January 29, 2009
Tuesday 5th May 1998, BBC News: Justin Fashanu was found dead in a lock-up garage in east London on Saturday. The former Norwich City and Nottingham Forest footballer died as a result of hanging, a post-mortem examination has concluded.
Justin Fashanu was the first footballer to come out; at the time of his death he was coaching a team in the US and was facing a sexual assault charge.
Tuesday 13th January 2009 BBC News: Eleven people have been charged with indecent chanting at a football match after an inquiry into suspected abuse aimed at Sol Campbell. The abuse was both racist and homophobic.
That’s not to say that Justin Fashanu killed himself simply because he was gay, nor am I suggesting anything about Sol Campbell’s sexuality – that’s his affair – but I choose these stories to illustrate the prejudices which still run rife in the so called ‘beautiful game’. For examples of what any gay footballer would have to face, I can highly recommend the article here.
Surely that prejudice, the risk of mockery and abuse, is why so few sportsmen come out, especially when they’re still active within their field. Sportswomen seem more likely to do so; there are plenty of lesbians ‘out’ within the sporting community – Amelie Mauresmo, Clare Balding, Karrie Webb among many others. But ‘out’ sportsmen, those still competing at the highest level? You could count them on your fingers.
Interestingly enough, a number of them are within equestrianism, about the only sport where men and women compete on equal terms. I’m not for a moment implying that equestrian sport is in any way ‘effeminate’. It takes a huge amount of strength, guts and skill to manoeuvre a horse around a three day event cross country course; Blyth Tait does it to great effect, becoming Olympic eventing Champion in 1996. Then there’s Lee Pearson, CBE, who’s won nine paralympic gold medals in dressage, despite having very little use of his legs (he controls the horse through his backside – he says he’s got a great bottom). He’s certainly talented enough to compete in able bodied events. Carl Hester and Robert Dover are other noted ‘out’ riders.
Olympians feature heavily here: diver Matthew Mitcham went to the Beijing Olympics not only having revealed his sexuality, but having applied – successfully – for a grant to enable his boyfriend to go with him. Matthew became 10m platform gold medallist. But of the thousands of competitors who go to the games, only a dozen or so are known to be ‘out’, most of them women.
Rob Newton, Britain’s top hurdler, declared his sexuality and, interestingly, it seems to have had very little coverage. (I’m an avid – some would say rabid – sports fan, and I only found this fact out while researching this article.) That’s a feature about all these sportsmen I’m mentioning here – their being out is neither hidden nor generally discussed , and why should it be? Commentators don’t introduce William Fox-Pitt as ‘the straight rider’ so why should anyone describe Blyth Tait as ‘the gay one’?
I couldn’t finish without a mention of rugby and of course, Supernige – Nigel Owens – who’s not a player but a highly respected referee. And he brings the story full circle, having attempted suicide when younger, tormented by his sexuality and steroid addiction. The fact that he got through that difficult time is testament to his highly supportive family and the fact that he takes to the pitch and doesn’t get abused is testament to the great nature of rugby. He does get the odd shout of “Are you bent, ref?” (meaning biased), sometimes followed by “Sorry, Nige, didn’t mean it like that…”
In contrast to the attitudes within rugby, I still find it difficult to believe that, in my lifetime, any association footballer could come out as gay or have his boyfriend among the WAGs. I hope to be proved wrong.
January 27, 2009
I’ve been noticing recently that almost every historical to cross my path has a Regency or possibly Victorian setting. I’m sure there’s a good reason for this – those ages are more modern in their outlook, and are also very popular in costume dramas on the TV and the movies.
But there are other eras to choose from. Here’s a little list. In fact I grew exhausted by the end, so here is the start of a little list, and I’ll carry on with the Iron age in another post!
This is a long, long period of time, during which all sorts of exciting changes in human society occurred. Modern humans interacted with Neanderthals – there were two different kinds of human on the planet! Amazing. Agriculture was invented. America was discovered and colonised. Stonehenge was built.
How about a gay Clan of the Cave Bear? Lots of things to discover, invent or fight for the first time. Was there homophobia in the stone age? I suspect we really don’t know, so this might be a good place for a happy ever after. And men in leather, hunting mammoth for a living, can’t be a bad thing.
If you can’t live without a city, however, how about Çatalhöyük a stone age city in Turkey. It would make a change!
Wikipedia starter on the Stone Age
In Britain, you have the mysterious Beaker people, who arrive and establish friendly relations with the indigenous stone age inhabitants. They ‘improve’ Stonehenge and build their own massive earth and stone circles. Classic stranger in a strange land territory; love across the divide of culture. This is also the age when textile production starts. Surely there’s a f/f story there somewhere?
In Mesopotamia you have the Akkadians, the Babylonians, the Assyrians and the Sumerians. But this is also the great age of ancient Egypt, which is a setting made for romance.
You’ve got Persians, Anatolians, the Canaanites, the Hittites. You’ve got the Minoans – bull dancers and minotaurs and carmine stained pillars in cool palaces on the Greek islands.
There’s the Seima-Turbino Phenomenon, where a mass migration of people from what is now Russia and China ends up leaving cultural and metallurgical traces in Finland. Surely there’s a story there!
