Book Appreciation with Anna Clutterbuck-Cook part 1

On this episode of The Lesbian Historic Motif Podcast, Heather Rose Jones does book appreciation with Anna Clutterbuck-Cook part 1

Episode 35b

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. This time we had so much to talk about we split it into two episodes.

Listen to this episode here

In this episode we talk about:

Links to the Lesbian Historic Motif Project Online

Links to Anna Clutterbuck-Cook Online

 

Transcript

please note this transcript has not been edited and is automatically generated meaning certain words will be incorrect

[Music] this is Heather Rose Jones with a lesbian historic motif podcast this weekly podcast looks at lesbian themes in history and literature and historic research into gender and sexuality we talk about current historical fiction with queer female characters including fantastic versions of the past and have interviews with authors who write those stories and in months when we have a fifth show we’re proud to present new original lesbian historical fiction for your enjoyment usually when I do a book appreciation show I’m focusing on a few specific books that my guest wants to talk about but when I invited Anna Clutterbuck-Cook on to the show it was in the middle of a Twitter conversation about FF historicals in general touching on both loves and frustrations about the field so expect this to be a fairly wide-ranging conversation Anna is a reader writer historian and reference librarian she explained that in the past five years she has rediscovered the romance genre after spending years reading and writing romance and fanfiction form she reads and writes FF mm FM and poly relationships and reads primarily historical x’ paranormals and historical paranormals when she can find them with a dash of contemporaries when the right one comes along she grew up in West Michigan and currently lives in Roslindale MIT Massachusetts with her wife and two cats welcome Anna thank you it’s great to be on so when I first proposed having you come onto the show you suggested a few topics for discussion and I think this is going to be more of a discussion that an interview because we both have passionate opinions about them sometimes in agreement and sometimes with different points of view the first topic is I think the one I first noticed you posting about on Twitter which is the structural barriers in the publishing world for readers looking for FF romance and I think it may help if we settle on using FF to talk about in general about books featuring relationships between women and use lesbian romance or less Vic to talk about the self-identified community of readers writers and publishers who use those terms because that comes into some of the dynamics we’ll be talking about so let’s start talking about price yeah so to elaborate a little bit I said about how I came back into published romance in a context where I was actually purchasing books because when you are reading and writing the fanfiction the majority of those materials are going to be free the people who write them are not writing them for as part of their professional writing although sometimes they are professional writers the fanfiction is usually available without having to pay anything for them and so when I came from a context where I was reading romance stories that I didn’t have to pay for at all into a space where I’m purchasing material that is sold by writers who are making that part of their living which is something I I support I believe people should get paid for their work if it’s where they are choosing to do in that context but I was buying ebooks primarily because even though I belong to you a number of really strong public library systems a lot of the queer romance that I was looking for the authors were either running print fiction and then publishing different original stories on the side or were people who were recommended by other fan fiction readers most of those were independently published not confectional romance publishing houses and often online only so I wasn’t able to find print versions of most of these stories and so I was buying largely through Kindle the Kindle platform on Amazon and a lot of times the way that those books are structured you get a series of novels or novellas the first couple are going to be in 99 cents apiece 2099 so in that way you can try out a new author for much less than the price of a latte these days so so as I started paying for romance novels that’s the put those are the price points that I became familiar with and the context I was purchasing romance and then as it was searching for most of the author’s I was reading in that context were either mm or MF and sometimes more complex relationships so I was starting to look for romance that was FF focused people would recommend things to me on Twitter their favorite authors things like that but as I was you know going to look up those titles I was finding them to be much higher in price so like 999 $12.99 those kind of prices which I I don’t have a lot of discretionary money so there is a big difference in know how many titles I can buy at those higher price points and waiting into what felt like a field where I was really unfamiliar with the authors so there weren’t authors I was already familiar with from these mm and MF contexts who are also writing ffs so I’m you know listening to people who have made good you know trustworthy recommendations but I’m buying at often that I’m completely just completely new to me so it can be really frustrating when you’re trying to figure out what authors you like and what kind of keywords to look for in your novel descriptions whenever you’re starting out with a new genre you end up inevitably reading stuff that doesn’t quite do it for you because you’re sort of flailing around trying to figure yeah I think sometimes especially when you’re moving into a new I guess publishing community you don’t know what the keywords are you don’t know what the code is – that will tell you this is a book that that’s gonna hit my sweet spot because every every subfield has its own code yep I agree and like even coming from you know