Interview with Stephanie Burgis

A series of interviews with authors of historically-based fiction featuring queer women. Episode 43b with Heather Rose Jones of the Lesbian Historic Motif Podcast.

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In this episode we talk about:

Links to the Lesbian Historic Motif Project Online

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Transcript for Today’s Show

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

The lesbian historic motif podcast is brought to you by Heather Rose jokes under the tilt podcast group we look at lesbian relevant themes in history and literature and talked about current historical fiction with queer female characters including fantastic versions of the past we feature interviews with authors and readers and in months when we have a 5th show we’re proud to present new original historical fiction for your enjoyment today the lesbian historic motif podcast is delighted to feature author Stephanie Burgess Stephanie writes historical fantasy for a variety of age ranges and includes a pleasantly diverse range of representation I invited her onto the show to talk about the newest book in her hardwood spell book Regency fantasy series moon tangled which features a female couples welcome Stephanie hi thank you so much for having me I’m always glad to talk with another author of Regency fantasy because as you know I write it myself but you take an interesting angle on the historic setting in your series it isn’t simply the default Regency period with some magic added you did some deep tweaking of British history to do some gender flipping in the social structure so maybe we could start by having you tell our listeners a little about that to give them the background to your series before we talk about the specific books absolutely so the world of the horrid spell book is one that deviated from our history a long long time ago when Boudicca first fought the Romans because in my version of the world her second husband was magician and together they managed to kick Romans out at which point the division which seemed obvious and so the government of England rather than England is ruled by a Buddha ket of female leaders being naturally more hard-headed practical sensible people emotional and irrational and more suited to this sort of thing take care of the magic all these many centuries that’s been the line in the sand but of course anytime you put a line in the sand and someone’s gonna want to push past it and finally in my analog of the Regency era we found a heroine who was from a powerful enough political family that that when she got them onside they were able to push her through and become the first female magician in Anglin which just starts a whole new distress among traditionalists on both I’ve yeah I enjoyed how the the gender flippin came out in subtle ways because and I you know I’m sure this was just part of the sort of the aesthetic choice of this series that you know things like you know clothing and social customs having balls and whatnot is is as expected because that’s what makes it a Regency setting but then things like the question of you know who compromises whom if two young people are found having personal displays of affection together and it’s just it’s very subtle in some ways but you made some interesting choices in your world building around the diversity of characters Britain still seems to have had something resembling a colonial empire or at least it has the demographic offence of having had one where people come from specific parts of the world that in our world are parts of the Empire yes and actually interject that diversity diversity but a lot of it comes from different reasons as England has actually done more partnership building among other cultures and has actually encouraged immigration in that way who’ve been some of what are referred to I’m trying to remember if I talk about the African empires it certainly there’s the Maratha Empire which is where the love interest in the main series where his parents what if his parents came from uh-huh and and you you maintain some of the dynamics by retaining class prejudices so you know the question thanks somebody’s status somebody’s family money whatever then performs the dynamics that racial prejudice might have performed in the region see absolutely it’s pretty interesting to think through all those little details and think well how could it be different and you know what’s plausible and and play with all those elements so when you rearrange gender roles relevant to the topic of my podcast you’ve set up a structure where the social pressures against same-sex relationships are more of a practical matter because you have this very strong gender binary in the in the power structures but there is no prejudice about sexuality itself so my question is what made you decide to take that particular path and were there ever any plot points where you suddenly realized it’s like oh my gosh this problem doesn’t make sense the way I’ve set things up because I eliminated that problem very selfish way of writing oh oh no I think it’s the only way that question because well I mean to start out with completely selfishly you know I’m bi I’m always looking for more FF romance and it didn’t make sense to me not to have a FF couples in this series mm-hmm and I introduced my main FF couple it’s a Miss banks and Miss Fennell yeah in