A Conversation with Catherine Lundoff by Gavin Atlas

Catherine Lundoff is the award-winning author of the lesbian erotica
collections Night’s Kiss (Lethe Press,
2009) and Crave (Lethe Press, 2007)
as well as the fantasy collection A Day at the Inn, A Night at the Palace
and Other Stories
(Lethe Press, 2011). Her novel Silver Moon: A Women of Wolf’s Point Novel
will be released from Lethe Press in May, 2012. She is the editor of Haunted Hearths and Sapphic Shades:
Lesbian Ghost Stories
(Lethe Press, 2008) and the co-editor,
with JoSelle Vanderhooft, of the anthology Hellebore and Rue: Tales of Queer Women
and Magic
(Lethe Press, 2011).
In her other lives, she’s a professional computer geek, the spouse of her
fabulous wife and an occasional teacher of writing classes at The Loft Literary
Center in Minneapolis. Website: www.catherinelundoff.com
 

Hi, Catherine!  Thanks so much for doing this interview.  Could you please begin by telling us about
your background?  When did you discover
you wanted to be an author?  Who or what
influenced you when you were growing up?

I
grew up in Brooklyn, New York, and spent a number of years migrating around the
country, as well as living in Mexico and Nicaragua for short periods of time,
before settling down in Minneapolis. Like most writers of my vintage, my day
jobs have run the gamut, in my case from professional archeologist to bookstore
owner to IT professional. I started writing fiction in the late nineties during
the brief stint in law school that followed closing my little feminist/LGBT
bookstore. Law school was not for me at the time and my then girlfriend (now
wife), suggested I write a book. And so it began.

I
came to fiction writing in my thirties, which I think was a good thing. I think
my imagination needed to get seasoned for a few decades before I was ready to
take to the keyboard. I must admit that I didn’t really consider writing
fiction before then. 

On
the other hand, I have always been a wildly enthusiastic reader. I devoured
fiction, particularly fantasy and historical, swashbuckling adventures. I grew
up reading Alexander Dumas and Robert Louis Stevenson and Jane Austen and
Anthony Hope and Walter Scott. And while I loved the stories, I desperately
wanted to read books about girls and women who had exciting adventures, and
fought duels and ran off with pirates and piloted spaceships. I discovered
fantasy and science fiction in high school and started to find some of what I
was looking for, just not so much that I didn’t want to write those stories
myself. I’d say that all of this contributed, directly and indirectly, to the
writing I do now.
 

You choose a wide range of themes and
voices, from Egyptian mythology to the witchcraft of love spells to Elizabethan
England to a Spillane-esque detective story on a different planet.  How do you go about choosing a specific
setting?  

Well,
the stories in A Day at the Inn, A Night
at the Palace and Other Stories
, were written over the course of a decade,
so the settings had more to do with my stylistic influences at the time. I love
trying out different styles and genres of writing with my stories since it
challenges me and helps me learn more about how I like to write.  I also have to admit that I draw a lot of
inspiration from publication guidelines. The inspiration for “The Egyptian
Cat,” for example, came from an anthology call for supernatural/horror
mysteries with lesbian protagonists while “Red Scare” popped up in my head
after some thoughts I had on the cultural influence of noir, particularly on
science fiction.   I wrote “Regency
Masquerade” as an homage to romance author Georgette Heyer while “Spell, Book
and Candle” was originally written for an anthology about magical books. A lot
of my stories begin with a first line popping into my head, or a piece of music
that I hear. I’m a big “what if?” kind of writer.  

Your lead characters are intelligent and
introspective, but other than that, are there unifying threads to your fiction,
either that you placed there deliberately or that you later noticed had
developed subconsciously? 

Thanks!
I like to play with the notion of transformation and change, whether that’s
falling out of love, turning into a werewolf or embracing second chances at
happiness. My life has been relatively action-packed so I think I like to apply
that to my characters and use my stories to come up with different models for how
they handle the things I throw at them. I like a story where the protagonist(s)
grow and adapt. I’m also utterly fascinated by passing, whether as a different
gender, orientation or other defined category, probably because I’m so very
dreadful at things that require subtlety and convincing people that I’m
something other than what I am. I want to understand how someone else could do
it successfully. I think all of these crop up in my work, mostly deliberately.
Though every now and then, I surprise myself.

