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I've combined two chapters of Borris's work here because they both deal with the inclusion of sexuality and gender categories in encyclopedic catalogs, with the distinction being whether the topics were being treated as natural or unnatural.

As indicated by the sub-title, this is a collection of edited texts relevant to same-sex desire in England in the two centuries centered around the 16th. These are not necessarily texts of 16th century England, but texts available to people in that time and place. In covering these chapters, I will tend to give a topical summary of the mentioned works, but may sometimes quote the sources more extensively as my whim takes me. I will also only cover the texts with female relevance. Therefore my coverage of some chapters may much briefer than others.

(I explain the LHMP here and provide a cumulative index.)

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Borris, Kenneth (ed). 2004. Same-Sex Desire in the English Renaissance: A Sourcebook of Texts, 1470-1650. Routledge, New York. ISBN 978-1-138-87953-9

Chapter 6: Encyclopedias and Reference Works

Early modern Europe had quite a fondness for encyclopedic works that defined and classified the entire known world (and much that was imaginary). Theodor Zwinger (1533-1588) wrote Theatrum vitae humane (Theater of Human Life) in something of a biographical dictionary form, in groupings according to the characteristic that provided their fame. Under the section “Tribades” he notes “Here we say nothing which has not been said before, and collect only a few items. Although there are not laws against it, this indecency deserves to be denounced to that good people will be deterred from imitating it. Those who were ruined readily made examples of themselves, that they might be held up as examples.”

He then lists a number of individuals, primarily from classical texts, including six women mentioned in Sappho’s poetry “whom she used to gratify her lusts”, a blanket categorization of Milesian women as “tribades and lewd women [who] made use of the dildo,” and two tribades mentioned in the Epigrams of the Roman poet Martial (specifically, Bassa and Philaenis). This section concludes with a more contemporary reference. “A certain Galla who disguised herself as a stableboy worked for an innkeeper in Blois for seven years. She married the daughter of a citizen, and had tribadic relations with her for two years. When the crime came to light, she was burned alive.”

Chapter 7: Prodigious Monstrosities

A specialized version of the encyclopedia was the catalog of unnatural or monstrous individuals, encompassing deformities, birth defects, and a great many mythical beings. Of particular relevance to sexuality was the fascination for hermaphrodites. Visual representations often portrayed a bilateral dimorphism, with the right half of the individual portrayed as one sex and the left half as the other.

Accusations of hermaphroditism often focused on behaviors or styles of dress that were considered to belong to the “opposite sex”. But some descriptions seem to fall more in the category of physiologically intersex individuals, where genitalia are ambiguous and some life event draws the appropriate gender assignment into question. Questions of sexual desire were one clear locus where categorization became relevant. Catalogs of monstrosities also overlapped with the genre of “wonders of far away lands”, and some texts asserted the existence of entire races of hermaphrodites who performed alternately as male or female by turns.

In more immediate, local cases, individuals classified as hermaphrodites were generally legally assigned to what medical officials determined to be their predominant sex, and were left in peace to the extent that they conformed to that role, but treated as sodomites or tribades (as appropriate) if they then changed roles. Cases sometimes came to the attention of the law when an individual who had been assigned to one gender wished to gain permission to officially change category, especially in order to engage in a marital relationship with a chosen partner of the “wrong” sex.

For example, in 1601 in Rouen, a person who had been raised as female asked permission to be reclassified as male in order to marry a woman they were having a sexual relationship with. Although the request was controversial, evidently it was successful. Similarly, Eleno de Céspedes in 16th c. Spain, after having lived as a woman and given birth to a child, spent a long period living as a man and received official classification as a “hermaphrodite deemed male” in order to marry a woman. This classification was later reversed.

Ambroise Paré (ca. 1510-1590) discussed his theory that spontaneous changes from female to male were possible, but not the reverse. The passage occurs in a section discussing female genitalia, including the common belief at the time that enlarged female genitals were a cause of female homoeroticism (i.e., “masculine” sexuality) and that excision was a treatment for this (though he seems to focus on the labia minora rather than on the clitoris). Paré discussed a distinction between four types of hermaphrodites, depending on the type and functionality of the external genitalia. In the same section, he quotes Leo Africanus regarding female homoerotic behavior in Mauritania. There is a list of several cases of apparent change from female to male at puberty. [Note: Case histories of this type suggest the possibility of a condition such as 5-alpha-reductase deficiency. In a historic context that has no familiarity with genes, enzymes, and hormones, it’s easy to understand how some of the theories and beliefs about hermaphroditism arose.]

