As the Lethe Press website says, Heiresses of Russreprints the prior year’s best lesbian-themed short works of the fantastical, the otherworldly, the strange and wondrous under one cover. With that in mind, I’ve asked author A.C. Wise to come share some thoughts on the anthology and her wonderful story, “The Devil Comes to the Midnight Café.”
What do you think we achieve by categorizing stories, tagging them with qualities that highlight sexuality (or gender, ability, and race) ? Is it a desired end point? A necessary stage on some collective journey humanity is taking?
I tend to think of it as a necessary stage. Unfortunate as it is, narratives centering the straight, white, neurotypical, cis male experience are still seen as “the norm” and they dominate the majority of our media – in print, on screen, and otherwise. The argument can be made that labeling something as lesbian fiction is othering, but the fact is, lesbians have already been othered, as has everyone outside that straight, white, etc. model. There are people out there hungry to see themselves represented in fiction, in movies, in song, art, and even TV commercials. At the moment, I see labels as a necessary and helpful way to allow people who crave those stories to find them. Hopefully, one day, not too long down the road if the world is kind and fair, labels will be less necessary. We’ll have stories, full stop. They will encompass all of humanity, and straight, white, male stories will no longer be seen as universal, while everything else is niche or specialized.
Would you say your story in the collection is typical or emblematic of your work, or an outlier?
Well, it’s part of a story-cycle, if you will, collected in The Ultra Fabulous Glitter Squadron Saves The World Again, so in that sense, it’s representative of my first published book. The Glitter Squadron stories are a little more over-the-top than my fiction tends to be, but underneath the glitter and velvet, there are themes that echo across a lot of my fiction – chosen family, self-identity, darkness, and hope.
One of my previous interview series, The Heroine Question, generated some interesting discussion of the gendered term Heroine. What do you think of Heiresses of Russ as a title for this project? Should it be Inheritors or Heirs?
I kind of like Inheritors, but I don’t have a problem with Heiress either (though it does conjure up a certain image of feuding family members in 1920s attire in a brooding mansion plotting to kill each other to get their hands on Great Uncle Ennis’ secret fortune. No? Just me?) To me, having a plethora of words lets people pick the description that suits them best. Some people might want to be heroes, others heroines, same for inheritors, heiresses, and heirs. I’m happy with anything that links me to Russ and her wonderful writing, both fiction and non-fiction.
About this interview: 2016 marked my debut as an editor, with the Lethe Press anthology Heiresses of Russ. I co-edited with the capable and lovely Steve Berman; our Table of Contents announcement is here. At that time I asked some of my contributors if they’d be interested in talking a little about the ideas behind their stories, about the idea of lesbian-themed genre fiction, or anything else that seemed interesting and relevant. These are their replies.
Alex Bledsoe grew up in west Tennessee an hour north of Graceland (the home of Elvis) and twenty minutes from Nutbush (the birthplace of Tina Turner). He’s been a reporter, photographer, editor, and door-to-door vacuum cleaner salesman. He now lives in a Wisconsin town famous for trolls (the real kind, not internet commenters) and tries to teach his three kids to act like they’ve been to town before. His most recent novel is Chapel of Ease, fourth in his Tufa series.
In the early 1990s, I worked as an assistant manager for Peaches Music and Video in Mobile, AL. I was (and remain) singularly unsuited for retail–my totem animal is the Soup Nazi–and it remains the only job I’ve ever been fired from.
Some of the few perks were the piles of free CDs music companies sent us for in-store play. Past a certain point they were put up for grabs; the store manager got first pick, then us assistants, and finally the regular clerks, all in order of seniority. I was the least senior manager, so I never got the big chart-toppers like the Red Hot Chili Peppers’ Blood Sugar Sex Magik or R.E.M.’s Automatic for the People.
While working at this job (and at every job I’ve ever had), I was also plugging away unsuccessfully at writing. As part of keeping suicide at bay as the rejection slips piled up, I gave myself future rewards. One of them was a promise to myself that when my first book was published, I’d get a tattoo to mark (heh) the occasion.
The only thing was, I had no idea what image to get. A book seemed obvious, and a pen unrealistic (I mean, even then, nobody wrote books longhand). Plus it was permanent, so I needed an image, a symbol, that I knew I’d never outgrow. I eventually had to simply trust that I’d know it when I found it.
And then, in the pile of CDs at Peaches, I found Meryn Cadell’s Angel Food for Thought.
Cadell, at the time performing as a woman (he’s since identified as male), had a minor hit from this CD, a spoken-word track called “The Sweater.”
The entire CD was fun and funny, and since I was the only one among the staff who thought so, it was still there when it was my turn to go through the freebies. On the back cover, there was a tiny line drawing of a typewriter:
And as time passed, I realized that this image was in fact the ideal tattoo to celebrate my first book. That is, if I ever sold one.
Flash forward from 1992 to 2007 (yes, fifteen years later). My first novel, The Sword-Edged Blonde, was finally released. By then I’d married a woman who fully supported my writing dreams, and I’d told her in passing about my tattoo idea. I even showed her the design, but I’d never actually made plans to do it. What seemed really cool at 29 seemed a little…less so at 44.
Then she surprised me with a trip to the Blue Lotus Tattoo Parlor in Madison. I’d hoped to get the tattoo in the actual size of the image on the CD, but the artist (after 10 years, I’m afraid I’ve forgotten his name) explained that tattoo resolution wasn’t that fine. So he took it, blew it up until he could manage the detail, then put that sucker on my right arm. My “write” arm, heh heh.