There was an Indus Valley civilization in India, and Chinese civilization is going strong. There’s the fascinating Dong Son culture in Vietnam. There’s all sorts of stuff going on with the Tumulus people in central Europe, and in the Americas the Inca civilization developed bronze independently and simultaneously (or did they…? Might the knowledge have been brought over by a shipwrecked Cornishman in a Dover bronze age boat?)
Wikipedia starter on the Bronze Age
Now we’re really motoring!
This is a good age to be a Bantu-speaking native of East and South Africa, who discover iron and use it to drive out the stone-tool using hunter gatherer peoples they encounter on the Savannah. I’d like to read a story about that from either pov or both.
I have dibs on the Etruscans, my favourite not-quite-Romans, whose morals scandalized the ancient world:
Sharing wives is an established Etruscan custom. Etruscan women take particular care of their bodies and exercise often, sometimes along with the men, and sometimes by themselves. It is not a disgrace for them to be seen naked. They do not share their couches with their husbands but with the other men who happen to be present, and they propose toasts to anyone they choose. They are expert drinkers and very attractive.
The Etruscans raise all the children that are born, without knowing who their fathers are. The children live the way their parents live, often attending drinking parties and having sexual relations with all the women. It is no disgrace for them to do anything in the open, or to be seen having it done to them, for they consider it a native custom. So far from thinking it disgraceful, they say when someone ask to see the master of the house, and he is making love, that he is doing so-and-so, calling the indecent action by its name.
When they are having sexual relations either with courtesans or within their family, they do as follows: after they have stopped drinking and are about to go to bed, while the lamps are still lit, servants bring in courtesans, or boys, or sometimes even their wives. And when they have enjoyed these they bring in boys, and make love to them. They sometimes make love and have intercourse while people are watching them, but most of the time they put screens woven of sticks around the beds, and throw cloths on top of them.
They are keen on making love to women, but they particularly enjoy boys and youths. The youths in Etruria are very good-looking, because they live in luxury and keep their bodies smooth. In fact all the barbarians in the West use pitch to pull out and shave off the hair on their bodies.
And who have a very fine line in tomb-decoration:
Thanks to http://www.mysteriousetruscans.com/theopompus/index.html
But I think they may deserve an entry of their own.
I’ve suddenly realized that this is a topic which is going to stretch on and on, so I’ll draw a line there and do part two another time!
January 23, 2009
by Kiernan Kelly
A reader recently remarked to me that he found the thought of writing a historical piece of romantic fiction intimidating. “I don’t know enough. I’m not a historian, like you,” he said.
After I finished laughing hysterically, I had to set him straight.
When it comes to being an authority on anything besides tying my own shoelaces, I’m the first to admit to my sad lack of expertise. I am not a history buff; I cannot quote the dates and places of famous battles, nor can I pull details of Victorian Age fashion, or Renaissance architecture out of my ass. I cannot intelligently contribute to discussions of pre-Greece Middle Eastern culture — or post-Greece, for that matter. I do not offhand know the difference between a brigantine and schooner; or what Edwardian men wore under their trousers.
In my opinion, it’s much easier to write contemporary romance. I already know what the locations look like — even if I’ve never been there personally, there’s a good chance I know someone who has, and there’s always Google Earth, travel documentaries, and the web. I know the protocol of dating, the etiquette of the dinner table. I know from personal experience how it feels to ride in a car, a train, a plane, and on a cruise ship. I know how hot dogs taste, have eaten truffles, and understand how a thick, frosty milkshake can give you a brain freeze. I know how to rent a room in a motel, and the differences one might find between a room at Motel 6 and the Hilton. I can place a character virtually anywhere on the planet, and describe him and his setting with some conviction.
Writing historical romance is much, much trickier. The details of the story, the setting, the props, and the landscape are as alien to me in my personal bubble of experience as the far side of the universe.
All of which raises the question: why is this person, who admits to being the human equivalent of a historical factoid void, posting to a historical fiction writers’ group blog?
The answer is simple. While I know precious little about history, I do write historical m/m romance, and enjoy it. Before anyone begins sharpening the guillotine or fashioning a hangman’s noose, let me explain — my statement isn’t as oxymoronic as it sounds. While my brain cells aren’t steeped in historical data, I do hold both a fondness for, and interest in our species’ past. I don’t profess to be a historian, neither professional nor amateur, but I do possess a healthy imagination, a computer, and a library card.
That said, all I can possibly contribute to this blog is to share what I told the reader who mistakenly pegged me as an expert — my view from the short bus, the remedial history class as it were, where I sit at the back of the room trying to pass the exam by shooting my cuffs.
I believe it is entirely possible to write a piece of credible, believable historical fiction without holding a PhD in Ancient Civilizations or the high score in Jeopardy. While I won’t begin to pretend to be a historian, I can discuss how I, someone who doesn’t know the difference between a cutlass and a scimitar, can write a historical romance.
The trick — for me, at any rate — is research, and lots of it. It isn’t unusual for me to spend as much or possibly more time researching details as it does for me to write the story. Sometimes I begin collecting data months before I even take the time to rough out a plot.