book 1 snow spell decide characters and actually that was very much tied in with the plot issues because in that book Cassandra Harwood is coming to realize that she’s of course not the only woman who wants to study magic and has been held back she was very lucky to be the exception but now what can she do to you know pay it forward and help other women but in fact it plays right into that gender binary because women although it’s perfectly acceptable for them to have fun marry other women if they’re not politically ambitious if they want to go any further and really reach the highest political Ashlyn’s they are in every member of the ruling buddhic it is expected to have a practising magician as their spouse it’s it’s a mimicking that original partnership between Boudicca and her second husband so what about two women who want to get married and this couple has figured out now that there has been one woman magician hmm what if it would be remember the Buddha ket married a fellow magician and thus fulfilled the official government but that trained magician could be a woman and that’s what really springboards the rest of you know the whole world building in the plot for this series because it inspires Cassandra to take all this knowledge that she’s been lucky enough to gain and to start paying it for in Korea AIT’s a magic school of her own for young women she is the one exception who managed to get into the great library of Trinidad ZM which is where all the male magicians it’s like Oxford but with magic and they see the one lucky exception to get in but then they didn’t let anyone else in after her and everyone wanted to pretend that a trap so she’s now setting she’s their act to trying to make structural change and it’s very much inspired by coming into contact with this female couple and I think how much benefit it would it would have for so many people if she could pass on some of her knowledge yeah and I love that you set up the female couple from the very first in the series it’s it felt a lot more promising than the series where you know people tell you it’s like oh yeah eventually I’m gonna get a female same-sex couple involved but but you gotta wait and it’s like no I don’t want to wait I don’t want to invest myself in books and books don’t talk so I really I really appreciated that also you know a really nice thing is every time I have well from the very beginning when I started writing it’s just felt as soon as we met miss banks miss fennel I thought oh they’re fun you know I want to do more with that I want to see more of their story mm-hmm and I was busy first already finishing up the frigging arc of the first story that I was bored because I’m a very organic write don’t know ahead of time necessarily what I’m doing but you know I started with Cassandra I wanted to tell her story I wanted to bring it to a good stopping place you before I went on and the thing is because I had it in the back of my hat I was always thinking it who wins the right time to tell miss banks in this final story when is it gonna feel like the right moment for that I want to I wanted to bring them to a crisis moment that it turned out to come right after we had a book to thorn bound because without getting to spoiler effect there’s a bit of a crisis for everybody in that book which effect it’s fennel very strongly and it affects their relationship well and I never wanted it to be in any doubt that afterward and thorn pad where I specific decides don’t worry they’re going to be fine but you can read all about it and entangle the story because I wanted this is supposed to be a comforting series I wrote it as a series of escapist comforting reads for me and I want it to function that way for other people and I didn’t want it there to be any doubt that this lovely functioning couple we’ve seen until now is gonna get a happy ending but I was always waiting and waiting to get to do that and the best thing is every time I pass my newsletter subscribers ever since the first books no spell came out who would you like me to write a tie-in short story about because that’s something I do quite often for all my memories I’m like it’s just um it would be fun to see more of overwhelmingly I get miss fennel miss banks affirmation but but but movie Tangled isn’t there it’s not a short story it’s gonna be what a novella or yeah that’s right yeah most of your books are relatively short in the in the scope of the lengths of fantasy novels so it’s it’s very easy to gobble them up in a single bite each would you describe the hardwood spell book series as young adult I know that you know people toss that around whether it’s a marketing term whether it’s a you know a content-based term they feel what I would call young adult friendly as in people who like young adult literature will enjoy them what what do you call them call them crossover books why a adults because the characters are all firmly in the adult range you couldn’t publish away a novel with characters as old as my protagonist I’m okay I just I just see the blanket statement that isn’t completely true but is most of my protagonist and miss my protagonist they’re too old for the why a label I’ve been very cautious as I’ve written because I’m also a middle grade author mm-hmm and I’m I made the decision when my first adult book masks and shadows was published that I wasn’t going to publish under different names mm-hmm which has led to