The medical treatise of Helkiah Crooke (1576-1635) Microcosmographia: A Description of the Body of Man has a similar catalog of several categories of hermaphroditism, but ascribes the condition to unlawful sexual behavior on the part of the parents.


Review: Hamilton - An American Musical


Some time back, there was this growing presence in my Twitter feed of references to something titled “Hamilton”. It isn’t at all unusual for my Twitter feed to be full of people squeeing over some new media property, and Twitter doesn’t include a lot of room for context and nuance, so it took a little while for me to pick up enough details to know that what had everyone excited was a new Broadway musical that most of the tweeters had encountered only through the cast recording and You Tube clips. (Shh, don’t tell anyone there are You Tube clips. You all know you’re not supposed to be recording performances, right?)

So when L asked if there were anything in particular I’d like to go see while I was in town, I said, “I hear there’s this popular new show called Hamilton.” And she said, “OK, I’ll see if I can get tickets.” That was when I knew that the enthusiasm was a bit broader than my Twitter feed. “I’ll see if I can get...” But I had every confidence, and in the end a couple of phone calls got us aisle seats in the sixth row (and a chat with the house company manager before the show because, of course, he and L are old friends).

When possible, I like to go into shows “unspoiled” so I didn’t check out the album in advance, although I figured it would be a good idea to check out the plot summary on Wikipedia. (At which my reaction was: How in the world are they going to fit all that into three hours on stage?) So here’s as much as I knew: it’s a musical (though actually more of an opera in structure), in a rap / hiphop style, with almost all the cast being people of color in a way that can’t at all be considered “color blind” because of how the entire concept is used to comment on themes of race, culture, colonialism, and immigration.

Although the surface plot is the biography of Alexander Hamilton, there is an immense amount of social commentary on the current era woven through. (Just as a random example: the line where Hamilton and Lafayette look at each other in the middle of the Revolution and say, “Immigrants, we get the job done!”) And I think a lot of the energy around the show is precisely due to this interweaving, as well as the musical idiom -- which should not be as startling a choice as I confess I first found it. (I think it took me about five minutes to go from, “well, that’s an interesting statement” to “well, duh, musicals have always translated historic milieus into the idiom of the composer’s times.”)

In point of fact, the music draws on a wide variety of idioms, highlighting character and setting (e.g., King George’s songs are in a more traditional almost music hall style) and ranging from driving energy to mournful contemplation. By one of my personal metrics of success, there are several songs still playing in my head though I’m not yet at the point where I could sing any from memory. Let’s just say: the music, it’s wonderful. Listen. My brain is still thinking about comparisons between the rapid-fire rap numbers and an operatic recitative style, and how they drive the narrative forward with a bit more freedom than the pieces with a more structured verse style.

But I want to talk a bit about the staging as well. It’s a single fixed set -- essentially a two-story open atrium around the central stage, with ladders and balconies to play off of, with both furniture and a few other structural pieces moved in and out as needed by the chorus/ensemble. The main stage area has a two part rotating floor that adds to the dynamism of the already very dynamic dance numbers. My favorite use of both aspects is in the piece “Hurricane” where Hamilton sings fixed in the center while chorus members dance/rotate in slow motion around him holding pieces of furniture up to represent the storm debris. As with the music, there is a regular contrast between frenetic motion and calm. Interestingly, the overall tone moves from a very energetic/loud/fast-paced first half, winding down into a slower, contemplative, mournful finish. Given the overall story arc, this fits perfectly, and I wasn’t at all disappointed when the finale left one stunned and thinking rather than ending in a rousing crescendo.

For the costume aficionados, I think you’re going to like this. The representation is stylized, of course, rather than documentary. The chorus/ensemble is dressed in neutral beige, the women with a 18th c style corset over leggings, then men with a waistcoat-like object over the same. This allows them to take on various roles for the various armies, townspeople, etc. by adding appropriate coats or gowns. (The female ensemble members often fill male roles in the martial scenes.) The progression of styles worn by the central characters follows the appropriate historical silhouettes, which provides a useful reminder of the significant passage of time across the storyline.