I’ll take trips to a brick-and-mortar library where I’ll take copious notes in chicken scratch decipherable by me alone, later to be transcribed into a Word document, and I’ll surf the web until my fingers are worn down to nubs. I’m in the process of building my own library of reference books, fettered only by the limits of my sorely overtaxed credit cards.
Has any of this research made me a historian? No. Again, I must remind the reader that I am not an expert. What I am is an information pack rat.
I keep my notes along with everything I’ve found scouring online resources — whether in the end, I use them or not — in a computer file. I never delete these files. My reasoning is that if, in the future, I decide to write another story set in that period, the research is already done and at my fingertips.
I never make the mistake of assuming I know anything. Aside from the entire ass/you/me thing, assuming I know something as fact is a surefire way to screw up the details, and believe you me, someone, somewhere will notice and call me on it. I once got an angry two-page letter from a reader berating me because I didn’t correctly describe the splatter pattern of a shotgun blast.
Two entire pages. Seriously.
The only other tip I can offer is never to take anything you read at face value. Wikipedia, perhaps the most oft-used — while equally oft-lamented — database on the Internet is a good stepping-off point for research, but an unreliable one. I’ll take what I’ve learned there and find other, credible sources to support the information. I’ll double-check my facts, then triple-check them to be certain. In this stage of the game, I feel free to be as obsessive as I’d like — in this instance, anal retentiveness can only stand me in good stead when I finally put pen to paper.
I question everything as I’m writing. For example, if writing a dinner scene set in ancient Greece during the Bronze Age, I’ll ask myself whether my characters would know what a fork is, let alone how to use one (probably not, considering the fork didn’t make an appearance in Greece until roughly 400 AD, and yes, I had to look it up). What type of furniture did they use? What type of bowls and serving platters? What did they eat? What kind of clothing did they wear, and of which type of fabric? I’ll make a list of these questions and more, then hit the books to find the answers.
If I’m writing a pirate story set on one of the aforementioned brigantines during the early 18th century, I’ll research how the ships were built, find diagrams, and learn which parts served what functions. I’ll learn how many sails there should be, how they were rigged, and the difference between the forecastle and the poop deck.
Speaking of poop, I’ll even consider how my pirate hero might manage the most routine of everyday chores and ablutions — how was food cooked aboard a wooden ship, and how did they manage their waste? Even if I don’t use all the information collected, I feel the knowledge of the most intimate details of my character’s life will only add believability as I write the story.
I’ve become comfortable saying, “I don’t know,” and “I need help.” When all else fails, I’ll ask an expert. The web is stuffed full of contact information for historians. I’ll send an email explaining who I am and my mission, along with my question to an appropriate source, and politely ask for an opinion. At worst, I’m ignored, and at best, get an educated response, or at least, a nudge in the right direction for further research.
I’ll also ask other authors for their favorite informational sources. Most, like the Macaronis, are more than willing to share their special sources, those books and websites they rely on when fishing for facts.
I think another invaluable tool for a historical writer — or any writer for that matter — is a strong sense of empathy. It isn’t enough to simply find the facts, to envision a ship or a castle, to stare at illustrations of doublets and frock coats, or paintings of wattle-and-daub huts, or cobblestone streets lined with gas lamps. I think a writer needs to be able to feel what it’s like to be their character in that setting, wearing those clothes, living in that civilization, in that time period.
As children, we found this an easy task. We became the pirates, the knights, the princes on our white steeds. We lived and breathed inside their skins, with little or no effort on our parts. As we grew older, we were taught to put aside childish nonsense, to act our ages. What a shame. The ability to pretend so easily, so completely, would do us in good stead now.
A writer needs to know how to recapture that long-lost freedom to believe we are the character, to look at our modern kitchens and see an open hearth and rough-hewn table, to walk the aisle of a supermarket and see an open-air market in Babylonia. That skill and the facts uncovered during research will combine on paper to form a believable, historically accurate story.
Will I ever be a historian? Probably not. I am a jack-of-all-trades and master of none, stuck forever in the back row of the remedial history class, admiring those among my peers who’ve aced the honors course.
Can I write a believable piece of historical romance? Sure. I can, and I have.
So can you.
Kiernan Kelly is the author of In Bear Country, and In Bear Country II: The Barbary Coast.
January 22, 2009
What books would you want beside you if you had a lovely, private cottage with your computer on a solar-recharger, a story to write, and lots of time … but no library available? I know which ones I’d want.
I’m not going to list the bare-bones: an Unabridged Dictionary, Bartlett’s Quotations, The Elements of Style, a World Atlas, or Roget’s Thesaurus – almost anyone who’s serious about writing has probably got favorites in that category, and those are essential tools for anybody writing anything, from contemporary horror to the wildest fantasy.
The books I’ll be talking about here are the ones closest to hand on my reference shelf, and they’re the ones I’ve turned to most often in writing m/m historical. They’re the books I would want with me if I had a month to spend on a quiet island with nothing to do but write… what a lovely notion!
