"..through rain and snow you stand alone by the water's edge..."

Seeing Poems Written by Yuan at the Blue Bridge Inn

On your return last spring
you stayed in the Blue Bridge Inn;
wen the wind sweeps down
from the Qinling Mountains, I head
the other way; each time I
come to an inn I dismount first
eagerly looing on the walls to see
If you have hung any poems there.
 

In Rewi Alley’s book, “Bai Juyi-200 Collected Poems,” there’s this intriguing note:

“Durng the early part of his official career, Bai made close friends with Yuan Zhen, young scholar and poet also in his twenties… the two poets’ relationship was most intimate.  Their friendship was famous in literary history, and it was said taht whenever the two went out riding together, crowds gathered to watch them pass…”
 
and yet.. many of their poems vanished, and
“whereas it had been the custom for outstanding poets to be granted a posthumous title, this hoour was denied Bai by the emperor.”
Alley believes this was because the poet wrote verses criticizing the government, and that might be true.  But I wonder.

 

Sending Summer Clothes to Weizhi(one of Yuan’s courtesy names)

Upper garment white in colour
woven fine as mist
cotton cloth for trousers
thin as a cloud; don’t think that
these are too light; please
wear them, for I fear you
will suffer from the heat at Tongzhou.

The two poets planned to live together as Taoist recluses after they retired.   Yuan Zhen died before this could happen.  Juyi wrote dirges and songs for the funeral.

Night deep–the memorial draft finished;
Mist and moon intense piercing cold.
About to lie down, I warm the last remnant of the wine;
we face before the lamp and drink.
Drawing up the gren silk coverlets,
Placing our pillows side by side;
Like spending more than a hundred nights,
To sleep together with you here.

Last summer at a yard sale,  the corner of an old book caught my eye.  Old books always do.   To me, there are few things that tell more about a time than the facts and ideas that people saw fit put in print.  Buildings, maybe, as they’re even more lasting.   I dug the little volume out from under a bunch of plastic robots, saw 1907 on the cover, and bought it right away, but I didn’t actually look at until weeks later—the short Canadian summer is for gardening, not browsing century-old reference books.

 But when the weather started closing in toward autumn, the little book became a fascinating time capsule. Fact #1:   They liked long titles that told you exactly what to expect:  1907 C. Regenhardt International Guide for Merchants, Manufacturers, & Exporters:  A Directory of the best accredited and most reliable firms of Banks, Bankers, Commission and Forwarding Agents, Lawyers, Notaries, Solicitors and all the Consultants of the Globe, Containing also many commercial Statistics and indicating for each place of any importance a trustworthy firm that gives direct information.

 Yes.  That is all on the title page.

 This book has all kinds of businesses and brand names, also currency equivalents for European and US money, the various calendars (European, Greek/Russian, Jewish, and Muslim) various advertisements (it has a little pencil loop and an accordian-fold pocket on the back cover, that still has a bookmark-size slip advertises “CP Goerz prismatic binoculars, (theatre and miltary styles”).

 My favorite ads so far are for the “Ideal” type-bar typewriter–it “causes sensation!”  (Especially, I guess, if you get your finger caught in the type-bar…)  and the Frister & Rossmann Schnellschreibmaschine (quick-writing machine, sort of a high-rise typewriter.)  The technology really has evolved in the last 102 years. I look at these ads sitting here beside my notebook computer, and the mind boggles.    The F&R ad didn’t photograph well, but type-writing machines were a hot item–Blickensderfer has one, too:

Ja, das ist ein Schreibmaschine!

The foreign currency exchange table is wonderful.  One silver piaster in Arabia was worth 3 marks, 52 pfennigs, or 89 cents American, or 3 shillings sixpence.   One gold Balboa in Panama was worth 4 shillings, 2.5 cents, or $1 American, or 4 marks, 19 pfennigs.   In Siam—shades of Anna and the King–1 tikal was worth 60 cents, or 2 shillings sixpence.

 Worried about European taxes on your merchandise?  The rates are listed for all bills of exchange, for dozens of countries.  You can check the size of your market—for instance, Hungary’s population is listed at 19,254,559, with an area of 125,000 square miles.   The minutiae are amazing. 

In honor of Hercule Poirot--All About Belgium!

And it’s a business directory, so of course it took advertising.  Got a cold?  Try the Bath of Ems, Germany, best cure of catarrhs of the Respiratory organs, the digistive (sic) organs, the Female organs, Urinary Systems, & Rheumatism, Gout, Asthma. Season from 1st May to 15th October.. Drinking & Baths Cure, Inhalation, Pneumatic Chambers, &c.    Get on the road without a horse or carriage with a Brennabor bicycle, Germany’s best, from the Brennabor Works in Brandenburg, Berlin, or Hamburg.  Oldest and largest cycle works of the Continent!  Need Licht? You can find the most up-to-date modern gaslight systems installed by Louis Runge, whose business may be found on Landsbergerstrasse in Berlin. 