fan fiction has a very elaborate code yes every 9/4 right one exactly and I really appreciate that you know everything I mean if people don’t tag their work accurately in the fanfiction community people get very upset because that’s how they sort and filter and find things and also avoid the things that they don’t want to read so you know if you get a story that has one of the major characters dying at the end and the title the the data around the story hasn’t used that for you pen fiction readers are gonna get very upset and so I came out of that context where I really knew how to sort through things and then the published romance world has another whole set again and I do I do think that though let’s pick publishing he seems to have yet again a related but also distinct vocabulary for what people are looking for yeah so cross walking the knowledge that I brought from the previous two communities of you know romance story writers and readers into less bitch less fix pieces was not as helpful yeah is that you know might be ideal I confess the the price aspect never has never been a barrier for me and that’s coming from a couple of different directions one is that that my my reading background is primarily mainstream fantasy and science fiction so I come into it with the default expectation of you know mainstream mass-market prices so it you know part of that is just you know what what is normal for you the other aspect being that you know I am in the privileged position of being able to shell out lots of money for books when I buy my fiction books I think nothing at all well ok I do think a little bit about paying more than a hundred bucks for a single book but but I do get on a regular basis so so that’s something where I can I can sympathize but it doesn’t hit me in in the in the gut the same way it does for for people who read a lot more fiction than I do and for people who don’t have that same budget for it but it I I think part of what you noticed when you started looking at especially the less fixed side of publishing is the history of the field because the pricing on and I’m thinking of publishers like my own publisher Bela or bold strokes or publishers like that who are giving books the 999 ebook prices and the you know fifteen to twenty dollar heart the paperback prices yeah a lot of them are coming out of the early feminist publishing I mean Bela is in some ways the spiritual successor of nayad that ebooks were not a thing so the but business model got established when it was hard copies and put bookstore distribution and yet having to model yourself that way and you know I I’m very much ignorant of the development of say the mmm fiction world I remember seeing what I think must have been self-published hardcovers not not our governance but paperbacks and science fiction conventions right at the beginning of sort of the self-publishing movement back when I don’t think ebooks were really a thing yet although my memory is fuzzy but I don’t know if there was this same the same industry of gay male fishing that was entrenched in you know physical books for the for the current mmm romance ebook market to evolve out of or whether it really developed and bloomed within the e-book context yeah that’s a good that’s a good question and I like you I am more familiar with the you know women’s bookstores women’s publishing houses the seventies and eighties that I know were you know are very distinct and very clear predecessor to today’s less polished houses I mean I know that back in the 60s and 70s and probably into the eighties there were you know gay bookstores I’m in Boston the anniversary of Stonewall celebrations where we have a whole list of you know sites of former game bookstores that well isn’t that a sad thought sites of former gay bookstores yeah I I could you know mark on a map all of my old favorite feminist bookstores that none of which still exist yeah yeah and so I know it’s um certainly at some point in the mid 20th century there were in part because mainstream booksellers more selling you know gay publishing houses or gay friend publishing houses my sense is that mm as it exists today is somewhat distinct from gay fiction as well yeah yes and that’s that’s another topic we should probably at least – so so there is yeah that’s I think a topic that would be really interesting I don’t sort of have enough background in the publishing aspect of it it was kind of tangential to the topic of my podcast but I mean for the listeners even the use of terms like m m and F F is coming largely out of the fanfiction movement right and I think that there is also I don’t know how much truth there is to this but the cultural sense from people who aren’t necessarily in the queer romance reading and writing world that that mmm is a genre developed by straight women for straight women as of course it’s a misnomer because I think a lot of them are by women and I even know lesbians who preferentially write mmm but but yes bye-bye non gay men for non-game some of the conversations that women who are coming up through the less fiction community and are not reading or their perception is definitely still that mmm is a space that’s not really queer and is appropriative of gay male identity which i think is an aspect of the conversation that shouldn’t be ignored or you know brushed off i always think conversations about appropriation are important to have but given that the majority of the authors i know who are writing mmm are themselves queer complicates the appropriate aspect of things because it’s not straight women writing about gay men for their own you know sort of community it’s queer women writing queer stories i and then by trans authors and I’m not binary authors and so it’s a space that is much more complicatedly queerer than people who are looking in from the outside and saying you know this is just a bunch of you know women writing gay porn for each other which of course has has the whole dismissing romance aspect to it which brings in misogyny and and yada yadi so so I think that it brings up a lot of there’s also I don’t think there’s any problem with you know women engaging with with gay porn either