(Originally aired 2018/12/15 - listen here)
Heather Rose Jones: Last week, we had Carrie Pack on the show to talk about her own writing. In this episode, she's here to talk about queer women in historically based books by other authors that she's particularly enjoyed. Welcome back, Carrie.
Carrie Pack: Hi, good to be back.
H: So, let's punch right in. What's your first book?
C: Actually, my first one is kind of incidentally historical because it feels historical. I’m not sure it was intended to be, but I’m a big fan of Malinda Lo. Her stuff is largely contemporary, but if you look at some of her fantasy stuff, Ash is one of my all-time faves, and it feels historical because it's the Cinderella retelling. If anyone listening hasn't read that yet, it's just a really great, different take on Cinderella where Cinderella kinda falls for, basically, the huntress that's been hired to – oh, that’s Snow White – never mind, [Laughter] but, yeah, Ash falls for another woman in that book. It was one of the very first lesbian stories that I read. And for that reason, it just holds a really special place in my heart.
H: Yeah, she takes a very common fantasy approach of setting it in a vaguely mishmash historical, medieval sort of thing.
H: Yeah, absolutely. I read that when it first came out. It’s fabulous.
C: There's another one I’m really looking forward to that doesn't come out until November 13th, but it is Robin Talley who is a very well-known lesbian YA author and she previously, I think her previous historical was Lies We Tell Ourselves, takes place in the 1950s. She's got a new one coming out in November called Pulp, and I’m really interested in it because like with Grrrls on the Side, it's very much rooted in some literary history of queer culture, but it's kind of a half and half. So, it’s half contemporary, half historical where one of her point of view characters is in the past. I’m really looking forward to it, but, obviously, I haven't read it yet because it doesn't come out until November.
H: So, is it more of a parallel story or is it an actual time slip with consciousness going back and forth or…?
C: The way that I read it is that it’s kind of they're both dealing with – it kind of reminded me of, gosh, what's the one where like they’re reading letters from…?
H: Lake House or something like that?
C: Yeah, but I don't think it's got that supernatural kind of element, might be a little more kind of like Julie & Julia where she's like inspired by reading this writing of —
H: Ah, so, parallel? Parallel lives, it’s sort of.
C: Yeah, I think it is.
H: Yeah, that works really nicely as a way of doing the compare and contrast thing.
C: Yeah, it's about a character in the 1950s who’s gay or who’s queer – it doesn't really kind of say for sure – but she discovers a series of books about women falling in love with other women. And then, the contemporary part of the story is that she’s, the character, is doing a senior project on 1950s lesbian pulp fiction. So, the two are intertwined in that way, but they’re parallel in that sense. I just thought that was really fascinating, too, because it’s kind of like what I said I did with Grrrls on the Side which is kind of looking at some history through the lens of a contemporary approach. So, that's why I’m really excited about it.
C: Plus, I love all those old lesbian cult novels. They just had such – they were so lurid and tantalizing but also just what a great cultural point to really talk about. So, I think it can be a really fun, interesting novel.
H: Uh-huh. Anything else?
C: That's kind of it. I still have immense guilt that I had a friend recommend to me Tipping the Velvet many, many times. I have it on my kindle, and I have not read it. And I’m like, I want to read it so desperately, but it's one of those, like, I want it to be as good as it is in my mind. And I just – [Laughter] I know. It’s the same reason I never read Gone with the Wind when I was a big fan of the movie. It’s like I didn't want something to ruin the idea I had in my head.
H: Yeah, and I think it's one of those books where if you're gonna read the book, read it before you see the movie because you can't unsee, and movies always change things. But, yeah, it's a very different flavor of book than, say, the run-of-the-mill les fic. It's very dark and bleak in some ways even though it has a happy ending. It's interesting.
C: I mean, I think that's the part for me writing anything historical that I wanna get away from is the bleakness. I feel like we've had so much bleakness. There's a place for that. There’s a place for telling those authentic struggles, but I want some happy stuff, and I wanna write some happy stuff. So, I think that's where my writing will probably go next and where my reading is really focused, too. So, hopefully there's more of that stuff coming out.
H: Yeah, and I think one of the things that's unfair is people say, “Oh, well, life was horrible in history for queer people,” but life was horrible in history for 99.9% of people. So, if we're gonna allow ourselves to write happy endings for straight characters all throughout history, then we should have the same right to completely ignore the historical awfulness and write happy stories for queer people in history.
C: Yeah. I mean look at all the historical romances and some of them cover, like, a 20-year time period. It's like if all those women who couldn't own land or vote or had to submit to their husbands, all that stuff, if they can have happy endings, so can all the lesbian and bisexual women out there. They can.
H: Uh-huh, absolutely.
C: You know? Come on. Come on.
H: So, I'll put links to the books you mentioned in the show notes and thank you so much for coming on the show to share your favorite books with us.
C: Thank you.
In the Book Appreciation segments, our featured authors (or your host) will talk about one or more favorite books with queer female characters in a historic setting.
In this episode Carrie Pack recommends some favorite queer historical novels:
Links to the Lesbian Historic Motif Project Online
Links to Heather Online
Links to Carrie Pack Online