(Originally aired 2021/12/05 - listen here)
Welcome to On the Shelf for December 2021.
The end of another calendar year, which means the podcast is about to do two of my favorite things (other than learning new historical things, of course): the annual summary of trends in sapphic historicals, and the open submissions for next year’s fiction series! 2022 has five months with five Saturdays, so following my usual schedule, that means five stories. One of them is already bought, to air in January, so we’ll be buying four additional works.
I know the listenership of this podcast isn’t particularly large, in relative terms. We’ve just barely grown back to the point where we hit 200 downloads per episode again. So it’s important to reach outside just the listener community to find great stories to add to our line-up. Even if you aren’t an author yourself, or if short fiction isn’t your thing, you can help by spreading the call for submissions out to your community. (And, of course, I plug it everywhere I’m active, and post the call in a number of market listing sites.) Every year, the increase in number and quality of submissions has made it harder and harder to make my decisions, and that’s exactly how I like it.
The last story of 2021 is an example of the delightful surprises I can find in my in-box. In two weeks we’ll be airing Kat Sinor’s story “Abstract”, narrated by Jasmine Arch—perhaps the most unusual setting I’m ever likely to fall in love with. Though I say that in full knowledge that someone else will come along to surprise me just as much. When I say that, in addition to a solid historic setting, I’m looking for beautiful language, Kat’s story is the sort of thing I mean. Due to scheduling, the fiction episode will be taking the place of the usual essay show this month.
I have some fun ideas for shows in the coming year. While I love doing the history essays, I’ve been moving toward doing content more about the process of writing. I had an inspiration to do a series of episodes looking at our favorite historical romance tropes and thinking about how those tropes change when there are two women involved, as contrasted with a male-female couple or an all-male couple. What I would love would be to do each show as a conversation with a guest who picks the trope we’re focusing on and brings their own ideas to bear. Everyone has a favorite trope or two, right? So if you’ve ever wanted to participate in the podcast in a more direct way, I’d love to hear from you. What sorts of tropes are we talking about? I combed through a number of articles and websites that listed historical romance tropes and sorted them out into general categories. So we have tropes about how the couple gets together, such as fake dating or forced proximity. We have tropes about the past relationship of the couple, such as enemies to lovers or second-chance. We have tropes revolving around marriage—and there’s a category that will be fun to look at from a same-sex angle. Things like marriage of convenience, fake marriage, and the compromising situation. There are tropes focusing on the character’s profession or life circumstance, and ones based on misperception of identity. The category of gender disguise or secret identity will be particularly fascinating to consider. And then there are tropes rooted in social rules about who is an appropriate partner. Things like past scandal, peculiar inheritance requirements, or familial disapproval. Of course, I’ve only given a few examples in each category—there are a lot of possibilities here! I’ll be going out looking for volunteers to join me in these discussions, so I hope everyone else thinks it would be as fun as I do.
Publications on the Blog
The blog is still working its way through Boehringer’s Female Homosexuality in Ancient Greece and Rome. I’ve slowed down a bit and didn’t manage to finish it up in November like I thought I might. But since I have a three week vacation coming up this month, I’m pretty sure I’ll be ready for some new material in January. What sort of topics would you like to read about on the blog? I have pending publications covering a lot of different topics, and I’m always susceptible to suggestions.
Recent Lesbian Historical Fiction
The number of new releases is down a bit this month. I only have six new or recent releases to talk about, three from November and three from December.
Noel Stevens has a self-published supernatural pirate story, Into the Horizon. Early in the 18th century, the notorious Anne Bonney disappears from her jail cell in Port Royal and finds herself thrown together with another female pirate captain—the legendary Davy Jones. But Jones is more than an ordinary pirate, and their partnership become much more than a simple quest for revenge.
Another story throwing a supernatural twist into a familiar tale is Ceinwen Langley’s take on Beauty and the Beast in The Misadventures of an Amateur Naturalist, from Feed The Writer Press. I like the book’s cover copy, so I’ll go back to the practice of simply quoting it.
Aspiring young naturalist Celeste Rossan is determined to live a life of adventure and scientific discovery. But when her father loses everything, Celeste's hopes of ever leaving her home town are dashed... until she sees a narrow opportunity to escape to Paris and attend the 1867 Exposition Universelle. Celeste seizes her chance, but the elements overwhelm her before she can make it five miles. In desperation, she seeks refuge in an abandoned chateau only to find herself trapped inside the den of an unknown species: a predator with an intelligence that rivals any human. It's the discovery of a lifetime. Or, it will be, if Celeste can earn the beast's trust without losing her nerve - or her heart - to her in the process.