but but there are problems embedded in it and I think that getting back to the price point of course one of the dynamics that’s going on is however you measure it the market for mm fiction is substantially larger than the market for FF fiction and especially then the market for what is identified as less fact less effect tends to identify itself as you know the core the the prototype model of less fake which isn’t to say that this covers all cases I get prototype theory into everything because that’s my academic background but is that it’s been written by lesbians for lesbians about lesbians the idea being that it’s an own voices movement that the target audience is assumed to be women who love women and that the content of the books will guarantee the reader that you know to talk about a crude that you’re not gonna have any penises wandering wandering around through your plug and that those those factors narrow it down even further than just a question of who might enjoy reading FF romance and as we know any time economics comes into a field the smaller your market the the worse your price point is so especially the people who are publishing physical books where you’ve got the overhead and you’ve got the distribution and everything that the smaller the market the higher the price you have to set in order to make ends meet so if you’re trying to do it professionally especially if you’re a publisher where you’ve got you know a physical space you’ve got staff it’s it’s simply an economic reality however that then creates a vicious spiral in the marketplace so yeah in terms of the economics of published romance and less fiction like we sexism is undeniably a part of that even in genre romance that’s dominated by women there it is still like I think that economically there’s a reason why mmm has been more quickly integrated into public romances genres I’m seeing more series with MF and mmm characters so you have multiple works where you’re getting both types of relationships in the same stories and even those are much less likely to have FF and if they do have FF relationships in them there either in novellas which means that the author has been given permission to include this but probably hasn’t been supported by the publisher you’re right fully FF yeah we’re seeing a couple of things coming out an extra you know I’ve seen a couple of those coming out from like name authors I mean like like Alissa Cole’s FF novella where exactly you know it’s like it would be lovely if she’d write more but one suspects that the money isn’t there exactly in it so I think that this also my suspicion is that part of the reason you have so many queer women writing mmm in the romance market is that they can successfully pitch those stories and they’re not getting picked up for her bath so if you’re wanting to write queer romance and also work with publishing houses is in the sort of mainstream of romance those pitches are going to be much more like lucrative and just as strictly economic I need to pay rent this month yeah and so they you start out writing those and then I have you know half a dozen you mentioned ELISA Cole we’ve got kg Charles we have Jordan Hawk a number of others who have been who have now established themselves as mmm authors who are playing around with are people going to read my FF and fight if I put out a short story if I write them as background characters in you know a novel at center is an M M or M F relationship and I’m hopefully hopefully those experiments will prove both to the author’s and the publishers that the readership is there although it’s I have had some interesting speculations in my own head where I don’t know that even the success of those branching out from the from the authors who are primarily M F and mm or combination of the two I don’t know that that will necessarily open up the field to authors who are primarily writing FF as opposed to you know proving to publishers that yes if you’ve got an established readership you can do this occasionally and it won’t hurt your brand danger and much like the conversation around you know white authors writing more racially diverse characters versus actually hiring yeah coloring their stories that’s a dynamic that I think is important not to discount who and has real structural ramifications for who who who’s writing and getting remunerated fairly for what they’re doing and it gets into you know one of your other topics which is cross promotion how people find new authors that you know when when ELISA coal or KJ Charles writes in FF book that doesn’t necessarily lead their readers to other FF authors that that may lead their readers to say hey you know I wish I could get more of this but if there isn’t a mechanism for then crossing over and saying hey you know there are these authors who write this all the time and you might like them too now I have to say my experience with with KJ Charles is that she is wonderful about cross promoting people outside of the mm and MF markets when when they come to her her attention for for books that she thinks that her readers would also enjoy and I had Alyssa Cole on my show and and it was lovely and I’m doing my best to cross-promote in that direction to take people from mainstream as it were and tell s Vick readers hey you know there are people outside our own community who are writing books that I think you would really enjoy and and here’s my my deep dark secret ulterior motive to tell people in the lesyk community you know there are people writing really really good FF romance that you might want to think about using as a model for your own writing because that gets back to one of the other things you’re talking about which is you look in the in the less Vic publishing community you find a new author and you don’t know you don’t know what flavor you’re getting and there is very definitely a strong flavor within a group of flavors within the less Vic publishing community and there’s also and I’m gonna say something really controversial here from my primary audience there is a strong acceptance of a lower level of writing quality unless Vic because that’s what people are used to and I know it’s kind of