 The typefaces are old-fashioned, perfectly suited to the antique illustrations—which were up-to-the-minute modern at the time.  Even the owner’s name, in old browned-out ink, is in an elegant European script… Thank you, EJ Beammon.  He must have dealt with Germany quite a bit–the book falls open to those pages, and some are dog-eared.  Not surprising–this area was settled by German farmers; many old people still speak it as their preferred language, and until WWI the town was Berlin, Ontario.  There’s only one disappointment – Mr. Beammon never used the blank memo pages at the end of the book, so his name is all the record he left of his activities in 1907.

 I wish I’d had this when writing Gentleman’s Gentleman–lots of hotels all over the world, and unquestionable authenticity.  And.. yep, the Neil House Hotel in Columbus, Ohio is listed here.  I was there once, back in the 80’s, for a sci-fi convention.  The Neil is gone now, torn down a couple of years later.  In 1907 it was ritzy enough to get a listing in this book.

 It’s strange and wonderful to hold, in my own hands, a book that might have belonged to my Gents characters.  It would be just the thing for a traveler who might want to find a bank or an embassy in a hurry.   The only risk, I think, would be allowing my enthusiasm to create an info-dump.  Sherlock Holmes might ask Watson to check the train schedule in his Baedeker, but he’d hardly want to know what patent nostrums were advertised in the back pages.  

I’ve always loved historical fiction, but in school history was one of the most deadly boring subjects.  I think that was mainly due to how it was taught, all memorization of dates and battles, nothing about how people actually lived.   It’s a shame that so little has been done to bring the past alive, to make things real to students.  I’m probably excessively optimistic, but I have to hope that if people realized how many of the stupid mistakes we see today have been repeated over and over, there might be a chance of avoiding a few of them.

Or maybe not… still, I’m staying on the lookout for tattered old books—there are others I’ve snagged at library sales—and having looked at Regenhardt again  I may have to nudge Lord Robert and Jack Darling to get into trouble so I can use some of these interesting gadgets. 

If you’re working on something that needs info I may have here, feel free to drop me an email!

dscf0103

 

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,
1997.)

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.

Lee

Lee

 

 

 

 

 

Hello!

I’m Lee Rowan, I write gay romance (mostly historical), and my apologies for this post coming in just under the wire.  The nights are getting chilly already here in Ontario, the list of outdoor jobs to do is longer than it should be… and we had a dry, sunny day, so there’s now a young oak tree waving proudly in the backyard and a stack of fence sections painted.

 

I’d rather introduce almost anyone other than myself.   Being raised in the pre-diva era, I find it much easier to wax enthusiastic about how interesting someone else is.  However, as a friend pointed out, seeing as my wife and I left our native country to move to Canada so we could be legally married, that does qualify as same-sex romance, so in that sense at least, it’s ‘write what you know.’ But the domestic adventures of a mathematician and a massage therapist-turned-writer don’t provide much real excitement, except when the dog’s eaten something she shouldn’t have or the cats  stage a re-enactment of ‘Ninjas Attack!’ at 2 am.

 

My stories are the sort of thing I enjoy reading, and to some degree come out of things I enjoy reading.  I’ve always been fascinated with sailing ships, and the A&E “Hornblower” series caught my attention a few years back… then someone introduced me to Patrick O’Brian’s magnificent Aubrey-Maturin series.  When something catches my interest, I tend to start reading any related material I can get my hands on, and when there’s a critical mass of information, the “what ifs” start turning into stories.

 

That’s where Ransom came from.   It seemed likely to me that young men raised on board ships from an early age would be inclined to become attached to their friends once the hormones kicked in. (As Dave Barry put it, a teenage boy can get aroused thinking about linoleum—and when there are no women around, a fellow midshipman is a lot prettier than linoleum, especially since it hadn’t even been invented yet.)  But just falling in love wasn’t easy, either—given the Articles of War and the death penalty,  a young man couldn’t just say “hello, Sailor” to his messmate without risking more than a punch in the chops, especially if the other young gentleman has dueled with and killed the last fellow who made an improper advance.   And the situation’s even more complicated if the smitten midshipman had been raped by that same man, Correy, and has a cargo of shame over it.  This setup did give David Archer a lot to overcome, but I think that’s what appeals to many readers—he does manage to survive and triumph.

David and the man he loves, Will Marshall, are accidentally caught up when their commanding officer, Captain Smith, is kidnapped.   Their abductor, a manipulative sociopath named Adrian, decides that David looks appealing and takes him out of the cell to demand sex.  When David refuses, he has Will beaten, and threatens to kill him.  After David capitulates, Adrian seems to change his mind and appears to choose the unknowing Will as his victim, then  orders David brought to his cabin:

(excerpt)

“…Never mind that Will had been alone, that he had no way of knowing that Correy was a bully who only attacked when he was sure of winning; Will simply stood up for himself, even though his life had been on the line.