1. A Sea of Words (King, Hattendorf, & Estes, Henry Holt, 1995.)
A Sea of Words was written as a companion book to Patrick O’Brian’s Aubrey-Maturin series, and it did the job beautifully. It’s also a boon companion to writing Age of Sail – you will find not only explanations of the sea-dog terminology Mr O’Brian used so fluently, but a copy of the dreaded Articles of War – the document that essentially abrogated the civil rights of anyone serving in His Majesty’s Navy. An article on how medicine was practiced, diagrams of the essential bits of a ship, and a brief explanation of how the Royal Navy was organized during the Napoleonic Wars makes this essential for any grass-combing landlubber of a writer who doesn’t know a head from a halyard.
2. Every Man Will Do His Duty (Hattendorf & King (again), Henry Holt, 1997)
This book covers the period of 1793-1815. An excellent selection of first-hand accounts, log entries, and source material drawn on by the likes of CS Forester and Patrick O’Brian, both of whom borrowed heavily from the adventures of Thomas Cochrane, Sir James Gordon, and other real-life naval officers. The excerpts from the memoir of one officer who spent time as a POW in France could spawn any number of plot bunnies all by itself. It isn’t a reference in the strictest sense, but the language gives a feeling for the time that no textbook could.
3. English Through the Ages (Brohaugh, Writer’s Digest Books, 1998 )
Not sure if your 1800 sailor would use the term ‘pile-driver?’ This incredibly useful tome has words indexed and cross-referenced to the page where the word passed into general use… so, given the way the language migrates, you find that you may safely put the word in his mouth, since its pedigree says 1775. But he wouldn’t ask a friend, “Are you okay?” since that wasn’t heard of until 1839.
4. The Wooden World: An Anatomy of the Georgian Navy (Rodger, 1986, W.W Norton)
This book deals with a period slightly earlier than the Napoleonic Wars, but it’s the era under which many adults of that age first went to sea as boys, most of them 14 or younger. Wooden World has useful charts – how many guns would you find on a Third-Rate man-o-war? How many lieutenants on a sloop? It also shows how things altered in His Majesty’s Navy over a few decades, from an age where sailors might complain of a bad captain with some hope of relief to a structure where the ordinary seaman could only pray that a bad captain would be killed before he took the whole crew with him.
5. A Classical Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue, Grose, Dorset Press, 1992.
As Erastes has posted elsewhere on this blog, a very useful book, and very colorful. If only someone had thought to index it, it would be very much more useful, because in its present condition it gives an interesting browse but a frustrating search. If you happen upon ‘wapping mort,’ you know she’s a whore (tis pity..) but you can’t start with “prostitute” unless you have an hour to search.
6. Colonial American English (Lederer, A Verbatim Book, 1985)
This is a step up from Grose in terms of organization. This contains not only slang, but ordinary terms (eg, ‘fustian,’ that favorite of Heyer, is “a coarse, stout, twilled cotton.”) It also gives hints of how words have changed – “manure” used to mean working a field (a quote from a letter reveals that George Washington once “manured a field and then laid dung on it,”which would seem awfully redundant in the currant usage.)
7. Benet’s Reader’s Encyclopedia, (Benet et al, 1st ed 1948, Harper & Row.)
Do you want your character to toss off a reference to a contemporary work but you’re not sure if it had been written yet? This is not only useful for that purpose, it’s interesting to browse through. Where else would you look up “ode” and find you have Pindaric, Horation, and irregular to choose from?
8. Pages Passed from Hand to Hand (Mitchell & Leavitt, Houghton Mifflin,
This book is a collection of what the title says: many of the excerpts in it were not published at all, or published only after the writers’ death. EM Forsters’s Maurice is among them; at the time it was written, censorship prevented its publication. This is another book useful mostly for inspiration and the sense of speech patterns, and ideas. There’s a big, conspicuous time-period missing in this collection; the period between 1757 and 1857, when persecution against “sodomites” was fierce.
9 My Dear Boy: Gay Love Letters through the Centuries (the indispensable Rictor Norton, Leyland Publications, 1998.)
What can you say about a book that contains snippets of love letters from as long ago as 139 AD to as near as 1960? This is a fascinating window into history and the human soul, and another excellent source of how men spoke and wrote… and an illustration of why ‘happy ever after’ is a bit of a stretch for most historical m/m couples.
10. Debrett’s The Stately Homes of Britain (Flower, Webb & Bower, 1982)
Bless the history-lovers of England and the second-hand stores of Ontario! I’ve found some real gems since moving here, and this is one of them. It’s considerably easier to describe a staircase and gallery (the better to spy from, my dear) if you have a picture of the entryway and stair of Antony House open before you. I would love to someday take a “stately homes” tour, but in the meantime, this book and others like it are a good second-best. Before you can set the scene for a reader, you have to set it for yourself.
Ten books seems a good round number to include in this sort of post – I’d be happy to hear suggestions from anyone out there. You may see another book list from me, or other Macaronis, in the near future.
January 20, 2009
I am happy to announce the release of CONFLICT, the sequel to my novel CANE. I seem to have been waiting a long time for the release of the follow up novel but it’s been worth all the effort
Two men, one war. Can love survive when each takes a different side?