you know hazardous for me to say things like that not only because that is my publishing context but because there’s this very strong tradition of you know you do not diss your fellow less Vic people and to suggest that there are systemic quality issues in less Vic is really taboo and yet I think as I think you have mentioned on occasion you know it’s very hit and miss you you you take a random lesyk romance and the chances are if you are used to mainstream publishing writing quality it is not going to meet your standards in the past that if you’re someone who’s coming to lesyk looking for FF relationships and saying oh gosh here’s a whole community of people you write this where do I start when you start with us you know if you sort of had things that have been Hansel to you on a recommendation from friends as decent examples of the genre and you get in and it’s basic sort of craft issues around point of view shifted this book is all dialogue right and you can do some of those things effectively but if it’s snow if it’s if it’s problems that I actually wasn’t really frustrated with in a piece of fanfiction that someone has written it and probably had you know a beta reader or to help them to refine and post if I’m seeing problems that wouldn’t get past a beta reader in fanfiction in a published romance that I paid for you know it is it becomes that much harder to sell me on the next one right then like what make me the story is great but the quality of writing is really really thin or they’re just basic structural issues and they don’t know enough about the editorial processes that go into I I know that there are some people who are self published in all of these categories but if someone’s working with a publishing house you know some of my favorite mmm authors I know have developmental editors and have you know several layers of working through stories to stammer out flesh out the characters and all that kind of stuff they’re getting a lot of editorial support mm-hmm and I don’t know if in the lesbian community there’s just less of that to go around so people are don’t have the opportunity to strengthen their writing through that editorial process or if something else is going on yeah and certainly for I would say the vast majority of self-published lesyk authors that the the editorial support is pretty catch as catch can but it varies enormously in very seamlessly so how do you typically find new FF authors that you have then enjoyed what are the methods that have worked for you I don’t know if I have found I think I’m still in the process of struggling to find like a big big pool of lustick authors authors what I would say is that the majority of my finding romance stories whatever the relationship at the center of them that I enjoy has been largely through one-to-one contact and recommendations so either three friends whose taste I know is similar to my own who say hey I found this author it’s great you know check it out poor authors who I really enjoy recommending a fellow authors so you had talked about KJ Charles Wright reading stuff and saying hey if you like my work you’ll also like this that sort of snowball sampling is how I find most of my new content so whether it’s fanfiction whether it’s published bromance occasionally I do I will follow an author that I know into an anthology which i think is a really useful way of finding new authors so if an author I know has a short story in a book with you know five to ten other authors who are all writing paranormal shorts or something like that I’ll check that book out and then usually I’ll find an author to whose work who’s the contribution to anthology I really like who I will then go and see what they have so that’s another example I think of cross-promotion that can be really effective and for established authors it’s a great way to support voices that they feel are underrepresented in the genre whoo-hoo because you can say okay if you’ve got a key Jake Charles or Jordan hawk or something like that whose name is on this anthology then we can bring in some other people who don’t have that same draw but who are writing in a very similar vein yeah it’s very much similar to you know who are your favorite authors reading and enjoying and that’s that’s actually one of the reasons I started doing the the book appreciation add ons to my interviews and it goes two ways and I’ve heard people talk about this where part of it is if you’re already a fan of the author who’s making the recommendations then it’s you know a shortcut to maybe I would like the books they like but the other side of it is if you’ve never heard of this author before but they’re saying I like this book in this book of this book and you have also liked a couple of them you’re more likely to try that author because at the very least they’ve got good taste you know so I always view it as a win-win for authors to talk about the books that they like because it forms this you know this this overlay network of similarities that people can follow yeah absolutely I follow a lot of romance authors on Twitter and if they are talking about a book or you know they see and they recommend a new author you know I am much more likely if someone whose work I like to even go and give something a try at a higher price point because they say you know this is really awesome you should watch this person’s work so so yeah I think that that hand selling I come from the book from the bookseller world right became a librarian and that’s sort of you know this is a new book this is a new author that if you like this person you should give a try really really doesn’t work I still remember the day I walked into my local science fiction fantasy book shop and I said to them to the book so the bookstore owner so there’s this new author that friends of mine have thought I might like and I’m trying to remember and he came out with the author and block off the top of his head just from that introduction I mean what we have lost in the loss of small genre specific bookstores is incalculable and Twitter can only make up for a little bit I’m sorry I was gonna say do they have a podcast no you sing you sing they don’t really