historical romance


This is Tom’s mother from Promises Made Under Fire. Very different kettle of fish from Mrs. S.

Mother met me at the station, full of smiles and news. Father’s back playing up, her head much better, thank you, scandal about the neighbour’s son, who’d somehow mysteriously moved to Ireland.

“And your friend Ben—he asked me to apologise for his not being here to meet you but the silly boy’s gone and got mumps.” She slipped her arm in mine. “So he’s strictly persona non grata.”

She didn’t need to add why—any of my platoon could have told you the risk to a man’s wedding tackle. What the hell had I done to get such a run of luck?

“Have you any plans? Apart from rattling around at home?” Mother squeezed my arm, her hand seeming so tiny against my uniform coat. I patted it.

“I’ve a commission to fulfil. No, don’t worry.” I patted her hand again. “It’s not the army. You remember Foden?”

Of course she did, the way she paled at the mention of the name and gripped my arm tighter. She’d have remembered my tears, too. I hailed a cab and carried on. “He left a letter asking me to make some visits on his behalf. Least I can do.”

“You always were a good lad,” Mother said as we bundled into the cab and gave the driver our address.

Good lad I might be, but I wasn’t looking forward to doing this particular duty. “He wanted me to visit his mother,” I said, looking out of the window, unseeing. “Do you think I should write to her and make an initial introduction, rather than just turn up on her doorstep?”

“It would depend on her character. If it were to bring her distress rather than comfort, she might prefer one dose of it.”

Only one dose of discomfort for me, too; I’d forgotten how wise Mother was. “I have no idea. She’s a cook, up in London.”

“A cook?” A brief look—surprise tinged with quickly hidden disdain—crossed her face.

“It will have hurt her as much to lose her son as it would the lady of the household.” The anger I felt shocked me.

“I’m sorry. You’re quite right. You’ve always said that bullets don’t make any social distinctions.” She suddenly produced a mischievous smile. “And since the ‘to do’ with the lad next door, even Father says you can’t tell how brave someone is from the school he went to. He’s very proud of you, you know.”

7-December 1855
Dear Hohenheim,

It seems that a vast period of time has passed.  Another vision ensues.  I see myself in youth, curled into the hard windowseat that looks down into the Hauptmarkt from my room, and occasionally the front door rattles  as a customer enters or leaves.  It is my birthday, and I am ten years old.  Held in my hands is the too-difficult text of Byron’s Manfred, not yet available to me in German, and so I labor over the English original.  Why must he be so metaphorical?  Can he not, for my sake, use less flowery words, so that I am not constantly jumping up to the dictionary?  As I study, a sound comes to my ears.  It is my mother, singing.  She must be brushing her hair, now.  I am drawn away from the puzzling beauty of Byron’s verse to the irresistible beauty of her voice.  She does this because she knows I am listening.

I wander down the main stair, toward the singing voice as it grows louder and more compelling to my ear, and as I do, I realize that something impossible is happening.   It is I, indeed, and I am yet ten, but the angelic voice of my mother is singing “Der Gärtner” which I did not compose until 1842! nor publish until 1851.  Then – the singer cannot be my mother, else she herself composed it in 1820 or before,  and I took it down later from memory.  But this cannot be, because I, here in the finalized Present, know that my mother never composed a tune nor invented any single piece of music, and she learned anew only what I wrote, and then only my student compositions; for my true work did not come until later.  So it cannot be.

By the time I reach the bottom of the staircase I behold the beautiful newness of the paint, the grand doors that lead into what is no longer my father’s shop but is now a concert hall!  Just as had been done to Ha’s library in the Future!  This is my house, indeed, and on what is now a stage, where once lay stacks of cartons of books and Zeitungen, there stands in slimmer guise, with wildly loose hair running free, my mother!  Practicing with a chamber quartett!  She never wore such a seductive coiffure in 1820, certainly!  This is my birthday indeed, for I see she is rehearsing this concert as a gift to me.  I enter the room, and milling about are others, dressed for the concert, listening to the rehearsal as they arrange flowers near the stage, and set the chairs in the hall.  It must be some hours beforehand.

I stand rapt, listening.  The casements are finished in beautifully polished blond wood, the walls shine with bright stucco, new-applied.  The Flügel on the stage shines with a rich sheen.  This Future is wealthy beyond the dreams of the greediest composer’s avarice! And this room, yet another shrine to chamber music.

Do you vouchsafe for me this vision as answer to the pages of bitter regret just past, Hohenheim?  For what could touch me more deeply, or move me more joyously than to see my mother once again, so radiant?  In voice, perfect, sweetly singing a piece I had composed specifically in her memory?

There is a joy in me difficult to contain, now, for I love her utterly.  She is the incarnate presence of the Angel, to me.  Despite her moods and petulances, she never said single word of harshness to me.  She loved me unrelentingly, constantly.  She told me once that she had prayed in song to God to send her an angelic child, to bring her inspiration to sing, and she knew when she was confined with me, that she had Song within her.  During that pregnancy she sang continually.

She, my Beloved, was my first Song, and I ill tolerated parting from her.  Oh joy, mixed with sorrow!  For here, again, she stands.  No more than five and twenty years old, and if possible, her voice more brilliantly colored.  And standing at the door, invisible in the Ghost Realm, I weep for the soul-stirring vision of her..

It is my birthday.

The moment chimes, the audience – a hundred, more! pack into the room, some with flowers in hand, with smiles, greybeard men, grey-haired women, youths, and here and there a serious-faced child – a violinist the one, another a pianist.  I can read it in their faces.  Students at the Konservatorium.

Since when has this dull town had a musical Konservatorium, I wonder?  Oh dear, it is named for me! I learn.  The house, the plaza, the school… how incredibly embarrassing.  To go from obscure neglect to a cult-like fame in death.  A man should never live to see himself become a figure of reverence.  It is not me, it was never me… erect monument instead to the faceless Angel of the Wellspring!

From Lessons in Discovery. Orlando has lost his memory following an accident and can’t remember what Jonty’s Mama is like. He has a shock coming.

“Jonathan! Orlando!”

A voice that seemed to have been designed to penetrate concrete at two hundred yards rang through the college court. It was Sunday morning and the broomstick had obviously landed successfully. Its arrival had been anticipated by the two fellows so they were lurking around to greet the pilot.

“Mother,” Jonty whispered to his companion, before saying in a tone as hearty as hers, “Mama! You’re looking ridiculously well. What has the doctor been giving you to make you look so young?” He was scooped up into his mother’s arms and had the breath squeezed out of him.

“Looking thin again, dear.” Mrs. Stewart always seemed to think that her son was on the brink of starvation, even though he was more muscular and well set up now than he had been this last year. “Dr. Coppersmith, you look positively emaciated.” She grabbed Orlando and squashed any answer out of him, too.

Orlando was stunned. His own mother had never shown any such physical affection for him and the perfume-soaked, genial embraces of this ample lady were a complete shock. He knew he’d met her before although he had no recollection of the events and he’d no time now for reflection, with Mrs. Stewart thrusting an arm through those of both her son and his thin and starving friend and insisting that they go immediately to the Blue Boar for a jolly good feed.

She was most sympathetic over lunch, a meal taken in a quiet room away from the noisy masses so that the recovering invalid shouldn’t be overwhelmed. She’d asked, with great concern, about Orlando’s condition, gently talking him through the times he’d been her guest, the pleasure it had given her to receive him. “Because it has always been a delight to us whenever Jonathan has brought you home. I think of you rather like a son now, which of course must seem very odd today when you no doubt regard me as a stranger. But one day you’ll remember everything, dear, and then it will be like old times.” She beamed.

Orlando thought how much Mrs. Stewart resembled Jonty and how lovely she must have been at the same age. A sudden, small voice in his head informed him that his friend was beautiful now and when he looked at Jonty he realised it was quite true, which was another terrible shock. He had never really considered before whether anyone was eye-catching and he’d now done it for two people within a minute.

They finished their meal with a wealth more gossip and made their way back to Jonty’s set for a cup of tea to refresh them and to give Orlando a chance to collect his thoughts.

Mrs. Stewart insisted that there was nowhere better to take a cup than in front of one’s own fire. She was now ensconced on Jonty’s sofa and her thoughts ran to old acquaintances.

“So you met old George le Tissier on Jersey. I wonder if he remembers me?”

“I don’t think that anyone would ever forget you, Mama.”

“Especially true in this case. Not my most shining moment, Jonathan, I positively disgraced myself.” Mrs. Stewart blushed, something that seemed out of character.

“Whatever did you do?” Their interest was piqued, their appetite whetted at the thought of what revelation might come from this lady’s lips. Jonty in particular was intrigued at the thought of his mother disgracing herself in any way.

“It was a grand ball. A very big occasion, all the handsomest young men were going to be there, including George who was a subaltern at the time. Not that I had eyes for any of them except your father—that’s why I was so excited. Richard Stewart was going to be present and we’d arranged in advance to have several dances together. Got out my best bib and tucker and set off. Within a quarter of an hour of arriving there, a young man I’d taken a waltz with, I can’t remember his name, the ill-favoured surly thing.” She glanced surreptitiously at the often surly thing on her left but he was looking remarkably sweet and kind today. “Anyway, he drew me off into a corner, said he’d never loved anyone the way he adored me, proposed a marriage within three months and when I refused to take up his offer, threatened to kill himself. I spent twenty-five minutes trying to talk him out of it. Meant that I missed my first dance with your father, so I was rather miffed. When I tracked Richard down to apologise he hooted with laughter. He said he knew the chap and that he’d done the same thing numerous times—the suicide threat was all a big bluff of course. I was livid. Your father had to hold my hand and try to get me to calm down. I was all for going and tweaking the chap’s ear, but I suppose the hand-holding made it all worthwhile.”

“It always does.” Jonty smirked slightly and there was a suggestion of a blush on Orlando’s cheeks. How odd, Jonty reflected, wondering if the embarrassment was due to subconscious memories.

Mrs. Stewart sailed on undaunted. “Then blow me down if three dances later a similar thing didn’t happen, though I remember the chap’s name this time. Samuel Parker, and he was a toe-rag. We were walking through the portrait gallery at the back of the house en route to get an ice when he plighted his troth. I gave him the old ‘thank you but no thank you’ and he pulled me behind the arras—I can see you sniggering, Jonty and it doesn’t become you—and started to take the grossest liberties. All he got was a black eye—it was a real shiner, I was rather proud of myself—and he departed. Then I had to go and find Richard again and explain why I’d been late for our next dance. Had the suspicion that he thought your dear mama was a bit of a flibbertigibbet, but he held my hand once more and called me his ‘dear little peach’. I can see you smirking again, Jonty, and if it happens a third time I will have no hesitation in taking you across my knee and spanking you. Anyway, I was furious, furious beyond all measure. So when poor George le Tissier came up all beaming with excitement and asked for my hand, I forgot myself entirely. It was pent-up anger, and I am not proud of myself. Now, are you ever going to make me that cup of tea or will you watch your poor mother sit here, wasting away parched and drained?”

“Mother, I won’t even put the kettle on until you tell me what you did that was so bad.”

“Laid him out, dear. One great big punch and goodnight sweetheart. Now that ends that trifling matter and you need to address the greater one of my desiccated throat.”

When Mrs. Stewart was watered sufficiently to be able to attempt the return journey, Summerbee, the porter, found a cab (she wasn’t inclined to fly the broom). With many a kiss, hug and wave she was sent on her way.

Although I’ve done a number of historicals now – enough to say I am a ‘historical novelist’ – I still feel that not all historical eras are equal. People have said to me ‘the Tudors are very popular. I’d like to see you do something set in Tudor times.’ I nod politely, because there’s no predicting where my muse might take me next. But inside, I’m still going ‘ew, the Tudors. They’re all torture and paranoia and witch burnings.’ I can’t really imagine wanting to write in an era where my nation’s best battleship sunk because someone forgot to put the plug in.

This is slightly hypocritical of me, because I like the Anglo-Saxons a lot, and they are not without brutality either. Plus, their technological level is much lower. But they nevertheless seem more civilised to me – a thoughtful, religious, melancholy people with less tendency towards burning women alive. Maybe I’m reading too much from the example of King Alfred and the Venerable Bede – both the sort of humane intellects I wouldn’t mind meeting in real life.

The 18th Century, though, is still my favourite. Part of this is the clothes. I can’t take Henry VIII seriously in his padded bloomers, but when we’ve moved on to tricorn hats, poet shirts, tight waistcoats and frock coats with swirling skirts; tight breeches and men in white silk stockings, showing off their toned calves to the ladies, well, then you’re talking.

But it’s more than that. I prefer civilization to savagery – I like to write in a world in which I would not find it unbearable to live – and the 18th Century is a time in which it’s possible to exist as something other than a warrior. More than that, it’s a time of great exploration. The world was opening up before Western Man, and as a result the spirit of the age is one of excitement. New things are being thought of every day. New places are being discovered. The world and the human spirit is expanding, and for the first time people are beginning to think about freedom and equality and the rights of man. An awful lot of what we take for granted nowadays was first being thought of in the 18th Century and it’s fascinating to watch it blowing their minds.