Without meaning in any way to ignore the stellar performance by author Lin-Manuel Miranda as the title character, I have to give my heart to Renée Elise Goldsberry’s Angelica (the Schuyler who steps aside to let her sister marry Hamilton). I’m left wanting an entire story about her. A number of comments I'd seen in advance noted the prominence of the female characters, and especially Eliza Hamilton's role in curating her husband's legacy. My own impression is that this "prominence" is mostly in contrast to the more typical erasure of women's roles in historic stories. Yes, the Schuyler sisters were given an active place in the plot, but this is still very much a male-dominated story. Also noteworthy is Daveed Diggs’ dual over-the-top roles as the Marquis de Lafayette and Thomas Jefferson. (Let’s just say that Jefferson does not exactly come across as a revered statesman in this version of history.)

OK, so in summary? I loved it. You probably will too. And assuming it continues to sell tickets as solidly as it currently is, you may even have a chance to do so. I’d go so far as to use the phrase “game-changing” for this show.

(Footnote: This may also be the only occasion when you will see the Museum of American Finance take out an ad in Playbill.)

Random Thursday: Museum Roundup

I usually hit a few NYC museums while here, especially if there are interesting special exhibits. We'd tried to get together a textile geek group to go see the display on Fashion and Virtue: Textile Patterns and the Print Revolution, 1520–1620 but the group plan fell apart and I ended up going by myself while L was taking care of the matinee on Sunday.

The exhibition title isn't exactly descriptive. The basis of the show is how the rise of popularly available printed motif books for needlework and lace affected and encouraged domestic production, as well as promulgating the image of home needlework as a womanly virtue. The display includes a number of actual printed motif books, showing the types of designs that were included as well as how the users interacted with them (e.g., painting in color ideas where a duplicate outline had been included for that purpose). There are textiles on display showing the same types of decorative motifs in use, in some cases the exact ones in the books, but more often simply very similar ones. (And it was noted in the explanatory material that the motifs were not generally intended to be copied exactly, but rather to be used as inspiration, or to be combined in novel ways.)

One particularly interesting section comes from a private collection of types of lace that combines pattern books images (not the originals in this case) with examples of the result. (Most of the lace examples were small fragments only, which made me wonder if they had come out of the often-descructive textile antiquity trade at some point.)

The second museum from this trip was the Natural History Museum, which is just a short walk up the west side of Central Park from L's apartment. In some ways, it's a bit retro in terms of the collection: the big dioramas of mounted wildlife collected when one went out on safaris to collect museum specimens, the very distancing/othering displays of historic cultures of non-European locations that create the image of a frozen "primitive" past with possibly some passing reference at the end to the introduction of new artistic motifs via colonialism.

It always bothers me when artifacts that most likely were collected in the 19th century are presented as representing an undifferentiated ancient past. There's also the problematic aspect of including certain human societies in a "natural history" museum, rather than in the context of a more universal human anthropology collection. There are, of course, logistical problems even with simply updating the context and presentation of a collection like this. But I can't help thinking it could use some prominent meta-commentary on the messages given by juxtaposing the diorama of "animals of the African veldt" with a diorama of "tribal life on the African veldt". Fortunately, I was able to enjoy the display of gems and minerals with fewer twinges, though at L's preference we avoided the special display on spiders.

Then yesterday we went down to the Brooklyn Museum which is the permanent home of Judy Chicago's massive installation The Dinner Party, which I had never seen before. It's definitely worth a visit if you haven't and have the slightest interest. The needlework alone is worth a great deal of appreciation, though it's unfortunate that the back drapes of the table runners are essentially impossible to examine. I confess I found the table runners more interesting visually than the plates, many of which were too abstract to be able to connect with their designated guests.

The reference display giving brief bios of the featured guests and even briefer listings of the secondary names was intriguing from two angles. The more frivolous one was "how many of these women am I familiar with?" (I'd estimate something over 50% in my case, but I didn't make an actual count). The other angle was to note how much the choice and contextualization is a product of the particular time and place of creation. One can view the romanticized unhistoricity of the supposed transition from woman-centered goddess culture to patriarchy as symbolic myth-making rather than literal misrepresentation.