In this situation, though, he’d dare not fight. William would risk his own life, but not theirs. He would ultimately be forced to submit, and Archer had no doubt that his determination would hold…but it would damage him, take some last bit of innocence he probably didn’t even know he had.
And that’s not a problem for me, is it? Not anymore.
At any rate, this was not Marshall’s demon. It was his own, and no one else could face it for him.

A fatalistic calm settled over Archer as he wiped his face, put on his jacket, was muffled and escorted above. His hands felt like cold stone, his mouth so dry he might have been chewing cotton. What was it Captain Smith had said, a thousand years ago, in the waggon? “There are some circumstances that put us entirely at their mercy. And sometimes there is no mercy to be had.”

“Let him think he’s won,” Will had said. “Play for time.” I hope to God the Captain’s plan is working. I hope he really has one.

Fourteen steps from the hatch to the quarterdeck. Down three steps. And the cloak came off and one guard knocked at the door and Adrian waited within with that smug, self-satisfied smile.

No mercy to be had.

I’ll just have to manage without it.

 

 

 

 

And he does, of course, very bravely, and (since this is a romance) Will comes to realize that there’s a lot more to the friendship than he first thought.  And there turned out to be more to their story than would fit in one book, which is where Winds of Change (and very soon Winds of Intrigue) come from.  The boys also had a shared-dream fantasy in my otherwise het trilogy Sail Away, as well as secondary roles in one of the m/f stories, and they exchanged Christmas presents and affection in a story in Heroes Unwrapped – the one don’t-ask, don’t-tell m/m story in LBR’s 2007 holiday anthology.  There’s at least one more book in their story arc, and they’re pretty persistent, so there’s no telling if they’ll show up again in the future.

         

 

 

 

 

I had a stroke of incredible good luck with Ransom.   Linden Bay Romance wasn’t the first publisher I sent it to, but the query package arrived just as they were considering expanding into m/m stories, and having a complete manuscript right on hand must’ve helped them decide the experiment was worth a try.   And I’m still amazed that Ransom won Linden Bay its first EPPIE award, in the first year that EPIC had a GLBT category.

Walking Wounded was kind of a kiss-it-make-it-better story.  I’d seen so much factual and fictional misery about the wars of our time, both in the former Yugoslavia and the mess in Iraq, and I wanted to write something with a happy ending and some happy sex. 

(excerpt)  He slipped the briefs down Kevin’s legs, marveling at that trim, masculine body—strong shoulders, beautifully muscled limbs, strong but not overdeveloped, neither too much body hair nor too little.  If he were set to design a picture of male perfection, he could not improve on what lay before him now.  The beauty of it took his breath away.   “Jesus, Kev,” he said.  He let his fingers drift through a sprinkling of chest hair that looked like pure gold where the morning sun touched it, and tried not to notice the little scars that hadn’t been there before.  “I don’t know where to start …  No, maybe I do.  I’ve learned a thing or two since the last time.”

 

“I thought you said you hadn’t —”

 

“I learned something that is almost better than sex.   Roll over.”

 

“That doesn’t sound like ‘almost,'” Kevin said, but he did as John asked, plumping a pillow under his face and glancing back over his shoulder.   It was, as John’s grandmother had once said in reference to something else, a picture no artist could paint.

 

John sighed.  “I will never get tired of looking at your arse.”

 

“Flattery will get you somewhere, but it’s not better— oh!”

 John had settled one hand on each cheek and begun to slowly rotate them, pressing lightly with his palms.  “For a while,” he said, “Quite a long while, I was so dissociated I hardly realized I had a body.”   He glanced around the room and located what he was looking for over on the storage chest.  “Stay put.”

 

 “That was nice, but —”

 

 “I’m not finished.”   He found the bottle of sandalwood-scented oil he’d bought ages ago, poured a little in his palms, and rubbed them together as he settled himself between Kevin’s legs.   He reached up to Kev’s shoulders, spreading the oil down, pausing for a deep breath of the intoxicating combination of scents, especially the part that was clean, healthy male… the man he had never thought to see again, to lie with again…  He was astonished at his own sudden lust.  He had gone without for so long that his body had gone into sexual hibernation, but right this moment he only wanted to throw himself on this beautiful man and fuck them both into a stupor.  

 

 And if he touched Kev’s arse right now, he would do just that.  Slow the hell down!  he told himself sternly.  Taking a deep breath he started at Kevin’s heels, kneading the soles of the feet with his thumbs.   Kevin groaned.

 

 “Does that hurt?”

 

 “Are you crazy?  It’s wonderful, don’t stop!”

 

 

WW is set in England because not only is it a country that participated in both those actions, it’s got legal domestic partnership.  It’s my only contemporary m/m so far, and the reason I mention it here is because this is the real ‘happy ending’ for Will and Davy, too.  A few readers have guessed from the hints in the story, and yes, John and Kevin are the same two souls, reunited in a world where they can be together openly.

