Lesbian Historic Motif Podcast - Episode 240 - On the Shelf for October 2022 - Transcript
(Originally aired 2022/10/01 - listen here)
Welcome to On the Shelf for October 2022.
Sometimes I find myself scrambling to put a show together because time has simply slipped away, and sometimes it’s because life comes crashing down. September was definitely one of those crashing months, so this may be a bit of a bare-bones round-up. The month started off with the World Science Fiction Convention in Chicago, which was thoroughly enjoyable, if a bit exhausting. I participated in panels on podcasting, fairy tale retellings, themes in early “proto-science fiction”, the interaction of magic and gender in historic fantasy, and other topics. Then in mid-month I participated in an online panel on historic research for marginalized characters for the Toronto Romance Writers conference. Going on underneath all this was a rather intense project for my day job—because, of course, it’s not possible to schedule all these things in a rational manner.
And then at the end of the month, I traveled to a small family get-together on the opposite coast and Covid finally caught up with me. So far, it’s being a fairly mild case, thanks to being fully up to date on vaccinations, no doubt. But it’s been a lottery I participated in every time I chose to travel, and I finally lost the toss. So just a reminder for all of you: keep up to date on all your vaccinations, mask like everyone’s health depends on it, and don’t beat yourself up too badly if you eventually lose the roll of the dice and get Covid anyway. You’re still better off than if you hadn’t taken all the precautions.
Publications on the Blog
October is shaping up to have some great content. In September, the blog finished up the collection of articles from The Single Life in the Roman and Later Roman World and October starts a multi-part presentation of a primary source in translation: the 18th century French legal appeal of Anne Grandjean. Grandjean’s story is an excellent example of how difficult it can be to define and interpret identities from historic records. Depending on how you interpret the record and how you filter for the prejudices and “spin” of the parties involved, Grandjean might be interpreted as a cross-dressing lesbian, as a trans man, or as an intersex person who was caught between classifications. I’ve seen references to the case in a number of articles over the years, but hadn’t been able to find a full translation. So when I was able to get copies of a couple different editions of the original publication from Google Books, I decided to tackle the ambitious project of producing my own translation and edition. In addition to presenting it in the blog, this month’s podcast essay will present some of the content and discussion.
Grandjean’s case is an example of what I mean when I say you cannot study lesbian history separate from trans history and other types of queer history. People who want there to be some sort of pure and unambiguous history of different categories of queer people often scoff at the phrase “we can’t really know.” But the evidence in Grandjean’s case is ambiguous, deliberately skewed in multiple ways, and full of unreliable witnesses. Even apart from the question of what types of identity categories Grandjean had available to try on, we aren’t given enough direct, unfiltered evidence to know what the facts were. If we want to relate Grandjean’s story to the field of lesbian history, we must embrace that ambiguity or lose a great deal of the available evidence.
October is a fiction series month and we’ll be presenting “The Wolf that Sings on the Mountain” by Miyuki Jane Pinckard, narrated by the author, plus an interview with Miyuki in next month’s On the Shelf episode.
And don’t forget that we’ll be opening for new fiction submissions in January for the 2023 series. It’s not at all too early to be thinking about writing something.
Book shopping for the blog is still very quiet these days, but on the fiction side we have ten new titles to talk about.
Recent Lesbian Historical Fiction
It seems a bit early in the year for Christmas-themed books to start coming out, but first up is Christmas Secrets of the Soho Club: New Season New Secrets a self-published anthology of Regency romance short stories by various authors. Only one story involves a sapphic romance: “The Widow’s Modiste” by Renée Dahlia.
What happens in the Soho Club stays in the Soho Club, especially during Christmastide! Get ready for some passionate, romantic secrets from the Regency club where people can be themselves, away from prying eyes and family demands. In The Widow's Modiste. Lady Merryam, widowed and bored, only attends the Soho Club’s latest ball to help raise funds for her son’s orphanage. The last thing she expects is a one-night-stand with the mysterious woman wearing ‘that’ dress. Could spending more time with her be the answer to her ennui?
Cameron Darrow has a sixth volume, Pax Victoria, in the Ashes of Victory series, a supernatural historical adventure.