I read a lot of 18th Century journals as part of my research, and I find no difficulty in liking these people. They are urbane and amused, confident and surprisingly open minded. They have none of the self-righteous imperialism and prudery of the 19th Century, and while you’d have to cover the ears of the sensitive, because of their vulgarity, I wouldn’t feel a qualm about inviting them around for dinner. The tendency to fight a duel at the drop of a hat would be worrisome, I suppose, and they do drink and quarrel a lot, but they’re never quite what you expect. I think Jane Austen, who was that little bit later, would be shockingly disapproving of them. But in a fight between Lady Mary Wortley-Montague, lady of letters, who travelled the world, wrote letters from Turkey, and invented an early form of smallpox inocculation, and Jane Austen, my bets are on Lady Mary. She, at least, had attended the Empress of Austria when the fine ladies of Austria exhibited their honed pistol marksmanship. I think she’d be the one to walk away from that duel.

BlessedIsle_200x300

Blurb:

For Captain Harry Thompson, the command of the prison transport ship HMS Banshee is his opportunity to prove his worth, working-class origins be damned. But his criminal attraction to his upper-crust First Lieutenant, Garnet Littleton, threatens to overturn all he’s ever worked for.

Lust quickly proves to be the least of his problems, however. The deadly combination of typhus, rioting convicts, and a monstrous storm destroys his prospects . . . and shipwrecks him and Garnet on their own private island. After months of solitary paradise, the journey back to civilization—surviving mutineers, exposure, and desertion—is the ultimate test of their feelings for each other.

These two very different men each record their story for an unfathomable future in which the tale of their love—a love punishable by death in their own time—can finally be told. Today, dear reader, it is at last safe for you to hear it all.

You can read an excerpt and buy Blessed Isle here at Riptide.

Author Bio

Alex Beecroft was born in Northern Ireland during the Troubles and grew up in the wild countryside of the English Peak District. She studied English and Philosophy before accepting employment with the Crown Court where she worked for a number of years. Now a stay-at-home mum and full time author, Alex lives with her husband and two daughters in a little village near Cambridge and tries to avoid being mistaken for a tourist.

Alex is only intermittently present in the real world. She has lead a Saxon shield wall into battle, toiled as a Georgian kitchen maid, and recently taken up an 800 year old form of English folk dance, but she still hasn’t learned to operate a mobile phone.

You can find Alex on

her website,Facebook,Twitter or her Goodreads page

 

Here are Charlie and Owen from the Dr. Fell series transported back in time to some anachronistic and unspecified College Compleat with random Captalization and Over-Excited Verbs.  Plus, some Extraneous Authorial Actions and Meta-Moments and an UnWarranted Instrusion from the Wrong Tom Brown.

Non amo te, Dickus Spotticus

Charles T Winkerton inspected the contents of his package glumly.  His assignation with a Burly Brute down by the waterfront had left traces, nay, irrefutable evidence, nay, the Mark of the Beast was upon him.

He rebuttoned his placket, and whimpered.  His bosom buddy and boon companion would be here at any moment and he was afflicted! Sorely stricken!  And there was the small matter of his twice-skipped meeting with his Nemesis Tutor, Dr. Benjamin Rock. His Sensible Cousin, Richard Winkerton, should have arrived last night to rescue him from his Muddle. It wasn’t like Cousin Richard to be late.

“Woe!” wailed Charlie.

There was a tap at the door, and Charlie bit his pouting lips and flung the door open.  At least he would look blooming and pink-mouthed for his Best Friend, Owen, and would not be reproached for being Out of Looks.

“Beloved Boy!” he trilled, and then gulped.  It was his Formidable Landlady, Katherine de Medusa. 

“Hello Kitty,” simpered Charlie, hoping his Charms would be Lucky. 

“You’ve been summoned. The Proctor has had enough of your dockside exploits, playing hooky, and all around failure to be a Serious Student.”

“Hooker!” wailed Charlie. “But I’m free!” He frowned. “Wait! How does he know?  How do you know?”

“I read his note,” said Katherine, and tossed Charlie a crumpled piece of paper covered in a crabbed black hand.  “And the proctor knows all!”

She flounced away passing Owen DeCoverly on the stairs.

“Well,” said Owen. “She’s in a fine taking!”

“Owen!” wept Charlie.

“Heavens,” said Owen. “Are you still declaring, declaiming, denouncing, and…”

“Oh hush up!” snapped Charlie. “I am very into verbal.”

“I think you mean oral,” corrected Owen. “A common conflation of the two words. Damn! Now you’ve got me doing it.  I should never listen to you.”

“That,” sniffed Charlie, “is aural. And, I’ll have you know, I never talk dirty!”

Owen walked backwards out the door and re-entered. “Good morning, Charlie!  How are you this fine morn? I see the roses are blooming in your cheeks!”

Charlie rechecked his placket. “Owen! I am in a Terrible Situation!”

“Again?” said Owen, resisting his urge to yawn his reply.

“Yes,” said Charlie, so distressed that he forgot to Verb.  He flopped into a chair and then sprang up again as the Burly Brute’s Bestowal Bit him in the Butt.

Owen sniggered. “Another Fundamental Problem?”

Charlie checked his placket yet again.  “Stop it, Owen!”

“Let me get to the Bottom of the Matter,” giggled Owen taking over the verb duties.

Charlie rolled his eyes and huffed. “Owen! Cousin Richard promised he’d take my Oral Exam for me and he’s not here! ”

Owen’s chortles crescendoed and cascaded and Charlie Tossed the Dictionary out of the window.

“Plain speaking,” he exhorted, and glared at the final Said Synonym as it Sailed towards Defenestration.

Owen nodded, and took a deep breath. “Carry on,” he said. 

Charlie and Owen paused to check for Verbs, and then they continued. 

“And now I’ve been summoned to the Ologist’s Office!”

“I don’t think you should call him that,” said Owen. “A Slip of the Tongue could be your Doom.”

“Very well, The Proctor wants to see me.  I think my Tutor has sent me to have all my crimes dealt with in One Fell Swoop.”

“Oh dear,” said Owen. “He’s going to switch you?”

“No, pay attention!  I was going to switch with Richard!”

Owen put his head in his hands. Conversing with Charlie made his brain hurt.

“You’ll have to face him.  Tell him the truth about whatever he asks. You know what he’s like about Fallacious Boys.”

“Owen! I never – “

“That’s not what Dr. Benjamin Rock’s valet says.”

Charlie blushed.  Was his prowess Common Knowledge?

Owen patted his arm. “Charlie, no one thinks you passed your first year exams any other way.”

“Oh! Oh!  So not fair!  I did pass them!  I’m a pineapple of perspiration and knowledge.”

“I think I need a verb back,” hooted Owen. “Charlie, go to his study and see what he wants. Remember: a switch in time saves nine!” 

“Oh, hush up,” whimpered Charlie succumbing to a verb.  “If only Richard were here.  He knows how to Handle a Pickle.”

Owen hooked his arm in Charlie’s and walked him across the quad. 

“I’m going to my execution! I’m going to be beheaded!”

“Doing it a Little Too Brown,” said Owen as they paused while a man flashed by in pursuit of a Tom cat.

“I’m like Lady Jane Grey!” wailed Charlie. 

“You’re nothing like her!” said Owen. “She was only a queen for nine days.”

They paused at the Door of Despair.  Charlie quavered and quivered.  He raised his hand to knock. “I do not like thee, Dr. Fell,” he whispered. “The reason why I cannot tell… wait yes, I can!  It’s because you are Mean and have a Switch.” 

Owen grabbed his wrist. “Wait! Charlie! I think I’ve Spotted your Dick!”

Charlie checked his placket and sighed in relief. He was still buttoned and, oh!, his Sensible Cousin Richard was crossing the quad.

He would not have to face the Proctor without his Stalwart Supporter after all.

www.SydMcGinley.com

www.InLocoDomini.com

Apologies for the Faint Smell of Fish (starring the actor laddies from Home Fires Burning)

“Apologies, apologies, apologies, apologies. For the faint, for the faint for the fai-ai-ai-ai-aint, for the faint smell,” the singer paused imperceptibly and took breath, “for the faint smell…of fish. Of fish. Of fish. Apologies, apologies, for the faint…” and she was off again.

Toby groaned. Modern avante bloody guard opera? You could go and stuff it. Give him a nice Gilbert and Sullivan patter song, any day, or something swish by Cole Porter, but not this load of old cobblers’.

“Remind me why we’re here,” he whispered into Alasdair’s ear.

“Supporting the boss.” Alasdair grimaced, making his heavily insured eyebrow dance an expressive jig.  “Surely you can’t have forgotten his protégée? She’s loud enough.”

“Protégée? Is that what they’re calling it this week?” The girl didn’t have a bad voice, she was pretty enough—in a Junoesque way—but why on earth had she decided to launch her career in such a dire production? The Fishmonger’s Daughter. Even the title made your flesh creep.

***

“This should earn us plenty of credit.” Toby sighed. The relief of the interval, the even greater relief of the bar and a glass of red wine, the greatest relief of their companions for the evening having gone to powder their noses—at least he and Alasdair could steal one moment of quiet pleasure.

“Not the best faux-girlfriends they’ve ever foisted on us.” The eyebrow flew up again.

“More ‘protégées’, do you think?” Toby shrugged. “Still, if we smile for the cameras and applaud in all the right places, we’ll get to go to the bucks’ do.”

Boxing, Bethnal Green, black tie and not a woman in sight. Landseer actors out in droves to promote the new film about a gentlemen boxer of Victorian times. Toby couldn’t wait. Maybe there’d be pre-bout singing—it couldn’t be worse than what they’d had to endure in the first few acts here.

“I’ve never been to a boxing match before.” Alasdair seemed equally delighted at the prospect. “Will there be lots of blood?”

“Gallons, I imagine. And styptic pencils and grease and all sorts of black arts being practiced in the corners.” Toby laughed. “Good, honest sport. None of your sissy rubbish.” The last remark had not been just for the benefit of bystanders. Gay they might be, but effeminate they were not—which was all to the good as far as the studio was concerned.

“I’d like to see you try it.” The glint in Alasdair’s eye—the same glint he’d used in their pirate film—spoke volumes.

“Me in shorts, dripping sweat?”

Alasdair swallowed hard, concentrated on his wine glass and whispered, “Stop it” from the corner of his mouth.

“Landseer wouldn’t let me. Spoil my looks.” Toby grinned. “And here come the girls.”

“Maybe that’s a lucky rescue, for once.” Alasdair got his best welcoming smile ready.

The five minute bell sounded.

“Seconds out, round two!” Toby said, brightly. “Prepared for more haddock, ladies?”

The girls giggled, Alasdair rolled his eyes. Business as usual.

Although Toby could have sworn a certain voice breathed, “Wait till I get you on the canvas”, in his ear as they sauntered back to their seats.

“God damn, son of a bitch!”   Corporal Chet Herbert usually watched his language when he was working with a jump class, but with no officers or ladies present, he felt free to express himself as the tiny figure suspended from its silken canopy drifted further away from his pursuing Jeep.  Chet hadn’t expected all the trainees to hit the target zone on their first drop, but how the hell had Valenti managed to not only miss the field, but wind up miles away, in the only clump of trees downwind of the base?

On the other hand, it was a beautiful June day, and if he’d been given the choice of helping a bunch of green paratroopers recapture their chutes and stuff them into ditty bags or taking a quiet drive out into the countryside… he’d have chosen to be right where he was.

The chute went into the trees about a mile from the road—but it did not emerge on other other side.  Chet downshifted, leaving the paved road for gravel, hoping the little bastard wasn’t caught too far up to get at.

Of all the men to jump today, it would be Valenti.  PFC Eddie Valenti, small but tough, snapping black eyes and a ready grin, the only guy in the bunch who had the nerve to read poetry off-duty, a book he claimed his mother had sent with him. “Ma used to teach school,” Valenti said when another would-be paratrooper challenged him. “She says I should read some good books. You tellin’ me I shouldn’t listen to my mother?”

And the crazy thing was – Valenti pulled it off.   “This guy Whitman, he was a real man.  Listen to this:

‘An Army Corps on the March

With its cloud of skirmishers in advance,

With now the sound of a single shot snapping like a whip,

And now an irregular volley,

The swarming ranks press on and on, the dense brigades press on

Glittering dimly, toiling under the sun—the dust cover’d men

In columns rise and fall to the undulations of the ground

With artillery interspers’d—the wheels rumble, the horses sweat

As the army corps advances.”
Yeah, well… Chet knew that book, parts of it by heart.  He knew there was a lot more in there besides military poems and “Oh Captain, My Captain.”   There were love poems in there, love poems written from one man to another, and sometimes when Valenti  caught Chet’s eye, he smiled as though they shared some kind of secret.