Gentleman’s Gentleman was just sheer fun.  I’ve always loved the Sherlock Holmes universe, with dashing gentlemen dashing (literally) around in trains and carriages, solving puzzles and foiling the baddies.  Jack Darling was inspired by two things:  the inimitable Captain Jack Harkness on the BBC’s Torchwood, and a fireplug.  Our new home has a fire hydrant right beside the driveway, forged in 1952 by the Darling company.  A fine old English name like that is too good (and to perfect for the character) to let it just go to the dogs.   I think there will be other stories with Jack and Lord Robert, too—I was a huge Man from UNCLE fangirl, and the late Victorian era is perfect for cloak-and-dagger adventures and derring-do.  Gents is a romanticized version of the time, of course, but I think there’s room enough for all sorts of fiction and this is definitely escapist… a few streets over from 221B Baker, in that time of fog and gaslight when a gentleman’s personal gentleman was one constant in a changing world.

 

Gentleman's Gentleman

Gentleman

 

 

 

(excerpt)

Things were changing between them. Robert didn’t know what was going to happen. That was unsettling, but he didn’t mind. He could not imagine going to bed with Jack as a subservient partner. Or anyone, really—but especially not Jack. Their roles would have to be reconsidered, somehow.

They had already shifted; he suddenly found himself unable to think of the man beside him as “Darling.” Yes, that was his name, always had been, but in the privacy of Scoville’s his own mind it now sounded more like an endearment. He wondered what they would call each other when they were alone.

 

But they were not alone yet, so they went through the rest of the bath ritual, declining a massage but submitting to being sluiced down by the shower-room attendant. At least they had the choice of warm water or cold, and Lord Robert saw no point in subjecting himself to a case of goosebumps.

 

He permitted himself a quick peek at Jack’s nicely shaped backside while they were dressing. He’d seen it before—the Army left no secrets—but this was different, too. He was no longer just another soldier having a wash. Scoville wanted very badly to touch, and had to turn his mind firmly back to their mission. His mind was obstinately resistant to such discipline, and his body wasn’t doing much better. He pulled his trousers up with only seconds to spare.

 

Retracing their steps, they stopped at the desk for the room key and the briefcase. Scoville had his suspicions about the silver box that it contained and he felt certain Darling shared them. He hoped to hell he was wrong. He didn’t want to have to bother with any other business tonight. He wanted to sit down with Jack—better, lie down with him—and explore the future that was opening up for them. He really, most sincerely, wanted to be wrong.

 

Neither of them said anything on the way back to their rooms. Jack put the key in the lock, pushed the door open, and turned up the light. He froze, and turned to Scoville wordlessly, his jaw set and his eyes angry.

“Damnation.” Scoville followed Jack inside, pushing the door shut behind them.

 

He had not been wrong.

 

That was clear from the devastation that greeted them. The bed’s pristine coverlet had been ripped away, sheets and blankets knotted in a lump on the floor, the mattress pulled half off its frame. All the dresser drawers had been yanked out—not just removed, but thrown. They lay several feet from the dressers where they belonged. The little table, the nightstands, anything light enough to lift, had been overturned and flung. Chair and sofa cushions had landed at odd angles all over the place.

 

“The damned fool,” Darling said. “He threw a bloody tantrum.”

 

“That’s exactly what it looks like.” Scoville glanced around the wreckage. The door to the adjoining room was closed. “Shall we check your quarters? I’m not about to make the same mistake twice.”

 

“Yes, my lord.” Darling fished the briefcase key out of his breast pocket and unlocked it; he handed Scoville his pistol and took the second one himself.

 

“The room’s bound to be empty, you know,” Scoville said.

 

“I hope so, my lord.”

 

They moved toward the door, Scoville going left, Jack right. Interesting. In a crisis, they left the uncharted ground of what might lie ahead and slid effortlessly back into their roles of officer and noncom.

 

To no point, as it turned out. The intruder was long gone, but he had spent some time here; this room had been ravaged even more completely than Scoville’s. A long streak of bay rum stained the carpet and spilled onto the polished floor, a shaving mug lay in shards below the marble windowsill where it had been smashed, and their luggage was tumbled everywhere.

 

Jack walked over to the window and picked up a curved piece of heavy porcelain, the handle of his mug. “I got this when I joined the Army,” he said in a curious light tone. “It was advertised as nearly unbreakable.”

 

“We’ll find you another. And the hotel’s bound to have a barber.”

 

Jack let the handle fall; it hit the sill and cracked in two. “I could grow a beard.”

 

They were back in terra incognita. For some reason, Jack seemed truly distressed at the loss of a bit of cheap crockery. “I’d really rather you didn’t,” Scoville said. “I like your face just as it is.”

 

Jack shook himself slightly, and glanced around the room as if seeing it for the first time. “Shall I ring for assistance, my lord?”

