical put out by that press during the year. But the surprise is that when you look at the most consistent producers – the publishers who have put out two or more books each of the last three years, half of them are mainstream publishers. The mainstream press presence jumped significantly in 2020, but rather than adding to the overall numbers of books published, it was offset by a decrease in numbers by the small queer presses.

In terms of story settings, we’re seeing a very similar distribution to previous years, though there’s a slight increase in pre-19th century settings, and also an increase in locations outside the English-speaking world. Both of these are good trends, if they hold up, especially as many of the non-Western settings are being written by authors with roots in those cultures. But there’s a strong tendency for certain settings to be stereotyped and associated with specific events.

About half the books are clearly identifiable as romances (keeping in mind that I’m mostly working from the cover copy), with maybe 20% definitely not being romances, and the rest undetermined. About a third of the titles have some sort of fantasy elements, but keep in mind that I have strong connections to the fantasy book community so this may be partly my bias. I’m not as systematic about tagging tropes and motifs, but plots involving either gender disguise or cross-gender presentation or identity are popular, as are stories occurring during iconic historic events such as various wars and revolutions.

I’m still working on the efficiency of my searches to identify relevant books. It would be lovely if authors and publishers sent me announcements, but given the uncentralized nature of the field, that’s unlikely! Of the titles I include, I managed to identify a slight majority prior to their publication date. The ones I don’t come across until after they’re published are mostly self-published books that may not have had an online presence before publication. For those authors out there thinking about book promotion, think about some of the consequences of that model. When I’m scheduling guests for the podcast, my first priority is being able to coordinate with a book release. If I don’t even know a book exists until it’s already out, I probably have my guests scheduled for the next couple of months and there’s less impetus to try to fit it in. I love supporting small press and indie authors, but I have to know about your books to do so.

Author Guest

And speaking of guests, this month we’re happy to welcome Anne Shade to the show.

Heather Rose Jones: Today the Lesbian Historic Motif Podcast is talking to Anne Shade, whose novel Masquerade is coming out this month. Welcome, Anne.

Anne Shade: Thank you, thank you for having me, Heather.

H: So, Masquerade is set in Harlem in the ’20s, the era of jazz and Prohibition.

A: Yes.

H: What inspired you to write in that setting?

A: I think the drama of it all, of that era, but also the rich heritage of that era for African American people, as well as—most people don’t realize—for the LGBTQ community. Although in that era it wasn’t legal to be gay—you could still be put in jail, put in the insane asylum, and get arrested or whichever—in Harlem there was a large community that celebrated the gay lifestyle. There were drag balls, there were writers and authors and performers that cross-dressed and performed and wrote about their lives and their loves, and it was a time for a little bit of freedom, as long as you weren’t too free with it. And I think that that drew me to it.

H: Uh huh. The title of the book, Masquerade, references drag masquerade balls that were part of the culture in New York at that time. How does the theme of masks and trying on identities weave throughout your story?

A: Well, one of the main characters, Celine, is going through a bit of an identity crisis. She’s pretty much worn an invisible mask to fit into where she’s supposed to, to fit in with her family, to fit in with society, to be the person that she’s supposed to be—but she wants to take that mask off and be who she wants to be. And an event happens in her life, and it’s early on, so I can—her husband passes away, and she realizes this is her chance to remove that mask of the grieving widow, of the perfect gens de couleur, or the Creole daughter, and just be free and who she wants to be. And she’s learning how to do that, and that requires that—that’s where the mask symbolism comes in.

H: So, tell us a little bit more about the plot and characters.

A: Well, Celine Montré is a Louisiana gens de couleur, or a Creole of color, very prominent, very well-to-do Black society in New Orleans, descended from—usually from a French nobleperson and possibly an octoroon mistress or something like that. And she has—the way her husband dies causes a scandal, and her family leaves New Orleans and heads to Harlem to escape it. Her aunt has settled in Harlem, and so her aunt helps them get settled there. She finds out that her aunt is gay, and this helps her kind of come out of her shell. And we get to watch her, I guess, her own coming out story, but there’s a lot of confusion in it because she’s battling with how she was brought up and how she wants to be. Then enters Dinah Hampton, who is a nurse by day and works as a chorus girl by night in a club in Harlem, and by chance they meet and Dinah kind of initiates Celine into this world, into the world of women loving women. And it’s something that Dinah has been living her whole—pretty much most of her adult life, not openly, but she’s always wanted to be able to find that one woman. Dinah’s aunt is also gay and is living with her life partner and running a boarding house, so they’re all very comfortable. But Celine is not so comfortable, so Dinah has to kind of pull Celine out of her shell. And we see their dynamic and how they work together. But then we have an antagonist that steps in, which is Philly. And Philly is a gangster, and she and Celine have a connection, which I won’t go into. And she now wants Celine for herself, so Celine has this moment where she’s trying to decide who am I, what am I, who do I want to be with, and—because each person brings out something different in her. Dinah brings out a more loving relationship, which is what she’s wanted all her life with a woman to be, you know, and love and married, and do the things—or not married, but to be—to spend her life with someone she loves. And Philly brings out this wild hedonist in her that she’d also always wanted to kind of, you know, be, while she was married. Her and her husband married because they knew of their—you know, what their likings were. And while he was out doing things, you know, and enjoying life, she kind of stayed home, afraid of being found out. So she’d always wanted to be that hedonist, and Philly brings that out in her.