I found it a little harder to ignore the uneven geographic/cultural distribution of dinner guests. The primary focus is undeniably on Western/Mediterranean culture and history (including, of course, European-derived US culture/history), with solid (if numerically minor) representation by native cultures of the Americas and at least a few nods to non-white figures who participated in Western culture. Glaringly absent is any substantial representation from non-Mediterranean Africa, from Asia, or from Australia and the Pacific, with the exception of the occasional mythic figure such as the goddess Kali. This criticism is valid only to the extent that the work is presented as universal. If one receives it as specifically examining the place of women in Western culture, the oversights are fewer. And it might be more validly viewed as a personal response of the artist to the influences on her own history and worldview. (As I type this, I start thinking about the long tradition of criticizing women's art for not meeting some impossible standard that is not imposed on men's art.)

Literary Community: My Thanksgiving Tradition

Someone on Twitter asked me a few weeks ago just how it was I ended up making Chessiecon (formerly Darkovercon) a regular habit, given that it's a rather small, rather specialized convention on the opposite coast from my home. When I noted that it would take longer than a tweet to explain, it was suggested I might blog about it. And here I am, with a literary-community blog slot open to fill.

At this point, I have to do a little historic triangulation and guesswork to recall just when it was this whole thing started. I first met Judy Gerjuoy (the founder and permanent Con Chair of Darkovercon) at a Fantasy Worlds Festival in Berkeley. I know it was when I was living on 40th St Way [sic] in Oakland, which puts it in the very rough neighborhood of 1985 (+/-). Judy had come out to California for the convention and we ended up hanging out for a while at the con, and then since she was staying in town for a few more days, I invited her to my place for dinner. And the upshot of the whole thing was that she ended up encouraging me to make a return visit to Darkovercon with a promise to put me on programming.

That was rather a seductive offer because I wasn't really "anybody" in fandom -- just a fairly new musician/songwriter who had somehow found myself hanging out with the Greyhavens crowd in Berkeley. So I did. And you know? It was fun to go to a smallish convention where I knew the people who were running it, and I got sucked into working the convention, and I got a chance to do a little concert, and I knew a bunch of the author guests because at that time a whole bunch of the Greyhavens/Greenwalls crowd made Darkovercon a regular part of their convention circuit. Darkovercon had an established musical focus, which meant that the one bit of fan-ac I was doing at that point gave me a solid, objective way to contribute to programming. (Though I also did panels and learned to be a moderator by the sink-or-swim method.)

I'd have to do some research to figure out exactly which year that was, but it was when Darkovercon was still being held in Delaware. I think the last year that it was there. I had a good enough time that I went again, and again, and… well, it became a bit of a habit. In addition to knowing various of the Berkeley crowd, I started picking up more friends among the regular attendees, and in particular among the SCA crowd, of which there was significant overlap. (In time, this also included a special attraction for the SCA heraldic crowd, and there were heraldic friends from across the country that I saw most regularly at Darkovercon.) The con has always had a sort of "family reunion", although for the first several years it felt a bit like attending someone else's family reunion. There was always a group Thanksgiving dinner (at the hotel buffet) for the staff and guests who showed up early, and then I could be sure of being put to work assembling registration materials and whatever else Judy needed done.

There were variable additional attractions for attendance. After the con had moved to the Baltimore area, at a time when my older brother was teaching at Annapolis, I suggested that he come to the con so I could get a chance to see him as well…and the upshot of that was that he got latched onto by the local SCA heraldic establishment (including Judy) and got sucked into the SCA. So for the period when he was living in the area, it was also a chance for some family time.

When I was in grad school in the later '90s and early '00s, I cut back significantly on my attendance, not only because budgeting was tighter, but because I always seemed to come back from traveling to it with a horrible cold, and that meant coming directly back to Berkeley finals week sick. On the other hand, it was also during that period that I had my first professional fiction sales and had the fun of participating as an actual published author. After I got my degree and had a decent job again, I've defaulted to going every year. The one year I missed in the last decade was when my mother died just before the convention and I was with her instead. And then, in the last several years, I've expanded the trip to start with a visit with abd07 in NYC and then driving down to go to the con together. And then in 2012, Darkovercon was where I got to announce the sale of my first novel, Daughter of Mystery, which had been confirmed just days before the convention.

The convention has gone through a number of shifts in flavor and focus over the years, most recently when Judy's death was followed by changing the name from Darkovercon to Chessiecon and a more formal recognition of some of those gradual shifts. It's possible that there might come a time when it's shifted enough that I'd reconsider my automatic inclusion of it on my schedule. But for those who might wonder how it is that I've settled into a habit of flying across the country on a major holiday weekend to attend a small local convention…well, perhaps the above helps explain it.