having to be just a little bit more deliberate about what I’m going to include in my adult books just because I know you know there may be people picking it up who are not yet adults or or their parents who are quite often more important gatekeepers yeah worried about upsetting so you know that’s why of course good solution because I have had romance readers have been generally really lovely about not minding that I don’t have any explicit sex scenes in my adult fantasy romances mm-hmm but I’ve still had people adults who enjoyed my middle grade books being really I distressed there was implied sex so those three movies everybody I try to be a little cautious and my crushin level is probably hitting an upper why a level when it comes to explicit sex and so on yeah there’s certainly a lot of physicality without in it on page sex acts as it were but you’ve got the younger series the the cat incorrigible series which is also Regency fantasy but is a different setting it’s a different world as I yes yes yes that’s more secret history yeah and and that one is clearly set at a younger level the character when we first meet her is like it’s preteen but then she tries to be serious so would you call that I mean is that whole series why a or is is everything you write just sort of this this vague messy mish-mosh of middle grade actually younger than white and that’s the same age group as my driving with the chocolate heart books fit in – yeah however wishy-washy and nebulous with the cat books is that I wrote a follow-up novella about cat when she’s 18 and she has this so social debut in LA and um that one I would call Hawaii yeah I think I was thinking of that one in that you know cat goes through this whole you know sequence of experiences at different ages all the way from you know you boys are icky to these stories for my series and I send them out to my newsletter in my newsletters and what several times when I’ve given people the opportunity to choose who I should write the next it’s been oh right about Kat you know when she’s an adult and has kids of her own and things like that ended up writing stories aimed at different age ranges even though they’re all about this one character because people want to know well how to see you know after she put her very proper very rigid stepmother through conniptions yes kind of studio what’s wrong and so on and it’s been fun to get to return to those characters I get it again yeah that series feels much more I would say Austin asked to me where you’re taking very much reflection of not not even so much the the the modern Regency romance genre but much more the setting of Jane Austen and adding magic in and then as you say it’s sort of a secret history magic is the secret feminine skill and I have lately been having some some thinkI thoughts about the ways in which magic is gendered in Regency fantasy and I suspect you have some ideas of your own on that yes well in the cat books you’re quite right about how Austin asked they are and I wrote them as a deliberate tributes cat is the daughter of a vicar who takes in students in his house and Jane Austen was the daughter of a quicker who took in students in his house yes so on Jane Austen’s father was known as the handsome fellow you know it’s been acknowledged before he got married and cat is horrified to realize in book 2 that the father was like the romantic crush of her the adult who’s most opposed to catch about your parents so but you know so I based a lot of it very directly on Jane Austen circumstance and it’s also one of the reasons why with those books you never see anyone who’s all that high up the Regency hierarchy there are no dukes in this book or anything like that I’m Jane Austen level of gentility and minor nobility when it comes to the magic the way it’s divided in cats world cats version of England in HTML 3 is this book there are two different kinds of magic workers who have very different kind of levels of respect in the secret magical world and there’s witchcraft and this Guardian magic and you can be a witch and be a man you can be a guardian and be a woman but there are certainly a lot of parallels to the kind of hierarchy and what’s considered okay but if not I’m there’s not a specific gender line that it’s drawn on but I would say if it plays with some of those tropes uh-huh and and the of course the gendering of the magic in the heartwood spell book series is rather flipped because well but not because I think there is this tendency in Regency fantasy for male magic to be the formal academic hierarchical magic and women’s magic to be the you know the more ad-hoc messy everyday magic so to some extent the heartwood spell book series has not flipped to that aspect of it know what it was interesting to think it all through and of course the heroine of snow spell the fore-end thorn bound um Cassandra Harwood she grew up with the perfect positioning to become one of the next great political leaders because her mother was a member of the Buddha bed she’s from this very old powerful established family and to hurt it seemed appalling she just wanted to get into magic she was she that was all she wanted but of course if I think the first time I sent a draft to a friend she’s like wait a second if they let women do magic does that mean men are gonna take over the politics I need to start thinking about this balance you know which is more important in which of course