Lesbian Historic Motif Podcast - Episode 143 (previously 43a) - On the Shelf for February 2020 - Transcript
(Originally aired 2020/02/01 - listen here)
Welcome to On the Shelf for February 2020.
I sometimes wonder if my listeners would like more bits of personal information along with the book and history news. I keep trying to guess what might interest you. Which authors would you like to hear interviewed? What special book themes would you be interested in exploring? What historical eras or questions have caught your interest? Let me know.
It’s been two months since my most recent novel, Floodtide, came out and I’m still in the nail-biting period waiting to see how it was received or whether it’s already dropped out of sight. I’ve been filling in the waiting by writing a short story set in Restoration England--in London during the reign of Charles II and just after the Great Fire--featuring a courtesan and an actress and a bit of sword play. As I’m recording this, I just sent it off on submission to the anthology that inspired me to write it, though I expect the competition to be awfully tough. My back-up plan is that it’s tied in with a series of romances I’ve been doing a bunch of deep-background research for, and maybe this will start me working on that in earnest. Not that I’m done with the Alpennia series! That one still has three books to go, but it might be fun to play in some other sandboxes along the way.
Since you’re probably a podcast fan if you’re listening to this, you might want to check out the new podcast my publisher, Bella Books is putting out. It sounds like it’s going to be book news and chats with authors and that sort of thing. The title is “What’s New at Bella” and it’s available on all the standard podcatchers. Check out the link in the show notes.
LHMP Fiction Series
By the time you’re listening to this, the submissions period for the podcast’s 2020 fiction series will be closed--just barely--but I won’t yet have chosen and contracted for the stories I’ll be publishing. (And, of course, I certainly won’t have managed that at the date when I’m recording this!) That means the first story to air, at the end of February, won’t be pre-announced until it comes out. But if you want advance knowledge, you can check the master index for the podcast at the Alpenia.com website. It’ll go up there as soon as I know what it is.
Since the fiction episodes come out when there’s a fifth Saturday in the month, consider how unusual it is for one to air in February. February only has the potential for a fifth Saturday in a leap year, and then only when the first and last days of the month are on Saturday. In fact, with a little help from Quora.com, I can tell you that February 29 should only fall on a Saturday every 28 years (with a few minor adjustments). The last time it happened was in 1992, the previous time in 1964, and the next time it will happen is 2048. So if I’m still podcasting when I’m 90 years old, then you can expect another surprise story like this time.
Publications on the Blog
The blog has been covering a mixed bag of topics. January started out with a couple of survey articles on the history of lesbian history. Leila Rupp kicked off “Thinking about Lesbian History” as a general topic, and Martha Vicinus followed with “The History of Lesbian History” which is a thorough and introspective survey of the development of the field of study.
After that I finally tackled Michel Foucault’s The History of Sexuality which was just as annoying and frustrating as I expected it to be. Perhaps because I expected it to be that, but in part I just felt like “what’s the big deal here?” But read the blog for my ranting in detail.
As a palate cleanser, I worked through a series of articles with poetry as a theme. First Hariette Andreadis’s “The Sapphic-Platonics of Katherine Philips,” discussing a 17th century English poet with strong themes of love between women, who I have totally worked into the backstory of my 17th century romance series. Next up, Susan Gubar on “Sapphistries” looking at how various poets have used and reinterpreted the image of Sappho and her work across the centuries. And then an article focused on Sappho the historic person, “Sappho and Her Social Context” by Judith Hallett who has done some fascinating work on sexuality in the classical world.
Time for the book shopping segment! While putting together last month’s essay on Iphis and Ianthe, I impulsively went out online and bought a secondhand copy of the collection Presenting Gender: Changing Sex in Early-Modern Culture. As it happened, the article on 17th and 18th century dramatic productions of the story wasn’t directly useful for the podcast I was putting together, but the collection has several other useful articles that will go in the to-do list. I won’t count as “shopping” the couple of medieval and Renaissance translations of Iphis and Ianthe that I downloaded from various sites for putting the show together. I’m so glad I’m doing this kind of research in an era when so many historic texts have been made available online.
Other than that moment of weakness, I’m still trying to hold off on too much book shopping because it only means I have something new and shiny that I want to work into the current schedule. But I did pick up a back-up hardcover copy of a beloved book that I already own in paperback: Emma Donogue’s Passions Between Women. I spotted it...well, there’s a bit of a story and it might be fun to tell so you get a better picture of my relationship with books.
