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JoSelle Vanderhooft and Catherine Lundoff are known for writing and editing collections about, for and with lesbian heroines as the protagonists. Their latest work, Hellebore and Rue: Tales of Queer Women and Magic involves female protagonists in fantasy settings using magic to shape the world around them.


I caught up to both JoSelle and Catherine to discuss Hellebore and Rue as well as JoSelle's steampunk lesbian anthology Steam-Powered: Lesbian Steampunk Stories.

You've Co edited an anthology together, Hellebore and Rue, which is an anthology of lesbian women and magic. Women have been traditional protagonists for fairy tales, but most of them have male counterparts (the handsome prince). Where did the inspiration for the anthology come from?

Catherine: We were brainstorming about anthology ideas and projects that we thought would be fun to work on. We wanted to do a fantasy anthology on a theme that we hadn’t seen explored previously and this was something we were both interested in, seeing as we both write and read a lot of fiction with lesbian and bi women as protagonists. We also wanted to do an anthology which wasn’t romance or erotica and this seemed like a theme that a lot of different writers could do fun and unusual things with, which turned out to be the case.

JoSelle: I mainly edit fiction anthologies (at least at this point in my life) about lesbian, bisexual, and otherwise queer women, so I’m always looking for new ways to reach these communities—especially since I think they’re very underserved. An anthology of stories about lesbian magic users wasn’t something I’d seen before, and an anthology that didn’t focus on romance or erotica especially, as so many books for queer women are from these genres—not that that’s a bad thing, of course! I love female/female erotica and romance, but I don’t think it should be the only option for readers who enjoy stories about queer women.

While lesbian magic users was just one subject that Catherine and I came up with when we were floating ideas for projects we could do together, the idea of lesbian/bi/queer women magic users also appealed to me because of power. Typically, magic users of any tradition are very powerful figures to contend with, and so often, in so many societies, queer women are socially, economically, and financially disempowered. Magic seemed like a good way to me to address empowerment without being preachy or political in a pedantic way.

How did the two of you come to work together on the anthology?

Catherine: JoSelle and I “met” a few years back when I blurbed her anthology Sleeping Beauty, Indeed, back when we were both with Torquere Press (that anthology has since been reissued by Lethe Press). We corresponded about our respective writing for a couple of years, and then met at a couple of different conventions, WisCon and Gaylaxicon, over the last few years.

In 2009, we were sitting around with friends at Gaylaxicon in Minneapolis, and we had one of those “Hey, Grandpa’s got a barn. Let’s put on a show!” kind of conversations that happen at cons. We thought it would a lot of fun to collaborate on something and JoSelle had just taken on the role of Flyleaf Imprint editor at Drollerie Press. From there, we brainstormed on line, put out a call and had about a year of emails and occasional texts while pulling the book together.

We didn’t have any major disagreements about story inclusion, but we did have a lot of discussion about stories we did and didn’t like and what changes we wanted to see on rewrites. For the most part, we agreed on all the ones we were sure about right away, but we had to go over the “Maybes” for awhile before we got a list we both liked. For me personally, the process was quite successful. I think that together we found story edits that we might have missed working alone and I think the final product is a terrific anthology full of memorable, well-written stories. Okay, I’m a tad biased.

JoSelle: We also know one another because the world of writers who regularly commit acts of LGBTQ science fiction, fantasy, and horror is pretty small. I admire her work as an author and editor immensely.

What was it like trying to work together on collaboration? Especially since neither of you live in the same state?

JoSelle: It was actually easier than it probably sounds! Though I doubt we could have done it without email and cell phones. While co-editors can often vehemently—sometimes violently—disagree on the direction an anthology should take, Catherine and I were lucky, I think, in that we didn’t have any major disagreements over which stories to accept. And when we did disagree, we were always able to talk it out. I think this is because we both have similar ideas about what makes a story good, and similar ideas about what we wanted this book to look like—that is, diverse in cultural representation and definition of magic, rather than just putting together a book of high fantasy Lord of the Rings rip offs with all white casts.