Eddie Valenti was handsome as the devil.

Eddie Valenti was dangerous.

But, Chet reminded himself, training wouldn’t last forever, and before too long, Eddie Valenti would be shipped off to Korea, while Chet, with his slightly crooked spine that would not stand up to a march with full pack, would stay here to help train young men to jump out of airplanes without killing themselves in the process.  He would be lonely, but he was used to that.  It was better than worrying about a court-martial.

His foot hit the clutch and he was braking almost before he recognized the flash of white that had to be the missing parachute.

A few minutes of plowing through underbrush brought Chet to the base of a bur oak tree, its massive branches reaching almost to the ground.  He could see the fabric of the chute wrapped around a branch some twenty-odd feet up, but nothing else. “Hey, Valenti, you up there?”

“Herbie, that you?”

Chet hated being called Herbie.   “You okay?”

“Yeah, but I’m stuck.  Can you come up and give me a hand?”

“Yeah, hold on.”  For a man who’d spent most of his boyhood climbing trees on the family farm, this old patriarch wasn’t even a challenge.  The limbs were perfectly spaced for a climb, his boots dug into the rugged bark, and it was cool and pleasant up here in the breezy shade.

He spotted Valenti and had to laugh.  Somehow or other, he was lying atop a limb nearly as wide as his own body, head-downward.  His chute was caught on a dead branch just below him.  “How the hell did you do that?”

“You got me, buddy.  The tree snagged it and I got flipped up here –the damn harness is so tight I can’t get my hand into my pocket for my knife, and I think the quick-release is jammed.”

“Just as well.  You’d drop straight down.”

“Yeah, I thought as much.  Now you’ve had your laugh, how about you get me outta here?”

Chet made sure his own knife was where he could reach it, and inched out onto the limb.  Studying the situation, he realized it wasn’t going to be as easy as he’d thought.  “Look, Valenti, you have to roll over so you can hang on while I cut you loose, otherwise you’ll slide right off the limb and probably take us both down.”

“No can do.  Can’t get hold of the tree.  Can you brace me?”

“Guess I have to.”  Chet crawled out farther and found himself staring straight into Valenti’s face, and found himself uncomfortably aware of the other man’s scent—sweat, and maybe a little fear—and had the brief thought that Eddie Valenti looked good enough to eat. “Okay—”

His words were cut off as Valenti grabbed his head and pulled him down into a kiss.  Stupid, dangerous… but he couldn’t let go of the tree and he really didn’t want to push Valenti away.  After a moment’s hesitation, he thought, the hell with it, and let his lips part, tasting the sharp mix of emotions on the other man’s mouth.  Finally, with a shiver, he pulled back.  “You crazy bastard.”

“You complaining?”

Without answering, Chet wrapped his legs around the tree limb and  got a grip on Valenti’s shoulders.  Even in a mild breeze, the chute was tugging at the jump harness.  This could be tricky. “Okay, loverboy, I’m going to shift you to the side.  You get hold of that branch and hang on, or we’ll be up here all day.”

“Suits me.”  But he cooperated, inching around until he was lying face-down and holding on for dear life.

“Okay, now raise up a little so I can hit the quick-release.”

Valenti laughed.  “Thought you’d never ask.”

Sliding his hand under Valenti’s body felt a lot more personal than Chet had intended.  But, thank God, he felt the ‘click’ and the release of tension as the swaying of the tree pulled the riser lines away from the harness.   It’d still be a pain in the ass to get that chute back, but at least he wouldn’t be hauling back a casualty.

“Now what?” Valenti asked.

“Now I back off, you follow me, and we report in that you need to repeat suspension training.  You can’t steer for shit.”

Valenti looked up from his nose-down position, his grin back and as cocky as ever.  “The hell I can’t.”   He looked Chet up and down from a distance of about a foot.  “I think I got exactly where I wanted to be.”

I’ve posted here on many occasions about how wonderful the Romantic Novelists’ Association  is. They have a members’ magazine called Romance Matters, so Alex beecroft and I gathered up our courage and submitted an article about writing gay historical romance. It appeared in yesterday’s issue!

This is the original, uncut text, which we clipped to 500 words for inclusion in the magazine.

 “Not Your Mother’s Historical Romance”

 …was the cover quote from Josh Lanyon (creator of the Adrien English Mysteries) for the book Speak Its Name, an anthology of gay historical novellas. The book contained Charlie Cochrane’s debut story and the quote greatly amused her teenage daughters as that absolutely was their “Mother’s Historical Romance”. But it got her thinking about the differences (and similarities) between straight and gay romances written within a historical setting. So she asked fellow Romantic Novelists’ Association member Alex Beecroft to share her ideas on the subject. 

 Charlie: I suppose the first difference in gay romance is the general lack of bodices. I mean, many of my characters have them but none actually get ripped. How about your gals? 

Alex: Well, Emily certainly has one and mentions it in Captain’s Surrender, but her beau is too nice a guy to spoil a good dress.  But yes, Captain’s Surrender is the only one of my books (so far) where I’ve had a male/female romance as a sub-plot to the male/male.  Having said that, Victor Banis’s Lola Dances features a cross dressing gay man, so I wouldn’t rule bodice ripping out entirely.  Breeches ripping certainly happens (I believe I even have a breeches ripping scene in False Colors,) but I wouldn’t say that represented the entire genre.  I couldn’t see your kind and gentle young men dealing out violence to each other – even to each other’s clothes.

Maybe it’s the extent of having a wide variety of heroes and not putting as much emphasis on the overpowering nature of the hero that makes gay romance not “your mother’s romance”?  What do you think?

 Charlie: I think romance in general has moved on from my mother’s day and there’s a wide variety of heroes in gay and straight historical romance. I think one of the main differences is that we can’t have a “traditional” happy ending for our leading men. No “Reader, I married him,” moment, no big wedding or even engagement. The best we can do is to find some situation in which they can try to live together without being shunned by society or reported to the police. My Edwardian lads are living under the shadow of the fairly recent Oscar Wilde trials; at least they have a Cambridge single sex college to live in so they can hide in plain sight. How do you solve the problem?

 Alex:  That’s very true about romance moving on.  There’s really something for everyone’s tastes, these days.  But yes, it certainly presents an interesting problem, finding a happy ending which has the weight of a marriage in an era when our heroes could have been imprisoned or even executed it their relationship was suspected.  I think the male/male equivalent of the wedding is the point where the characters make a commitment to face whatever might come in the future together.  They may figure out a cover story which enables them to live together without arousing suspicion, or they may simply make that commitment to each other, leaving the reader to deduce from their prior adventures that they are cautious and clever enough to get away with it.

 Of course, the lack of a socially sanctioned wedding doesn’t mean that they can’t privately offer one another similar vows.  They can have every bit of the same emotional impact.  Even more so, perhaps, since the reader knows what an act of love in the face of all odds they represent.

 I know too that there are some readers of gay romance who might regard the traditional Happy Ever After = marriage ending as worryingly heteronormative.  What are your thoughts on that?

 Charlie: I think you’ve made a great point and, again, one that applies to straight romances, where a big white wedding isn’t necessarily everyone’s idea of the “must have” happy ending.

 Another aspect of romances is the “tension along the way”, you know, the complication/estrangement that has to be overcome en route to the HEA. I suspect that’s an area where gay fiction has an inbuilt advantage, especially historical, as the relationship was illegal and generally viewed as immoral. Actually, in some parts of the world either or both of those would apply today.

 Of course, that doesn’t mean we can be lazy and just use the ‘how do we avoid discovery’ as our only cause of dramatic tension; we have arguments, misunderstandings, temptations, all the story threads that crop up in straight romances. What’s your favourite “boy temporarily loses boy” moment from your books?

 Alex: I’d say it was the incident in John’s cabin in False Colors, just after the ship has almost sunk in the Arctic.  The two heroes have been alternately pursuing each other and spurning each other for a while now, and Alfie, feeling terribly bitter due to bereavement and misunderstanding, makes an absolutely disastrous attempt on John’s virtue in order to teach John a lesson.  John – who’s a highly strung mixture of very sensitive and very proud – realizes that Alfie is doing this to put him in his place and goes ballistic with outrage.  It’s hard to explain in one paragraph, because there’s a whole book of misunderstandings and hurts that lead up to it, but it’s simultaneously their lowest ebb, and a sign that things are beginning to thaw between them and that there’s hope there still.

 How about you?

 Charlie: I’ve got two. One of them’s in my ongoing Cambridge Fellows series, where Jonty and Orlando finally seem to have settled into a nice, comfortable “looks to the outside world like a bachelor existence”, only for some awful events from Jonty’s past to rear their heads. The lads have to work through a lot of emotional and ethical complications together, but emerge stronger. The other’s a bit more light hearted, from an Austenesque short story, The Shade on a Fine Day, where it needs ghostly/angelic intervention to get my leading man to pluck up the courage to act.

 It’s been fun picking your brains – anything you want to add about the differences you’ve found between gay and straight historical romance?

 Alex: Well, thanks for having me!  It’s an interesting topic and I’m glad we got to talk about it.  I’m inclined to cheat on this last question, though, and say that despite any differences occasioned by the fact that you’ve got two men instead of one man, one woman, still the ways in which they are similar outnumber the differences.  After all, a romance is about two people falling in love and committing to that relationship despite the problems they face.  The external problems the characters face may be incomparably greater due to society’s disapproval, but internally I don’t think that love is any different.  Nor is the process of two independent personalities learning to live with each other any less complex when it’s two men (or two women) together instead of one of each.

China has a long history of tolerance towards homosexuality, beginning from the first references to same-sex relationships in the records of the Shang Dynasty (16th-11th centuries BC) and ending (after a rather shaky period from 1740 onwards) with the persecution of homosexuals during the Cultural Revolution. That’s over three thousand years of a society that occasionally celebrated same-sex love, occasionally denigrated it, but more often than not, just let people get on with it.

In typical elliptic style—because direct talk of sexual matters was considered unbelievably vulgar—Chinese literature referenced homosexual acts by means of phrases such as ‘cut sleeve’, ‘bitten peach’, or by name-dropping gay historical figures. The most famous stories are of Mi Zi Xia and his royal lover, Duke Ling of Wei, who shared a peach (yutao, ‘leftover peach’); and Emperor Ai, who cut off his sleeve to avoid disturbing his sleeping lover Dong Xian, which created a court trend whereby everyone went around cutting their sleeves (duanxiu, ‘breaking the sleeve’).

Qu Yuan, an admired poet of the Warring States period (340-278 BC), wrote poems to his lover, the King of Chu. Historical documents such as Sima Qian’s Memoirs of the Historian and the exhaustive dynastic records of the Han dynasty list scores of male favourites of the ruling monarchs. Throughout the Western Han dynasty (206 BC-23 AD), ten of the thirteen emperors took male lovers in addition to the necessary wives and concubines. Sima Qian wrote that the male favourites were often admired more for their skills in war, administration, or cultural pursuits than for their beauty.


My favourite of the Western Han emperors, Han WuDi (‘the Martial Emperor’)—or Liu Che, to give him his real name—was one of these ‘bisexual’ emperors. Liu Che liked to keep things within family units, too—his male lovers included an uncle and nephew, plus the famous musician Li Yan Nian and Yan Nian’s sister, Lady Li. My novella Fall of a State (available now from Dreamspinner Press) is a somewhat fluffy version of the relationship between Liu Che and his musician. Li Yan Nian is credited with writing the ‘Northern Beauty’ song (a version of which appears in the film House of Flying Daggers when Zhang ZiYi performs for Takeshi Kaneshiro), which—due to the Chinese language having no gender for its nouns and pronouns—means the Beauty could refer equally to a man or a woman. In my story, it does both.

During the period of disunion (265-589), in which six separate dynasties ruled and overlapped, the historians of the Liu Song dynasty record that homosexuality was as common as heterosexuality:

“All the gentlemen and officials esteemed it. All men in the realm followed this fashion to the extent that husbands and wives were estranged. Resentful unmarried women became jealous.”

Efforts were made during the Tang dynasty (618-907) to restore more of a ‘traditional’ moral order. Somewhat ironically, the first Crown Prince of the dynasty, Li Chen Qian, was gay. He was later removed from succession, though not for that reason.

By the time of the Song dynasty (960-1279), an increase in urbanisation and the introduction of paper money caused a growth in prostitution. A law was passed against male prostitution, but it seemed not to have been enforced with any rigour. The merchant classes, suddenly given a voice in the historical and literary records, had money to spend and lusts to fulfil. With their respectable wives raising families at home, the merchants went out partying with pretty young sing-song boys.

[Rest of the post cut because of explicit historical erotic images - NSFW!] (more…)

Call for Submissions: Vintage

Pictures and photographs capture our faces and preserve our memories. Generations later, they spark our imaginations, making us wonder: Who is in the picture? What are they doing? How are they feeling?