I don’t think of myself as someone who is a memorably extreme buyer of research books, but either I’m wrong, or Michael Hackenberg, the proprietor of Hackenberg Booksellers, is just that good. Hackenberg really is just that good, but I suspect that I’m a more memorable book buyer than I think. You have to be good to thrive as a seller of academic and antiquarian books in today’s market, and Hackenberg has an index-card-memory of what all his customers’ specialties and interests are. When I first got to know him, he was located in downtown Berkeley and I was in grad school. Back then, I specialized in texts on Celtic language and linguistics, with Welsh history on the side. He’s the one who stuck a copy of Seebohm’s The Tribal System in Ancient Wales in front of my face and then waited patiently for me to decide I really did want to spend $300 on it on a grad student’s budget. That was in the dealer’s room of the Medieval Congress at Kalamazoo, which is where I most often run into him these days. Which is a bit odd, given that we’re both located in the San Francisco Bay Area! The first time I saw him there, he recognized me straight off among the thousands of medievalists passing through and remembered exactly what my interests were. He’s caught up when my academic focus shifted over to textile history, though he’s still catching up with more recent shifts.
Periodically I’ll get an email from him saying, “Hey I thought you might be interested in this.” My most common response is, “Have it already.” My second most common is, “Nah, not quite my thing.” But when he hits my sweet spot, my wallet comes out pretty quickly. So this time, it was Margaret Spufford’s The Great Reclothing of Rural England: Petty Chapmen and their Wares in the Seventeenth Century. He thought I might be interested because of the textile and clothing angle, but I immediately thought of my current writing interests in Restoration England. No, I’m not abandoning Alpennia, but I just finished a 17th century short story that ties in with a series of romances I want to write, so my book-buying reflexes are attuned in that direction. This specific book may be of fairly marginal usefulness to my writing unless I decide to create a character specifically based on the subject, but it delves into the lives of ordinary people, which can be a hard topic to find good sources on.
There’s an additional bit of trivia about this book because it came from the library of Professor Jan de Vries (not the Dutch linguist who died in 1964, but the American historian of economic history at UC Berkeley) and has an inscription from the author to him on the flyleaf. I don’t tend to make a fuss about inscriptions or signatures unless it’s an author I have a personal relationship with. But it’s still interesting to have that bit of direct connection in the book.
But how does this relate to book shopping for the Lesbian Historic Motif Project, you ask? I’m getting to that. One of these days, I need to spend a day browsing through the shelves at Hackenberg’s store because I always find things that I had no idea I wanted (or sometimes, no idea they existed) until I see them. But I was on my lunch hour from work this time, so the only other book I spotted and picked up was a hardbound copy of Emma Donoghue’s Passions Between Women: British Lesbian Culture 1668-1801 which I count as one of a couple of foundational books in my journey through lesbian history. I already had a copy, of course--the paperback copy I picked up back in 1993 when it first came out! But paperback copies of books I use this often and this enthusiastically are often the worse for the wear, and like Faderman’s Surpassing the Love of Men (another of my foundational books), I thought it worth buying a second, more durable copy.
So those were my book-buying adventures for the month, not counting a rather self-indulgent session at Moe’s Books in Berkeley picking up deep-background research materials for my fiction.
This month’s author guest will be Stephanie Burgis, who is coming out with a brand new book in one of my favorite genres: Regency fantasy romance. Like some other recent f/f historicals, this is part of a series romance where the earlier books had male-female romances. But unlike most others, the promise of a female couple was right there in the very beginning, so I’m excited that we’ve finally gotten to the right point in the series for them to get their featured story.
For this month’s essay, I picked a topic that has been nibbling at my attention for a while: the question of how and when masculine presentation started to be considered a lesbian signifier in Western culture, though I touch on Islamicate culture as well. This is a different topic than the question of gender disguise or transgender presentation and its intersection with relationships perceived as being between two women. In this essay, I’m going to look at how masculine-coded presentation--“mannishness”, if you will--has been used to indicate or interpreted as being associated with female desire for women. It’s a topic that could have whole books written on it and I’m only going to skim the surface, but some of the answers may be surprising.
Recent Lesbian Historical Fiction
What books are coming out this month or have come out recently and haven’t been previously mentioned? I have a list of nine books, catching up with a few from December and January and including one February book that I’ll defer until next month because I haven’t been able to verify that it has f/f content.