Last year I was charmed by Meg Mardell’s holiday-themed novella and she has another one out this year: A Highland Hogmanay from NineStar Press. The summary is a bit convoluted, so let’s stick with the cover copy once more.
The daughter of an Indian raja and renegade Englishwoman, Sharda Holkar, was gifted with a magnificent dowry but little say in her future. Until now. She must endure one more depressing holiday season with her controlling cousins, then she will be free to begin her emancipated life. But her discovery of a plot to marry her off to the preening son of the house has Sharda wondering if her new start should begin at once. When Sharda meets the intriguing owner of a Highland castle at a Christmas Eve masquerade, she wastes no time in forming a plan—she will escape across the Scottish border! Finella Forbes cannot imagine why a sophisticated heiress like Sharda would even associate with someone who manages a castle for a living, let alone accompany her all the way back to the Highlands in time for the raucous celebration of Hogmanay. But a wealthy buyer is just what Balintore Castle needs. Fin is determined to prove she is just as good an estate manager as her father, but with the negligent lordly owner refusing to do his duty, she needs help fast. When mistaken assumptions jeopardise their initial attraction, Sharda and Fin will need all the mischief and magic of a Highland holiday to discover the true nature of their feelings.
The December stories start off with a bite-sized short story from Stephanie Burgis’s magical Regency Harwood Spellbook series: “Spellcloaked” from Five Fathoms Press is a coda to the novel Thornbound and will only really make sense if you’ve read the novel first. But if you have, and you were left longing for a happy resolution to the secret sacrifice that drove Lady Honoria Cosgrove out of her position of power and privilege in a perilous conflict with malevolent magical forces, then this story will give you everything you wanted, as it did for me.
Regular listeners to this podcast will know I’m a big cheerleader for writers to take inspiration from the life and social circle of 19th century actress Charlotte Cushman. I would not presume to suggest that I had anything to do with it, but Paula Martinac has done just that in Dear Miss Cushman from Bywater Books. The book’s protagonist, Georgiana Cartwright, idolizes Cushman and dreams of having a career just like hers. With the partnership of friends, including an aspiring playwright who hopes to also win her heart, Georgie begins to climb the ladder of fame. But that climb may be dislodged by a man whose unwanted advances make the acting company an uncomfortable place. I’m looking forward to seeing what Martinac has done with this fascinating setting.
The month’s books finish out with a World War II inter-racial romance in San Francisco: A Fairer Tomorrow by Kathleen Knowles from Bold Strokes Books. The opportunities of the wartime economy offer two women escape from their separate oppressive backgrounds. But will they continue to find a future when the war ends and everyone expects the world to return to the way it was before?
What Am I Reading?
So what have I been reading since last month? You might guess from my previous comment that I gobbled up Stephanie Burgis’s story “Spellcloaked” as soon as it hit my iPad. I failed to finish another Regency-set story: Jane Walsh’s Her Lady to Love. I’m afraid it just didn’t work for me as a Regency story, although it might have worked if it had been set up as a secondary-world fantasy. It simply broke too many aspects of how Regency society worked for me to be able to believe in it.
I did gobble up a different queer Regency series, KJ Charles’ gay male “Society of Gentlemen” series, which I enjoyed in audiobook. I have to confess that I’m supremely indifferent to the level of sexual content in KJ’s books, and not simply because they’re m/m romances, but by God that woman can write compelling characters and believably historical settings for her queer romances. I really wish she’d write more f/f stories, but it’s probably hard to get a cross-over readership.
Of course, the problem with listening to a whole series of KJ Charles books on Audible is that the Audible algorithm is now convinced that I’m mostly interested in male-centered stories. So to try to train up their AI a bit, I looked for some lesbian books I might be interested in that were in the free-with-membership category, and picked Marie Castle’s paranormal/shifter romantic thriller Hell’s Belle. It’s a well-written book that hits all the standard plot beats of the paranormal/shifter genre, but I found it simply isn’t my genre. When a book does everything right that it sets out to do and fails to grab me, the problem is me, not the book. Alas, Audible doesn’t seem to have anything in the way of sapphic historicals, so I’m at a loss as to how to convince it that that’s what I want. How can we convince them to produce more of the content we like if we aren’t given the opportunity to vote with our wallets?
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