Leaving his lover behind to support the Abolitionist cause, Piet Van Leyden finds himself leading one of the first all-black Union troops
into the heart of battle. Reuniting with free slave and former love, Joss, brings some comfort, but will his presence tempt Piet into forgetting the love waiting for him at home?
Sebastian Cane wonders how he’s able to go on without Piet by his side. When a series of unfortunate events lands him a prisoner of the Union, Seb knows he must rely on his wits and his love for Piet to survive…and get home to him.
It was difficult for Pieter to concentrate on Grainger’s words. Of course he had thought on the possibility of running into Joss once it was permitted for blacks to join the army, but he had never really believed it would happen. There were literally thousands of men in the Union army, the numbers rising all the time and the odds must be enormous.
His thoughts faltered again as he heard the lieutenant state the private’s name. Peters? Joss had taken… Pieter didn’t know what he felt about it, that Joss had taken that as his name. Flattered? Appalled? Touched? Oh, Joss!
“Peters?” Pieter queried haltingly, his voice sounding odd even to his own ears.
“Yes, sir,” Joss replied, keeping his voice formal, staring over his commander’s shoulder. Then abruptly he shifted his eyes and looked directly at Pieter. “Named for the only man who ever showed me a kindness, sir.”
Pieter stared at his old friend and ex-lover, emotion running through him to find him looking so well. “I see,” he replied softly. “Thank you, private.”
“Sir!” Joss said smartly, stepping back into line.
Pieter knew he gave orders and passed out praise and criticism in equal measure, but when the day ended the only thing he could clearly remember was the look in Joss’ eyes as they had stared at each other. Pieter just had to talk with him but he couldn’t simply single him out to speak to privately without reason. A company commander would have no cause to communicate with a private soldier without going through junior officers, unless for censure or commendation.
He paced his tent for thirty minutes until he recognized there was a way. Grainger had inadvertently given it to him.
“Grainger!” he called, sticking his head out of his tent, looking round for the lieutenant.
“Here, sir,” a voice floated from nearby in the dark and then the pale face of the lieutenant came into view.
“That private, the one who you introduced?”
“Yes, that one. Send for him. I want to have a few words and he should be ideal for providing me with background.”
“Yes, sir, immediately.”
Pieter sat in the rickety chair behind the small folding table in his small tent. He was nervous at the prospect of seeing Joss again, and being able to talk to him. Pieter smiled at his own reaction, he knew it wasn’t at all logical.
Presently, the lieutenant brought Private Peters inside the tent and the black man saluted his officer smartly, eyes staring straight ahead, back ramrod straight as he stood to attention.
“At ease, Peters,” Pieter said, a surreptitiously shared look between them at Joss’ choice of surname, and then with a glance at Grainger he added, “Thank you, Lieutenant. I will take it from here.”
Grainger glanced from his captain to the private as if silently asking if he were sure, but he merely nodded, saluted and left.
Pieter just stared at Joss for a long moment and his old friend stared back and slowly smiled. He was suddenly assaulted with images of the two of them together, long years ago when all that mattered were those snatched moments together. Memories of his hands moving slowly as they skimmed over Joss’ ebony skin; Joss kissing him with abandon and each murmuring promises of forever. Those had been naïve times he realized now but they had been good times.
Things were very different now, the love he’d felt for Joss then had been real but he knew it paled into comparison with what he’d learned he was capable of, but he would never regret his feelings for Joss. Suddenly Pieter’s face was split by a grin and he rose and strode around the table, and the two men embraced. They didn’t hold the hug for long, both being aware of the difficult situation.
“God, it’s good to see you looking so well,” Pieter commented as he retook his seat. “Grab a stool,” he said as an afterthought.
Joss did as he was asked and sat opposite his captain. “Oh yeah, I never expected to see you here.” He hesitated a moment, giving Pieter a long look.
“I didn’t know if you were still in Louisiana,” Joss explained, his voice low.
Pieter nodded, dropping his eyes as he said, “I didn’t want to leave Sebastian. I remained as long as I could, but I just wasn’t able to stay among those people down there. I was… I couldn’t keep bottling up my real feelings and it was starting to…to. I didn’t want to damage what we had by staying,” his voice barely above a whisper as he spoke. He looked up at Joss then, attempting to smile at his friend, but it might just as well have been a grimace.
Joss recognized the sorrow in Pieter’s eyes that his friend was trying to hide, the ex-slave knew him too well.
After a moment, Pieter continued, “I tried to persuade Seb to come up north with me, not that I really expected he would. He has too much of a commitment in Louisiana.”
Reaching across the small table, Joss laid his hand over Pieter’s and gave it a small squeeze, attempting to comfort him. “I’m sorry, Piet, but I can’t say I’m surprised. His family have lived there for generations, don’t suppose he feels he can simply walk away from that.” He didn’t add that he also felt that if Cane had loved Pieter
as much as he claimed he ought to have had different priorities. It would be no kindness to Pieter to voice that thought.
“I know and also in the few letters I did manage to receive from him before the mail stopped getting through, he admitted to feeling a greater responsibility to his slaves now and that…” Pieter stopped, as if remembering just who he was speaking to. He shrugged an apology.