everyone in the society will think of differently and that’s what leads to a lot of the tension in books to move as Cassandra is trying to do something to help out other women that’s not going to completely screw every political women also and and also a mitt possibly some breakdowns of the gender binary and you know aiming towards in long terms changes okay now you sent me another short story with an FF romance that I think has more of a Victorian setting the disastrous debut I get that but that it felt like okay I could be completely and utterly wrong here it felt like maybe it was initial sketch of your your hardwood world building but it’s clearly not it’s you know it has some of the same things am I completely it’s not related in any kind of direct way but it’s definitely came from me posing similar sorts of questions to myself as I was writing I and this is another one it’s it’s another not sure of secret history is the right phrase for it it’s set in Victorian England which is a pretty much Victorian England as we know it exits so it’s a much more yes in this case it’s a it’s very much the Victorian England gender dynamic you would expect unlike the other one and so magic is something which is supposed to be pushing forward the Empire and used by men and men are the only ones who are taught the spells to use it’s it’s much more of a traditional they kind of thought of wave approaching it and as you’ve said so into this is so my heroine is someone who is fighting to be given her own independence magically as well as otherwise and and also rethinking how much of this formal training is actually necessary you know if it’s possible to re-envision magic and so on mm-hmm and and she you know literally bumps into another young woman who is equally at odds with her situation and it’s it’s a very short story but it’s it’s a it’s a lovely little gem of a romance where the romance is is a very minor part of it but it’s it’s still nice to see you there so yeah to write a story for an anthology called willful impropriety Byam ekaterina sitios the editor and i have this opening of the short sword and I’d written that a while back yes oh well this is this is my moment you think you’re out you know because I started the opening and I wasn’t sure exactly where it was sad I had some idea of the characters but you know I sort of sit aside and then I was asked to write a Victorian story I was like aha this is it you know finally I know where it’s at and I got partway through and I knew that was gonna be a romance for Agatha and I kept thinking where is I don’t I’m not feeling it and then she bumps into the girl and this is what actually what I actually believe in you know for her uh-huh it sort the whole story around even though the romance is not the largest aspect of the story uh-huh the tilt podcast group 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 tilt so let’s listen you know step backwards a few steps how did you get interested in writing historical fiction in the first place I’ve always been a huge history geek still has vivid memories that he brings up every so often of me getting out of my chores by basically selling him stories from history I would tell I had to tell him stories from history if you do my chores and he did which was amazing Wow and I used to read up on British history for fun as a ridiculously young kids my mom gave me Jane Eyre when I was 8 which is the same year that my dad read me Pride and Prejudice early I was hooked on history as a studying it’s yeah it’s basically history feels it satisfies a lot of this thing it’s just fantasy for me because if they’re both set in a world that’s not our own with some different rules and it and you get to a sort of escape into a different place when you’re reading about it mm-hmm so from the very beginning I loved history I loved escaping into it and I also was a huge fantasy not because the other thing I was introduced as a kid of course is Lord of the Rings very early on you know and they’re on you know from Emma Poole and Patricia McKillip and all these in advance the authors so it just made sense to fit them together so we mentioned earlier you mentioned your book masks and shadows and you have sort of this this it’s not so much more adult but of darker end of your range of writing with that and Congress of Secrets and actually massive shadows was I think the first book of yours that I read and I totally fell in love with it it’s like more and more I want more like this it’s it’s it’s got these dark themes with you know an unhappy marriage and I think even domestic-abuse sinister plots the struggles of single women to find a place in the world when they when they aren’t poor enough to for a living and it’s good yes this rather delightful queer love story between the here Owen and a castrato opera star yes and I that was new and different but when a memory is dead do you have anything else planned sort of in that that dark range I know that that mask and shadows and Congress of Secrets are not directly tied together except that they are both roughly a similar time period and both in Central Europe rather than in the British Isles so anything new expected in that in that flavor this moment however definitely not really did I will say so masculine shadows and conquista secrets are both published by pyre books and I love my editor there every nice ears and at one point I think I had just sent