For eleven years, the witches of EVE have made it their mission to ensure that the War to End All Wars remains exactly that. So when Svetlana returns home to Longstown with a proposal for a true, permanent peace in Europe, it's met with jubilation—and on the heels of tragedy, a renewed optimism that the future they have sacrificed so much for might actually be on the horizon. For those still sifting through the ashes of victory and defeat alike, it also presents a second, more personal opportunity: the chance to rest. But in order for the world to achieve true peace, so must Victoria Ravenwood. When she learns that the British government has started a program to put her theories on atomic energy into practical use, the realization that she may have inadvertently unlocked the ability for humanity to destroy itself comes with a singular responsibility: only she can stop it. After years of struggle with trauma and depression, is her love for her family and partner Katya enough to finally overcome her demons safely? Or will they drive her to pay the ultimate price to ensure they live into the glorious new future that they have been building together?
Witches are also the topic of The Pannell Witch self-published by Melissa Manners. This is a fictionalization of a brief reference to an actual victim of a witch trial in 16th century England.
Yorkshire, 1593. Mary Pannell, small-town herbalist, only ever wanted to help. She never meant for anyone to die. But still, they called her witch. She deserves to have her story told. When Mary is arrested for witchcraft, she must do whatever it takes to survive. From medieval torture methods and plague-ridden London, to the ever-looming threat of being hanged - does she have the strength to endure it all? Condemned as a witch, will she face the gallows? Or can she escape with the woman she loves?
In the cover copy of the popular sub-genre of pirate romances, it can be hard to tell whether a story is meant to have a historic setting or simply exists in the pirate-verse. Siren's Kiss self-published by Ariel Spencer is a bit light on historic specifics but strong on romance.
Siren's Kiss is the story of captive-turned-crew, Ashlyn Stillson, and a no-mercy, wild haired pirate captain, Iliana The Fierce. Ash is uncertain about these feelings towards her new captain and captor. She knows to be cautious and fearsome of her rage and cunning, but she also can see the tender, gentle side of her as well. She longs to grow closer to her stand-offish superior, but knows it could lead to her death. Iliana is suspicious of her newest crewmate. The small, white-skinned woman was constantly around. Whenever Iliana caught her gaze, she would hastily put her head down and scuttle off. But she can't help but be intrigued by her as well. Her soft, white skin and golden halo of curls, her wide, rich brown eyes. Perhaps there is more to this wench than meets the eye.
There are certain expectations that come with a title like Reader, I Murdered Him by Betsy Cornwell from Clarion Books. This take-off of the familiar concluding line from Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre gives us a clue to the setting and tone, but this is the story of Mr. Rochester’s ward Adele.
Adele grew up in the shadows—of her broken family, of the gloomy manor halls of her lonely childhood. So when she's finally sent away to boarding school, she’s happy to enter the brightly lit world of society girls and their wealthy suitors. Yet there are shadows there, too. Many of the men that try to charm Adele’s new friends do so with dark intentions. After a violent assault, she turns to a roguish young con woman for help. Together, they become vigilantes meting out justice. But can Adele save herself from the same fate as those she protects? With a queer romance at its heart, this lush historical thriller offers readers an irresistible mix of vengeance and empowerment.
Divided Lives by K.R. Mullins from Jkj Books is frustratingly cagey about having queer content, so this is another case of reading the tea leaves and coded language in the cover copy and giving it the benefit of the doubt.
New York City (1912) is a city divided: Greenwich Village where rejected tradition is regularly flouted, and Manhattan where it is strictly upheld. Lottie Flannigan successfully balances both sides. While embracing a bohemian lifestyle, she maintains a legal career clerking for conservative Justice Goff in Midtown. Committed and dedicated, Lottie begins work on a high-profile criminal case involving local Police Officer Charles Becker. Suddenly her professional and personal lives collide as she finds herself caught in a blackmail scheme that seeks to disclose her most intimate choices if she doesn't do as they say. In a fascinating look into a scandalous turn-of-the-century trial and ever-changing Greenwich Village social norms, the book puts Lottie in the middle of Police Lieutenant Charles Becker's Conspiracy trial.
Maid to Love self-published by S.J. Faden sounds like a straight-forward rich-girl/poor-girl romance.