Vintage is a call for written works inspired by pictures or photographs. We are looking for authors who will tell us the story behind those two men on the beach…or standing next to bench…or staring out a window…or looking oddly shy in each other’s presence. We want high quality, original fiction that will draw the reader into world of the photo or picture, to share and reminisce.

Guidelines

Length: Short novels, 10K to 50K words

Theme: Historical love stories that feature a relationship between male same-sex couples, inspired by a picture or photograph. While the actual taking of the photograph (or painting of the picture) does not need to be included in the narrative, the picture/photo does need to be included in the storyline. If you want examples of what we are thinking of, you might want to read Our One and Only by E.N. Holland or Lover’s Knot by Donald Hardy (see in particular, pp. 259-260 and p. 324).

For the purposes of this collection, “historical” is defined as any time in history in which a photograph or painted picture could be produced, with a cut-off date of 1985. Love stories, to us, are those stories that tell of a relationship in a realistic and meaningful way. We do not have a requirement for a “happy ever after” or a “happy for now” ending although that certainly would be acceptable. We recognize the challenges that same-sex couples have faced in the past (and continue to face, but that’s another story) and that can be portrayed, although we also would like these relationships shown in a loving and positive way, to the extent that is possible, given time and circumstance.

Characters can be any age from 15 on up. For stories that feature characters under the age of 18, the relationship must be consensual and presented in a positive light. Teenagers exploring a first, forbidden love would be fine; an older man raping a younger boy would not. It should go without saying but we’ll say it anyway: no incest or bestiality. No vampires or werewolves, no paranormals, although if a story featured a ghost in the old fashioned, classic definition of a ghost story, that would be considered. Again, Lover’s Knot is a good example of the latter.

As these are love stories, scenes of characters making love can certainly be included but we do not have a requirement for a set number of sex scenes or level of explicitness. Let your own judgment be your guide: if it is important to the story, include it; if not, leave it out. In general, we are looking for books written for an adult audience that will appeal to a wide variety of readers.

Submissions

Query: Send an email to publisher@bcpinepress.com . Include Query: Vintage and the proposed title of your book in the subject line. In the body of the email, include a one paragraph (150-200 word) synopsis of the story. Attach to the email: 1) the photo/picture that inspired you; and 2) the first 5000 words of your story, in a Word doc or PDF. Manuscripts do not need to be complete to be submitted. If an incomplete manuscript is accepted, the completed manuscript will be due two (2) months after the final contract is negotiated and signed. Publication will be two (2) months after a final, completed, edited manuscript is signed off by the author and accepted by the publisher.

Please include your contact information including name, address, email address, and phone number. Queries can be submitted under a pen name, if one is used, although a legal name will be required for a contract, if one is offered.

Queries will be acknowledged upon receipt. A final decision on acceptance/rejection will be made within two (2) weeks. If you do not receive an acknowledgement, please re-send, as messages do get lost in cyberspace.

Photograph/Picture and Cover: All books in the Vintage series will use the template cover, as illustrated here, substituting the author’s name, book title, and photograph/picture. Photographs/pictures must be in the public domain or you must have documented permission for its use.

Production, Sales, and Payment

Production: All books will be edited by BCPP staff. Books will be assigned an ISBN and listed in Books in Print. Covers, as noted above, will use the Vintage template.

Format: eBook only. BCPP produces books in a variety of formats that can be read on multiple devices, including laptops/PCs, smartphones/PDAs, iPhones/iPads, the Nook, the Sony e-reader, and the Amazon Kindle. Books are sold in several outlets including Amazon, All Romance ebooks, and OmniLit. We do not sell in the Sony store, although books are sold in a format that is readable on the Sony e-reader. Plans are in the works to sell in the AppleStore.

Pricing: Books will priced and sold according to length: up to 15K words, $2.99; 15K to 30K words, $3.99; 30K words and above, $5.99.

Royalties and Advances: BCPP is a traditional royalty paying publisher. At the time the book is deployed for sale at the outlets through which we sell, an advance (against royalties) will be paid, based on length: up to 15K words, $25; 15K to 30K words, $50; 30K words and above, $100. After that, royalties are paid quarterly at a rate of 40% of the net proceeds to the publisher.

Marketing: Marketing is a joint effort between the author and the publisher. All Vintage books will be featured on the Bristlecone Pine Press website (www.bcpinepress.com) and included in our catalog. We will submit review copies to popular review sites, including Speak Its Name and Reviews by Jessewave. We hope that the Vintage books become a recognizable and popular series that readers will look forward to and purchase impulsively.

Deadline

This is an ongoing call for submissions. At present there is no deadline. Submissions are welcome at any time. Please feel free to direct questions about this call to the publisher, Leslie H. Nicoll, at publisher@bcpinepress.com.

The Bristlecone Pine Press editorial team looks forward to hearing from you!

Posted by Erastes

I’m proud to introduce you to Last Gasp – a four novella anthology of gay historical romance published by Noble Romance.

The book is available as an ebook at the moment, but will be out in print at some point, if not this year, definitely next.

When Noble Romance approached me about collating a gay historical anthology I was a little stumped, I knew I needed a theme but wasn’t sure what. Chris Smith suggested “civilisations on the brink of change–a last gasp kind of idea” which I knew was perfect.

The stories I had submitted — particularly the three I chose to accompany mine — surprised me. I was expecting the obvious “lost civilisations” like the Incas or the Deep South pre the American Civil War, but I didn’t get those.  After all, I suppose all civilisations are lost, aren’t they?

Still, I think you will enjoy the stories–they are all from eras and places on the globe that haven’t been dealt with before: Syria in the Edwardian era, the Yukon Gold Rush in 1898, Hong Kong’s first Opium war in the 1830′s, and Italy between the two world wars.

Here’s the blurbs of the stories:

Tributary by Erastes

It’s 1936 and a generation of disaffected youth waits in the space between a war that destroyed many of their friends and family, and a war they know is bound to come. Guy Mason wanders through Italy, bored and restless for reasons he can’t even name, and stops at the Hotel Vista, high in the mountains of Lombardy. There, he meets scientist James Calloway and his secretary, Louis Chambers, and it’s there that the meandering stream of Guy’s life changes course forever.

The White Empire by Chris Smith

Edgar Vaughan sincerely believes that six-thousand miles is enough to give him a fresh start. Escaping in 1838 from the drawing rooms of Belgravia and the constraints of his landed family, he takes up missionary work in the trading post of Hong Kong. On arrival, he finds the region on the cusp of war; the Chinese Emperor has outlawed the importation of opium — the key link in the trade of the East India Company. Between Edgar’s sense of isolation, the sight of the puling opium addicts, and one memorable encounter with a man in a peacock waistcoat, Edgar finds himself embroiled in the very marrow of the British Empire’s machinations. He finds himself torn between espousing the expeditious whilst protecting his new acquaintance, and doing what is right and risking the wrath of the British Empire.

Sand by Charlie Cochrane

“Safe upon solid rock the ugly houses stand: Come and see my shining palace built upon the sand.”

People come to Syria for many reasons; tourism, archaeology, or because they need to leave Edwardian England to escape potential disgrace. Andrew Parks is one of those, burying past heartache and scandal among the tombs.

Charles Cusiter has travelled here as well, as chaperone to a friend whose fondness for the opposite sex gets him into too much trouble at home. Out in the desert there aren’t any women to turn Bernard’s head – just the ubiquitous sand.

The desert works its magic on Charles, softening his heart and drawing him towards Andrew. Not even a potentially fatal scorpion sting can overcome the power this strange land exerts.

The Ninth Language by Jordan Taylor

Thousands of outsiders descend on Canada’s Yukon Territory during the 1898 gold rush, wreaking havoc on the landscape and the indigenous people who live there. Amid the backdrop of this once pristine land, a man struggling against the destruction of his home and culture finds himself indebted to one of the men causing it. These two strangers discover solace and wholeness where they least expect it: each other.

Want to know more? All four authors will be over at the Speak Its Name yahoo group today, sharing excerpts doing giveaways, asking questions and answering any questions you may have! We’ll also be offering a giveaway of the anthology during the chat – but I’ll also offer one here, to one commenter.  All you need to do is comment and I’ll announce the winner in 24 hours.

Hope to see you at the chat later – starts at 12 noon UK time!

TOP FACTS

* Sadly not yet published by Mills and Boon.
* Covers. Started naff – getting better all the time.

* Many buttons
* Interesting lube possibilities
IN A NUTSHELL

* There’s not enough of it, for a start.
* Some Gay Historicals address the very real problems of being gay in a time when it wasn’t just unacceptable, it was reviled and illegal. (Basically after Christianity kicked in) However, there were times when man on man love wasn’t just acceptable, it was a normal part of everyday life. (Οι Έλληνες είχαν μια λέξη για το έργο)
* Thankfully, due to pronouns they are not called things like “The Mediterranean Tycoon’s Depraved Heiress” (With thanks to the Random Romance Title Generator)

THE HEROES

Not too different from the heroes in other historical romances. They are generally aristocratic (tall and handsome goes without saying – plus they are ALWAYS – always hung like horses, this is the law.)

So, create your character: Rich? check. Commanding? check. Handsome? check. Cock of unusual size?  Check and double check.
OK, you can stop checking now. Hello! Stop checking!

THE, er,  OTHER HEROES

Now here you can play around a little. You can either make your other hero a match for your arrogant alpha in every sense of the word (and sit back and watch those sparks fly and those buttons go flying (gotta have flying buttons, more later) OR you can create a sensitive little soul. A downtrodden artist, perhaps, or an impoverished tutor. A kidnapped sex slave or an abused and rescued young man. As long as you get a vast gulf between your alpha and your omega, it doesn’t really matter. Any excuse to make that boy cry his little heart out because the rough tough alpha doesn’t know how to handle him. Or rather – he doesn’t know how to handle his feelings – he knows how to handle him all right. (hur hur)

The important thing is the desecration of innocence™ – but don’t worry. No matter how nasty the alpha is, your sensitive soul will fall in love with him as he tops from the bottom.

THE BEST THING ABOUT WRITING GAY HISTORICALS
* Buttons. Oh GOD the buttons. I’ve coined the term breeches ripper before, but for me waistcoat ripping is far more exciting. Also cravats. You can have a LOT of fun with cravats.
* UST. (No, no, not there, Unresolved Sexual Tension. Buckets and buckets of it. “I’m homosexual!++ Argh! God he’s pretty. I wonder if he’s homosexual too? How can I let him know? What if he’s not? All right… so he is – he’s sleeping with Lord [Whossit] – how can I get him?”A writer of gay historicals have immense fun torturing her characters – making every glance count, and when one’s passing the port (to the left, of course) at dinner, fingertips are just bound to brush against each other.
* It’s much easier to get men together on a day-to-day basis. Whereas a hetero historical writer will have to write about dances, and chaperones and perhaps elopements men can simply hang out with each other, ride in each other’s carriages (and no, that’s not a euphemism!) without anyone fainting or ruining anyone’s reputation. Of course it’s pretty difficult to get them into sexual situation, but that’s another post…
*I think I may have already mentioned buttons…
THE BEST THING ABOUT READING GAY HISTORICALS

* Buttons! Ok, Is it just me and the buttons?
* Appreciating that the author knows exactly what the difference is between a sailor’s whipping and a double fisherman but that you don’t need to know anything as silly as long as the hero gets tied up.
* Sponge baths.
* Cocks! (sorry, but it did have to be said.) Lots of ‘em. Members, yards, rods, poles, perches, arbor vitae, gaying instrument. (yes, really.)

TOP TIP: beige…biscuit…blasé bleeding anachronisms

Check check check. You may think that it’s all right to say your hero’s breeches are beige but it wasn’t so and any eagle eyed reader will Mock You. They will, however realise if you are trying and make a small slip-up, but they won’t appreciate sloppy (or no) research, modern day speech patterns and contemporary men in fancy dress.

WHAT NOT TO SAY

* “Where’s the lube?”
* He climaxed, spunk spurting over his fingers.
* “I want to fuck his sweet hairy ass.”

WHAT TO SAY

* “Spit, and have done, man.” (other lubricants are available…)
* GOOD LORD, SHAG HIM ALREADY!
* I’m learning something! Oooo… cocks….

Over to you…

* What gay historicals would you like to see?
* What cliches are you sick of?
* Do you want better covers?
* Anything else?



++homosexual is also anachronistic until the early 20th century, too.

(Previously published on Lust Bites)

It’s a problem that any historical author faces–or should do if they are doing their job and their research.

We all know that life wasn’t terribly political correct in times other than ours. I shall skirt around the fact that political correctness can be a) rather subjective and b) still a problem today.

But go back, even a very short time and you have to deal with all sorts of problems.

(more…)

In the interview posted yesterday, I stated that the very first book the Bristlecone Pine Press published was L.A. Heat by P.A. Brown which was wrong. Two months prior, I had launched Bristlecone with The Erotic Etudes by E.L. van Hine, a lyrical and deeply moving story about Robert Schumann, imagined from his diaries and writings. Erastes favorably reviewed the book on Speak Its Name; her review can be read here.