As someone who had never worked with a co-editor before, I also love working with another person because it made the process really smooth; for example, if I didn’t catch a grammar error or something about a story that wasn’t quite working, Catherine did, and vice versa.

As for what the process was like from a more general standpoint, I would highly recommend co-editing to all but the most megalomaniacal of editors; it not only makes for a very varied, deep final product, but a real opportunity to learn and grow as an editor.

You have both edited anthologies before. How was this one different? Did you find any particular challenges?

Catherine: Well, I think it’s always different you’re working on a project like editing solo as opposed to with another person. There’s a lot more back and forth, more of a dialogue and sometimes, a need to convince the other person that they like or don’t like what you like. We had one story that I didn’t like the first time I read it and JoSelle had to convince me to read it again. Once I did, I was able to see things I missed the first time through and realized how good it was and it ended up in the anthology.

We also went back and forth a bit on story order. Ruth Sorrell’s story, “Counterbalance,” was my pick for the kickoff story in the anthology because I really like the atmosphere it creates and prose-poem like style that the author uses. It makes it a bit different from most of the other writing styles used in the other stories and I wanted to use it first because of that stylistic choice. We had some discussion on it and JoSelle went back and read the stories again in the order I proposed and found that it worked for her the next time through. I think if either of us had been working alone, we wouldn’t have gone with all the stories we ultimately chose. As I read Hellebore and Rue again, I get really excited about what we did pick and really pleased that we were able to get our process to work to produce this anthology.

Were you surprised by the story selection you received?

Catherine: We did something that I used when I edited my first anthology, Haunted Hearths and Sapphic Shades: Lesbian Ghost Stories, and asked prospective authors to query us first with their ideas. I like handling theme anthology submissions this way since it reduces the likelihood that an author will wind up with a story they can’t sell elsewhere. I also find that it reduces the slush, in part because it makes an author put some thought into planning the story beforehand.

We shot a number of stories down in the query phase for a variety of reasons: ideas we didn’t like, themes we were seeing too much of, and so forth. The call for queries was open and I don’t believe we solicited many stories from writers we knew, something which I know I did for Hearths (the end product was 50% open call, 50% invite stories). So while I’d say I was pleased by the inventiveness of the queries we got, I wasn’t surprised by the final stories we received since we’d been able to see them at the idea phase.

JoSelle: I honestly expected to see more high fantasy, since I think this is the place where a majority of American and British writers’ minds go when they hear the term “magic user” (and I say American and British only because I typically receive the majority of submissions for all my anthologies from these two countries, with Canada a close third). However, we only got a handful of such stories—only one of which, “Skylit Bargains” which is in the book, that I remember offhand. We got a really good variety, ranging from far future SF-tinged fantasy to stories that took Voodoo as their inspiration. I was a little surprised to receive so much urban fantasy, however; while that genre has been big for several years, it has merged with paranormal romance so closely of late that I wasn’t expecting to see so many non-romance stories set in contemporary cities.

I was also amazed by the diversity of magic systems, which included candy-based magic in Steve Berman’s “D is for Delicious” and elemental magic in “Bridges and Lullabies.”

Do you think this topic resonates with certain readers?

Catherine: We’re certainly hoping that’s the case. I identify as bi and married my wife over a year ago in Iowa; I’m an enthusiastic reader of a lot of genre fiction, including sf/f, and I like to read about characters like me as well as those who are very different. One of the fun things about working on this project is that there isn’t a current anthology exactly like it so we’re hoping that this book helps to create some new options for writers who want to write good stories about lesbians and bi women outside of the romance and erotica genres.

JoSelle: Yes, I think so. Like I mentioned earlier, magic users are powerful, and I think we’re at a point in history where LGBTQ people—and those who identify as women in particular—are hungry for stories about powerful, independent, and even world-changing people who aren’t straight and/or cisgender.

Plus, you know, magic is such a huge part of so many cultures’ folklore. I think an interest in it goes along with being human, to the point that stories about it will never stop being read, told, and craved.

JoSelle, You've got a steampunk anthology coming out. Can you tell me about it?

JoSelle: Absolutely! It’s actually been out for about a month and a half now. It’s called Steam-Powered: Lesbian Steampunk Stories, and has wonderful contributions by a ton of fabulous writers, a bunch of whom are Nebula nominees (Amal El-Mohtar and Shweta Narayan, for example). It features stories set in France on the verge of war with Prussia, a secessionist San Francisco, the Nevada desert, the Mughal Empire, and a world where the French didn’t put down the Haitian rebellion. Its women aren’t all aristocrats, adventurers, or inventors, either—some of them are factory workers, inmates of an asylum, pilots of Gundam-like mechanical beings, and even goddesses of clockwork universes!

Overall, it was my attempt to broaden the steampunk genre, and the scope of lesbian fiction in the West, by soliciting and including stories about lesbians who are not necessarily white, middle/upper class, or able bodied, which is the “default” picture of a lesbian in a lot of people’s minds here in the USA. I wanted to show that lesbians can be from any and all backgrounds and life circumstances, and that we’re amazing in our diversity.

It’s just a really fantastic book, just as good as Hellebore & Rue—and I’m not just saying that because I’m the (co-)editor and therefore biased. So many of the stories in both books just rocked my world, which is the best thing an editor can hope for, really, when they put out that call for submissions.

What is the appeal of steampunk?

JoSelle: On the most surface, unquestioned level, I would say cool technology, pretty clothes, and the big “What If?” that drives science fiction, fantasy, and horror—and indeed, all of storytelling, really. On a deeper level, one a lot of people arrive at when they realize that some steampunk really does romanticize awful things like racism, colonialism, and even sexism, I think it’s a good way to imagine how the world could have been different if history (which has often been driven by technology) had worked out a little differently, and a great way to deconstruct the very things that make the genre romantic to some.

Where can we find all of these books and anthologies?

Catherine: Hellebore and Rue: Tales of Queer Women and Magic is available at the Drollerie Press Bookstore ( http://drolleriepress.com/books/index.php?main_page=product_info&cPath=49&products_id=109) as well at Smashwords and at Amazon in the Kindle store. There will be a print edition available later on this year, May timeframe, per Drollerie.

Catherine, you teach writing part time. What one piece of advice do you find yourself giving to potential writers (Other than just start writing)?

Catherine: Learn to edit yourself as objectively as possible and to look for improvements in your own work. I think this is particularly important for any writer at any stage of her/his career. It’s easy to go for the extremes: “This is brilliant! I love my work!” or “This is utter crap! No one will ever read it.” But it’s less easy to look at a story and say, “Well that character works but this part of the plot is something that isn’t really working,” or vice versa. The sequence that works best for me is to finish a draft, then give myself a couple of days or more away from it. Then go back and reread it and start making changes, sometimes more than once. After that I run it off in hard copy and go over it again a day or two later. Then I read it out loud. By that point, I’ve shaken out most typos, dialogue that doesn’t work, plot points that have no context and so forth. It’s a process that any writer can learn and adapt for what works best for them. The purpose is to get to a point where you can view your work in some of the ways that a reader does.

You can find JoSelle at her website: www.joselle-vanderhooft.com. Catherine may be reached at http://www.catherinelundoff.com/


About Me

I'm the author of the Tranquility series, which is a series of urban, rural, urban fantasy mysteries that aren't really urban.

Think Green Acres meet The Hardy Boys, Jeff Foxworthy meets The X-Files or Eureka meets The Beverly Hillbillies.

The latest in the series, Bride of Tranquility is a murder mystery set in a haunted hotel during a Renaissance wedding.

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