In 1930s Chicago Adoncia Martinez is a young heiress who spends most of her day in her vast library trying to figure out her purpose in life. Her seemingly endless search finds its possible answer when her new maid, Danika Batrovic enters her life. Though unassuming at first glance, Adoncia sees in the new maid a kindred spirit with a deep desire for something more. When the two come together things start to change in both their lives with the people around them paying most for the changes.
The glittering club scene of pre-WWII Germany brings together excitement and danger in Nothing Sung and Nothing Spoken by Nita Tyndall from Harper Teen.
Charlotte Kraus would follow Angelika Haas anywhere. Which is how she finds herself in an underground club one Friday night the summer before World War II, dancing to contraband American jazz and swing music, suddenly feeling that anything might be possible. Unable to resist the allure of sharing this secret with Geli, Charlie returns to the club again and again, despite the dangers of breaking the Nazi Party’s rules. Soon, terrified by the tightening vise of Hitler’s power, Charlie and the other Swingjugend are drawn to larger and larger acts of rebellion. But the war will test how much they are willing to risk—and to lose.
Jumping ahead to a more recent war, we have A Belief in Her by Barbara Valletto from Flashpoint Publications.
Claire McCollum, an American Red Cross Vietnamese Interpreter, and Maggie Calder, a Captain in the USAF, discover love in war-torn Vietnam in the months prior to the Fall of Saigon. Stationed on an air force base in Southeastern Vietnam, the two band together to partake in a mission of mercy that defies all odds. But the truth may not be what Claire expected, and knowing it may place beliefs she holds dear, in jeopardy.
To finish up this month’s new books, we have the third volume in Nghi Vo’s Singing Hills Cycle from Tor-dot-com, Into the Riverlands. This historic fantasy with an alternate China-like setting follows a collector of stories.
Wandering cleric Chih of the Singing Hills travels to the riverlands to record tales of the notorious near-immortal martial artists who haunt the region. On the road to Betony Docks, they fall in with a pair of young women far from home, and an older couple who are more than they seem. As Chih runs headlong into an ancient feud, they find themselves far more entangled in the history of the riverlands than they ever expected to be. Accompanied by Almost Brilliant, a talking bird with an indelible memory, Chih confronts old legends and new dangers alike as they learn that every story―beautiful, ugly, kind, or cruel―bears more than one face.
What Am I Reading?
For my own consumption this month, books read in print outnumbered audio books for the first time in several months. I finally finished a historical mystery that I started back in the beginning of the year: Jane and the Canterbury Tale by Stephanie Barron. It’s part of a historical mystery series with a fictional Jane Austen as the amateur detective. Back in the ‘90s I was seriously into reading historical mysteries and still follow some of the series, though less avidly.
I’ve started another of KJ Charles’s m/m historical romance series with Slippery Creatures, set just after WWI. With Charles’s work there’s always a tricky balance for me between enjoying the plots and characters and finding the sexual content too emphasized for my taste. This series is a bit heavier on the sexual side than some of the others, to the point where it sometimes feels like the plot is more like connective tissue. And yet I keep reading for the marvelous writing.
I listened to the audiobook of The Oleander Sword, the second book in Tasha Suri’s Burning Kingdoms series. The series has a lovely, complicated, central lesbian romance, embedded in an epic fantasy of empires and magic. For the first half of the book, The Oleander Sword felt very much like a “middle book” in taking the elements introduced in the first volume, expanding the scope, and setting things up for a later climax. But then everything starts changing into new and strange shapes and you realize that all your assumptions about “good guys” and “bad guys” have been mistaken. The immediate conflicts resolve with the understanding that a far more drastic challenge lies ahead in the final volume. Yes, I’m being a bit coy about exactly what that drastic shift in understanding is, but I think it’s more enjoyable to experience it for yourself.
The last book I started this month is…well…something entirely different in a totally bonkers way. I picked up this anthology on a whim at Worldcon because it had an irresistible hook. The title of the collection is Well…It’s Your Cow and the hook is that every story begins with an exchange between two characters: “Do we think this is a good idea?” “Well, it’s your cow.” The collection begins with the real-life incident related by the collection’s editor, Frog Jones, that inspired the anthology, then continues with stories of all flavors and genres unified by that hook.
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