Alpennia Blog: Are you ready to rumble?

Sometimes it's hard to confine this part of the blog to talking about "writing process" topics and not, "OMG this really exciting thing is happening in the current chapters and I want to share with you!" I'm about to begin working on chapter 21 (formerly chapter 22 before I eliminated the one where nothing was going to happen) in which a zillion crises all happen at once. And I can't tell you about them because: spoilers.

So what can I tell you? The wordcount is now officially over 100K. I'm almost at the 2/3 done point (in terms of chapter count). Pretty much everything has been set up for the rest of the book at this point and it's just a matter of tipping over that first domino and watching them start to fall.

In the mean time, with every chapter I find myself going back and adding some revision notes to existing ones. "I need this romantic tension to start earlier. S needs to be approached by K regarding some magical observation in *this* chapter. What has Frances been doing for the last 8 chapters? Mention her occasionally. Totally revise the backstory for S's husband, which affects how they got together and why they're estranged. Add brief "bookend" chapters that provide key background/setting for the weather/water/flooding issues throughout the book." And so on.

The first revision pass (once I've got a full first draft) is mostly going to be major issues like that. Information that goes in different places. Things that need to be bulked up or trimmed down. Continuity issues. Pacing.

The second revision pass is going to work more by checklist. What is the distribution of character references? Which ones seem to disappear? Who needs more context when the reappear? Have I entirely dropped the ball on any minor characters? Does everyone get a nice solid description around the first time they appear? Do I involve all the senses regularly? Do I need to tighten up the point of view structure? Is everything vivid and immediate?

The third revision pass is for smoothness, for turns of phrase, for beauty of language, for avoidance of repetition, for readability.

Then it goes to the beta-readers. Still stressing out about finding beta-readers for some of my special topics, but time enough for that later. (I'll be drawing up shopping lists of Subject Matter Expert topics and hoping to get overlap and redundancy.)

Folks, I think this thing is happening!
Anyone who has participated in a palm-reading has taken part in the pseudo-science of physiognomy. For that matter, statistical studies attributing a wide variety of psychological and behavioral traits (including sexual orientation) to the ratio of lengths of the index and ring fingers are operating within the realm of physiognomy. The two excerpts below that specifically mention sexual desire between women touch on only a few aspects of the field. It is interesting to note how fuzzy the line is between supposed cause and effect. In the description of Fracassa, her "manly" personality is considered to be signaled by the shape of her head and her lower limbs, but are behavioral traits (such as gait and posture) or activities (such as jousting in armor) considered to be a further consequence of that "manly personality" or are they, too, simply outward signifiers by which one may determine her "nature"? That is, does she joust because she's manly, or is she manly because she jousts?

* * *

As indicated by the sub-title, this is a collection of edited texts relevant to same-sex desire in England in the two centuries centered around the 16th. These are not necessarily texts of 16th century England, but texts available to people in that time and place. In covering these chapters, I will tend to give a topical summary of the mentioned works, but may sometimes quote the sources more extensively as my whim takes me. I will also only cover the texts with female relevance. Therefore my coverage of some chapters may much briefer than others.

(I explain the LHMP here and provide a cumulative index.)

* * *

Borris, Kenneth (ed). 2004. Same-Sex Desire in the English Renaissance: A Sourcebook of Texts, 1470-1650. Routledge, New York. ISBN 978-1-138-87953-9

Chapter 5: Physiognomics

We have not entirely managed to shed the idea that an individual’s habitual predispositions are reflected in their physical features. The Greek pseudo-Aristotelian Physiognomics is one of the foundational treatises that systematized this view. References to female homoeroticism (as opposed to male references) in the context of physiognomy are rare and primarily appear in texts derived from an anonymous Latin treatise of the 4th century.

Bartolommeo della Rocca (1467-1504) in a section on chiromancy (interpreting the hands) discusses how to interpret “signs of morally offensive lust on the hands of a woman”. The discussion groups together a wide variety of sexual behaviors, from incest, to women taking an active role with men, to any sexual activity by nuns, to masturbation, to bestiality. But the discussion specifically notes, “Note also that in women ‘morally offensive lust’ can be understood when women come together vulva to vulva and rub one another, of which Juvenal writes in this verse: ‘They ride one another, turn and turn about, and disport themselves for the Moon to witness.’ And such women are called by the ancient term tribades. It is said that Sappho, the Lesbian lass and poet, amused herself with this kind of lust.”