The Erotic Etudes can be purchased in a Kindle version from Amazon.com; for a variety of devices from Mobipocket.com and in print, also from Amazon.

My apologies to the author, E.L. van Hine for the error and oversight. Certainly I should have known better!

Leslie

Join us starting Tuesday at Speak Its Name http://groups. yahoo.com/ group/SpeakItsN ame/ for a celebration of the relaunch of some popular m/m historical titles and a sneak preview of a new m/m historical anthology. We’ll have interviews, chats, excerpts, and prizes!

covers

Cheyenne Publications, a small GLBT-oriented press helmed by publisher and author Mark Probst, will be publishing the print versions of Erastes’ Frost Fair, Lee Rowan’s own Royal Navy series (formerly the Articles of War series), and Speak its Name, a trilogy that includes Charlie Cochrane’s first published work, Aftermath, Erastes’ Hard and Fast and Lee Rowan’s Gentleman’s Gentleman.

Leslie Nichol, head of Bristlecone Pine Press, will handle the e-book editions.  Frost Fair, Ransom and Winds of Change are available as ebook versions in all the normal places. Both publishers will be on hand to answer questions, so if you have questions about the nuts-and-bolts, here’s your chance!

Tuesday: Publisher interviews, Author chats with Erastes and Lee Rowan and excerpts from the three releases: Frost Fair, Ransom, and Winds of Change.

Wednesday:
Spotlights on Eye of the Storm and Speak Its Name Trilogy, coming September 14 and October 26.

Friday: What else is coming from Cheyenne Publishing and Bristlecone Pine Press — Hidden Conflict: Tales of Lost Voices from Battle.

* * * *

The lineup from Cheyenne and BCPP (and yes, print and e-books on the same schedule!)

August 1, 2009: Frost Fair, Ransom and Winds of Change (Royal Navy series)

September 14, 2009 Eye of the Storm (Royal Navy series)

October 26 2009 Speak Its Name Trilogy

November 11: Hidden Conflict: Tales of Lost Voices from Battle

December 7, 2009 Walking Wounded

January 1, 2010 Home is the Sailor (NEW Royal Navy novel!)

March 1, 2010 Sail Away (anthology, Royal Navy series)

If you’re not a member of Speak Its Name, all you have to do is request membership –  it’s invite-only to keep out the porno spammers.  (And hey, how many of us really want or need to enhance our male members or look at grainy pictures of ‘slutty housewives’? )

See you there!

No, not that! While I prefer my heroes hard in my m/m historical romances, I don’t find it particularly difficult to get them hard. No, what I’m referring to is the HEA (happily ever after) in a m/m historical romance, Regency-set romances to be specific.

For those of you who aren’t familiar with the Regency time period in English history, it technically began in 1811, when the king’s son (George, Prince of Wales) was appointed Regent, and ended in 1820,when King George III died. But since the king’s illness (i.e. madness) started earlier than 1811, an extended or greater Regency time period is commonly used and goes from around 1790 to 1830. I personally prefer to set my books around 1820, give or take a couple years. Why? Because men’s trousers became accepted as eveningwear around 1816. I prefer my men in trousers versus breeches or pantaloons. Plus, I’m not a huge Napoleonic war buff. Therefore, I set the time frame for my stories accordingly.

The Regency is bracketed by the Georgian era (think powered wigs and highly stylized clothing – i.e. the movie Dangerous Liaisons) and the Victorian era (think uptight and VERY restrained). The Mr.Darcygency era is very elegant, with a strong emphasis on proper manners and spotless reputations. You get a mix of the extravagance of the Georgian era with the Victorian preoccupation with maintaining appearances. Makes for a very interesting time period to write in…at least I think so. And yes, I just had to throw the picture of Colin Firth from the movie Pride and Prejudice in there – I think Mr. Darcy just epitomized the Regency period. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, it really is a shame Mr. Darcy and Mr. Bingley never hooked up. They would have been so great together!!

All right. Enough of the primer on the Regency and of my own fantasies involving Bingley and Darcy. Back to the topic of this post. In the Regency time period homosexuality was not just frowned upon by Society, but it was illegal. If you were convicted of ‘buggery’, you could be sentenced to death. And yes, they did have trials and they did hang men if convicted. In fact, the executions were public affairs and people gathered outside the prison to watch the poor fellow(s) die. Rather gruesome afternoon outing, if you ask me, but I guess there were some back then who found watching an execution a form of entertainment. The newspapers of the day seldom used the term ‘buggery’ in articles about trials and convictions. It was commonly referred to as an ‘unnatural crime’ – just further drives home how they thought of homosexuality.

Therefore when it comes to writing a m/m Regency-set romance, the whole ‘could get hanged if word got out’ thing is something that authors can’t ignore. It’s a constant opposing force acting on the romance. Add to that Society’s expectations that men of good families marry well (not necessarily for love, but to form alliances with other families, increase a family’s wealth or land holdings, etc) and the preoccupation for maintaining a spotless reputation, and it makes crafting a HEA for a gay couple very difficult. If a man held a title or was an heir to a title, then it was expected he marry and produce the required heir and a spare. Duty to one’s family was very important, and ingrained in men at a very young age.

So, given all that, is it possible to have a HEA in a Regency gay romance? Of course. But it is a challenge, and it most certainly had to have been a challenge for gay men in the time period. The constant need for discretion, to keep their love for one another behind closed doors, the fear of being discovered…it must have been a horrible truth to have to live with, and I can just imagine that it tried many a relationship.

Are you wondering yet how a gay couple could realistically have a HEA? I hope so, as I’m going to give you some Object_of_His_Desire 150x225examples from my own work, and from another author’s work. In Object of His Desire, Arsen’s a titled lord (the Marquis of Somerville) yet he has no desire to marry. Realistically, while most lords married, not every titled lord married. In Arsen’s case, he didn’t wish to marry, and was willing to let the title go to one of his brothers’ sons. Conveniently, he had four brothers, one of which already had an heir. So, the title would stay within the immediate family. As for the social pressures, Arsen had had enough of London and wished to remain at his remote Durham estate (in northern England). Henry, the other hero, was the 3rd son of a country gentleman. Since his family wasn’t titled, he didn’t have the huge pressure to produce an heir in the event his elder brothers died without issue (i.e. didn’t have any kids or only had daughters). The book ends with Henry agreeing to remain at Arsen’s country estate, where they would have greater freedom than in London, but would still need to be careful. Arsen had servants, and while they were loyal, one can never predict what employees will do (disgruntled employees and all that). So no heavy make-out sessions for Henry and Arsen at the breakfast table, but at least I tried to craft it so that the constant pressing threat of discovery would be lessened.

AM_BoundtoHim_coversmAnother example would be Bound by Deception. The two heroes, Vincent and Oliver, are both second sons to marquises, and as such are aware of the expectations placed on men of their station. In Vincent’s case, he was also very concerned about appearances. He strove to be the perfect gentleman, so his desires for Oliver were contrary to his own expectations of himself, and something he needed to come to terms with before the two men could have their HEA. Bound by Deception ends with Vincent coming to terms with his desires, and Bound to Him continues their relationship. It picks up six months after Bound by Deception, and in it I tried to give a glimpse for what it could have been like for a committed gay couple in Regency England. Of course, Vincent is still very concerned about appearances, and their relationship is further tested by the social expectations of the time period. Duty to one’s family, and all that. And, of course, you’ll have to get the book to see if the two men are able to maintain their HEA.

One last example for you, and it’s different than my own works because it deals with a widower. In Shawn Lane’s anotherchance_150x200Another Chance, both heroes are titled lords. Aubrey, Viscount Rothton, has a title though it’s not much of one anymore. One night during their last year at Oxford, Aubrey and his friend Daniel had a scandalous encounter in a carriage. But before their relationship could go any further, Daniel’s father unexpectedly died and Daniel became the Earl of Greystone. He married and produced the required heir and a daughter. Years later, his wife passes away and he’s left a widower. He and Aubrey reconnect, yet even though Daniel has already satisfied the ‘heir’ requirement, there are still many obstacles in the path to their HEA. Since he has children who will someday move about Society, he needs to keep up appearances and continue to move about the ton. Plus, well, he has children who live with him, so he needs to keep his relationship with Aubrey hidden from them, as well. Both men are left knowing that their relationship will not be an easy one, and that they likely won’t be able to see each other often, but it’s a reality they accept in order to be together.

So you see, a HEA in a Regency-set romance is possible, but it is a challenge to craft one that is realistic to the time period. Personally, I find the HEA the hardest part of a gay historical romance, but also the most satisfying element of the story. If a relationship can survive in the Regency, then it must be very strong and meant to be. A true love match.

All right. So what do you think? Do you like to read Regency-set m/m romances? And if so, what attracts you to them?

And to give credit where credit is due, this entry was originally posted on Shawn Lane Writes Romance .

Thanks!!

-Ava

www.AvaMarch.com

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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.  

 

 

conflict200x300I 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 :)

BLURB:
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.

EXCERPT:
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?”

“Peters, sir?”

“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.

“What?”

“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.”

<end excerpt>

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]

Stevie
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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.

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 1. 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.

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 2. Casanova entertained his women by blowing up his "English overcoats" like balloons.

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.

happy_condom

Let me tell you all about my grand adventure on Wednesday…

Window

(more…)

*doffs hat and bows*

I’m Charlie Cochrane and I’d like to thank you for letting me come here and blether a while. I’m not sure I can do a good job of describing myself; ‘married, three daughters, recently published author of m/m historical romances’ seems a bit bland. Sports mad Shakespeare fan, with a not-so-secret passion for jelly babies and handsome men, fills in the portrait a bit more. Add to that the constant rejoinder of “Mother, act your age!” and you’re getting the picture.

If you want to know more, then check out http://www.lindenbayromance.com/newsletter105-2008-11-04.html

or the interview I did here
http://www.myspace.com/lindenbayromance
3rd to 7th November.
If you asked me what would constitute a typical Charlie Cochrane tale, I’d say imagine a black and white film, with two handsome, well dressed young men. Add a dash of humour, some banter, a mention or two of food and sport, a dollop of intrigue and there you have it. But don’t forget that instead of a leading lady to add the love interest, I’ll just settle for those two leading men and the romantic adventures which befall them.

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That said, my first published story, Aftermath (part of the Trilogy Speak Its Name with Lee Rowan and Erastes) isn’t so typical. It’s more angsty and a bit darker than the other things I’ve written, although it has a soft spot in my heart as it’s my ‘firstborn’. Hugo Lamont and Edward Easterby definitely fall into the ‘English stiff upper lip leading man’ category and it was interesting to explore how they would react to their mutual attraction, especially in the wake of the first World War, when (does this sound familiar?) some people had blamed the prolongation of the conflict on homosexuals, amongst others.

The plates were bare, the bottle of wine empty and the two young men on the river bank were, too full to attempt another morsel. Hugo lay back on the mossy bank and stared at the blue sky. “Today has certainly turned unseasonably warm for March, Edward, but we won’t complain in case someone hears and does something to rectify it.” Hugo was at last comfortable about using his friend’s Christian name. He’d worried about it all morning, aware that they could not continue with Lamont and Easterby, but knowing it would mean the first level of the defenses that he’d constructed for that first meeting would be breached. There were other walls, other ditches and towers, but the curtain had been broken. He wasn’t sure if he was pleased or not, this was unknown territory.

He looked up. “Come here…no, right next to me so that I can see both you and the sky at the same time.” It was as if he’d spoken his innermost thoughts and he was cross at himself for making so bold a suggestion. Words once spoken can’t be recalled and he shivered as his guest moved closer. Hugo had been very careful, when offering the caviar, not to allow even a cat’s whisker of contact. It had been his next line of defense, along with not mentioning anything personal or too close to the heart. If he could keep this as friendship, then he’d be fine—at least that’s what he kept telling himself.

It would have been terribly easy to simply reach up and draw a line down Edward’s spine. That would have been an undeniable invitation, a statement of intent. Yet Hugo still had no idea whether he wanted to go so far or whether he would want Easterby to accept the invitation if he did. This situation was unique—for once in Lamont’s life desire and friendship had coincided. Perhaps this was even the budding of love, a precious bud that could easily be nipped by the frosts of a rejected pass. The risk of making a move and having it turned down, of then losing a precious acquaintance, was far too great a one to for him to take it lightly.

http://www.lindenbayromance.com/product-trilogyno111speakitsname-7212-145.html

I was very fortunate in being able to collaborate with two such friendly and professional authors. I’ve known Lee since before ‘Ransom’ was published and we’ve always got on well. Early last year she asked me to contribute an historical m/m romance for the ‘Speak Its Name’ trilogy and in a mad moment I agreed. I admit I was a bit in awe of being in tandem with Erastes, who’s established such a reputation with ‘Standish’, but once I got to know her it all became less daunting. If we ever all got to meet up the venue probably wouldn’t be left standing.

