By M. Kei
Our guest today is Nan Hawthorne, editor-in-chief of Our Story GLBTQ Historical Fiction at the GLBT Bookshelf. She is the author of several works of historical fiction, including Beloved Pilgrim, a Lesbian/Transgender novel set during the Crusades. She is being interviewed by M. Kei, Moderator of the Our Story GLBTQ Historical Fiction email list, and author of Pirates of the Narrow Seas, gay nautical fiction set during the Age of Sail.
Kei: Welcome Nan. Thanks for chatting with us today.
Nan: I'm very pleased to talk with you. Our Story is one of the most exciting projects I have been invited to do and I thank Mel Keegan for that opportunity. This interview is another, an opportunity to explain what Our Story is all about.
Kei: Tell us about Our Story. What is it, and what can it do for readers and writers?
Nan: Our Story is an online resource of historical novels with gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender and queer themes. It is part of a remarkable tool, GLBT Bookshelf, a wiki, set up by longtime gay author Mel Keegan to bring together authors, readers, publishers, and even artists as a collaborative effort. Anyone can add to it. It's at http://www.glbtbookshelf.com, and in fact, it is designed to be the responsibility of everyone who loves GLBT books. There you will find a growing list of books, mostly fiction, information on authors and publishers, and reviews by members of the Bookshelf community.
The GLBT Bookshelf always had historical fiction as part of its pan-genre scope, but when I contacted Mel Keegan to review books from that favorite genre, he asked me to set up what came to be called "Our Story: GLBTQ Historical Fiction". It is the first section devoted to a particular genre on the site.
Those of us involved in GLBTQ historical fiction are trying to create a history for a population who has been denied one due to marginalization and censorship. Since you cannot report what was never been recorded, it will be up to novelists to construct a history of every aspect of that population's existence, its experiences. Our Story is one place where it will all be gathered so authors can be part of the bigger picture and readers of all persuasions can find it.
Kei: What made you decide to launch Our Story? How is it different from other GLBTQ historical fiction resources out there?
Nan: I adore historical fiction and have a particular interest in and devotion to GLBTQ history, so I wanted not only to read but to contribute to it as a writer and specifically a novelist, and when I found myself looking for a destination for my reviews of these works, I happened to ask Mel Keegan, whose historical novels I had known since I first got interested in the sub-sub-genre, for advice on a good place to start. As I mentioned, that is when he offered me his own community site for the purpose. As it happens, I need not have had it offered to me, since GLBT Bookshelf is and always was open to anyone to use to create the tools they want to share. It struck me at that point last December that this was a chance to build something I believe in strongly, a concerted effort to create a sort of heritage for people who are GLBTQ.
This is not the first or only effort to list historical novels with gay themes. The site Speak Its Name www.speakitsname.com and the blog The Macaronis http://historicromance.wordpress.com/ both do this for gay men. Earlier I had set up a similar site for lesbian historical novels I called Bosom Friends (now melded into Our Story. I wanted to put my effort into creating a resource that was inclusive of not only gay and lesbian historical novels but also for the histories of other sexual minorities. That's when Our Story was born. Each of these and similar sites accomplish laudable goals in different ways. Our Story is simply intended to cover all bases in terms not only of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender but also of books not strictly considered "historical", such a historical fantasy. How we will do this ultimately will change and develop as the work goes on and others join the team.
Kei: Let me play agent provocateur here and ask some hard questions. What’s the connection between history and historical fiction? Why would modern GLBTQ people want to read books about a time when we were persecuted, and how can anybody know anything about what it was like to be GLBTQ back then anyhow?
Nan: Let's examine how historians "know" what happened in the past. They consult personal accounts, narrative and data records, policies, and anecdotal information, along with such areas of study and research as archeology. There are two things historians cannot do: to be absolutely certain any of this is fact; and to put a modern person into the very immediate, personal experience of living in a time. They try, and they do a great job, butt the fact is that it's ultimately impossible. There is a saying, "History is written by the victors." You can extend that to "History is recorded by the dominant culture." Can you trust that dominant culture to represent all sectors of a society fair and accurately? I don't even think they can do this with their own history, let alone GLBTQ.
Since in essence all history is fiction or at best uncertain fact, why not look to fiction? I think it is the role of historical fiction to posit a plausible past for a people. Can you be sure a novel is true. No, of course not. You can't be certain all of the history you read is true. Historical novelists as a profession are very dedicated to finding the truth and reasoning out what they can't pin down. What they write is never intended to be a textbook. The difference is that novelists say what they write is fiction right up front.