 

“I’d just as soon ask for different quarters,” Scoville said. “But we can’t leave these rooms yet. Our visitor will be here in half an hour.”

 

“This room needs a mop and bucket,” Jack said. “The other doesn’t, not really. Let me ring for help, and we can get that room set to rights in fifteen minutes.”

 

“So quickly?”

 

“I didn’t think to bring a stopwatch, my lord, but yes, if we’re quick about it. Our guest needn’t see any disorder at all.”

 

That last sentence had an edge to it. “Good thinking.” Scoville pulled the cord for the bellboy himself. “Let’s not waste time. You and I can put the mattress back on the bed and bundle my things into this room.”

 

Jack grinned. “Not the exercise I’d been hoping for, my lord, but it’s a step in the right direction.”

 

Thank God he was back to normal. And, even better, flirting. “By the way, Sergeant, do you mind if I kiss you?”

 

“Not at all, my lord.”

 

Scoville had thought it would be a difficult thing to initiate; as it turned out, the only difficulty lay in stopping. The touch and taste of lips opening under his sent a jolt through all his limbs and straight down his body; he felt like a steel splinter beside a magnet. His self-control counted for nothing. One kiss wasn’t enough. A thousand wouldn’t be enough. And damn two layers of clothing all to hell.

 

Hands slid down his back, squeezing his arse, and they rocked together as he surged forward. Why had he expected Jack to be shy or diffident? He was a volcano. All that pent-up heat and power—how could he have hidden it so well? Scoville’s arms went around the man as their bodies melded together—no, they couldn’t do this, not now. They’d already rung for assistance. But he simply couldn’t stop.

 

“Bellboy,” Jack mumbled, turning his face away so his temple rested against Scoville’s cheek. “We can’t. No time.”

 

Scoville drew back enough to look at him. Jack’s mouth was reddened and soft-looking; his pupils were so wide his eyes looked almost black, and he was breathing hard.

 

So was Scoville. Reluctantly, he released the body pressed so sweetly against his own and took a careful step back. “You’re right. Let’s get to work.”

 

And speaking of fun, doing this project with Erastes and Charlie was tremendous fun–Erastes’ mad websearch skilz turned up that beautiful cover photo, which our editors accepted with glee, and Charlie reminded me of a fact I’d forgotten:  the “Scoville” scale is used to measure heat… in chili peppers.   I can just imagine what Freud would make of that!

 

I post here at The Macaronis from time to time, have a Live Journal, http://lee-rowan.livejournal.com,  a website: www.lee-rowan.net, and a Yahoo group that I do not give nearly the attention it deserves:  http://groups.yahoo.com/group/Action-Adventure-Romance .

My books can be found at http://www.lindenbayromance.com/storeSearch.html?searchBy=author&qString=Lee+Rowan  and on Amazon, and if you have any questions, complaints, or good Age of Sail book recommendations, I can be reached at lee.rowan@yahoo.com.

Thanks!

If any readers happen to be in the Toronto area this Sunday near Church & Wellesley Streets, you’ll see the Macaronis’ first public appearance.  Well, one Macaroni, anyway, hopefully without cheese.  I’ll be at a booth at the Writing Outside the Margins Queer Literary Arts festival, selling my books and passing out The Macaronis Sampler CD.  Look for our gorgeous Macaronis mini-poster (designed by Alex Beecroft) and an assortment of bookmarks, postcards, and a few goodies like fridge magnets. More info here:   http://www.xtra.ca/writinginthemargins/

This is a significant event–the guest artists will be John Cameron Mitchell, creator of Hedwig and the Angry Inch, Lambda Award winner Michelle Tea, and Canadian musical artist Kinnie Starr.   Last year’s festival was covered in both print and tv news… frankly, it’s a much bigger event than I expected to start with, and I really wish there were some fellow Macaronis planning to attend.   But I have to say that if it hadn’t been for Alex’s mad graphics skilz, Erastes’ assist with the CDs and Charlie’s general all-round moral support, I would be dithering at this point.  As it is… well, I’m still crossing my fingers that the (local, gay-friendly) printer will have the bookmarks ready tomorrow – the proofs were gorgeous.  I’ll be taking pictures … News at 11, but not til Monday…  

I’m hoping for good weather!

Writing Outside the Margins

Queer Literary Arts Festival 2008

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Speak Its Name
 

Aftermath
 

Expectations riding on a generation of young Englishmen are immense; for those who’ve something to hide, those expectations could prove overwhelming.

When shy Edward Easterby first sees the popular Hugo Lamont, he’s both envious of the man’s social skills and ashamed of finding him so attractive. But two awful secrets weigh Lamont down. One is that he fancies Easterby, at a time when the expression of such desires is strictly illegal. The second is that an earlier, disastrous encounter with a young gigolo has left him unwilling to enter into a relationship with anyone. Hugo feels torn apart by the conflict between what he wants and what he feels is “right”. Will Edward find that time and patience are enough to change Hugo’s mind?