In a section primarily discussing characteristics of hair, della Rocca provides a detailed description of a “manly woman” both in terms of physical appearance and behavior (though sexual activity is not specifically mentioned). “By many outward signs may a man find out the qualities of the mind and courage. As when a woman is apparelled and decked in man’s apparel, which doth then declare her nature to draw near to man’s. As the like did that woman of courage named Fracassa, who commonly used to wear (by the report of the Physiognomer [i.e., Rocca himself]) man’s apparel, and would upon a bravery many times arm herself at all points to joust and run sundry times so armed at the ring. The form of which woman...was on this wise: she had a small head, and Pineaple-like, a neck comely formed, large breasted, seemly arms, answering to the body. But in her other parts, as in the hips, buttocks, thighs, and legs, near agreeing to man’s. This manly woman also walked upright in body, treading light on the ground, and bearing her head playing like to the Hart. The other notes of this woman did the Physiognomer for brevity sake here omit. Yet he thus concludeth that by the sundry notes which he viewed, she was prone to come to a violent death...”


I’m re-posting (sometimes in expanded form) a series of reviews of lesbian-themed movies that I originally drew up in answer to a request for recommendations of "good movies involving lesbian romances that don't end up with the protagonists deeply unhappy, dead, or both." To this set of criteria I’ve added the question, “Is the story primarily about coming out?” This set of index questions will necessarily involve some spoilers, but since I'm not reviewing any current releases, I think the statute of limitations has expired.

Many of these items are not currently in print. I'll link each to their imdb.com entry for reference. But for those currently available, Wolfe Video is the go-to distributor for lgbt movies.

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Mädchen in Uniform (1931, b&w, German, subtitled)

Title translation: "Girls in Uniform"

There has been more than one version of this movie made, and I believe they differ somewhat in the aspects considered under this review series. So this review only applies to the specific version listed here. Trigger warning for (unsuccessful) suicide attempt.

A student at an authoritarian girls school develops a crush on a sympathetic teacher but her public declaration of love triggers an untenable situation when the teacher stands up for the students and is forced to resign. Although she saves the student from tragedy at the end, there is no clear indication of any "happy ending" available for either of them. Nobody dies (barely). It doesn't follow the typical "coming out" plot, as the emotional relationship between the student and teacher is (barely) deniable as "just a schoolgirl crush". Indeed, it's the reactions of those around them that frame it as being more significant than that. But as the lesbian themes are (barely) subtextual, one can't really evaluate the story arc on the "(no) turning straight" axis. Let's sum it up with "no happily ever after."

One of the fascinating aspects of this movie is that it was made at all. Compare this movie--actually made in Germany in the early 1930s, with Cabaret which portrays the same era (although obviously not the same social setting!) from the safe distance of decades later. The suggestion of sexual open-mindedness reflected in different ways in both films are the more poignant for knowing what was to come under Nazi rule (which is explicitly depicted in Cabaret). The lesbian themes in Mädchen are, in some ways, incidental to the message about the need of human beings, and especially children, for loving connections. In the setting of an all-female institution, those connections will necessarily be between female characters. But the authorial choice to use that setting, and therefore to present the message via intense emotional relationships that cannot help being read as "lesbian", is not one that could have been made in many times and places. In 1931, it almost certainly could not have been made in the USA under the Hayes Code.
While writing fantasy is probably my first fictional love, I have a deep and abiding passion for historic fiction. A significant proportion of my half-started trunk novels might be described as "lesbians through the ages in Welsh history", combining several of my rather idiosyncratic passions. But my first published historic romance story, "Where My Heart Goes", fell outside my usual centuries and locations, being set in mid-16th century Italy.

One of the standard failure modes for historic fiction is to cram too much of your background research into the story itself. Given the word-count limit I was working with, that wasn't a serious temptation in this case. But I thought it would be fun to share the historic framework from which I distilled my version of history.

The immediate inspiration, of course, was one of the articles I covered for the Lesbian Historic Motif Project: Eisenbichler, Konrad. “Laudomia Forteguerri Loves Margaret of Austria” in Same Sex Love and Desire Among Women in the Middle Ages (ed. By Francesca Canadé Sautman & Pamela Sheingorn), Palgrave, New York, 2001.