GLBTQ people want a heritage, a past, same as anyone else. Other groups, women, people of African descent, Hispanic speakers, people of Asian origin, others have started to assemble their own histories, even people with disabilities. Since the dominant culture, primarily white Europeans middle and upper class males, recorded little about the minorities in their communities, many people seeking a heritage have relied on what Dr. Norman Jones calls "narrative ways of knowing", that is, storytelling. We know there were GLBTQ people in history, from the poet Sappho to Alexander the Great to King Edward II of England to Horace Walpole, so there must have been people in every culture and every walk of life. People tend to find a way to live their lives and love whom they love. It stands to reason that whatever the oppression, plenty of our forebears managed to carve out an existence, even a community. How can that be anything but instructive and supportive of contemporary GLBTQ people?
Kei: What kind of fiction does Our Story review? Can you give us a couple of examples of things that have already been reviewed that typify what Our Story offers? (Include links.)
Nan: Bottom line is that Our Story publishes reviews by anyone who wants to read and review work in the genre of historical fiction with gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, and queer themes and characters.
Your series, Pirates of the Narrow Seas http://bookworld.editme.com/kujakupoet, is one example of books we have reviews of, including The Sallee Rovers and Men of Iron, books set in the Age of Sail. We have reviews of several of Sarah Waters lesbian historical novels, such as Fingersmith http://bookworld.editme.com/REVIEW-FINGERSMITH-by-Sarah-Waters and Tipping the Velvet http://bookworld.editme.com/TIPPING-THE-VELVET-by-Sarah-Waters. Frankly, anyone who wants to read and review novels in this genre or about this genre is encouraged to contribute to the depth and breadth of the material on Our Story. I recently read and reviewed Dr. Norman Jones scholarly work Gay and Lesbian historical Fiction: Sexual Mystery and Post-secular Narrative: http://bookworld.editme.com/REVIEW-GAY-AND-LESBIAN-HISTORICAL-FICTION-by-Norman-W-Jones-reviewed-by-Nan-Hawthorne. GLBTQ literature is one of the literary areas growing by leaps and bounds, unlike more traditional publishing, in large part because of ebook publishing. We have a glorious tall virtual mountain of books that can become part of Our Story.
Kei: What about paranormal, time travel, and other novels that involve history but are not straight up historical fiction?
Nan: At Our Story "historical fiction" is defined liberally. If it is set at least mostly in the human past, and it has a central GLBTQ theme and characters, we will seek to list it and publish a review. We include historical fantasy, meaning fantasy that has some connection to human history. We believe paranormal events are part of human experience as well.
Some titles include: Wages of Sn, by Alex Beecroft
http://bookworld.editme.com/REVIEW-WAGES-OF-SIN-by-Alex-Beecroft-reviewed-by-Nan-Hawthorne, and When Women Were Warriors series by Catherine M. Wilson http://bookworld.editme.com/OS-WHEN-WOMEN-WERE-WARRIORS-1TRILOGY-by-Caherine-MWildon,
Kei: Who do you think the readers of GLBTQ historical fiction are, and why do they like it so much?
Nan: The primary readers are GLBTQ people and those straight women and some men who read what some call M/M or gay romance. It is, again, a burgeoning market. Each person must have his or her own reason for loving the genre. Some are fascinated by our part in the drama and comedy of the human animal. Others want escape into the lives of famous and purely fictional people of history. Some want affirmation of having a heritage. Some are historians who are balked by the lack of real information. Some just want to dream about a more colorful time in history. Some like to live vicariously the times we were born too late to be part of. I always loved the Middle Ages, and two of my novels so far take place then, but my short stories and my future novels will take place in other times as well.
Kei: What about Lesbian historical fiction? All too often ‘gay’ means ‘gay male only.’ Can you give us some Lesbian recommendations?
Nan: I mentioned Sarah Waters' books, primarily set in Victorian England, including Fingersmith and Tipping the Velvet. Historical fiction is perfect for women, including lesbians, who want to identify with more active female characters, and there are novels about lesbian highwaymen, ship captains, knights, Wild West bandits and plenty of soldiers. I have a particular bent to what I call "Grrlz2Men" stories, that is, women who choose to live to their fullest as men, so along with my own Elisabeth in Beloved PIlgrim http://bookworld.editme.com/BelovedPilgrim there are Jae's http://bookworld.editme.com/Jae-0 Backwards to Oregon novels, Christie and the Hellcat http://bookworld.editme.com/OS-CHRISTIE-AND-THE-HELLCAT-by-Barbara-Davies and Rebecca and the Highwayman http://bookworld.editme.com/REBECCAH-AND-THE-HIGHWAYMAN-by-Barbara-Davies by Barbara Davies. You will find novels based on the lives of real lesbians in history, Sappho of course in Sappho Sings by Peggy Ullman Bell http://bookworld.editme.com/Peggy-Ullman-Bell and sculptor Anne Damer in Life Mask http://bookworld.editme.com/REVIEW-LIFE-MASK-by-Emma-Donoghue-reviewed-by-Nan-Hawthorne by Emma Donogue. The GLBT Bookshelf may seem dominated by gay men's books but that's only because lesbians have not really made a point of getting themselves onto the site. I am working on fixing that.