Gentleman’s Gentleman
Lord Robert Scoville has lived in a reasonably comfortable Victorian closet, without hope of real love, or any notion that it’s right there in front of him if he would only open his eyes and take notice of his right-hand man, Jack Darling. Jack has done his best to be satisfied with the lesser intimacy of caring for the man he loves, but his feigned role as a below-stairs ladies’ man leaves his heart empty. When a simple diplomatic errand turns dangerous and a man from their past raises unanswerable questions, both men find themselves endangered by the secrets between them. Can they untangle the web of misunderstanding before an unknown attacker parts them forever?

Hard and Fast
Major Geoffrey Chaloner has returned, relatively unscathed, from the Napoleonic War, and England is at peace for the first time in years. Unable to set up his own establishment, he is forced to live with his irascible father who has very clear views on just about everything—including exactly whom Geoffrey will marry and why. The trouble is that Geoffrey isn’t particularly keen on the idea, and even less so when he meets Adam Heyward, the enigmatic cousin of the lady his father has picked out for him… As Geoffrey says himself: “I have never been taught what I should do if I fell in love with someone of a sex that was not, as I expected it would be, opposite to my own.”

 
From Josh Lanyon, author of Adrien English Mysteries

“Dashing spies, bold Regency bucks, and the flower of English manhood vie for readers’ attention in this smart, original and engaging trilogy.This is not your mother’s historical romance!”

 
Excerpts:

Aftermath by Charlie Cochrane

Easterby laid his hand on Hugo’s shoulder, not knowing any words that he could share. He felt that he should be making some wise pronouncement either to offer comfort or to persuade Lamont that all his guilt and distaste was stupid, but he’d no idea what would work in either case. By accident he hit upon exactly what Hugo required; not gabbling words or advice, pious or otherwise, but a quiet companionship. All the comfort that Hugo needed, he found in that light touch upon his back; all the counsel that he sought was in the gentle breath playing upon his cheek. After a moment or two, he looked up at Edward and smiled wanly as if he was broken in heart and spirit. “I know it’s a simple choice, but it’s one I can’t make. Part of me says I should say farewell here and now, taking myself away from you and all the temptation you bring. And the other half says you’re the thing I treasure most in all the world and I should just stay with you and risk everything.” He shrugged and merely patted Easterby’s back. “I’m sorry. It’s me. I’m hopeless and that’s all there is to it.”

Edward remembered all the college stories about Lamont that he’d heard when he first come up to Cranmer—Lamont being held up as the shining example, the man that all other men should aspire to. Seeing him so distraught, so lacking in any confidence in his own powers, was untenable. “You’re not hopeless. Far from it.” He tried to catch Hugo’s eye. “It’ll be all right. It will.” The words sounded so vapid, so utterly useless, but somehow they sparked a slightly happier smile from Lamont.

Gentleman’s Gentleman by Lee Rowan

Jack said nothing. He didn’t dare. The truth was stirring in him like a living thing, but he simply did not know what to say. No, he wasn’t mistaken. I would love to have you take advantage of me! That would hardly do. In fact, he was grateful for his lordship’s integrity. How wretched it would have been to serve under an officer who expected sexual favors, if the attraction were not mutual.

But was it mutual? Jack could not deny what he himself felt. And hope stirred again, a tenuous thread of possibility. A man who would not take advantage might be exercising self-restraint, not indifference. Did he dare speak?

Lord Robert was still fuming, oblivious to Jack’s dilemma. “He must have thought me absurdly naïve. I suppose I was. It had never occurred to me that anyone would stoop so low as to make such an assumption about me. Or about you!” He looked up, his eyes full of some unspoken emotion. Anger? Guilt? “My dear fellow, I am deeply sorry. You must believe I never intended to subject you to anything like that. I can’t do a damned thing about my own nature, and I’m grateful beyond words for your tolerance. I had no idea you would be offered such an insult.”

“Insult, my lord?” Jack’s chest felt tight, and his heart was suddenly pounding. Here it was, then—the chance of fulfillment or the destruction of all he had come to know.

“That you were my—that I would—” Lord Robert flung a hand into the air, helplessly.

“The only insult Captain McDonald offered,” Jack said carefully, “was the assumption that I would be willing to lie with him.”

It was Lord Robert’s turn to hesitate. “I’m not certain I understand.”

Their eyes met once more, and Jack could not look away. “He was not mistaken about my nature.” And, since at this point there could be no going back, he added, “Nor my feelings for you.”

Hard and Fast by Erastes

I stepped forward to him. “Your nature,” I said, between gritted teeth, “has been nothing but unnatural since the first moment we met.”

He didn’t move a muscle, didn’t take his eyes from mine; for all his apparent fragility, he certainly didn’t appear to be intimidated by me.

“Perhaps,” he said, almost idly, as if he weren’t being towered over by a furious and insulted major, “it takes one to know one.” It was as if our intimacy had not taken place and we were swapping insults in a card room.

