Catherine Lundoff is a force in genre writing and studies. Her work has found audiences at both a local and national level. She’s produced a series of articles on “deep reading” for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ) audiences and characters for SF Signal in addition to her own blogs and books. She’s certainly a force for expanding the vision of what genre writing is, so I took some time to talk to her about the past and future of this exciting work.
T. A. Wardrope (TCG): Can you tell me a little bit about your journey as a writer? When did you first consider yourself a writer? Any changes in the way you view the role that writers play since then?
Catherine Lundoff: I didn’t start writing fiction until I was in my early 30s. Prior to that, I had written nonfiction for school, but that was about it. I owned a bookstore for a couple of years, then started law school when I had to shut the store down (as you do). My brief sojourn in law school drove me to writing fiction. It also gave me weird telekinetic powers, born of sheer misery, but those were of shorter duration.
I wrote my first short story and sent it to a magazine editor, who bought it, at which point I quit law school and decided that I was a writer the day I got my contract. I’m not sure that I’ve ever not seen myself as a writer after that. The most significant change for me since then has been adding the role of editor, since I do that as well. As for other changes in my writing, I focus more on longer works now. All of my early publications were short fiction, whereas now I’m trying to focus more on novels. I still like writing short stories, though, and plan on continuing with them.
TCG: The work I’ve seen of yours shapes the nonfiction work into very well-crafted pieces that may be considered alternative-history fiction. Has this always been the case, or has this been an evolution in your style?
Catherine: I view my historical fiction and nonfiction as separate kinds of work, though certainly both involve a fair amount of research on my part. I write some fiction that falls into alternate history and/or steampunk, as well as stories that are pure historicals with no SFnal content. My nonfiction, such as my various survey articles on the history of LGBTQ science fiction, fantasy, and horror, are projects I’ve been working on to fill a void. Writers and their work in the field tend to be forgotten if they’re not bestsellers or have some other reason to occupy the limelight for a long time. This tends to hit women writers, LGBTQ writers, and writers of color—among others—harder, and their works get forgotten faster. One of the things that I’ve been trying to do is to encourage readers to check out some of the smaller-press or generally lower-profile authors who paved the way for some of today’s genre work.
TCG: Alienation and strangeness is very important to horror, weird, and (to a lesser extent) science-fiction stories. How does an LGBTQ reading or point of view alter or inform this sense of the uncanny? The Freudian approach to horror reads many of the tropes as forms of sexual repression, mostly of a heterosexual male variety, so what does a more informed approach to sexual psychology do to this sort of interpretation?
Catherine: I must admit that I’m not much of a Freudian, but I would be remiss if I didn’t point out that there’s a lot of paranormal romance, urban fantasy, and erotic science fiction, fantasy, and horror featuring “G,” “L,” and “B” protagonists. Sexual repression tends to be a passing, rather than a fixed, element in these stories. But I think you’re right about the sense of alienation and otherness that runs through a lot of LGBTQ fiction by LGBTQ authors. Most of us haven’t spent our lives in environments where we’ve had a level of acceptance that we can take for granted. There’s often a feeling of being an outsider, being other, at some point. I also think that many of us get to see versions of ourselves in horror more than in science fiction or fantasy, but that may also be a generational thing. Lesbian vampires and queer werewolves resonate with me, for example, but might not have the same effect on a queer person from a younger generation. It will be interesting to see what the future brings in that regard.
TCG: Can you say something about lycanthropy—werewolves—in relation to queer identity? That’s got to be a pretty rich dynamic to write about.
Catherine: Oh, definitely! The notions of transforming into something entirely different and hiding your secret self that show up in a lot of lycanthropic tales make for a fairly easy read as LGBTQ narratives. I started writing about werewolves because I wanted to write about menopausal women and menopause is a kind of transformation that is occasionally depicted as monstrous. But I also wanted to use lycanthropy to tell a “coming out at middle age” story. I think werewolves were the perfect medium for both kinds of stories, as well as lots of others. Werewolf lore is rich and varied and crops up in legends from all over the world and lends itself to all kinds of new interpretations. LGBTQ werewolves turn up in lots of genre fiction, from Patricia Briggs to Warren Rochelle to Elizabeth Bear and Sarah Monette. I think we haven’t yet reached “peak queer lycanthrope” in any genre yet, though, and I look forward to writing and reading lots of others.
TCG: Which author that you discuss in your essay “Creatures of the Night: A Brief History of Queer Horror” would you most like to have a conversation with if such a thing were possible?
Catherine: Shirley Jackson, hands down! I think she must have been fascinating to talk to. Her work was brilliant and groundbreaking, and she was one of the first prominent horror writers to create sympathetic dark fiction around characters who are easily read as LGBT or Q. In addition, she and her husband were friends with other remarkable writers and artists of their time, including J. D. Salinger and Dylan Thomas. She and her family hosted acclaimed African American writer Ralph Ellison in their home for several months in the early 1950s while he finished his National Book Award–winning novel, The Invisible Man. Her biographies often describe her as witty and snarky, as well as progressive, so I like to imagine that we would get along well.