Joss looked Pieter square in the eyes and commented, “Well, we know who to thank for that change in outlook, don’t we?”
“Enough about me,” Pieter said decidedly. “How about you?”
Joss gave Pieter a quick rundown of his life since they had parted in New Orleans, admitting that after a slow, difficult start the life he now had was good. He explained a little about Nathaniel and how the old Negro had helped shape his new outlook. Joss told him that Nathaniel had even taught him to read, and he reminded himself that he should show Pieter the letter he’d written when he got the opportunity.
He admitted he was glad to be able to accept responsibility for his own life, though it had been hard at first to get work and he had felt so lost and unsure most of the time until Nathaniel had taken him under his wing.
He gave a deprecating laugh. “Strange as it sounds,” Joss confessed, “I have felt happier since I joined up. Even after a year or so of freedom I was used to the,” he sought for the word he wanted and smiled wryly when he remembered it, “constraint of slavery and oddly I missed the…structure it gave my life.” He shook his head at his own confused thinking and Pieter smiled sadly at what had been done to people like Joss.
Joss regarded Pieter, giving his old friend a long assessing look. A little unnerved by the stare, Pieter asked, “What?”
“You’ve changed,” Joss said quietly and as Pieter frowned, he explained. “You’re more…comfortable, more sure of yourself.” Eyes lighting up as if Joss suddenly understood, he smiled broadly and added, “You know who you are.”
Available from Phaze Books: http://www.king-cart.com/Phaze/product=Conflict/exact_match=exact
[There is in fact a longer excerpt available if you follow the link on the book page at Phaze, as per the above link]
January 19, 2009
Posted by Alex Beecroft under Alex Beecroft
| Tags: links
I have to recommend this blog
because my life was not complete without ambulatory genetalia. I particularly like the one on stilts, and the girl power one with the crowned vagina being carried on high by three phalluses. I swear that one in the hat is wearing roller skates, though.
But it isn’t all pudenda. The Medievalist can be funny on practically any aspect of his chosen area of study. I have this blog bookmarked and it gives me a giggle every time. But watch out what you use the word for! You don’t want him going all medieval on you
January 14, 2009
Posted by charliecochrane under Charlie Cochrane
There’s a wonderful article here about gay life at Britain’s top university.
“The chapel of Gonville and
Caius has a similar memorial,
set up even earlier, in 1619.
Commissioned by the master
of the college, Dr John Gostlin,
it commemorates himself and his
friend Dr Thomas Legge. Below
the depiction of a flaming heart
held aloft by two hands reads an
inscription: `Love joined them
living. So may the earth join
them in their burial. Oh Legge,
Gostlin’s heart you still have
Look at me running away before any Oxford or St. Andrew’s graduates come and smack me.
January 13, 2009
Some of the Macaronis recently had a chance to put down their poachers’ bags and take up their gamekeepers’ guns – Alex Beecroft asked us to be on the submissions assessment team for the charity anthology I Do so we spent a month being well and truly on the other side of the fence. As an experience it was by turns inspirational, educational and exasperating. Why exasperating? Because there were simple errors that kept cropping up; it seemed appropriate to share some tips, which might help any budding (or existing) authors to increase their chances of getting a manuscript over the submissions hurdle.
1. Read the guidelines
These are what the publishers want; they’re not rules which apply to other people and from which you are somehow exempt. So if they want a short story, don’t send a novella. If they say ‘no fanfic’ then don’t send them fanfic. And if stories are supposed to be broadly supportive of a certain theme, submissions which are unconnected or contradictory to the theme will get the elbow, no matter how good they are.
2. Appear professional (even if you’re an amateur)
Sending a manuscript that hasn’t even been put through a spell checker doesn’t create any sort of a good first impression. It implies that the author doesn’t care/take care. It also created a favourable ‘atmosphere’ when accompanying correspondence was professional, especially when stories had been rejected; withdrawing gracefully or arguing a case in a polite fashion made us want to work with people again, even if it wasn’t possible this time.
We were looking first and foremost for the excellence of stories and for a team who could work jointly to put a project together on a short timeframe. A professional impression, even from an ‘amateur’ helped us a lot in our decisions (and we had some very close calls).
3. Don’t make your story have to fight your text.
Several errors kept cropping up in manuscripts, errors which could have been avoided by getting someone to give the story a once over before you press the send button. None of us expected to receive perfect submissions, but ones riddled with errors did themselves little justice. It’s really hard to keep focussed on a tale when little sloppy bits of writing keep kicking in. Most common problems:
Tense. It doesn’t matter if you write in the past, present or future perfect – be consistent. There’s a great line in ‘Chariots of Fire’ where Sam Mussabini says that each stride in a 100 metres knocks you back. That’s what it feels like to read a submission where the tense keeps changing.
Too many characters, too soon. We were looking at short stories, so it was particularly noticeable when we were faced with the introduction of loads of people within a short space of time, leaving us feeling a bit confused. It’s a trap many of us fall into, especially if you dabble in fanfic, where characters need no introduction.