I grabbed him then, with hands long schooled to denial; not to take what they wanted, not to fire at civilians, not to touch what it should not touch. I crushed him to me; I heard his cane fall to the floor and felt him waver in my arms as he struggled to support himself. All this in a moment, and all I had registered from him was the sudden intake of breath. No complaints, no barbed wit, no exultation—nothing that I had expected.

I felt nothing of the giddiness I had heard poets sing about. I felt like Hercules, his last task completed. I felt fierce and victorious, swept away with the madness of the moment. His hair was against my cheek, the scents that had haunted my dreams were more real and more delicious than I had remembered. He clung to me; his right arm around my neck for support, his left arm snaked around my waist. I shuddered in pleasure as he turned his face a little and his skin touched my face. Gooseflesh sprung around all over my body as he touched my cheek with his lips.

There was no thought in what happened next; I remember every second of it, but I remember most clearly of all that I made no decisions in my actions. Everything I did was ordained …

 

“To our wives and sweethearts—may they never meet!”

–Captain Jack Aubrey (Traditional toast in His Majesty’s Navy)

 

“The society of well-educated ladies is sure to add dignity and refinement to the character of a young man.  Without such society his manners can never acquire the true polish of a gentleman, nor his mind and heart the noblest and truest sentiments of a man.”

–The Young Man’s Own Book, A Manual of  Politeness, Intellectual Development, and Moral Deportment, Calculated to Form the Character on a Solid Basis and to Assure Respectability and Success in Life.  Key, Mielke, and Biddle, 1832.

 

The book’s title is only ten words shorter than the advice, but this excellent resource for writers of fiction set in the 19th-century spends a chapter extolling the virtues of the fair sex and the importance of treating them with the proper respect, always bearing in mind the desirability of holy wedlock.

 

So where does that leave a writer whose protagonists are men – and gay men, at that – who see wedlock as a consummation devoutly to be avoided?

 

The Young Man’s Own Book says, “The influence of the female sex on a young man must be something, may be much….”   and I think that goes for gentlemen of either persuasion.   The stereotype of a homosexual male as a man who hates women does, like all stereotypes, probably hold true for a few individuals.  On the other hand,  men whose emotional character is defined by hatred are not the most sympathetic candidates for the starring role in a romance. 

 

But love of one gender doesn’t require hatred of the other.  As people operating in human society, gay characters would at least have to interact with mothers, sisters, and other female relatives.  Given social expectations, they might also have wives… in many cases, women they may have married before they were even aware of their same-sex inclinations.  Oscar Wilde is probably the most well-known example, but others can be found in abundance in the headlines even today, often claiming that they’re not gay at all. 

 

Of course, in a gay love story, women may be peripheral characters, if they appear at all.  But writing about men who love other men doesn’t mean that women can or should be ignored or treated badly.  So many of us who write m/m romance are women ourselves, it would require an odd sort of self-loathing to bash female characters, and it would be weak craftsmanship in any case.

 

So what’s different about writing a female character?  Or, at least, what do I find different?

 

Apart from the plumbing…  not all that much.  And the best way I can think of to illustrate how the process works for me is to use a couple of examples from my stories.

 

One caveat:  I must admit I write from the perspective of a born tomboy.  I think of myself as a human being first and a woman second, and  I expect any character I write to behave in a humanly reasonable way (except, as Mark Twain might say, in the case of lunatics.)  In many historical settings, a woman has fewer options than a man, but that’s no reason to assume she has less intelligence or less nerve.  Anybody willing to say “I do” and risk the horrors of septic childbirth is not, in my opinion, lacking in courage.

 

I haven’t yet written a story where one of my characters finds himself with both a male lover and a wife, and the shipboard romance of the Ransom universe seldom allowed much room for the ladies.  But their influence does appear – in David Archer’s first ill-chosen romance with a girl below his social station that precipitated his entry into the Navy, in his correspondence with his mother and sisters, even in the Christmas gift he gives his lover—warm woolens knitted by those ladies and sent in quantities that far exceed his own needs. What we see, reflected in his attitude, is a general liking and respect for women and concern for their welfare.  The odd son out, bookish,  intelligent, and considerably more sensitive than his father, Davy’s affectionate nature was shaped by his mother and elder sisters.  We don’t actually meet the ladies in Ransom or Winds of Change, but a few of them will appear eventually.

 

David’s cousin Christopher is more conventionally appreciative of female charms; his love story is told in my novella “See Paris and Live,” in the trilogy Sail Away, which also features Will and David some time before they’ve become lovers.  Writing the heroine, Zoe Colbert, was a bit of a challenge.  She was a French girl, gently reared; to make her a strong character in her own right, able to take the huge step of making herself known to a strange gentleman, took some consideration and a little more deliberate construction of background and motivation. 