Also, remember that I’ve added a Lesbian Historic Motif Podcast Patreon feature where I offer mini-reviews of books mentioned on the show, based on previews. Because the previews may not be available until the book is released, I’ve just posted the January books. If you’re interested and you’re a LHMP Patreon member, look for the mini-reviews toward the end of the month.
First up we have a December book, The Traveler - Book One: The Hunted by Kim Pritikel from Sapphire books.
1977: In the era between flower power and the yuppie, Sonia Lucas is a young wife and mother, just starting out in life. Without warning, a strange presence and dark force enters her life, clouds building …. 1917: …. and a storm brewing as the world reeled from the horrific events of World War I just before it was ravaged by a Spanish flu epidemic that would kill millions. Sephora Lloyd is a 16 year old girl lost in the responsibilities of an adult world helping to support herself and her mother. A beautiful young nun-in-training enters her life, bringing love and hope with her. That is, until a force bigger than either of them threatens everything Sephora holds dear.
January books start with Merchants of Milan: Book One of the Night Flyer Trilogy by Edale Lane from Past and Prologue Press.
Three powerful merchants, two independent women in love, one masked vigilante. Florentina, set on revenge for her father’s murder, creates an alter-ego known as the Night Flyer. Madelena, whose husband was also murdered, hires Florentina as a tutor for her children and love blossoms between them. However, Florentina’s vendetta is fraught with danger, and surprising developments threaten both women’s lives. Merchants of Milan is the first book in Edale Lane’s Night Flyer Trilogy, a tale of power, passion, and payback in Renaissance Italy.
Next is a Western, Pioneer Hearts, self-published by Becky Harris.
All Belle wanted was to be left alone, but life doesn't always give you what you want surviving on the harsh frontier. It was supposed to be a simple trip into town. Once a year. Get supplies. Ignore the jeers and jibes from townsfolk who didn't want to understand her. Ignore how everything reminded her of Suzanne. She wasn't expecting Jeane. A damsel in distress out on the prairie? A broken down wagon and three men who meant no good closing in on her? Belle knew frontier life could be harsh, and sometimes that meant dealing with rabid animals. Only now she's stuck with Jeane. And the more time they spend together traveling back to her homestead, the more she can't get this woman out of her mind. The more she starts hoping, against all reason and hope, that maybe she can find something like what she had with Suzanne. Two women, alone together on the frontier where they can truly be themselves, learning to love again.
Now we get to the February books, most of which are from mainstream sources.
Belle Revolte by Linsey Miler from Sourcebooks Fire is a YA historic fantasy set in an alternate French Revolution.
Emilie des Marais is more at home holding scalpels than embroidery needles and is desperate to escape her noble roots to serve her country as a physician. But society dictates a noble lady cannot perform such gruesome work. Annette Boucher, overlooked and overworked by her family, wants more from life than her humble beginnings and is desperate to be trained in magic. So when a strange noble girl offers Annette the chance of a lifetime, she accepts. Emilie and Annette swap lives―Annette attends finishing school as a noble lady to be trained in the ways of divination, while Emilie enrolls to be a physician's assistant, using her natural magical talent to save lives. But when their nation instigates a terrible war, Emilie and Annette come together to help the rebellion unearth the truth before it's too late.
Another fantasy alternate history is Deathless Divide by Justina Ireland from Harper Collins. This is the sequel to her post-Civil War zombie story Dread Nation. I hadn’t mentioned the first book on the podcast because I could’t tell if there was queer content, but this one seems more solid on that point.
After the fall of Summerland, Jane McKeene hoped her life would get simpler: Get out of town, stay alive, and head west to California to find her mother. But nothing is easy when you’re a girl trained in putting down the restless dead, and a devastating loss on the road to a protected village called Nicodemus has Jane questioning everything she thought she knew about surviving in 1880s America. What’s more, this safe haven is not what it appears—as Jane discovers when she sees familiar faces from Summerland amid this new society. Caught between mysteries and lies, the undead, and her own inner demons, Jane soon finds herself on a dark path of blood and violence that threatens to consume her. But she won’t be in it alone. Katherine Deveraux never expected to be allied with Jane McKeene. But after the hell she has endured, she knows friends are hard to come by—and that Jane needs her too, whether Jane wants to admit it or not. Watching Jane’s back, however, is more than she bargained for, and when they both reach a breaking point, it’s up to Katherine to keep hope alive—even as she begins to fear that there is no happily-ever-after for girls like her.