Many of your stories in A Day at the Inn involve historical
figures or re-imaginings of history.  If
you could travel back, temporarily or permanently, to a previous era, which
would you choose?  Is there a character of
yours whose life you’d like to lead?  

Oooh,
temporarily, I think. Most parts of the documented past weren’t that much fun
for women. I think my first choice would be England in the late 1700s. The
clothes were brutal but there were a number of women writers who were pretty
successful, many of whom would have been fascinating to meet, such as novelist Eliza Haywood. And if I could
skip forward in time a bit and meet Jane Austen, that would be even better. As
for living my characters’ lives, I’m not sure I’m that durable. But you never
know. At the moment, I think I’d pick one of the werewolves in Silver Moon. Being a werewolf could be
fun.
 

I know your work has been collected by a
university, so I’m going to officially declare you a literary author. Let’s say
you’re on a cruise ship and an annoying tablemate at dinner asks you, “So, what
are you really writing about?  What is it
you’re trying to say?”   Of course, if
you wish to throw this tablemate overboard, I will help, but first, is that
ever a reasonable question to ask a writer? 
And if so, do you have an answer at the ready?

Oh
no, now I’m headed for an existential crisis? I’m not sure I think of myself as
a literary writer (my archive is in the science fiction and gender studies
areas), but I’m flattered. I think I’m really writing about my inner world in
the way I’d like to see it projected on an external canvas, if that makes any
sense. My brain is chockfull of weird connections and odd images and things I
want to explore further, and all of that comes out in my fiction. It’s not
intended to be autobiographical or metaphorical, but I think some of it is.
Writing about what goes on in my head is a way to make it real, to see what it
looks like for other people.

After
that, I’d be up for the pitching overboard part.
J 

Now, instead of on a cruise ship, you’re
in Hollywood.  A team of
writers/producers/directors are pulling their collective hair out because top
actresses like Emily Blunt are beginning to point
out that roles for women in superhero movies are terrible
.  If you had the opportunity to tell them what
you think they could do better, what would you say?  Are there any heroines from the world of
literature they should be using as models?

Where
to begin? Strong, interesting and realistic women with real bodies would be a
great start. Strong, realistic queer women would be pretty awesome too (see Pariah and Albert Nobbs for two recent
examples). I’d love to see a good movie about Julie d’Aubigny, La Maupin, who
was a star of the Paris Opera in the sixteenth century as well as a
crossdressing bisexual professional duelist. Or Restoration playwright Aphra Behn, who was also a spy.
Those are historical figures, of course, though both have been written about.
For purely fictional characters, Melissa Scott’s Trouble, the lesbian hacker
protagonist of Trouble and Her Friends
would make a terrific film heroine. The noir-ish protagonists of Sarah
Schulman’s Girls, Visions and Everything
and After Delores would also
make terrific movie heroines. Emma Donoghue’s Slammerkin would also make
an outstanding historical film. Really, most of the time, there’s nowhere to go
but up from sidekick, victimized girlfriend/wife and eye candy.

Going back to your own writing, your
first novel, Silver Moon, is coming
out soon, and it sounds fascinating. 
Apparently your heroine, Becca Thornton, discovers that one of the side
effects of menopause turns out to be lycanthropy.  I know a lot of people, including me,
fantasize about being the only one with a disintegration ray attached to the
front of the car to deal with obnoxious drivers. Turning into a werewolf when
I’m feeling sick or moody, and thereby having the power to, say, tear an
idiotic political pundit limb from limb sounds good, too.  Now perhaps your werewolves are model
citizens, but are you exploring what it might be like if a person’s creative
power is replaced by a destructive power? 
What did you like best about writing this novel and what did you find
most difficult? 

Becca
does have to wrestle with what it means to destroy someone in the name of
protecting someone else. It is part of her whole experience of becoming a wolf
and joining her Pack and coming out. I started the book with the idea that I
wanted to write about a middle-aged woman who does heroic, out-of-the-ordinary
things. I think the end result turned out to be more complicated, in part
because Becca doesn’t think of herself as particularly strong or special, just
honest.