 

Christopher—Kit—needed a wife who was respectable enough to marry a Baron and be able to execute the responsibilities required of that position.  And she had to be resourceful, intelligent, and capable—as well as willing to take chances—because his life would depend on her intervention at a critical point.  So I put her in the position of being mistress of her father’s house, her mother having died when Zoe was younger; this allowed her to be comfortable with making decisions, at least routine ones.  Since her father was a doctor (again, to save Kit’s life) she was not unfamiliar with life-and-death crises.  She was also a girl living through the convulsions of a society tearing itself apart and attempting to re-form, in the literal sense.  I felt that the extraordinary times could provide enough of a push to make her take chances she never would have ordinarily. With death a possibility at any time, and the young men she’d known dead or vanished, she had motivation enough for her to reach out to Kit when he crossed her path.  A girl—or boy!—who doesn’t expect to live long enough to grow up is more likely to take a risk for even brief happiness.  And a hero(ine) has to have the courage to make a leap of faith.

 

Kit himself turned out to be the kind of young man who really needed a strong partner—he’s young, only 18, so he had time to grow up during the course of the story.  He was not, at its beginning, his own master.  His ill-fated trip to France was on his mother’s orders, and she’s a forceful character within her own domain. 

 

Constructing the dowager Baroness was interesting.  I didn’t want to make her just a caricature of the clueless upper-class lady, but for the sake of the plot she had to nag Kit into a trip to France that he really should not have attempted.  Why did she do that, if not on a silly feminine whim?  Well, she was concerned about maintaining her hospitality.  War with France would cut off supplies of wine and spirits, and she did not want to patronize smugglers if she could avoid it.  I thought this could be a legitimate concern for someone whose occupation in large part consisted of organizing social affairs.  Sheltered from politics as many women were, she could very well be ignorant of the danger she was sending her son into.  Her more irritating feature—her insistence that Kit marry and produce an heir as soon as possible—was also understandable given the social structure.  Protecting the succession, through her son, was also part of her job—and the only thing preventing her eviction from the place that had been her home since she married Kit’s (deceased) father.  

 

For a minor character, the Dowager required a lot of underpinning.  And with all those annoying traits, she had to have a redeeming one, so I made her marriage to her late husband a real love match—something that Kit was influenced by, something he wanted for himself.   That worked out well in the overall story arc, too—when Kit has found love with Zoe, it gives him the insight to recognize a similar connection between his cousin David and Will Marshall, and motivates him to give them a precious space of time together at his estate in the West Indies, in Winds.  This may be an unusual attitude for the era… but no individual can be totally defined by his (or her) society.  If a clergyman could bless gay couples—and there was one such known at the time—then why couldn’t Kit recognize that his favorite cousin had found love with an unconventional partner?

 

In my new novella “Gentleman’s Gentleman,” I’ve given my hero Lord Robert Scoville another managing mother—but though he loves her, he’s a younger son, he has no obligation to secure the succession, and he knows what a disaster it would be for him to marry.  “I can’t bear the idea of marrying a woman I dislike just to satisfy my family. And tying myself to an unsuspecting woman that I did like—like, not love—would make two people miserable.”  (His soon-to-be lover, Jack, is enormously relieved to hear this!)  But Robert does recognize that his mother is acting out of concern for his well-being, so he and Jack come up with a creative way to discourage her matchmaking.

 

In today’s terms, I suppose Lord Robert would be at the far end of the Kinsey scale—absolutely uninterested in women—whereas David Archer would probably be near the middle (his first attraction was to a woman) but slightly more attracted to men.  As for Will Marshall…  he’s smack in the middle. Will, I think, fell in love with Davy because no one had ever loved him before and he’d been in the company of men all his life.  He’d had a brief attachment to a girl, in his teens, but he never got up the nerve to do anything about it.  I’m not sure whether Will would’ve wound up as happily married as Captain Smith if things had not gone pear-shaped when he and Davy were kidnapped.  I think both the Ransom boys are functionally bisexual but basically monogamous—content with a single relationship.  (Again, that’s my own perspective seeping into my characters—if my wife had been male, we’d have kids in college by now.)  Of course, Will’s going to have his ideas of monogamy challenged in the next couple of books… with both sexes.  Poor baby.  He never met a woman as sweet and smart and interesting as Davy is – not yet.  But that’s another story.

 

So to get back on topic and finish up, the most significant thing I’ve found about writing women in a m/m universe is that it just takes a little more time and attention.  I think any woman can identify with that—any woman who’s ever tried to get a degree in a “man’s” field, land a job in an occupation that is generally considered a man’s domain—in fact, to accomplish anything and be taken seriously in a world, past or present, where men are expected to look for action and adventure and the ladies are expected to be the trophy for the alpha male.  Writing complete, believable women in gay romance is more or less dancing like Ginger Rogers, who did everything Fred Astaire did, but backwards – and in high heels.   It may not be easy, but it’s definitely worth the effort.

Happy to be here–never used this system before, not the most ‘ept’ at computers–what’s next?

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 855 other followers