It remains my only tattoo. I’ve considered others, but I’ve never discovered another image that resonated so strongly. There’s something understated and (to me) powerful about having a lone tattoo, one that fully represents you and always will. So I’ll probably stick with that.
Unless one of my books becomes a movie…
About this post: Inksplanations (and variations thereon) is the name for a series of short interviews with a number of genre writers about their tattoos. Why they got them, what they mean, how getting ink did or didn’t change them–any and all of these topics are fair game. What drives a literary artist to literally become canvas for an image or epigram? Did they get what they were seeking? I wanted to know, especially after I got my 2016 poppies from Toronto artist Lorena Lorenzo at Blackline Studio, and so I did what any curious writer would do. I asked.
The always-lovely Simon Bestwick invited me to do an interview on The Lowdown not long ago and as of yesterday it’s up and readable. In it, naturally, I talk about my upcoming novel and the books that went before it, current projects, and my writing process. They’re the sort of questions writers often answer. People, whether they’re mostly readers or are aspiring writers, tend to like to know how and when the words get made, to see if there’s any common ground, any insights to be gleaned.
This is a hers and hers interview; Bestwick also interviewed Kelly and her post will be up Friday.
Interviews happen well before they see publication, and one of the other things in this one is a bit of contemplation of how and when I might get the tattoo that became my 2016 poppies. The poppies, when I was conceptualizing them and as I actually got them, were meant as a celebration of the amazing year I was having. I wanted to celebrate, in part because so many people I knew were finding 2016 to be a bear.
All of that optimism and cheer, of course, predated the U.S. election result and the terror and despair spreading from that event. It seems a million years ago. I am generally upbeat and ebullient, but this is a blow. I don’t know when–if–I’ll bounce back to a sustained state of perkiness. I want to. At least one person has said a thing I can do for them is get back to my upbeat magical-unicorn posting habits. And despair, as you all know, just isn’t a great place to live.
Anyway. The interview is a slice of me-from-the-past, and if it seems tonally peculiar, that’s why. My hope is that there’s a me from the future who’ll be able to connect with it, one day in the not too distant, one who can lighten–if only fractionally–not merely my load but that one on your shoulders too, if you’re looking for it.
I am so pleased to announce the finalized line-up for Heiresses of Russ 2016, from Lethe Press, edited by Steve Berman and myself. This is my editorial debut and it’s the sixth, I believe in the HoR series. As the Lethe Press site says, Heiresses of Russ reprints the prior year’s best lesbian-themed short works of the fantastical, the otherworldly, the strange and wondrous under one cover.
As a side-dish to go with the introduction I wrote for this anthology, in which I speculate about what Joanna Russ might have thought of this series that bears her name, I am hoping to lure some of my wonderful authors over here to talk about what constitutes a lesbian-themed work of genre fiction in this day and age.
Stephanie Burgis grew up in East Lansing, Michigan but now lives in Wales, surrounded by castles and coffeeshops. She is the author of two historical fantasy novels for adults, Masks and Shadows and Congress of Secrets, both published by Pyr Books. She’s also the author of over thirty short f/sf stories and a trilogy of Regency fantasy novels for younger readers, beginning with Kat, Incorrigible. To find out more and read excerpts from all of her books, please visit her website: www.stephanieburgis.com.
Is there a literary heroine on whom you imprinted as a child? A first love, a person you wanted to become as an adult, a heroic girl or woman you pretended to be on the playground at recess?
I imprinted SO HARD on so many literary heroines as a kid! It’s actually hard to narrow it down – Anne of Green Gables! Jane Eyre! Elizabeth Bennet! Meg Murry! I loved them all – but: when it comes down to it, I identified with Jo March (from Little Women) in SO many ways.
Can you remember what it was she did or what qualities she had that captured your affections and your imagination so strongly?
She was a writer! (Which I already knew I wanted to be, from the time I was seen.) And she was fiercely ambitious with her writing from very early on in her childhood. In the book, she and her sisters even wrote a magazine as kids where she self-published her own stories – and as a kid, I actually did the same, circulating it ONLY among my own family members! Jo loved acting in plays that she’d written, she was wildly romantic, but she was also socially awkward and frequently messed up in important social situations when she most needed to do her best. She dreamed of traveling in Europe, just like I did; she was devoted to her family and she fought fiercely with them too. She felt real to me and she was wonderful.
How does she compare to the female characters in your work? Is she their literary ancestor? Do they rebel against all she stands for? What might your creations owe her?
My MG heroines probably have more in common with her than most of my adult-fic heroines, but there are definite commonalities throughout. I love writing fiercely ambitious and determined heroines (of any age), in the same way that I’ve always imprinted on them as a reader.
In my new historical fantasy novel, Congress of Secrets, I set out to take the trope of the powerful, manipulative, woman who’s often portrayed as a villainess and make her the heroine of the story instead. Caroline, my heroine, has been planning her scheme for years, and now that she’s finally back in Vienna under the guise of a new identity (using the 1814 Congress of Vienna as her excuse for the trip), she’s ready to do whatever it takes to accomplish it…even if she has to resort to the same kind of dark alchemy that ruined her childhood.
However, while she is ruthless in her determination, she’s not unfeeling; like Jo, she’s actually devoted to her family, and her whole scheme is based around trying to save her father from unjust imprisonment. So, while she and Jo March might not have many surface similarities, a few of the essential qualities are the same.
About this post:The Heroine Question is my name for a series of short interviews with (mostly) female writers about their favorite characters and literary influences. Clicking the link will allow you to browse all the other interviews, with awesome people like Linda Nagata, Kay Kenyon, and S.B. Divya. If you prefer something more in the way of an actual index, it’s here.