her an email and I said what would you think about a hole I think if it was going to be something set in the den quite possibly with a zombie handle like decomposer hovel and it’s your backs it might be a proposal and the next day I sold the Dragons chocolate hearts it was the first of a new middle grade series priority and right now I’m at a situation in point to my life where if I want to come up with a middle grade book and an adult book each of them about once a year then I have to I have to be a bit more careful with my word count so that’s why I’ve been publishing primarily novellas in the last couple of years and so I have lately been feeling the yen to write another really full-length adult historical and we’ll see what happens with that I would I would love to have the time to really think into another one like that yeah I know the problem with being an actual professional this is part of your major income is that then you’re kind of tied up in the whole issue of what sells well I have yet to have that problem there are a lot of different elements in here so I don’t think I could say direct causation I can point it any one thing for this because you know for one thing masks and shadows and Congress of Secrets they were published by sort of a small science fiction publisher who does really beautiful trade paperback books and quite expensive ebooks but don’t go down in price so as it happens as it happens I decided to self-publish this Harwood spa book series because Annabella length and it made more sense than trying to publish them traditionally because of the length I have made they have made much more money for me than I am asking shadows and Congress of Secrets put together and I don’t know which part to point at I’m like well is it because these are the light and frothy ones or is it because the ebooks are cheaper so I don’t know I don’t know which bit to point additives though is the saying something about what my audience wants or is this just saying something about you know what people are willing to spend on ebooks on yeah it’s hard to do controlled experiments absolutely but yes and say do you support myself on the writing it’s something I have to be aware of I always try to write at least one passion projects every year and actually snow spells was my passion project that year I thought I’m just gonna write something and it’s gonna be completely for me and fun um it was right in the wake of the 2016 election so I was appalled by the warm up and that was how I came up with the Buddha kid which isn’t the perfect system either but it was you know I was I was angry enough at that point that it was great to let it out in this world where of course women are the only ones who are hard-headed enough for politics of course men are far too emotional for etc so anyway snow spelt was my passion project and then people really liked it which was made me incredibly happy but then it became a serious sort of a professional endeavor after all so if I was to write something very dark again that would have to be my passion project that here yeah I think yeah so what projects are you working on now since by the time this podcast comes out moon tangled will be out in the world anything you can tell us about to look forward to well it’s slightly up in the air only because I haven’t decided which I’m gonna let myself write next for my adult project I’m not allowed to talk about anyone saying anything um my plan as I was writing entangled was that the next thing I wrote would be the first novella in a new series called Queens of villainy which is basically a series with Mantic comedy fancy romantic comedies about wicked Queens and the only downside is that when I got to the end of moon tangles there was another female character in there and I I fell for her by accident story too and I’m not we’re recording this in December first after I finished revising moon tangled I’ll have to make a tough decision about what I play with next yeah it is when the when the characters come to you and they say but what about me what about my story it’s very hard to turn your back on them yeah it’s hard to turn them down so if people wanted to follow you on social media where should they look well the first port of call is actually my website because there are excerpts there of every single book I’ve got out and so it’s a great place to try them out and see what’s in fits your taste so that’s Stephanie Burgess calm but I also spend far too much time on Twitter where I’m at Stephanie Burgess and and I’m also on instagram at Stephanie Burgess in Wales I also regularly review on Goodreads you can look me up there although I tend to only rave there about the books I actually really like I think I read a lot of books I don’t mention I could read uh-huh I’ll include links to all those in the show notes as well as links to all of the books we talked about thank you so much for sharing your time with a lesbian historic motif podcast Stephanie thank you so much for having me I hope you’ve enjoyed this episode of the lesbian historic motif podcast see the show notes for links to people and topics most shows will have a transcript linked as well if you have a book announcement a topic suggestion or might like to appear on the show please drop me an email if you enjoyed this podcast please rate it and subscribe on your favorite podcast app and 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