Next up is the Regency fantasy Moontangled by this month’s author guest Stephanie Burgis, from Five Fathoms Press.
For just one moonlit, memorable night, Thornfell College of Magic has flung open its doors, inviting guests from around the nation to a ball intended to introduce the first-ever class of women magicians to society...but one magician and one invited guest have far more pressing goals of their own for the night. Quietly brilliant Juliana Banks is determined to win back the affections of her secret fiancée - rising politician Caroline Fennell, who has become inexplicably distant ever since the events of Thornbound. Juliana may be shy, impractical and bookish, but she's never lacked for courage. If she needs to use magic to get her stubborn fiancée to pay her attention...well, then, as the top student in her class, she is more than ready to take on that challenge! Unbeknownst to Juliana, though, Caroline has been wracked by political and emotional turmoil in their time apart. Tonight, she's come to nobly save her fiancée from the oncoming fallout by cutting off their secret betrothal for good - and no one has ever accused Caroline Fennell of being easy to distract from any goal. Their path to mutual happiness may seem tangled beyond repair...but when they enter the fae-ruled woods that border Thornfell College, these two determined women will find all of their plans upended in a night of unexpected and magical possibilities.
The Mercies by Kiran Millwood Hargrave from Little, Brown and Company is a rather different-looking story.
Finnmark, Norway, 1617. Twenty-year-old Maren Magnusdatter stands on the craggy coast, watching the sea break into a sudden and reckless storm. Forty fishermen, including her brother and father, are drowned and left broken on the rocks below. With the menfolk wiped out, the women of the tiny Arctic town of Vardø must fend for themselves. Three years later, a sinister figure arrives. Absalom Cornet comes from Scotland, where he burned witches in the northern isles. He brings with him his young Norwegian wife, Ursa, who is both heady with her husband's authority and terrified by it. In Vardø, and in Maren, Ursa sees something she has never seen before: independent women. But Absalom sees only a place untouched by God, and flooded with a mighty evil. As Maren and Ursa are drawn to one another in ways that surprise them both, the island begins to close in on them, with Absalom's iron rule threatening Vardø's very existence. Inspired by the real events of the Vardø storm and the 1621 witch trials, The Mercies is a story of love, evil, and obsession, set at the edge of civilization.
And I’m going to finish this month’s listings with the 6th book in a series that didn’t show up on my radar earlier. End of War in Thermopylae in the Thermopylae Bound series by Belinda Harrison from Gee Be Publications. This is an ancient Greek historic fantasy with gods and monsters. There is definitely an f/f romance in the first book but it isn’t entirely clear to me whether that aspect carries throughout the series. I figured I’d give it the benefit of the doubt, but it looks to me like you’d be best off starting at the beginning.
Before Ava sent Ares to the cage, he promised her the Persians would return to Greek shores and in the autumn of 480BC, nine winters after Ava’s return to Trachis, his words ring true. The yellow caps are sailing to the west, intent on claiming victory. But they are not the only returning enemy. Ava’s greatest foe has also found his way back to Thermopylae and means to take revenge for what she denied him of. Ava will have to call on more than just her willpower and the god of the forge if she is to be victorious again; the consequences dire should she fail. As their final showdown looms, hearts will be broken and old stories proven once and for all. This is the Battle of Thermopylae. This is life and death. This is love and war. This is the end of war in Thermopylae.
What Am I Reading?
So what have I been reading since the last update? I zipped through an advance review copy of Moontangled by Stephanie Burgis, which I loved. I read a rather unexpected queer historical set in the Neolithic era, Between Boat and Shore by Rhiannon Grant. Because I desperately want more f/f historicals from Alyssa Cole, I made do by reading her contemporary romance novella Once Ghosted Twice Shy. I’m still reading A Jewel Bright Sea by Claire O’Dell, which has some queer characters in the background. I should explain why it’s taking me so long to finish. I’m reading different books on different platforms, and I have A Jewel Bright Sea on iBooks on my phone, but for some reason my reading progress isn’t syncing with my iPad, so I’m reading at times when I don’t have the iPad available which makes it very stop-and-start. Usually I save phone reading for non-fiction that I don’t plan to get immersed in. I think that’s everything, though it feels like I’ve read more. Just to shake things up this month, I’m planning to read an actual physical copy of a novel! Stay tuned for this exciting development.
Your monthly update on what the Lesbian Historic Motif Project has been doing.
In this episode we talk about:
Links to the Lesbian Historic Motif Project Online
Links to Heather Online