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The first book in the Cambridge Fellows Mystery series, Lessons in Love has all the hallmarks of a Cochrane tale. Inspired by my love of detective novels, old films, Cambridge and handsome, intellectual men, this story is a romance with a mystery attached, or perhaps vice versa. There’s plenty of romantic interludes, but be warned that I write sensual rather than explicit sex scenes. My two ‘heroes’, Jonty Stewart and Orlando Coppersmith, were created out of many influences; the wonderfully contrasting protagonists in ‘Chariots of Fire’, the characters in ‘Death at the President’s Lodging’, the leading men in the radio dramas of my youth. I also wanted to create an m/m equivalent of Wimsey and Vane or Alleyn and Troy – a couple deeply in love, who also happened to solve mysteries.

“There’s some of that bottle left, Dr. Stewart, if you need something to keep out the cold.” Coppersmith raised an eyebrow in silent plea and his friend nodded his willingness to comply.

“I think that I’m beyond keeping out the cold but I might be able to persuade it to vacate the premises.” Jonty managed a grin, something Orlando could never have done, given the circumstances.

They didn’t speak a word as they crossed the courtyard, making the most of the fellows’ privilege of walking on the grass, despite the snow, which now lay an inch or two deep. The glasses they’d left half empty they now refilled.

“Here you are, Jonty, drive out the chill with this.” Orlando thrust a generous measure of port into Stewart’s hand. It was strange and endearing that Coppersmith had reverted to using his Christian name the minute they’d entered the set of rooms again.

“Thank you, Orlando—it’s been a long night and I guess this is just the beginning of many long days.” Jonty sipped the excellent vintage appreciatively and studied his companion. Coppersmith looked a broken man. It must have been a great shock to him that his nice little academic world had been sullied by something as common and grubby as a strangling. And this had followed directly after his nice little academic world being sullied by a spark of something else—desire, attraction, lust? Who knew what name to give it, but it had been there.

It would have been the easiest thing in the world for Stewart to go over, sit on the arm of Orlando’s chair and put his arm around the man’s shoulders. It certainly would have been simple twenty-four hours ago, but not now—not after whatever strange electricity had crackled between them in this very room a few hours ago. He settled for walking across and clapping Coppersmith on the back. “I’ll see you tomorrow. No, later today I suppose it would be.” He moved to the door, “Will you be all right?” What he meant was would you like me to stay? but that particular thought remained unspoken.

“I’ll be fine, thank you, Jonty.” Coppersmith produced a wan smile. “Thank you for your help tonight—thank you for everything.”

http://www.lindenbayromance.com/product-lessonsinlove-7242-145.html

Unfortunately St. Bride’s college doesn’t exist; it’s an amalgam of a number of colleges, some of which haven’t changed all that much in over a hundred years. By setting the story in that place and time, I can indulge in writing about something else I love, namely sport. Cambridge has always been a great place for games, so I can weave in the odd rugby match to the story; such a great source of angst for the people on the touchline. (In one of the later books in the series, Jonty and Orlando get to play a match against each other. There’s foul play in plenty.)

The next book in the Cambridge Mysteries series comes out on the first of February 2009 and takes the lads away from the comparative safety of the college-Where’s the best place to hide a pair of men who want to be together all the time? In a Cambridge college-to the island of Jersey, where Orlando takes his time coming to grips with keeping their relationship a secret. When a brutal murder occurs at the hotel where they’re staying, and the victim’s son makes a pass at Orlando, their holiday turns into a bit of a nightmare.
I have one more book out at present and that’s firmly in ‘black and white film’ territory, set at the time when Londoners spent every night wondering if it would be their last. This book is a free read, available from links

blitz
They never reached the fish and chip shop, the siren sounding before they’d turned the corner. The pair were forced to join the mass of humanity heading for a nearby underground station. Neither man had taken refuge in one before, always having been at their local shelters, and the sheer mass of unfamiliar, frightened humanity distressed Scarborough immensely.

They ended up sitting together, watching and waiting, sharing the odd word or a wan smile, both trying to be brave and gallant; not just in front of the families which huddled around them but in front of each other. This was no time for any display of fearfulness. Gradually they drew nearer, until they were thigh to thigh, arm to arm, and the unease of being underground as the bombers strafed the streets was replaced with the excitement of close physical contact with someone you fancied and daren’t tell. At least not in words which could be spoken here and now.

“Dr. Scarborough…” Adam tried to control the emotion in his voice.

“My name is Hugh, please use it.”

“Hugh. Didn’t you ever wish you were on active service?”

“I wanted to join the navy but my university tutor put me into this line. He said that any fool could sail a frigate, but men with brains—his words, not mine—were a rare commodity. I know that the work we do is vital, but…” Scarborough’s voice petered out, his uncertainty making itself clear. Was the closeness of their bodies distracting his train of thought as it much as it was Adam’s?

“I know.” Jackson sighed. He also couldn’t be sure of a great deal at present, except that he wanted to take Hugh to his bed. He’d felt the same since he’d first set eyes on the man but he needed to make sure he had a realistic chance. “You’d rather be doing something with a uniform to wear and a bit of glamour—and have two land girls hanging off your arm.”

“Something like that. Except for the land girls,” Hugh added, in a voice barely above a whisper and full, to Adam’s ears, of hidden meaning.

http://www.lindenbayromance.com/product-blitz-7262-145.html
It’s been great to be here, although I have to say it’s been far more daunting talking about me than writing my usual blog contributions here. Visit my website
www.charliecochrane.co.uk
or my journal http://charliecochrane.livejournal.com/ for the latest news – feel free to contact me via a comment in the journal or at charlie.cochrane@lindenbayromance.com

‘I never knew a woman brought to sea in a ship that some mischief did not befall the vessel
Admiral Cuthbert Collingwood



That ladette of the Royal Navy (movie “Carry On Jack”)

It usually starts with the question “… and what are you writing about?”

I’ll reply “historical gay romance” to keep it short. Actually, I write historical adventure with supernatural elements and gay romance. However, “romance” is all people hear, and they immediately wrinkle their noses. They think of the novelettes about handsome rich doctors and beautiful poor nurses you can buy at the newsagents. Or of a 800 page novel with a cover showing a half-naked damsel in distress, kneeling in front of Fabio with a torn shirt. To them, romance is icky. It’s not intellectual. It’s written by women wearing fedoras and read by women with no career or too much time at hand. Romance is the equivalent to stepping barefoot on a slug.

Once they learn that my stories are set in the 18th century and the main characters are serving in the Royal Navy, things get pear shaped. Accusations of “supporting imperialism and war crimes” are thrown around. The 18th century, so I’ve been told, can’t be used as background for any romance because it was a brutish age full of injustice, and placing a loving couple right in the middle of it would be far too frivolous.

Darn it, there go Aimée and Jaguar.

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Between 1905 and 1924, E M Forster published five novels, three of which – ‘A Room With a View’, ‘Howards End’ and ‘A Passage to India’ – are rightly regarded as classics. He also produced one of the most acclaimed gay historical novels. ‘Maurice’, finished in 1914, wasn’t published until after the author’s death, so it doesn’t come under my remit here. I want to explore if there were any indications of Forster’s sexuality in the books which appeared in his lifetime.

What I don’t want to do is play “hunt the closet gay character”. I once saw, in an introduction to ‘The Longest Journey’, the proposition that Rickie Elliot’s congenital lameness is perhaps a metaphor for homosexuality. Only Forster himself could answer that. What I’m looking for are little touches, scenes and characterisation, which reflect Forster’s inclinations, themselves largely unexplored at the time he was writing, according to his biographer. It was possible that the man was still sexually inexperienced when ‘Maurice’ was written.

It has to be said that, with one strange and notable exception, there isn’t a lot to show for my search.

There are the occasional touches of homoeroticism, instances of men sublimely happy in the company and contact of other men. For example, in ‘Where Angels Fear to Tread’, Philip Herriton is pulled up into a box at the opera, a box full of enthusiastic Italian men.

“Philip would have a spasm of terror at the muddle he had made. But the spasm would pass and again he would be enchanted by the kind, cheerful voices, the laughter that was never vapid, and the light caress of the arm across his back.”

Now, it’s hardly Alan Hollingshurst, is it, but this novel was published in the days when love really couldn’t speak its name, when Oscar Wilde’s trials were as close in the memory as George Michael’s coming out is in ours.

There are two instances in Forster’s books of a male friendship where one man takes umbrage at the other’s interest in women and subsequent marriage. Stuart Ansell in the ‘The Longest Journey’ even refuses to say that Rickie’s friend Agnes exists and when the pair marry, cuts himself off from them, not even answering Rickie’s letters. Similarly in ‘A Room with a View’, Mr Beebe is grieved and turns away from friendship with George Emerson when it’s plain he’s going to marry Lucy. “…he no longer interests me.” I wonder if Forster saw either of these characters as in the closet (as they would have had to be at the time) and suffering from unrequited, unrequitable, love.

When ‘Howard’s End’ was published in 1910, The Chicago Tribune thought the author was a woman. Forster was supposed to have no knowledge of sex between men and women at the time and may well have still been sexually inexperienced himself. Katherine Mansfield wrote that she was puzzled about how Helen Schlegel got pregnant, if it was “by Leonard Bast or by his fatal forgotten umbrella”. But eight years earlier he’d written the most remarkable – for our purposes – short story, ‘The Story of a Panic’.

Fourteen year old Eustace is holidaying with his aunts in Ravello. He gets lost in the woods and something (it’s never clear what – an encounter with Pan perhaps) happens to him which leaves him unnaturally happy, changed in character, and walking “with difficulty, almost with pain”. As they return to the hotel, he’s desperate to find Gennaro, one of the waiters, into whose arms he leaps, quite literally. I won’t spoil the rest of the story, there’s enough so far to be getting on with.

The interpretation which springs to mind, although Forster said he didn’t consciously mean anything like this, is a disturbing one. The waiter’s having a relationship with the boy, and they have an assignation, presumably sexual, in the woods. If the author was speaking the truth, then it seems an extraordinary working out of his sub-conscious, hidden desires. Could he really have been so naive that he couldn’t see what other people did? P N Furbank says that prior to writing Maurice, Forster ‘had been seeking relief by writing facetious stories on a homosexual theme’. The Story of a Panic must have been one of these – it’s certainly the most overtly suggestive of the short stories I’ve come across, although there’s said to be one I’ve yet to track down about a baby being created from two men’s seed.

Is there more? I’m sure there is, bits and pieces I’ve missed, stories I’ve yet to turn up. It’s certainly fascinating reading these books with the benefit of hindsight and with knowledge, that most of Forster’s readers lacked, of the man’s true nature.

Romance is a strange genre.  It has a conservative center, radical margins and a huge meta-culture constantly angsting about the state and future of the genre.  One of the main preoccupations of the romance aficionado is what trend is about to end, and what will be the next big thing.  This speculation is propelled less by the admittedly enormous and insatiable readership, than the also considerable ranks of prospective authors–most of them desperate to be writing a book that is hot and happening, not last month’s fad.

The figure below is based on a recent survey of erotic romance writers hosted at the ERECblog.  The question was: What erotic romance sub-genre do you think might be the next big thing?

The answers here (read clockwise from the top) can be read as roughly: fantasy (4%), Historical (22%), GLBT (18%), older woman and femdom (7%), various types of threesome (11%)… and of course the conglomeration of the realistic (who can predict anything?) and romantic (I will write what I like no matter what!) who would not hazard a guess.

What erotic romance sub-genre do you think might be the next big thing?

What erotic romance sub-genre do you think might be the next big thing?

But regardless of how accurate anyone’s guess might be, it is nice to see gay fiction and historicals are currently on peoples minds.

The past. From my (admittedly not very extensive) experience of reading historicals and watching historical movies, I get the impression that for many people the past is conveniently grouped into four or five basic blobs which serve as settings for the majority of historical fiction:

You’ve got ‘prehistoric’, inhabited by cavemen who may or may not hunt dinosaurs, live in caves, wear furs and go ‘ug’.

Then – passing over most of the Bronze Age – you have ‘the Romans’. The Romans generally have an Emperor, wear togas and/or armour and wear red-crested helmets. Often they fall in love with slaves/native princes from far flung corners of the empire such as Britannia.

‘Arthurian times’ come somewhere between the Romans and the Medievals. But where exactly – whether it’s one extreme or the other or somewhere in the middle – is up to the writer. This movable era also tends to house most of the ‘Celtic’ period and – passing over the Saxons and early Normans – segues gently into ‘medieval times’.

We can tell when something is set in medieval times because it has downtrodden peasants, evil barons in castles, maidens forced into marriage despite their chastity belts, trailing sleeves, pointy shoes and possibly noble outlaws based on Robin Hood. If a ‘medieval’ story deals with ‘Highlanders’ they will naturally wear kilts and possibly woad too. (‘Braveheart’, I’m looking at you.)