Complexity. Again, this was particularly noticeable in short stories; make sure that the story makes as much sense on paper as it does in your head.
On the positive side, we discovered that if we really felt a story had potential, then we’d move heaven and earth to include it, even if that meant a lot of editing or asking (politely) for a thousand words to disappear. So things didn’t have to tick every box, or be absolutely perfect to get through. Whether that would apply to every submissions team, I’m not sure, but it was part of the learning process for me – that stories with a special ‘something’ were worth working with.
Don’t let your story’s special ‘something’ get obscured under a welter of shifting tenses or simple spelling mistakes!
January 6, 2009
by: Leslie H. Nicoll
We live in the age of safer sex. Men who are sexually active are encouraged to wear condoms to help prevent the spread of sexually transmitted infections, including HIV and AIDS. Contemporary erotic authors, in an effort to respond to current social and sexual mores, generally have their characters use condoms appropriately or if they don’t, include an explanation as to why not and comment on the risk they are taking by not doing so. But stories that take place prior to the emergence and identification of the human immunodeficiency virus generally do not include condom use. If the author of a historical fiction story wanted to include characters using condoms, would it be anachronistic? Based on my recent research, probably not.
There is evidence that condoms were used by early Egyptians, Greeks, and Romans. While some speculate that Egyptian men wore a type of penis sheath or sack to prevent against sunburn and bug bites, others have found artifacts of sheaths made from animal intestines or bladders. They were so small and covered such a small portion of the penis that they could not have been used for protection from sweat and sun and thus must have been used during sex.
Hippocrates, the Greek father of modern medicine, had some understanding that conception involved both the man and the woman. Aristotle, on the other hand, believed that the man’s semen was what produced an embryo; the woman was just a receptacle. Even so, both men wrote that birth control was the woman’s responsibility. Despite their advice, there were Greek men who chose to practice birth control on their own. Ancient writings discuss intercourse “not according to custom,” which might mean coitus interuptus or anal intercourse. But there is also evidence that men used animal intestine condoms, similar to the Egyptians, as a birth control device, too. Given that Greek society was sexually permissive, it makes sense that men would take some responsibility for contraception – especially those men who chose to consort with women of lower ranks or slaves.
The Romans also used condoms for contraception but it is in their writings that the notion of sexually transmitted disease prevention comes up for the first time. Soldiers recognized different types of infections and realized they were likely getting them from the prostitutes and “comfort women” (usually captives) who traveled with the legions. Soldiers lumped all such diseases together under the term Mount Vesuvius’s Rash. Legions kept herds of goats for milk and meat and the soldiers used the bladders and intestines as penis sheaths – a technique they might have learned from their enemies, the Greeks.
Except for the one little blip with the Romans, condoms were used primarily for birth control for the next 1800 years or so – and in agrarian societies that valued large families with children as workers, birth control wasn’t particularly desired, period. Much of the knowledge about condom materials and use that had been passed around among the Egyptians, Greeks, and Romans was forgotten during the dark and middle ages.
Figure 1. An ancient condom, oldest in the world. This reusable condom is from 1640 and is completely intact, as is its original users' manual, written in Latin. The manual suggests that users immerse the condom in warm milk prior to its use to avoid diseases. The antique, found in Lund in Sweden, is made of pig intestine.
Then, in 1495, the first widespread epidemic of a sexually transmitted disease occurred. Called at first “the Great pox,” to differentiate it from smallpox, syphilis was named by Girolamo Fracastoro in his epic poem, written in Latin, entitled Syphilis sive morbus gallicus (Latin for “Syphilis or The French Disease”) in 1530. Until that time, as Fracastoro notes, syphilis had been called the “French disease” in Italy and Germany, and the “Italian disease” in France. It is not clear where Fracastoro got the name of his main character, the afflicted shepherd, Syphylus, from which the name syphilis emerged. Some think he borrowed it from Sipylus, a character in Ovid’s Metamorphoses, while others think he made it up. Whatever the source, the name seems to have caught on because it did not identify any one group, country, or culture as being the source of the scourge.
Figure 2. A page from De Morbo Gallico (The French Disease), Gabriele Fallopio's treatise on syphilis. Published in 1564, it describes what is possibly the first use of condoms for disease prevention in modern times.
“Treatments,” none of which were very effective, abounded but it wasn’t until 1564 that anyone put forth the notion of disease prevention. Gabriello Fallopio wrote a treatise on syphilis and in it, he described the first modern condom. He claimed to have invented it which is understandable, given the fact that all prior condom knowledge was buried in ancient texts that Fallopio likely did not have access to. As an aside, if Fallopio’s name looks familiar, that is because he was an anatomist and is credited with identifying and naming the Fallopian tube.
Fallopio’s condom was linen, tied to the glans of the penis with a pink ribbon. His instructions were precise: prior to intercourse, a man should wash his genitals, then tie the linen over the glans, drawing the prepuce forward. He should then moisten the linen with saliva or lotion. Fallopio claimed to have tested his condom with 1100 men, not one of whom became infected with syphilis. To further prevent infection, Fallopio soaked the condom in a chemical solution which also acted as a spermicide. Thus his invention had a dual role: disease prevention and contraception.