strongly review publications romance bookstore you know the one the one you yeah I need to get down there someday yeah I’m too far away at the moment but to get down there but you know people are making pilgrimages so I look at the end the independent bookstore face even you know is is very important I think to that sort of hand telling getting nervous into people’s hands because the people who work in those spaces are so excited about what they have to offer yeah the flipside of the the personal network recommendations is you know you look at those those schematic diagrams of you know personal connections and and who talks to who and and and then you you see how the different networks don’t intersect or they you know have these very small intersections and I know you know when I first started regularly reading smart bitches trashy books you know looking for additional information about lesbian romance especially lesbian historical and you know just combing through their their archives with search words and whatnot and it wasn’t simply that there was so little information but that when they had recommendation threads it was it was a mixture of people saying gosh I wish there was more I don’t know of any and people recommending a very small set of very often the same authors over and over again where it’s like I knew how small a set that was and so you can get hooked into these recommendation networks and still not realize how much is out there that you never hear about because of the structure of the network using whisper networks yes no your problem people are in your community right because if you don’t know the people who are your into the whisper network then you’re really vulnerable to falling into relationship with this person who have you know that the problematic person because you haven’t heard you haven’t heard the gossip and I think that that’s really similar the the size of the silos are real yeah and they have real ramifications and I think I’m not sure apart from sort of continuing to chip away yeah I’m not sure how I don’t think there’s a magic way to break down those barriers in part because I think that when we’ve talked about this on Twitter too that there are historical reasons why the last big publishing and the less effect readership are wary of opening up those spaces yeah I think we ended up with the the metaphor of a walled garden or something like that I don’t know if that was with me where especially the electric publishers that came out of the feminist publishing movement deliberately cultivated you know safe space in modern terms that you know this is what we are going to do and this is what we’re going to promise you and this is what we’re going to focus on and we are going to actively cultivate what we are doing in a very deliberate way coming out of you know the the you know political radicalism of the 70s and 80s and it it does what it means to do but it does have consequences for maintaining those silos for really you know telling other potential community participants other potential authors other potential readers and saying this isn’t for you you know the I think we’ve talked about you know that they’re the the less Vic publishing community is only just starting to come out from under a serious cloud of biphobia we’re right you know originally you wanted to promise your readers that you do not have to worry about the characters and your romance novel possibly ever being involved with men but that then shuts out a vast potential audience of women for whom not only would that not be a problem but it feels actively off-putting for the characters to be you know anti by in terms of life choices are they any bisexual reader myself I have I have been you know very consciously lesbian you know women on these spaces in my life and there are times when I think those are useful and haven’t haven’t always felt so how actively hostile to me but I do think that it’s really the biphobia is a part of it and I think trans representation is another part of it because I see there are certain FF romances that we’ll get that have a really strong readership where there’s a character who is who could be read either way and and I think those are about like it’s valid to have a character who cross dresses but still identifies as a woman or identifies as butch or however that person wants to identify but but for some readers that feels like trans erasure the lesbian talk show relies on support the support of you our listeners the support of those who like and review our show on their favorite podcast app the support of our patrons on patreon and the support of our sponsors we hope you’ll continue to enjoy and support the lesbian talk show so let’s move on to talking about historical tropes in particular because that’s a useful place to enter the discussion especially I find this especially in American West stories that you can almost guarantee one of the characters is going to be at the very least cross-dressing and engaged into masculine profession a male coded profession and very often will in fact be a passing woman will be a self-identified woman passing as a man to all intents and purposes and as you say even when it’s clear from the story that the character identifies as female the the lack of any acknowledgement of other possibilities can be very off-putting to readers who expect more trans inclusivity yeah I think especially when you’re talking about historical that gets into really front territory right because you as a historian you’re wrestling with what the documentary record provides and what the what the documentary record provides is the fact that the identities that we now I think about as trans were different in the 19th century the vocabulary was different the ways that people express their gender or different the models they had for identifying themselves were different right and so we will never know based on the historical record for the most part unless someone leaves very clear language to the cook to explain you know that there there is a long history of women of people who were identified as women gender crossing for various professional you know survival based