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BOOKS Angela Koenig: Lesbian Chicago novelist on works, influences
by Jorjet Harper
2015-08-26

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Chicago lesbian novelist Angela Koenig grew up in rural Nebraska and lived in Sioux City, Iowa. Then, she lived in Denver and San Francisco for a number of years before returning to the Midwest.

She's the author of Rebellion in Ulster, a novel that followed a dashing lesbian scholar's path to becoming a revolutionary. Its sequel, Rendezvous in the Himalaya, was a finalist for a Goldie Award in the category of Romantic Suspense/Intrigue/Adventure.

Windy City Times: Congratulations on your Goldie nomination for Rendezvous in the Himalaya.

Angela Koenig: Thank you. I'm so thrilled to be thought a good storyteller. Just goes to show that nothing is sweeter than a dream come true.

WCT: What dream was that?

AK: Having a book published. Ever since I could read, I wanted to hold one with my name on the cover.

WCT: Well, then, congratulations are doubly in order! In Rendezvous in the Himalaya, the sequel to Rebellion in Ulster, protagonist Jeri O'Donnell has become a skilled soldier of fortune who meets her match in the brave tourist, Kelly Corcoran. How would you sum up the story for those who haven't read it yet?

AK: I think of Jeri, the main character, as a lesbian Jason Bourne—someone trained to fight who tries to use her skills for good. In this story, Jeri is guiding a UN official through the mountains and into Tibet to get information about how China is oppressing the country. Since this is around the time of Tiananmen Square, there's hope that China, like Russia, will free its satellite countries. When an American tourist joins the trek, possible romance gets added to the adventure.

WCT: I'm sure you've been asked this before, but why did you use "Himalaya" rather than the more common "Himalayas" in the title?

AK: I thought "Himalaya" would suggest the region of both Tibet and Nepal rather than just the mountain range. And I thought it sounded better with "rendezvous."

WCT: Not to offer any spoilers, but do Jeri and Kelly, her major love interest, have a future together in upcoming books?

AK: They're in the next [not yet published] book in the series, Requiem for Vukovar, and one more, Reckoning in Bosnia. Jeri may be the scholar knight errant, but Kelly also learns to hold her own while becoming less an innocent abroad in the world.

WCT: How much and what sorts of research have you had to do to write these books?

AK: Trying to get realistic background takes me in some surprising directions. With Rebellion in Ulster, what began as an attempt to give Jeri a believable back story took me through a lot of research to understand the Troubles in Ireland in the '80s. For Rendezvous, I researched geography as well as history about the countries in order to make the landscape real. In Requiem for Vukovar, what started as a simple adventure soon needed some serious research into the history of Yugoslavia and why it came apart.

WCT: Will Requiem for Vukovar be out soon?

AK: Blue Feather Press had it scheduled for publication this year when, unfortunately, the company dissolved, and now I'm in search of another publisher. I've kept Ulster and Himalaya available as ebooks at Amazon but I'm hoping to be picked up by a new publisher. I'd like to see Vukovar in print soon, so I may publish it myself although I'd prefer to leave that to the professionals.

WCT: So ... you're looking for another lesbian press?

AK: Definitely. Those of us who are writing by, for, and about lesbians need presses that accept a wide range of stories, from science fiction to erotica to mystery and adventure and everything in between. Genre bending—that's something I'd say we're pretty good at.

WCT: With the current acceptance of LGBT people, what are your thoughts on whether there's a need for specifically lesbian books?

AK: Just because there is acceptance now doesn't undo generations of invisibility. I want books that show us where we have always been: living the same history as the people around us. We should be in more than subplots and subtext. I want to find lesbians in the Middle Ages, on pirate ships, in Rome and China and India, in concentration camps and armies and convents and 22nd-century space stations. We haven't been erased from that history—we were never included in the first place.

WCT: So you try to imagine the lesbians who must certainly have been there in real life, and give them back to the world?

AK: When I do historic research for my books, the absence of lesbian lives makes it clear that someone could easily think no lesbians existed in these places and situations. That's what I want my books to do: show lesbians in history. This was brought home to me so very poignantly in the film and book, Aimée and Jaguar. Of course there were lesbians and lesbian couples whose lives were destroyed by the Holocaust. Throughout history I know there have been so many other lesbians whose stories were never told. I want us to have a library and not just be found in random footnotes or references in an index. That's what lesbian presses do—they put our lives front and center. And that's what the Golden Crown Literary Society supports.

WCT: Are you working on something now?

AK: Oh, yes. I have a chronic case of the need to be writing something. [Laughs] My current project is Reach of the Heron. It's about a minor character from Rebellion in Ulster who wanted her own book.

WCT: How did you know that character wanted her own book? I'm guessing she didn't send you a tweet.

AK: I think it was C.J. Cherryh who said that when a tall dark stranger walks into the bar and threatens to take over the story, give her a book of her own. A number of people asked me about Arkadia O'Malley and I wondered myself what her story was. So Reach of the Heron will be about Arkadia and Ireland in 1959. I'll be combining mystery, the Magdalene laundries, shamanism, and Old Irish legends. How's that for genre bending?

WCT: You have a particular fascination with Ireland and the Irish. Is this based on your own background, or something else?

AK: The fascination is with Celtic as well, but the Irish held out longer against the Roman Empire in its Christian version. I think that Rome and Roman Christianity are still an ongoing disaster, and the Romans told some whoppers about the Celts. Looking through a Celtic lens lets you see deeper into the past. Did you know it's probable that the famed Roman roads of Europe were first built by the Celts? Their chariots would have been useless if the continent had been the trackless forest that Julius Caesar implied. Every year, more received history is being overturned and I love it. I'm a contrarian when it comes to history, I rarely meet a revision I don't like.

WCT: What is it that appeals to you about this type of storytelling? Why write lesbian spy novels or action/adventure rather than some other form, like mystery or science fiction?

AK: I prefer "adventure" as a description since Jeri hated the time she was a spy. She's more of a modern ronin, a samurai with no lord or master. A paladin. As the basic concept became more real to me, I found I wanted to say something about contemporary issues, specifically the harmful legacy of the proxy wars between the U.S. and the Soviet Union. A lot of time has passed since I started the stories, but that legacy is there in Rebellion, and definitely part of the two books about the break up of Yugoslavia. I understand my books are just little fictions, but I want them to be as factual as possible and to reflect what they can of larger issues while telling a story.

WCT: What other authors have had an influence on you as a writer?

AK: My very favorite writer is Manda Scott, particularly her four novels about Boudicca, the British queen who fought a resistance war against Rome. Some other favorite writers are C.J. Cherryh, who writes sci fi; Val McDermid, who writes great mysteries;and Nicola Griffith, who can do it all. I want to write interesting stories with true emotions. If you get that right, I don't think the genre matters so much.

Angela Koenig has a website at glasowl.wix.com/marygoround .

Her novels, Rebellion in Ulster and Rendezvous in the Himalaya, are in search of a new home but can be found as ebooks at Amazon.com .


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