TCG: I don’t see much coverage of the H. P. Lovecraft pulp era or subsequent devotees of cosmic horror in your articles. Is there any particular reason for this omission? I’d think there’d be someone in that group that would identify as LGBTQ in some way.
Catherine: It’s worth pointing out that homosexuality was illegal at that time in the US as well as elsewhere around the globe. Early genre writers that we can now identify as gay, lesbian, or bisexual were often arrested or the target of a social scandal, and that’s why we know about them. Being out was an anomaly and quite dangerous. I have seen essays speculating on Lovecraft’s sexuality, but he also included homosexuals along with people of color, immigrants, and other groups that he thought little of in his correspondence. Possibly as a result, I haven’t run across a lot of queer Lovecraftian horror from earlier decades. As for current authors, I can’t speak for the orientation of either writer, but Gemma Files and Cherie Priest have both written Lovecraftian-influenced horror with G, L, B, or T protagonists. I haven’t read Files’s work yet, but I’ve been enjoying Priest’s The Borden Dispatches series, which features accused murderess (and likely lesbian) Lizzie Borden battling cosmic horrors.
TCG: Horror, fantasy, and science fiction have direct links to mythology and folklore. Do you see any of these coded messages in classic myths or the like? Or are these codes a fact of modern sexuality that didn’t really need to exist in the ancient world?
Catherine: Well, there are plenty of not-so-coded myths with lots of overt sexuality of varying kinds. Quite a bit of Greek mythology, for example, includes gay and lesbian romances between gods, mortals, and/or various supernatural beings. The Norse god Loki could change gender at will and could easily be described as bisexual, given the nature of some of his adventures. There are lots of legends and tales from various cultures that feature gods, monsters, and other supernatural beings as gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender to some extent. Homosexuality is not new or limited to any one culture or time period. What has changed at various points is how accepted it has been.
Much the same can be said of portrayals of LGBTQ characters in science fiction, fantasy, and horror. The earlier genre tales are full of coded gay characters who were vampires, ghosts, demons, and villains of various kinds. Positive portrayals are rare until you get to the 1950s and 1960s, when authors like Shirley Jackson, Fritz Leiber, and Theodore Sturgeon began publishing stories with queer protagonists who were neither monstrous nor villainous. Their work helped pave the way for LGBT authors to come out and to write queer characters in the 1970s and afterwards. That said, comics and movies have taken longer to catch up, and coded queer characters are still pretty common. The X-Men’s struggle for mutant acceptance, for example, can be easily interpreted as a metaphor for other civil-rights struggles, including those of LGBTQ people.
TCG: On to the more practical questions. How have e-books and other Internet publishing altered the landscape for fans and creators of LGBTQ storytelling? How do you see your own company fitting into this marketplace?
Catherine: I think it’s made independent and small-press publishing both easier and harder. There are more options for authors to get their work published, but there’s also a lot more competition for readership and attention. To some degree, I think getting published has always been something of a shot in the dark; no one really knows what will be a sure thing when it comes to new work or new authors. That said, I think that a small press that puts out good books and treats its authors well can still thrive in the current market.
Queen of Swords Press is a project that I’ve been working on for the last two years. I’m been taking classes and workshops, meeting with lawyers, accountants, and authors, and generally working on getting the framework for my business pulled together. The press will have a primary imprint that focuses on the kind of SFnal and related work that I like to read and write: mannerpunk, steampunk, Gothic fiction, swashbuckling adventures, and other genre fiction with historical elements like alternate history and time travel. I want to publish good stories with diverse characters and settings and other work that I’m excited about. But I also want this venture to succeed, so I’m trying to plan what I can ahead of time so that I have a better chance of long-term success.
TCG: Any new novels or anthologies on the horizon?
Catherine: I’m working on a new edition of my werewolf novel Silver Moon and am doing final edits on a science-fiction novel. I’m also working on a new fantasy novel. Apart from that, I have a story forthcoming in Tales of the Unanticipated, “The Mask and the Amontillado,” which is a retelling of the Poe tale [“The Cask of Amontillado”] from a queer perspective. I’m also working on a story for a gaming tie-in project—details on this one is still under wraps for the moment—and several new ghost stories.
Catherine Lundoff is an award-winning author and editor from Minneapolis, where she lives with her fabulous wife and cats. She toils in IT by day and writes all the things by night, including a series for SF Signal on LGBT science fiction and fantasy and lots of tales about things going bump in the night. Her recent stories have or will appear in Tales of the Unanticipated, The Mammoth Book of Jack the Ripper Tales, and The Mammoth Book of the Adventures of Moriarty. Her novel Medusa’s Touch (written as Emily L. Byrne) is forthcoming from Queen of Swords Press.