reasons or personal taste and if all you have is a newspaper record that says you know person died autopsy was done oh my gosh it was a woman you had the sort of sensationalist press end of the story this person was married to a woman lived as a man for many years was discovered upon death to be medically female yes right the doctors pronounced this person was actually female who’s to say how that person understood their gender identity and so when people are writing a story if they’re an author who understands that narrative to be about a woman who was passing as a man for sort of utilitarian purposes they’re gonna tell that story in a certain way and if they’re a writer or a reader who understands that narrative to be more about personal gender identity they’re gonna tell that story in a different way both of those readings are valid for the person who’s writing the novel but your readership is going to come at it from a whole range of perspectives and feel like their understanding of those stories is invalidated like I’m thinking of the biography the fictional biography of doctor Barry that everybody’s been talking about on Twitter and this is a little bit of a this is a really loaded example because the book is being published by a mainstream publisher and it’s not clearly labeled fiction so people feel like it’s misrepresenting then it’s at the very least fictionalized biography right so are we talking about someone who’s misrepresenting a historical record versus inspired by real-life events but that I think is similar story where the author feels the historical care the historical person that their character is based off of was a woman was a cisgender woman who was crossing as a man in order to practice medicine many other people legitimately feel that the historical record says this person chose to live their life as a man it should be represented as such and so I think that that’s a real a real tension in FF romance that often readers will come to a story and feel it is it is erasure to call it FF you know because their main character as one of the complications of that in the historic context and as you know I am an amateur historian and I delve into this a lot in my blog is that there is a vast territory in history both real-life people and literature where the gender disguise aspect is the window into the possibility of a homoerotic interaction where it I didn’t hold ese wants about it being a sort of a portal fantasy mechanism where gender disguise creates that that window that doorway into imagining what it would be like to love somebody of the same gender and this is why you know I always get just twitchy around the idea of well if you couldn’t do a trans interpretation of a historic figure you should take that interpretation because for me that takes away so many of and I’m deliberately using inflammatory language here for me that would take away so many of the characters and figures that I have been able to identify with in history and historic literature and I’m actually doing a series on the podcast right now that really goes into these ideas of the intertwining of gender and sexuality in historic themes there were you know a lot of cultural context where the culture told you if you’re a female bodied person who is in love with or attracted to a woman by definition that actually makes you a trans man and and that historically there was this erasure of lesbian possibilities from the culture from the cultural context from the models that that they had for understanding how the world worked and that that’s that’s not exclusive there were also plenty of cultures that said no to female presenting women can be in love with a half section with each other and that’s that’s a thing but it does complicate the issue of interpretation and the the pith I always try to take is that there’s no it’s not an either/or you know you don’t have to claim a particular individual or a particular story for one side in one side only we we can share it can be both a wave and a particle but that the the queer identity movement in all of its parts has had such a strong sense of claiming of historic claiming and saying this person this this person was one of us this person was like me and it’s very hard to share to share and not feel like you are losing something in the sharing and and that I think it’s something we are all going to have to work through and not feel like we have to elbow people out of the way to for our identification purposes yeah I think that that’s very well the idea like sharing without losing something I think is really evocative and it makes me think of this essay by Linda Holmes of NPR she wrote around I think it was the Black Widow movie that came out it was one of the Avengers movies in which Black Widow was a character and the storyline there was a storyline around forced sterilization yeah and her desire to have a baby but being unable to you because she’d been sterilized and there were a lot of in social media and elsewhere and because of course you know there were people who are like you know a woman’s entire identity shouldn’t be reduced to you know she wants to get pregnant can’t and then people equally obviously saying you know it’s it’s valid to want to be a mother and Linda Holmes wrote this great essay about basically resource scarcity and saying like when you have one female nurse er in this in this franchise and she gets one movie about with it centers her story everyone wants that story to feel like something that’s personal to be like they can connect with that character because it’s the one woman in this universe and so she becomes contested territory because everyone wants it that’s okay and the solution to that is having enough in this case enough female character is that you have a wide range of possibilities for how a woman may or may not want to become a parent and how they want to become a parent and it seems to me that analogously you know the queer romance genre and even just the less big part of it those become contested because it feels like a scarce resource or a threatened resource right we were talking about all garden right it’s a name that people get protective