After medieval times comes ‘the Regency’ or possibly ‘the 18th Century’ – these terms are often taken to be synonymous. During the Regency everyone was aristocratic, lived in big houses, dressed like Mr.Darcy, were obsessed with manners and the marriage market and had no visible means of support. Politics were unimportant and the rest of the world (outside Britain) did not exist.

There are also specialized little space/time bubbles for things like ‘the Caribbean pirates’, ‘the Arabian nights’ etc, each of which comes with its variety of things which are ‘known’ to happen in that setting.

To a certain extent this is all a convenient shorthand, and in a reader it does no harm if you have no idea which year the Pope banned shoes with extravagant toes, or which half of the century Catholics were burning Protestants rather than the other way around. But I can’t help feeling that writers should be held to a higher standard.

Why do I feel that? Am I just an anal killjoy who can’t get into the spirit of things? Well… maybe. Maybe it doesn’t matter if your Scotsmen have stolen the Picts’ woad and are wearing kilts that won’t be invented for another two hundred years. Maybe it doesn’t matter that your heroes are blithely saying and thinking things that their society would suppose to be unthinkable. Maybe it doesn’t even matter if their society itself is unaccountably modern in its attitudes. But where does it stop? When the account of the fall of Rome features Visigoths in tanks and Napoleonic horsemen with rocket launchers? When they’re all thwarted because the Romans send out a cute little puppy and they realize that they can’t bear the cruelty of war any more and they want to go grow Afalfa in the Pyrenees?

Actually I might quite like that, particularly when the Saxons turn up in their helicopters, only to be thwarted when the platoon of highly trained attack dinosaurs rally to the defence of the Parthenon. At least it wouldn’t be fooling anyone that it was supposed to be true, like the majority of pseudo-historicals out there.

What we tend to find when we look into the past is that our original picture of, say ‘the 18th Century’ proves to be sometimes accurate in part, for certain circumstances, for certain years and for characters of certain backgrounds. But within this big picture there are innumerable exceptions, changes and details which you didn’t see at first, but which tie you down to a specific date.

Are you before the French revolution – in which case the clothing fashions will be x and not y, your characters will probably believe in the divine right of kings, society will be certain about what can be expected from different classes of men – and therefore relatively relaxed about it? Are you just after the French revolution – in which case fashions will be y and not x, all the young folk and the workers will be filled with a feeling that liberty and a brave new world are just round the corner – and the government will be clamping down hard to stop the same thing happening in Britain? Are you pre or post American Independence – with all the psychological and cultural changes that that entails? Are you early in the century, when boozing, fighting and whoring were seen as normal, healthy activities for gentlemen, or late in the century when people were looking back on their parents’ unrestrained behaviour with moral horror?

Attitudes, clothes and technology can change from year to year, whatever time period you’re writing. Some Romans for example didn’t have an emperor at all – some had the Senate, some had a military dictator, some had a triumvirate and some had an Emperor, and all that change occurred within one lifetime!

So it’s worthwhile for a writer to pick the year first and then research the society in that year rather than saying ‘oh it’s Georgian’ and throwing in facts from the reigns of all three Georges. Not only does it narrow down your research, but it also has the benefit of making your ‘Regency’ (or whatever) that much more real, authentic and therefore unique.

And you can still bring out the Saxons in helicopters for that Fantasy novel you were planning!

I’m excited to be able to announce that my second historical novel, Beyond the Veil, was recently released by Phaze Books. It seems I’ve been waiting for this to be published for ages, but when the release finally happened RL played an unkind trick on me and I wasn’t at my best, so I’m a little late with my notice.  However,  I’m posting the Blurb below, together with the first few paragraphs to give a taste:

BLURB:

Captured by the aggressive pirate captain of a Barbary corsair ship off the North African coast in the latter half of the eighteenth century, David Jordan faces a life of slavery of the worst kind when he is taken to the specialist markets of Tripoli.  However, the enigmatic man who finally buys him is not at all what David expects.

Robert Charteris has a very personal reason for fighting against the iniquity of slavery and, in disguise, witnesses the disposal of the slave cargo from a captured English ship and, for the first time in fifteen years, Charteris feels an interest in another man.

His decision to rescue the young man has repercussions he could never have expected in this tale of high passion and forbidden love.

EXCERPT:

David was forced to duck yet again as a cannon ball screamed overhead, this one slamming into the ship’s mast, the cracking of the wood drawing everyone’s attention, but miraculously it held. More cannon balls whizzed and shrieked as they tore through sails or broke off some of the smaller spits holding the shrouds aloft.

Slipping further back into the shadows, David cursed his stupidity at ignoring the perils of travelling in the Mediterranean as he watched the Barbary Pirates pouring across the ship’s tilting deck, its surface already awash with blood. The crew manfully attempted to fight the pirates back but they were not only outnumbered, they were outfought. David had no weapon and weighed his chances if he tried to help.

His attention was drawn by the angry bellowing of a pirate who was chasing Miss Bateson, her long blonde hair coming loose from its tortoise shell grip and streaming out behind her. As she looked back over her shoulder, her eyes showed fear yet her mouth was set in a determined line. David was debating his options when he saw young Tom Bateson struggling with one of the pirates.

Almost immediately David understood that Tom had been attempting to help his sister, who ducked hoping to avoid another pirate trying to intercept her.

Without a second thought, David ran out of his hiding place and launched himself at the pirate who shook the sixteen-year-old youth like he was a rat in the teeth of a dog. The man was huge, his bare arms bulging with muscles where the split sleeve of his shirt fell open, his legs braced with a wide stance. David landed on the pirate’s back but the man was not even unbalanced. He dropped Tom instantly though, and twisting from his shoulder he reached back and cuffed David upside the head.

David hung on even though his head was spinning and his ears were ringing. With a growl, one of the man’s beefy hands gripped David’s right arm and his vice-like hold broke David’s grasp as if it was nothing. He yanked David towards him and his other hand slammed into David’s chest, throwing him clear across the deck where he landed heavily, his head ringing.

Suzanna Bateson’s forward rush came to an abrupt halt when she ran into a solid object. Strong arms wrapped around her, keeping her from falling. For a moment she looked grateful for the help, until she glanced up and gasped in shock.

She was held tight in the grip of another pirate. A tall man whose dark eyes were all that could be seen of his face, the rest of it covered by a black veil edged in silver attached to his burnous, and the long hooded cloak favoured by the Turks, which was also edged in silver. The burnous fell over loosely fitting black pantaloons and a loose silver shirt worn split open to the waist where it was tucked inside the wide waistband.

“What have we here?” he asked in English but with an odd accent.

The woman struggled in his grip, but he merely pulled her closer to him. “I like a woman of spirit. I think I might keep you,” he said as his eyes swept over her.

He leaned in towards her, obviously intending to kiss her and she shouted in shock, “No!”

Ignoring his increasing dizziness, David attempted to roll to his side to try and get his knees underneath him but just then Tom Bateson barrelled out of his hiding place among some fallen sails and leapt at the tall pirate.

“Leave my sister be, you bastard!” he yelled as he attempted to land blows on the man’s kidneys.

The tall pirate swirled the girl away into the arms of her erstwhile pursuer while he grabbed up the fair-haired youth. “I can clearly see you two are related,” he said with a smile, his oddly accented voice warm with amusement.

David just managed to hear the captain say, “Take them to my cabin, Achmed,” before everything dimmed and he gave in to the pain pounding behind his eyes, momentarily losing consciousness.

A rough voice calling out in a language he knew he ought to recognize dragged David’s attention back to his surroundings. He tried to open his eyes but swiftly closed them again as the brightness seared his pupils. He tried to listen to what was being said, but at first he could not even remember which language it was, let alone interpret it.

However, he realized it was the pirate Captain speaking and with growing horror he did recognize a few of the foreign words, “…kill the injured men too. They’re no use as new crew and even less use on the slave block.”

<end excerpt>

Buy today from Phaze: http://www.kingcart.com/Phaze/product=Beyond+The+Veil

Stevie

http://steviewoods.com

My Publishers:

http://www.phaze.com

http://www.torquerepress.com

I’ve recently had the great pleasure to talk with Alex Beecroft, author of “Captain’s Surrender”, about her work, her plans, fanfiction and God, and I’m very happy to share this interview with you. Special thanks to Alex for putting up with me!

Emma Collingwood: Do you remember when you first had the wish to write? Did it start in your childhood, or later?
Alex Beecroft: I think it started when I was about 11. That was the time that I started writing things down in little booklets, and hiding them!

EC: What did you write about?
AB: I think I wrote typical bad fic. I was a big fan of “Emerson, Lake and Palmer”, and I wrote about them being in an intergalactic band, having adventures in sleazy space stations and saving the universe with the power of music. It was a sort of crossover between my love for progressive rock music and my love for Star Wars. I have to say though that I never inserted myself into the stories. No Mary sues for me!

EC: What a pity. Mary Sues are fun! One could say your first stories were SF then… being into Star Wars, have you ever considered heading for SF with your writing?
AB: I did. For a long time science fiction was what I wanted to write, but as I got older I realised that my scientific knowledge was not really up to scratch. The kind of science fiction I enjoyed was the hard science fiction, but after I failed physics at school I rather lost my confidence in being able to cope with the science. So I switched to being into fantasy and writing fantasy. Although that is simplifying matters really, because if think about it now I loved fantasy too in parallel.

EC: From Asimov to Tolkien…?
AB: Tolkien and Asimov together. I think what I really liked was the experience of being in another world – a world that wasn’t like the one I lived in.

EC: Has your environment been supportive of your writing ambitions?
AB: In general I’d have to say – no. I was always too busy, and I’ve never had a lot of energy, so when I came home from work I would be too exhausted to do anything. I honestly don’t know how people cope working and writing at the same time. When I had my children, I left work, and then I immediately took up writing, even though my first novel had to be written during the one hour a day that the first baby was asleep. I think it was the only way I stayed sane!

EC: I can well imagine! Things are different now?
AB: Yes, they are. Both of my children are at school now, so I have from ten o’clock in the morning to three o’clock in the afternoon to write. Naturally, this has led to a drastic reduction in the amount I actually get done – procrastination is my worst enemy!

EC: You can treat your writing like “a real job” now, then. Have you settled into this routine?
AB: Yes, I have. I do in general sit down and write or edit from 11-3. The rest of the time I am answering e-mails or doing self-promotion or writing blog posts. I don’t count writing blogs as part of my writing time! But I’m a very slow writer. Today for example it did take me the full four hours to do just under 800 words.

EC: Does blogging count as “promotion time”?
AB: I think writing for something like the Macaroni’s Blog counts as promotion, but fiddling about on Livejournal counts as relaxing and enjoying myself )

EC: When did you first share your writing, and where/who with?
AB: I first allowed another person to read my writing about seven years ago. I had discovered fanfiction on the internet, and I started writing a Star Wars novel based on the new film “The Phantom Menace”. It was somehow easier to share fanfiction because I already knew that other people were using the same characters and settings. It wasn’t quite the same level of exposure as showing somebody my original work.

EC: Fanfiction as a “training ground”?
AB: Not really. I’m a bit of a perfectionist when it comes to writing, and while I could look at my own writing and say ‘that’s not as good as anything you’d see published’ I did not want anyone else to see it at all. Not even in fanfiction. Only when I got to the stage that I could pick up published books and think ‘I have done better than that’ was I ready to allow people to see it. But fan fiction got me used to the idea that I was writing for an audience – that my writing was not some kind of elite art form that didn’t have to mean anything to anyone apart from me. It got me used to the idea that I was writing to entertain people. And also it got me accustomed to the idea that there were people out there who would enjoy what I wrote, and therefore there was some point in my continuing to share it. It was a great easing in to the idea that my writing wasn’t just self therapy, it could sometimes be entertainment as well.

EC: One could say then that the way your work was received (with enthusiasm and admiration, as far as I can tell!) moved you from the audience to the stage?
AB: *g* Yes. It gave me the confidence to know I was doing something right.

EC: You did!
AB: Thank you!

EC: After Star Wars, there came LOTR…?
AB: Yes, I don’t quite know how that happened. I’d grown up on Tolkien, reading and reading “The Lord of the Rings” over and over. And then the first film came along, and I still felt no desire to write anything in that universe. I think what sparked me off was finding the Henneth Annun site and seeing what other people were doing with the material. And then of course I found out that nobody liked my favourite character – and after that I had a crusade!

EC: Tell me more…
AB: LOL! In my multiple readings of Tolkien, I had become very fond of Celeborn, Galadriel’s husband. He was rude and acerbic, and he had his own agenda, and he dared to criticise Gandalf, and he was like no Elf I’d seen before in Tolkien. I thought he was really cool. Unfortunately, everybody else seemed to think that he was a henpecked husband who wouldn’t say boo to a goose. He tended to get ignored, or at the very best he was written as a character with no personality of his own, who existed merely to worship Galadriel. I wanted to put some of the aggression and lordliness back into the character.

