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Guest Blogger -- Heather Rose Jones

Right now I'm part of a Storybundle with author Heather Rose Jones, and so I'm delighted to welcome her as my very first guest blogger! Her novel Daughter of Mystery, has a lot in common with The Emperor's Agent: an early 19th century setting and a queer woman protagonist, for starters. Here's what she has to say about this wonderful book!

A Web of Women -- Heather Rose Jones

My goal for Daughter of Mystery was to write a ripping good tale of adventure, love, and intrigue. Set in the fictitious country of Alpennia in the early 19th century, Margerit Sovitre is resigned to abandoning her philosophical studies for the approved goal of making a good marriage. When her godfather unexpectedly leaves her a fortune--including a mysterious bodyguard named Barbara--the world opens up along paths she never expected. But those paths, as well as her developing talent for thaumaturgy thrust her into the center of Alpennian politics and soon she and Barbara must flee an accusation of treason.

Beyond the straightforward mind-candy of the adventure (though I like to hope it’s in the “artisanal dark chocolate” category of mind-candy) one underlying theme began to pervade not only Daughter of Mystery but the initial sketches for its sequels: the networks and communities that women build in the face of a society that excludes them from the formal structures of power and agency. Men’s actions may precipitate both Margerit’s hazards and opportunities, but it’s among women that she finds the allies to achieve her goals.

The developing romance with Barbara is only the most obvious source of strength. A spinster aunt lends the orphaned Margerit the cover of her respectability, seeing in Margerit the opportunity to finally seize her own small measure of independence. In the capitol of Rotenek, Margerit is welcomed by a loose community of female scholars, from fashionable upper-class dilettantes to hard-headed working-class women hoping for a better life. Her inheritance gives Margerit entrée to a new social world in Rotenek, but it is the female allies she finds there who teach her how to use it for her own purposes. When disaster strikes, the nuns of Saint Orisul’s offer sanctuary both for body and mind, and in the final crisis Barbara’s ties to an ex-lover bring crucial assistance.

In the sequel, The Mystic Marriage, we see this web of women woven ever more strongly: bound as colleagues, patrons, friends, lovers, and kindred both by blood and choice. Or rather, more of this web is revealed to the reader, for Margerit and Barbara and their friends are only dipping into a vast river that has always flowed through their lives. In the third book, Mother of Souls, that web is harnessed to support each other in their endeavors: a college, an opera, protecting the very future of Alpennia.

Women’s ties and friendships often go overlooked, both in history and in literature. But because the very premise of my stories was to focus on women’s lives and their relationships to each other, it was easy and natural to bring these elements to the fore. Not that men have no place in the stories--far from it. They feature strongly as allies and adversaries. But the nature of early 19th century European society sets barriers between the lives of men and women that make the quality of the interactions distinct.

I didn’t consciously choose the setting of my story for this purpose, though my own historic interests made it a natural outgrowth. It’s hard to know who we are unless we know who we have been. So many aspects of the lives of women--and particularly of women who love women--have been dismissed or erased from the histories we are fed. Yet the traces and clues are there to follow and to build on. Although I write fiction, it is not necessary to invent whole-cloth to participate in the creation of a usable history of women’s lives and lesbian lives. Fortunately, the roads are better paved and more clearly marked these days than they were when I first started writing in the late ‘70s. My own preference is to ground my historic fiction in fact, not in wishful thinking. (Well, ok, except for the bits with magic.) And in this I am grateful to my own “web of women”: Judith Bennett, Lillian Faderman, Emma Donoghue, Barbara Hanawalt, Sahar Amer, Bernadette J. Brooten, Lotte C. van de Pol, Harriette Andreadis, Judith Brown, Valerie R. Hotchkiss, Carol J. Clover, Helena Whitbread, Edith Benkov, Jacqueline Murray, and so many others (whom I don’t mean to slight by this very partial listing, nor do I mean to slight the male scholars whose work has been useful).

One of the difficulties of writing the lives of lesbians--whether real or fictional--in history is to situate them in the context of a “community of the mind” of women-identified women. Without that context, it is hard to avoid an endless series of coming-out stories: “What is this thing I’m feeling? I must be the Only One!” That may have been the experience for many women, but when presented as the norm or as the only voice it becomes a dreary disempowering monotony. In writing the Alpennian novels, it was important to me to choose to write from that subset of stories where my characters operate within a history and a community, not only as women, but specifically as women who love other women. Historic fiction has a great power to grant the reader a share in ownership of the past. Daughter of Mystery may be meant to entertain, it is also meant to claim that ownership.

If you're interested in reading Daughter of Mystery, it's currently on sale as part of the Storybundle promotion, with five books for as little as five dollars, or eleven great books for fifteen. You can find out more here!


( 2 comments — Leave a comment )
Aug. 5th, 2016 01:39 am (UTC)
I really enjoyed Daughter of Mystery when I read it in paperback some months ago!
Aug. 8th, 2016 02:26 pm (UTC)
It's great, isn't it? :) So pleased to be in a Storybundle with it.
( 2 comments — Leave a comment )