and it does seem like that that the solution is hopefully that we will have a wider array of representation so people will realize that representing character a as a trans man doesn’t mean that character B can’t be a butch woman and you know all those sorts of yeah you got a reader comment on my my novel let the Mazarin and the musketeer where they said it was the first story they could recall reading the first historical story they could recall reading that included both an obviously trans man and cross-dressing women and where the characters were clearly set up those identities and both present and this is the thing as we need more of that and I think we’re getting more of it I’ve been so I have this theory of like the the three silos of the approach to queer rep in in fiction I call it the the donut shop theory which is you you have walked into a donut shop you have ordered something it’s gonna be a donut you know you’re gonna get a donut and this is what let’s pick publishing is you have gone there for the last week donuts and that’s what you’re gonna get and you in mainstream publishing although we’re starting to see a movement away from this it’s the whisper Network it’s we’re gonna put queer characters in our books but we’re not going to tell you about them but we’re pretty confident that somebody will let you in on the secret so we don’t have to scare away our straight readers but we can know we can get you as well and then the the third silo which I I started off by calling it the tumbler silo which is probably mostly based on my complete misunderstanding of tumbler dynamics but it’s the we are going to list every single identity you are going to find in this book when we put up the book blurb and you may not have any idea what the plot is but by golly you will know what all the identities are and and they’re all really valuable approaches and they all assume a certain readership you know what I call that the tumbler group may might actually be better identified as the fan shake approach you know you’ve got the tags that tell you everything that’s in this recipe and within that within the the fan shaker approach or the tumbler approach or whatever you want to call it I think there is a lot more emphasis on cross intersectional identities in you know not just more of everything but people with a lot of different overlapping identities and recognizing that more is better that that providing a smorgasbord so that whoever the reader is they will find something to identify with that this is good this is not off-putting to your audience this is a positive feature yeah I definitely see aspects of that in in fan fiction communities one of the things that was thinking about as you were talking is that because fanfiction exists outside of the gatekeeping dynamics of publishing and because any given writers who are writing around an original work of some kind generate every single person’s gonna do anyway a different take on the original story I think one of the things that fan fiction practice actually helps you develop muscles for is that there are multiple readings of a text right because it’s actually concretely creating those multiple readings you can have television show like Eureka and everyone’s gonna watch you know Episode A or B and come away with ten different ways they wish that the final scene had gone and those can all end up in the fan fiction archive and if you want to go read all ten of them you can if you see nothing that matches your interpretation in those ten you can create the eleventh and it’s I want to be really careful not to idealize that space because there are still definitely gatekeeping you know there are ways that people get very clear messages about what types of what is acceptable what isn’t are unacceptable what kinds of character relationships are not okay so there are people who experience fanfiction space as I’m welcoming it hostile people can still feel unwelcome but I do think that it helps people get used to the idea that a single character could be understood in many different ways and that those don’t have to be mutually exclusive so hopefully as more you know fan creators and fan readers migrating into more conventional publishing spaces the experience that they’ve had doing that will help people feel a little bit less like we’re dealing with a resource scarcity situation so since we’re talking about fanfiction I want to move on to one of your other topics you were talking about fanfic gender dynamics and that your experience has been that ffs stories in fanfic tend to be clustered into contemporary phantoms crime dramas and note that there are certain TV shows that have been very productive of FF fanfiction and that your perception is that the writers and readers within those fandoms are distinct from the writers and readers of mm and MF thick and you want to talk about that a little bit more but I think that in some ways the fan fiction fan fiction spaces mirror what we’ve been talking about with plastic and the larger queer romance instead of publishing genre that the people I have talked to that there are definitely people who read and write exclusively FF and they aren’t interested in either reading or writing other types of relationships and to me that can it’s it’s not I don’t think a purposeful bifurcation of the space but I think it does sort of end up the conversations end up being largely separate because there are a lot of media products out there where you can create lots of different types of relationship constellations and if the people in those spaces aren’t writing FF and the people in the spaces who are writing FF are reading and these other fandoms you’re not kind of learned the conversations aren’t happening between the in those two spaces and I see in one of the reasons I started writing FF fanfiction is that I was really frustrated with the fact that people weren’t including those relationships and the works for the types of shows that I was watching things like you know Downton Abbey or that was the first one that I ended up writing in and I did a lot of thing I didn’t want for Upstairs Downstairs I did sort of a lot of British dramas in the