From Fallopio’s writing, condom use spread. In addition to linen, condoms during the Renaissance were made out of intestines and bladder, same as in ancient times. In the late 15th century, Dutch traders introduced condoms made from “fine leather” to Japan. Unlike the horn condoms used previously, these leather condoms covered the entire penis.
Figure 3. Casanova entertained his women by blowing up his "English overcoats" like balloons.
From at least the 18th century, condom use has been opposed in legal, religious, and medical circles for essentially the same reasons that are given today: condoms reduce the likelihood of pregnancy, which some believe is immoral or undesirable; they do not provide full protection against sexually transmitted infections, but at the same time, belief in their protective powers was thought to encourage sexual promiscuity; and they are not used consistently due to inconvenience, expense, or loss of sensation.
Despite this opposition, the condom market grew rapidly. In the 18th century, condoms were available in a variety of qualities and sizes, made from either linen treated with chemicals, or “skin” (bladder or intestine softened by treatment with sulphur and lye). They were sold at pubs, barbershops, chemist shops, open-air markets, and at theaters throughout Europe and Russia. They later spread to America, although in every place they were generally used only by the middle and upper classes, due to both expense and lack of sexual education. In the US, fine “French letters” and other imported condoms were always preferred, even after “the rubber” was invented by Goodyear in the 1850s. In London, “condon hawkers” were a common sight, especially in St. James’s Park, Spring Garden, and the Pall Mall, all known spots for illicit assignations between men and women, and men and prostitutes, both male and female.
What about men who were having sex with men? Were they using condoms? Present day experts contend that they were not used by gay men until the 1950s and then only as a sex toy; however, poetry from the past contradicts this. Besides, if people understood that sexual intimacy led to infection, it wasn’t much of leap for men to realize that if they could infect their female partners, they could just as easily infect their male partners, too. As an example, the following excerpt is from the poem, Almonds for Parrots, written anonymously in 1708. While it was meant to be a satire about sex, it does give a hint about condom use by men having homosexual relations:
But Art surpasses Nature; and we find
Men may be transform’d into Woman-kind.
O happy Change! But far more wond’rous Skill!
That curse’s Loves Wounds, without the Doctor’s Pill:
Anticipates ev’n Condon’s secret Art,
At first invented to secure the Part.
Writing a sex scene that includes condom use can be a challenge for an author; putting one on is a somewhat clinical act that can interrupt the flow and passion of the moment. (People make the same argument about using them in real life but to that, the best advice is: figure it out.) Historical authors have more free rein to ignore and skip the issue altogether. But if a daring author wanted to have a male character cover his “lovely manhood” with a linen sheath and tie it with a pink ribbon, as a way to protect his lover from disease, evidence suggests this would not be an unheard of action and in fact, may be more common than previously thought.
Leslie H. Nicoll is the owner of Maine Desk LLC, an editorial writing and consulting business located in Portland, Maine. She is also the Publisher for Bristlecone Pine Press, an ebook publishing imprint and subsidiary of her business. While she desires to write fiction, she seems to have more success in the non-fiction world. Her latest books (both 2008) are The Editor’s Handbook, co-authored with Margaret Freda and published by Lippincott, Williams, and Wilkins and The Amazon Kindle FAQ, co-authored with Joshua Tallent and DeLancey Nicoll and published by Bristlecone. For more, please visit http://www.mainedesk.com and http://www.bcpinepress.com.
January 3, 2009
I have been writing for decades, starting out as a fan of the short mystery story a la Edgar Allen Poe, and while in college, became a stringer, a part-time newspaper journalist. In later years, however, I wrote and published lyric poetry almost exclusively, some in journals, and then a full length collection in 1991, reprinting it in 1998. In 1997, I wrote my first historical novel, with a subdued theme of alternate sexuality.. It was my first tottering steps toward writing about alternate sexuality in a historical context. It wasn’t until 2005 that I actually published a story with an overt homosexual theme, “The Erotic Etudes.” It was my sixth novel, but the first one I was ever truly satisfied with thematically. It is the companion story to a larger experimental novel, “The Death of a Mad Composer.”
The Erotic Etudes
Since I’m not as yet ready to commit my other books to print, I put them on my website and am still mulling over them. My unpublished novels, most of them featuring bisexual male main characters, as well as an online PDF version of “Erotic Etudes” can be found on my website, http://www.zebratta.com. In the past three years, I turned my attention to a series of stories that developed originally from fan-fiction roots based upon Brokeback Mountain, which has now grown to eight novel-length stories plus five shorter tales, which I have named “The Greenlea Tales.” With a great deal of encouragement and help from Leslie Nicoll at Bristlecone Pine Press (bcpinepress.com), who has put “Erotic Etudes” into e-book form, I am re-editing my books and am contemplating putting the Greenlea Tales into e-book format. For the time being, however, I house them in my Livejournal: louisev.livejournal.com. I am semi-active in the Macaronis gay historical fiction group, various romance and writing forums, and Rotten Tomatoes film forum, http://www.rottentomatoes.com. And I am still trying to find an agent to market my oversized backlog of unpublished manuscripts.