What
I liked best about writing the book was that I didn’t just build a protagonist,
I built a community around her, characters that have taken on a life of their
own. And who are now insisting that I write a sequel about them, possibly
two.  I think the hardest part was making
the characters as real on the page as they are in my head. A lot of them got
more and more three-dimensional as I worked with them, and expect that will
continue through the next book or two (can you tell I’m a pantser, not a
planner?).

Then,
of course, I’ve got the usual first novel anxieties about whether or not
everyone else will love my characters as much as I do. Here’s hoping!
 

Are there any characters in your head who
won’t go away, but haven’t ever worked successfully into any story you’ve
written?  If so, could you tell us about
them and why they’re being so ornery?

You
know, I just sort of purged two of those in A
Day at the Inn, A Night at the Palace
. The story attached to the title and
the associated characters, a couple of aging mercenaries, have been kicking
around in my head for several years waiting for me to finish working with them.
That’s usually my pattern: I start a story, get really excited about it, run
into something like a wall of day job overtime or a lack of ideas, and wander
off into something else. The good part is that I often find that I can pick up
where I left off and finish the story later. Most of the time, anyway. At last
count, I have four novels kicking around in various stages of progress and at
least five short stories. Keeps it exciting. But it also means that I don’t
have a lot of characters lingering in my head since I consider most of them to
be in some stage of progress.

Who do you enjoy reading?  Are there authors or books (new or old) that
you wish a lot more people would discover? 

Oh,
lots! There were so many writers who I wish were still writing queer fiction. A
few examples would be Ellen Galford, Mary Wings and Severna Park. As for writers
who I think more people should discover, Sarah Caudwell wrote some
marvelous mysteries featuring a protagonist whose gender is never explicitly
defined and lots of queer characters. Melissa Scott’s earlier novels
are finally coming back into print and should all be tracked down and read
forthwith. Samuel Delany wrote a lot of
brilliant stories and novels that are well worth tracking down.  And I think everyone should read some Joanna Russ. My favorite books
and stories, not necessarily LGBTQ and in no particular order include: The Masqueraders by Georgette Heyer,
The Fires of Bride by Ellen Galford, Temporary Agency by Rachel Pollack, “Aye, and
Gomorrah” by Samuel Delany, “At the Banquet of the Lords of the Night” by Liz Williams, Transmission by Hari Kunzru and “The Two Best
Thieves in Lankhmar” by Fritz Leiber. I like me a good
short story, too.
J

Do you have a favorite city or place to
visit?  If so, what do you like about
that place?  If not, is there a place
you’ve yet to visit that you hope to see more than anywhere else?

I
absolutely love Hay-on-Wye. It’s a town in Wales whose tourist industry is
bookstores. We visited there a few years back and I’d love to go there again.
Even the ruined castle in the middle of town has a bookstore in it. It’s
utterly charming and it’s home to a Shepherd’s, a café/ice cream parlor that
serves delicious ice cream made from sheep’s milk. Not only is it tasty, but
for the lactose-intolerant like me, it’s an incredible treat. Bookshops,
teashops, ice cream I can eat and lovely scenery make it pretty irresistible.
Apart from that, we loved Florence, Italy and Paris, France and would love to
go back to both places. Barcelona is on the agenda for the place we’d most like
to visit next. I really look forward to seeing the architecture, among other
things.

What are you looking forward to, both in
terms of writing and your life in general? 

Now,
there’s a sweeping end of interview question! On the writing front, I’m really
looking forward to the release of my first novel, Silver Moon, in two months. I’ll be doing a book tour, reading in
Chicago, Milwaukee and Madison, then coming back to the Twin Cities for the
GCLS Conference and a release reading at Magers & Quinn Bookstore in
Minneapolis. Apart from that, I’ve started a sequel to Silver Moon and I’ve got some other projects in the works.
 

Life
in general? Well, I turn 50 next year, so my wife and I are contemplating
trips. So far, Scotland and Spain are on the table, so we’ll have to see how
that works out from the scheduling and financial aspects. Apart from that, I’m
hoping that I get to keep writing and editing to a happy, ripe old age!

Thank you, Catherine!

And
thank you, Gavin! This has been terrific.
 

Learn
more about Catherine and her books at catherinelundoff.com

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