Kei: What about disability and accessibility? Can you recommend some GLBTQ fiction about characters with disabilities, and books available with text-to-speech or other accommodations for readers with disabilities?
Nan: I myself am legally blind so an awful lot of the older novels may as well be nonexistent to me, I simply cannot read print even large print. Fortunately the proliferation of ebooks means, if one has a reader device that reads aloud, like the Amazon Kindle devices with text to speech, one can listen to them. That has been perhaps the most gratifying thing to happen to me, a voracious reader, in my life, the sudden access to books I could never have read unless the government library for the blind recorded the books. You can guess GLBTQ books are not a high priority there. The move to electronic books is part of the concept of Universal Design, that is the development of access that suits everyone, not just specific disabilities. Books that are read aloud, whether recorded by narrators or converted to speech by devices, works for everyone, and in particular benefits people who are print impaired, which can include not only the sight impaired but also people with learning disabilities and physical conditions that limit one's ability to hold a book for a period of time. The opportunities are growing literally hourly. It will be incumbent on those of us who care about universal access to advocate for accessible book formats. I have done my part trying to convince all historical novelists to allow their books to be text to speech enabled.
Some recommended titles include: City of Lovely Brothers, by Anel Viz
http://bookworld.editme.com/Reviews-of-The-City-of-Lovely-Brothers, Counterpoint: Dylan's Story by Ruth Sims (Dylan's first lover is blind)
http://bookworld.editme.com/OS-COUNTERPOINT-DYLANS-STORY-by-Ruth-Sims, and of course, your books have a blind supporting character, starting with book 2, Men of Honor, http://bookworld.editme.com/REVIEW-MEN-OF-H-ONOR-by-M-Kei-Pirates-of-the-Narrow-Seas.
Kei: How can authors, reviewers, and readers get involved with Our Story?
Nan: That's the easiest part of all. Just go to http://www.glbtbookshelf.com and register on the site. There is only one person tracking all registrations, so be patient. It will take a couple days. Once you are acknowledged you can start setting up pages. There is help available. If you are an author, set up your author page and a page for each book. If you are a publisher, set up your publisher page and encourage your authors to get onto the site. If you want to read and review books, just do it. It doesn't get any more democratic than this. We also would love involvement putting together lists of historical novels, getting the word out to authors and readers, people willing to help keep information on the site clear and up to date, you name it. Jon the Google group at: https://groups.google.com/forum/?fromgroups#!forum/our-story-glbtq so you keep abreast of updates and projects. Donate money to the effort . . . Just one person is paying for this site, so he deserves a little help.
I happen to be the human help desk as well as editor of Our Story, so you can always contact me directly to bounce ideas off me at: firstname.lastname@example.org
Kei: Thanks very much for your time today and all the work you’ve put in making this fantastic resource available for readers of GLBTQ historical fiction. We’re looking forward to seeing the many fine things to come out of Our Story.
Nan: And I thank you, Kei, not only for this chance to effuse about a pet project of mine, but also for the work you are putting into this shared goal of ours. Our team of enthusiasts is growing slowly, but every single one who puts in a little effort just makes it the more exciting.
Nan Hawthorne is a historical novelist currently working on her third novel and fourth book. She specializes in GLBTQ fiction. In addition to Our Story, she is an editor for Wilde Oats magazine www.wildeoats.com and a tireless blogger. She also hosts a 24/7 Celtic music station on Live365.com wwww.radiodedanann.com. She lives in the pacific Northwest with her husband and their four doted upon cats. You can find all her many projects on her web site, www.nanhawthorne.com.
M. Kei is a tall ship sailor and award-winning poet who lives on the Eastern Shore of the Chesapeake Bay. He served his apprenticeship aboard a skipjack, one of the last vessels in North America that still fishes commercially under sail. He currently crews with a tall ship that is a replica of a 17th century vessel and has experienced the perils and pleasures of life with “wooden sail” first hand. He is the author of a gay Age of Sail series, Pirates of the Narrow Seas, and several tanka poetry books. His forthcoming book is a gay science fiction / fantasy with an Asian setting, Fire Dragon. http://narrowseas.blogspot.com/