H: Yeah. So, I can see this—that, you know, the good voice and the bad voice on each shoulder—

A: Exactly.

H: —fighting for your soul. And whichever she picks, presumably she ends up happy at the end.

A: Yes, there is a happily ever after.

H: So, this is, like, the era of the Harlem Renaissance—

A: Mm hm.

H: —and a very exciting time. What sort of resources did you pull up to research the setting for this?

A: I read a lot of biographies about, say, Langston Hughes, a lot of LGBTQ writers and performers from that era. I also watched quite a few documentaries—PBS does documentaries online—and bought quite a few books. I’m very much a—I love my history, it’s such a rich history, so I’m a big history buff. So, in my hetero love-story days, I actually used to write historicals often—so I felt good being able to get back to that again because I absolutely loved writing about history and doing research for it and learning so much. It’s such a wonderful feeling to be able to do that. And one of the major places is the Schomburg in Harlem, which has a lot on the Harlem Renaissance and the Black community in that era.

H: So, you also have a collection of fairy-tale inspired short fiction that came out, I think, last year?

A: Yes.

H: But this is your first published novel?

A: Previously, I self-published. This is my first novel—Femme Tales was my first novel published under the Bold Strokes Books banner, and Masquerade will be my second.

H: So, do you have any future projects you’d like to talk about?

A: I am currently—I have one coming out next fall, or this fall, but there’s one in particular I’m working on. It’s a historical that takes place during the Underground Railroad era.

H: Mm hm.

A: And the main character is a female, a lesbian female, and she is a conductor on the Underground Railroad, but she’s also a card shark, she’s a gunslinger, so—it’s going to be fun doing that one. So that’s—like I said, getting into historicals is my favorite thing to do.

H: And can I assume that she’s also Black?

A: Yes.

H: Yes. Good.

A: That’s the thing with every one of my books. All my characters are all African American—all my main characters. It’s something that I believe is important to me and also to my community, to represent them in a positive, loving light, and it’s difficult sometimes to find African American—especially historical—African American female figures that are not tragic and that have their happily ever afters. And it’s my goal to do that, to bring that to life.

H: I’m so glad because I did a podcast last year specifically focusing on sapphic historicals by women of color—self-reported—by Black women with Black protagonists, and I was rather disappointed at how hard it was to find them. And I am so glad that you are adding to the stores—so I will do another featured show at some point, and I will have your books to recommend.

A: I listened to that podcast, and I appreciate that you did that.

H: Oh, thank you. So I love asking people to recommend something they’ve enjoyed recently, a book, movie, TV show—it doesn’t have to be historic, but that’s a plus.

A: I recently—because I’ve been editing and writing, I haven’t read too much, but I recently watched the Bridgerton series and absolutely loved it. And now I’m reading the books, now that I’ve—there’s nothing I need to work on right now, so I have a little free time to read, so I’m reading those series. I used to love those Regency romance novels, or the bodice busters, from back in the day. It sort of reminds me of that, and it doesn’t hurt that they’re such a diverse cast.

H: Well, yes. And can we agree that the TV version of Lady Danbury absolutely ought to be—

A: Yes.

H: She needs a girlfriend, absolutely.

A: Yes.

H: She’s the best character on that show.

A: I absolutely love her. If she ends up being a gay character, I will not be upset.

H: I don’t think she will be in this show, but I’m hanging out on Archive of Our Own to just wait for the fanfics to show up, so. So, if people wanted to follow you online, where should they look?

A: I’m on Twitter as @anneshade3; there seems to be two other Anne Shades besides me. On Facebook and Instagram, it’s @anneshaderomance, and my website is

H: Thank you. I’ll include links to all of those in the show notes—and thank you so much for sharing your time with the Lesbian Historic Motif Podcast.

A: Thank you for having me. I really enjoyed it. Thank you.

Show Notes

Your monthly roundup of history, news, and the field of sapphic historical fiction.

In this episode we talk about:

  • The 2021 Fiction Series submissions.
  • Recent and upcoming publications covered on the blog
    • Hinds, Leonard. 2001. “Female Friendship as the Foundation of Love in Madeleine de Scudéry’s ‘Histoire de Sapho’” in Merrick, Jeffrey & Michael Sibalis, eds. Homosexuailty in French History and Culture. Harrington Park Press, New York. ISBN 1-56023-263-3
    • Robinson, David Michael. 2001. “The Abominable Madame de Murat” in Merrick, Jeffrey & Michael Sibalis, eds. Homosexuailty in French History and Culture. Harrington Park Press, New York. ISBN 1-56023-263-3
    • Blanc, Olivier. 2001. “The ‘Italian Taste’ in the Time of Louis XVI, 1774-92” in Merrick, Jeffrey & Michael Sibalis, eds. Homosexuailty in French History and Culture. Harrington Park Press, New York. ISBN 1-56023-263-3
    • Lanser, Susan. 2001. “’Au sein de vos pareilles’: Sapphic Separatism in Late Eighteenth-Century France” in Merrick, Jeffrey & Michael Sibalis, eds. Homosexuailty in French History and Culture. Harrington Park Press, New York. ISBN 1-56023-263-3
  • New and forthcoming fiction
  • Call for submissions for the 2021 LHMP audio short story series. See here for details.
  • This month we interview Anne Shade and talk about:

Links to the Lesbian Historic Motif Project Online

Links to Heather Online

Links to Anne Shade Online

Major category: