March has stormed the castle, leaving me still catching up from February and trying not to drown in March. Why is time going so darn fast? I’m still not as productive on my next book as I’d like to be, but at least I have continued work on my screenplay. On the plus side, ClexaCon is only a few weeks away and I look forward to catching up with old friends, meeting some new ones, and checking out some of the writing-related offerings. And who am I kidding? If you know me, you know I am also thrilled any time I get to see the ladies of Lost Girl 🙂
Hope to meet a few of you there.
On to this month’s business… I am excited to bring you fellow Gainesville, Fl writer and musician, Shira Glassman. There is always talk about wanting increased visibility of your own culture in books and movies, but Shira takes action. Her wonderfully creative mind weaves new worlds for readers and focuses on Jewish leads within the LGBTQ community. Also, her book covers often feature some fantastic artwork. Her newest book, “Cinnamon Blade: Knife In Shining Armor,” is due out soon and I just love this tweet blurb:
If you’re looking for love, humor, and a vivid imagination, definitely check out her books.
When you’re not writing, what are some of your hobbies?
I’m a musician from a musical family, and both playing and listening to music are very important to me. Related to this, I’ve also been a lifelong fan of opera going back to even before I could tie my shoes, and many of my stories are inspired by some of my favorites, which tend to be German or French ones with fantasy elements.
I also knit, bead a little, and in the past I’ve gotten involved in LGBT political activism. I did try to add figure drawing with several months of lessons with a teacher I really liked, but it requires the kind of intense practice that makes it a bad fit for a fifth or sixth hobby– for me, at least!
Your stories are often set in the fictional Jewish world of Mangoverse. How did that world come about?
I grew up four hours from Disney, and because my grandmother loved it, we went frequently. When you’re a little girl in Florida, Disney princesses are everywhere. But somehow I knew none of them would match my sexuality or my people. Now we sort of have Elsa — and I hope she stays this way as either a possible sapphic or an actual one — but the closest thing I had as a kid to an animated Jewish Disney princess was…. an impoverished refugee mouse. I mean, yes, that’s been a lot of our experience, but put yourself in my shoes. It’s a glorious movie that means a lot to many of us but I want to be more than a mouse.
In Perach — “flower” in Hebrew, so literally, Florida — Jewishness is normalized and celebrated in the kind of tropical environment in which I grew up. I seek to spotlight some of the more joyous parts of our traditions and our experiences, which is something I don’t always get enough of since we suffer so much in existing literature.
The other countries in the world were inspired by friends, honestly — there’s a Lusophone country because I work with a lot of Brazilians and in honor of a Portuguese Canadian friend I met online; there’s a Persian-inspired city-state that an old boss from Tehran helped me create (both of these last two being populated by gentiles); and Rivka and Isaac, the main male/female couple in the series, come from an imaginary Yiddish-speaking Ashkenazi country “up north.” As someone descended from displaced refugee Ashkies, this was especially personally relevant.
For me, the worldbuilding technicalities aren’t as important as getting to create imagery of Jewish joy in a fantasy setting. After being relegated to dwarf, goblin, and witch status in traditional Western European fantasy, it’s nice to also be the hero or the princess or even just human.
Is there an idea/genre you’d like to try that you haven’t yet?
It would be absolutely lovely to break my own barrier into fluffy or romantic historical fiction, because that’s the genre in which I miss “us”, whether that means queer people or Jews, the most. Growing up with opera around me all the time, I saw a world of fabulous costumes, dramatic stories, and dashing sword fights. But it was a gentile world and except for the occasional tragic subtext, a world free of canonical queerness.
I want to wear the pretty dress and be part of the 80-piece orchestra spectacle, too!
(I get these same impulses whenever I watch one of those Jane Austen movies, too. That’s why I love the Alpennia books by Heather Rose Jones so much — they fulfill that urge P&P produces to see Regency Where The Ladies Kiss. With the caveat that it’s not really Regency because it’s Central Europe, not England, but for me personally that’s even better!)
However, historical fiction is intimidating, because while I do find research fun, I’m frightened by the prospect of not knowing that I had a knowledge gap in the first place. For example, I’m not sure how I would have known rotary phones existed had I not lived through the tail end of rotary phones. It’s easy to look up “What were telephones like in 1970”, but what if it never even occurred to you that telephones had undergone that major of a change in design?
So, I wait. Someday! Maybe! In the meantime, there are writers like Rose Lerner, Carola Dunn, Cat Sebastian, and Heather Rose Jones (of course, hers have fantasy elements but they’re still as historically accurate as possible) to scratch the “representation in costume drama” itch for me.
What’s your favorite genre to read?
The easiest way to get me interested in your book is if you’ve written cozy fantasy with either f/f or trans rep or both (i.e. as opposed to epic fantasy about battles between entire nations; I’d rather read about a princess having trouble with schoolwork and asking the palace witch for a potion to help her concentrate, for example) with a kind of fairytale setting — dragons, witches, princesses, kings and queens, clever milkmaids, hardworking farmers, magic talking trees, mermaids, centaurs, fairies, etc.
I do read cis m/m but it’s seldom and it tends to be by men, although not always.
Outside of queerness, my favorite genre that I’ve been devouring since puberty are vintage mysteries of the Christie or Sayers variety. There are dozens of other authors, but Christie is by far my favorite. I own nearly all of her books. Before you ask, yes, I loved the new movie. Branagh may not be as accurate as David Suchet, whose canon accuracy is unimpeachable, but I feel like they really gave the journey of the most important non-Poirot character the weight and depth that character deserves, which I don’t feel other adaptations of Christie are guaranteed to do. Poirot outshines everyone else, and every once in a while she has a murderer character who needs to share the spotlight just a little in order to get the full effect of her creation.
And for those of you who have already read both Orient and Death on the Nile, don’t you agree with me that this gives you hope that Nile’s Important Character is going to be treated with equal weight?
What books are you reading now, or are on your to-read list?
I just finished reading Sparks Fly by Welsh author Llinos Cathryn Thomas, which is a lesbian romance between the rival headmistresses of a dance school — in outer space! I truly, truly love how “academic arts romance, except the school is in a space colony” is becoming a subgenre of lesbian fiction — I’m thinking back to Jennifer Linsky’s Flowers of Luna, which is lesbian romance between students at fashion design college, on the moon. If the next one is music teachers on Mars, I’m totally here for it.
Rival headmistresses is an oversimplification. One of the heroines has been waiting patiently for her chance to run the school she’s worked at for years. The other one is a big star recuperating from an injury she suffered during an accident at a performance. There’s friction, but of course they figure out that working together is the best way to serve both their artistic visions. Plus, they have to provide a united front against external conflicts. It’s a bit short, but the inventive setting and tightly-crafted romance make up for it. Oh, and by the way, the “dance” they do involves piloting little zero-gravity pods through the air, so you never forget you’re reading science fiction even though the overall feel, at least for me as a violinist, is that very familiar world behind the scenes at a performing arts enterprise.
My current reading project is to try to actually write my review of Heather Rose Jones’s Mother of Souls on this pass. This is from that Alpennia series I mentioned earlier during my ramble about historical fiction. I’ve read it multiple times — and was even the “opera beta” — but my reading app ate my notes when I was reviewing the finished version and I got discouraged. So I’m working on that again — it’s an excellent, sprawling fantasy series set in early 19th century central Europe, and by this volume, the third so far, there are two established permanent happily-ever-after lesbian couples plus several bi women in and out of affairs with each other or just hanging out with the rest of the queer women as friends.
Each of the couples has their own plot by this point. There’s a woman trying to figure out why her connection with magic seems faulty; another woman is writing her first opera; someone else wants to start a women’s college. And through it all is the ominous “why is there a drought? is there foreign magic hexing our rivers?” Yes, all of the plot threads will turn out to be related, and queer women save the country. I’m here for it.
As I said earlier, this is the series you want if watching Jane Austen movies makes you yearn for more of the same except with ladies kissing each other instead of men in truly awful pants.
If you see my review show up in the Lesbrary in the next few months, you’ll know I finally pulled it off. Even if I don’t, please consider giving Alpennia a chance if you have any interest in painstakingly accurate 19th century fiction (with period-appropriate heat levels, by the way, so you feel like we actually got to be included the first time around!) or very very woman-centered fantasy or books that contain at least half a dozen lesbians and bi women.
What writers do you look up to and why?
I am a huge fan of Zen Cho for telling amazing, riveting, varied, original SFF stories that are so steeped in her culture. I want to do that. I hope I’m even 10% as good at it as she is.
Austin Chant is made of solid gold and burps diamonds.
Sacha Lamb is also #Goals as far as finding the fluffy good parts of the queer Jewish experience.
CB Lee’s superhero YA’s need to be filmed. Think of what it would mean if Bells and Jess and Emma were in a mainstream movie or even TV series. Earth needs this franchise.
If you were a character in any of your works, which one would you want to be?
I think I like to think of myself as as non-butch version of Ms. Feinberg a.k.a. “Mel” from Fearless, the violinist/high school music director who sweeps a cute brunette band mom off her feet when they get snowed in together at the All-State hotel. Lana hasn’t played violin since before she had kids, but Mel gets her all excited about music again and I would be honored if I had that kind of effect on people. Plus, she’s an exciting teacher and her students all love her.
I will let you know if I meet a cute brunette band mom.
(And yes, I have to say it, there’s a part of me that wants a moment as Rivka as well, so I can defend my friends and sleep with Isaac.)
What’s up next for you?
My superhero f/f romance Cinnamon Blade: Knife in Shining Armor is now [as of March 5] out for preorder, with a May 7 release date. She’s snarky; she’s badass; she can throw her knives at an attacking monkey and robot at the same time without flinching. But one thing lately has been turning her knees to jelly — the sweet and nerdy Soledad Castillo. As executive assistant to a man with lots of cutting edge tech, Soledad’s been the damsel in distress more than once, but it would be lovely to feel her embrace in a moment of bliss instead of while shooting at aliens.
This is a story that falls squarely into the “knight/damsel” flavor of f/f, to scratch your warrior/nerd itch. Plus, it’s got a lot of friendship moments within the superhero team, especially between Cinnamon and Captain Werewolf, her childhood best friend from Hebrew school who turned her from a life of crime as a glamorous jewel and art thief back toward the path of healing the world.
I’m also working on learning the music for my next two performances!
You can pre-order her new release here
And Keep in touch with Shira at the following links:
Thank you, Shira, for sharing. I hope we meet again soon.
And thank you all for stopping by. Hopefully, I’ll have more writing progress to report, some Clexa Con pics, and maybe even a sneak peek at my WIP. Plus, you won’t want to miss next month’s author, RJ Samuel.
Until then, happy reading!
All the best,