beginning because it it seems to me is such a obvious historical space for creating FF relationships in those in the 19th century sort of world that these BBC shows were creating you had a lot of women in spaces where you could develop you could create FF relationships where the women had could carve out enough independence for themselves that you didn’t have to sort of reimagine a whole different history a whole different space for them and one of the things that I think one of the reasons that FF historicals either fall into the gender crossing stuff that we talked about earlier where in order to have you know this relationship be successful you have to have someone who’s playing the role of a man either economically or somehow in order to make their relationship viable in the late 19th early 20th century spaces I was playing with you start having enough women who are becoming economically independent yes we mean women Jesmond they set up housekeeping together for but I wasn’t seeing people do that I think a lot of times as a reflection of the dearth of women in mainstream media you writers and end up defaulting to writing mmm in a fanfiction because there are so many more main characters who are men yeah I only add that I recall one person saying and now I’m wondering if it was you but I think was somebody else saying one of the problems they ran into in writing FF fanfiction was finding properties where there were two female characters in the show that were interesting enough that you could imagine them having a story together and and I think that even for ordinary historical settings there’s this this great I don’t use the word ignorance but this absence of an awareness of women’s lives the people can then imagine female relationships into we just we don’t know what women in general were capable of and were experiencing and and it makes it so much harder to then imagine two people of that category coming together and having independent life together because we can’t even imagine one woman having an independent life in history I I say we but obviously I am NOT one of these people but I find interesting that the name Xena has not come up in this discussion of ffmpeg because my experience in talking to people is that a lot of Les Vic readers came to the genre through Xena fanfiction and certainly that a lot of a vast percentage of ffs historicals have some sort of genesis in Xena fanfiction there’s the entire genre of uber fiction which is less take Xena and Gabrielle and put them in some other history context and then have them fall in love again because of course they are fated soulmates which of course has its own issues but you know as I understand it both strokes books basically grew out of filing serial numbers off of Xena fan fiction and packaging it as Lesnick and and I actually I hope to have a guest on my show at some point who has very much been immersed in that stream going into the less Vic River to talk more about it but you know that I think that lesbian historicals FF historicals have been shaped in people’s understanding of the field by the quantity of works that have had their origins as Xena fanfic I know that I into one early review of my own daughter of mystery that basically said well it’s a very nice story but she really hasn’t gotten Xena and Gabrielle down right it’s like but but as if as if that was the only way that you could imagine a historical lesbian story so is it simply a fanfiction that you have never intersected with or is there some reason why yeah so I haven’t that’s I I am aware that it’s out there I never I’m 38 and didn’t watch a lot of pop cultural product as a child sort of through into the 90s so I didn’t I read a lot but I didn’t watch shows we didn’t have cable television and so I didn’t watch I missed the x-files fandom for example and I missed the Xena fandom and both of those are hugely instrumental and so the development of fan fiction but by the time I came to networked communities of fan creators that that was not those were not very active communities buffy is another space that I that I am aware of but didn’t spend a whole lot of time in so I think so it’s a generational thing as it were yeah I think so like my my wife was involved in networked fan spaces earlier than I was and had sort of lived through the Buffy era the end of the Xena era to the Buffy era and I think that you’re also with fan fiction today it’s becoming a little bit more stable because we have spaces like archive of our own but you have whole generations of fan works either pre-internet where you’re gonna have to go to do research in zine libraries to get to some of that stuff or it was digital spaces like live journal or Geocities that died or content was killed and so it’s very ephemeral in that way and the conversations that happened in those spaces are necessarily accessible to people who weren’t in them at the time didn’t you know subscribe to the right east net hmm networks and things like that so yeah there’s another entire conversation to be had around the way that the dynamics of online spaces have shaped to the communities and shaped the cultural movements and I find it utterly fascinating and at that point anna and i realized that we had far more to talk about that we could manage in a single show so we took a break and will continue the conversation next week you can find links to the authors publications websites and other topics that we mentioned in the show notes as well as links to anna social media come back next show for the rest of our conversation I hope you’ve enjoyed this episode of the lesbian historic motif podcast if you want to follow up on anything we’ve covered see the show notes for links and to contact me with questions book announcements or topic suggestions if you enjoyed this podcast please read it and subscribe on itunes stitcher or pod bean and consider supporting our patreon and if you’re on facebook 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Sheena

Sheena is the founder of TheLesbianReview.com She has always loved interviewing people and chatting about interesting topics. Now she has started some podcasts which she hopes you enjoy.