Eisenbichler examined the love sonnets that Laudomia wrote to Margaret, the commentary of their contemporaries on the deep emotional bond between the two women, and both their personal and society context that might shed light on the details of that emotional bond. The poems themselves are, to some extent, conventional in their imagery, unusual only in that those conventions of romantic love are addressed from one woman to another. But the strength of their emotional connection as such that Laudomia's admirer and countryman Agnolo Firenzuola invoked Plato's mythologized explanation of desire as individuals seeking their literal "other half", though Firenzuola felt the need to contrast "those who...love each other’s beauty, some in purity and holiness, as the elegant Laudomia Forteguerra loves the most illustrious Margaret of Austria, some lasciviously, as ... in Rome the great prostitute Cecilia Venetiana.”

Another contemporary noted that at their first meeting, “as soon as Laudomia saw Madama [i.e., Margaret], and was seen by her, suddenly with the most ardent flames of Love each burned for the other, and the most manifest sign of this was that they went to visit each other many times.” And on one of these visits, “they renewed most happily their sweet Loves, and today more than ever, with notes from one to the other they warmly maintain them.”

Their contemporaries seem to have raised no concerns about any possible "lascivious" angle to their love, though in a later century the scandal-monger Brantôme accused them of having a sexual relationship.

In the context of historical speculation, this seemed more than enough basis for imagining a romance between the two women. But what were the historical facts within which this romance would have played out? Historical facts should be outside any prohibition on spoilers, but on the off chance that readers feel differently, I'll put the rest of this behind a cut. Here are the intriguing lives of these women that inspired my story. In addition to Eisenbichler's article, and some basic background from Wikipedia, the bulk of my research was supplied by Charlie R. Steen's Margaret of Parma: A Life (Leiden: Brill, 2013).

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It has become a (mildly controversial) tradition in some circles to post a year-end round-up of the fiction one has had published, in order to help remind people who might be thinking about award nominations. I have few illusions about awards season (although some lovely person has added The Mystic Marriage to the SWFA Nebula Recommended Reading List) but I think it's a lovely tradition to do a look-back at one's body of work for the year. With the release of the short story that will complete my publications for 2015, it seems a good time to join in this tradition.


The Mystic Marriage (Bella Books)

no title

A historic fantasy (with romance), set in a mildly alternate early 18th century in the Ruritanian country of Alpennia. Alchemy and political intrigue complicate the lives of four women, bound together by ties of blood, friendship, and love.

Short Stories

Hoywverch (Podcastle.org)

Published in both text and audio versions. In the world of the medieval Welsh Mabinogi, two women subvert the tropes of heroic romance. My answer to the premise that the Mabinogi needed more lesbians. This is the first of a planned quartet of stories.

Where My Heart Goes (in Through the Hourglass, edited by Sacchi Green and Patty G. Henderson

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Not SFF, a historical romance set in 16th century Italy. Politics shaped the life of Duchess Margaret of Parma, illegitimate daughter of the Holy Roman Emperor, married to two scions of Papal families, governor of the Spanish Netherlands. But her heart was her own to give, and it was given to the lovely and learned poet Laudomia Forteguerri.

ETA: Non-Fiction

It occurs to me to note (and take credit for) the Lesbian Historic Motif Project. This is an on-going blog (begun June 2014) that surveys and summarizes scholarly research on history and literature with lesbian-relevant themes. It doesn't fit neatly and tidily into my SFF interests as it mostly focuses on history. But on the other hand, given the deep roots of modern fantasy in the history and literature of the period my project covers, it is a project that could be of significant use to writers trying to portray queer female characters in any sort of non-modern or non-future setting. Both my historic fiction and my fantasy are informed by this research. It also serves to keep my hand in on semi-academic pursuits.


"Where My Heart Goes" is now available!

The anthology Through the Hourglass is now available from Amazon Kindle. (Other e-book formats and hard copy will be available soon.)

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Sixteen lesbian historical romance short stories, ranging from 10th century Iceland through 20th century America. (Over half the stories are set in the 20th century.)

My story is an imagined romance between the Siennese poet Laudomia Forteguerri and Duchess Margaret of Parma, illegitimate daughter of Emperor Charles V, inspired by the love sonnets Laudomia wrote to her and the witness of their contemporaries that "with the most ardent flames of Love each burned for the other." I'll be blogging more soon about my research for this story and the fascinating lives of these two women.

I haven't had a chance to read the rest of the stories yet, but I'm looking forward to it!


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