EC: Fully agree with your perception of Celeborn. How were your stories received?
AB: Surprisingly well, really! Considering that they were mostly dialogue pieces where I examined politics and prejudice in Elven life!

EC: Tolkien’s language is a very formal, even archaic form of English, especially the way Elves communicated. Did you find it difficult to adapt to this style?
AB: I was quite at home with Tolkien’s language, as I studied the Anglo-Saxons at university, and had read a lot of Saxon and later medieval poetry. I did manage to do two novel-length stories where something other than dialogue happened though. ‘Oak and Willow’ was the tale of the courtship of Celeborn and Galadriel, which contained lots of First Age history.

EC: Lots of research for those ones, I suppose…?
AB: There was actually very little research in ‘Battle of the Golden Wood’, because the whole thing was based on two paragraphs in one of the Appendices of LotR. But ‘Oak and Willow’ and some of my later stories which revolved around the issue of Calaquendi/Moriquendi politics and racism took a lot of hunting through the 12 volumes of the History of Middle-earth. I admire Tolkien’s ability to make a history for his world which feels just like real history – all the same gaps and lacunae and differences of interpretation. The man really was extremely clever! And ‘Battle of the Golden Wood’ was the first really large scale story with battles, siege warfare etc. that I’d ever tried. In that respects it was almost like writing historical fiction.

EC: Which is what you are doing now. “Captain’s Surrender” has been published and received lots of praise – how does one get from the Golden Woods aboard a ship of the Royal Navy in the 18th century?
AB: *g* I got into the Royal Navy via another film. Ironically enough it was ‘Pirates of the Caribbean’. I say ironically because it seems to have made the majority of the world fall in love with pirates, but it made me fall in love with the clean cut boys of the Royal Navy. They were so sarcastic, and so fine in their wigs and stockings, and so totally impervious to danger. I had to find out whether any of it was really like that. And to my amazement, a lot of it really was! (Except possibly for the sarcasm.)

EC: So you started researching and writing as a reaction on the movie?
AB: Yes. I made the very good impulse decision to buy Patrick O’Brian’s ‘Master and Commander’ – the first novel in the series. And that was so fantastic that I was hooked. I settled in for about two years of massive Royal Navy joy. I moved on from Patrick O’Brian to Forrester’s ‘Hornblower’ (which I didn’t like as much) and textbooks like ‘The Wooden World’ by N.A.M Rodgers. And I made friends with a wonderful group of fellow enthusiasts on LJ – one of whom is of course the estimable Emma Collingwood. I think we spurred each other on with our enthusiasm.

EC: That’s definitely true! You’re certainly not a writer who exists in a vacuum. And shared love is better love. All the discussions and research shows in your work. Having read “Captain’s Surrender”, I can only compliment you on your ability to write a three-dimensional setting. Reading about it is really like actually being there. So you have not created a new world (to go back to your Star Wars days), but successfully resurrected an old one. Do you write from a “watcher’s” pov or rather as somebody who feels she’s right in the middle of the action?
AB: Thank you! One of the advantages of writing as slowly as I do is that you do have plenty of time to think between words. ) I do often find myself thinking ‘hold on, three paragraphs have gone past without mentioning the setting. Do something descriptive now!’ I tend as a writer to ride along inside my characters’ heads, and sometimes I get so immersed in what they’re thinking that I have to stop and remember what’s going on outside them. So yes, very tight third person view. I don’t ever see both characters at once. I wish I could, sometimes! )

EC: As far as “Captain’s Surrender” is concerned – in whose head did you spend the most time?
AB: Without going back and adding up the pages, I think it’s about equal between Josh and Peter. Possibly slightly weighted towards Josh, because Peter is so oblivious that he’s hard to use to observe things with!

EC: Josh and Peter – that brings us to one of the core points of your book, which is the relationship between the two men. Homosexual love in the Royal Navy of the 18th century – how did that come to happen for you?
AB: I think I’m just hardwired to tell m/m stories. The first one I remember writing was a little vignette about Khan and Joachim from the movie ‘The Wrath of Khan’. I was in my teens then. For a long time, in fact, I tried not to write m/m because I’m a Christian, and I thought then that it was a wrong thing to do. My fascination with the Royal Navy coincided with the point where I really worked out my issues and prejudices and came to realize that God is love – and that therefore if I wanted to celebrate the love that I clearly was born wanting to celebrate, then I should do it. Apologies for talking religion!

EC: No need to apologise. Has your religion influenced your writing?
AB: Oh lots! Or not at all! ;) It influences what I think about things, and that influences what I write. I hate the revenge plot, for example. You know, where the hero’s family is killed and he sets out to murder all the people who did it? I firmly believe that forgiveness is the right way to go, so I could not approve of a hero of mine behaving like that. I also am interested in engaging with questions about how ones belief in God affects ones’ life. Both Peter and Josh, in Captain’s Surrender, have to work through what their religion is telling them about them, and come to self acceptance at the end. I suppose I’m aware of it being a big influence on people’s characters and the way they behave, for good or ill. So it enters the work like that. But I wouldn’t dream of attempting to preach. That puts me off a book!

EC: “Captain’s Surrender” has been published by Linden Bay Romance – how did you find that publisher?
AB: Oh, I found out about Linden Bay by a wonderful coincidence. A friend of mine in the RN appreciation society on LJ reviewed Lee Rowan’s ‘Ransom’, which she loved. Lee replied to her to say thank you for the review. We all ended up chatting and I mentioned that I had been thinking of doing something like ‘Ransom’ myself. Whereupon Lee said ‘well, my publisher’s running their annual competition at the moment to see who they will publish next – why don’t you submit it to them?’ I thought ‘nothing ventured, nothing gained’ and spent a month turning the series of short stories I had into a novel. I submitted it to Linden Bay, and it won the competition and here I am! )

EC: That’s fantastic! Not only for you, but also for us readers! What was your first reaction when you got the big news?
AB: Hee! I clapped both hands over my mouth and squeaked. Then I said ‘no way!’ and got up and walked ’round the house – bubbling over with joy – then I came back, read the email again and did it all over again about five more times. I wanted to tell someone but I didn’t really believe it, and I was afraid to jinx it. In fact apart from telling my husband, I sat on the news until I’d signed the contract – just in case it all fell through somehow.

EC: As I’m having the book in front of me now, it all worked out well! Was a lot of editing involved?
AB: There was a lot less editing than I expected. I was very impressed with the editor, whose comments made me feel that she was a safe pair of hands. I could see why she was saying everything she said, and it gave me such confidence in her that it was a really positive experience making the changes I did have to do. She was a bit worried about Emily thinking Walker was an ass! Would a well bred lady think such a thing? That was a bit of a poser, as I couldn’t explain in the book that Emily meant donkey, not arse.

EC: Anything you’d change about the book if you could? Or are you completely happy with the way it turned out?
AB: If I could I would have spent more time on Josh’s sojourn with the Anishinabe couple. I think the development of his relationship with them happened too fast, and it would benefit from happening slower and in more detail. But I was limited to a word count of 60,000 words and I couldn’t fit anything more in.

EC: I’ve really learned something new there, btw. The Anishinabe might make a good book as well.
AB: Yes, having spent several weeks immersed in the inter-tribal wars and politics of the era (not to mention what the French and British were up to with their allies) it is obviously a period that needs *way* more time to do it justice. I had to have Opichi and Giniw be Anishinabe because they were the closest tribe which had the two-spirit tradition; which is what Josh was there to learn from them. The Iroquois, who were the natural candidates to rescue a stranded Brit did, according to my hurried research, not approve of same sex relations, so they wouldn’t have done for this story. But I’d love to go into the different cultures and politics for a different one.

EC: Your book – beside the obvious entertainment value – really does encourage readers to do some further research, which is something I appreciate a lot in a book. Now that your first “baby” is on the market, what’s next? You’ve published another book in the meantime, haven’t you?
AB: I published ‘The Witch’s Boy’ which is a dark fantasy. It’s sort of closet m/m, as I wrote it before I worked through my issues. So there are lots of m/m platonic relationships, visibly straining at the seams. ;)

EC: But you haven’t abandoned the navy, have you…?
AB: At the moment I’m working on another Age of Sail novel, provisionally called ‘False Colors’. It has different heroes from ‘Captain’s Surrender’ and is more action packed, I think. Lots of pirates in this one, but none of the pirates are particularly nice people! I’ve also got a short story coming out in an anthology by Freya’s Bower. The anthology is called ‘Inherently Sexual’ and the story is called ‘90% Proof’, which is a sort of AoS love triangle.

EC: Most pirates *weren’t* particularly nice people (I just like to mention here the recent capture of a French ship and the subsequent violence), yet people love them. It’s refreshing to see a different approach.
AB: Thank you! I feel exactly the same. It is a mystery to me why people love armed robbers on the sea when they wouldn’t like them on land.

EC: You used to be a member of fandom – now you might have your own. Has anybody written fanfic about Captain’s Surrender yet?
AB: Not that I’m aware of! That would make me so proud, if it ever did happen, though. I’d really feel that I’d arrived, then )

EC: Thanks a lot for your time, Alex.
AB: Thank you!

(c) 2008 Emma Collingwood

Brutes, Wimps and Heroes.

The alpha male, the beta male and the chivalric ideal.

“Thou wert the meekest man that ever ate in hall among ladies; and thou wert the sternest knight to thy mortal foe that ever put spear in the rest.”*

I’ve been wondering about the ‘alpha male’ recently and why I find him such an inadequate ideal for a hero. Several things have come together to spark off this post, one of which was finding the essay by CS Lewis on ‘The Necessity of Chivalry’ from which the Mallory quote above was taken. Another was watching an interesting TV programme on the BBC recently called ‘Last Man Standing’. Both of which seemed, to me, to contrast the alpha male with the chivalric ideal.

My understanding of the ‘alpha male’ is that an alpha male is a man who is completely without doubt as to his ability to handle a situation. He’s arrogant. He knows best – or at least, he believes he does. He is physically strong and doesn’t hesitate to use that physical strength to get what he wants. He is prepared to over-rule anyone who opposes him. He does not feel, let alone express, fear or weakness or admiration for others. He gets what he wants, and if he wants a heroine or beta male, that person had better learn to like it, because they are not going to get away.

The alpha male is ruthless. He is not riddled with guilt or doubt, and weakness in others attracts his contempt. He doesn’t give quarter. If you bank on his pity, you’ll be in for a nasty surprise.

In short, the alpha male is a barbarian. He’s like a Viking hero who, having captured a bishop and being unable to understand what the educated man is talking about, beats him to death and thinks he has won the argument. He’s like Achilles in The Iliad, for whom nothing matters but his own glory. Snubbed, he’s willing to sit by and watch his friends die because someone took away the captive he was going to rape and thereby proclaimed that they were more powerful than he was.

This is not the sort of man I want to have to deal with, either in writing or in real life.

But what does that leave me with in terms of my own heroes? Must my heroes be ‘beta males’?

Well, I have to say I don’t really understand what a beta male is. I presume, from the fact that you typically have an alpha/beta pairing, that the beta male is a man who doesn’t mind being constantly overruled, controlled and dominated by his alpha partner. As he fulfils the role of a heroine, perhaps he’s meant to be more emotional, less self-assured, maybe a little passive? Is he a bit of a pushover? Maybe inclined to cry and hope for someone to come along and solve all his problems? Is he, in short, something of a wimp?

I’m sorry, but are these really my only choices? Brute or wimp? I don’t want either. I’m – to quote the song – holding out for a hero.

So what exactly do I mean by that?

Well, what I’m looking for in a hero is the chivalric ideal. It’s not my own invention – it came into Western culture in the Middle Ages – and it is epitomised by the quote by Mallory up there. My hero is a man who is ferocious at need, who can be an alpha male if the situation requires it. A man who is the fiercest and most deadly warrior on the battlefield, accustomed to death and hardship, sure of himself, strong. A man who wins.

But – and this is the clincher – he’s also a man who can then come home, get cleaned up, and discuss the curtains with his maiden aunt. Who can weep over a sentimental film and be trusted to look after a child. A man who listens to others, respects the rights of the weak and is gentle with those who need help. He doesn’t boast or dominate. He is meek, and by his restraint he allows others to exercise their own power. He is both alpha and beta at once, depending on what the occasion requires.

But, you may say, Launcelot wasn’t real. No real man could fulfil such an ideal. It would be completely unbelievable.

At which point I drag out my copy of ‘Men of Honour’ by Adam Nicolson and direct your attention to the battle of Trafalgar. This is of particular relevance to me because the naval officers who fought at Trafalgar are the role-models, the real life examples from whom I’ve taken Peter and Josh in ‘Captain’s Surrender’ or John and Alfie from ‘False Colours’.

Nicolson describes Admiral Nelson thus:

Nelson’s victory at Trafalgar would not have occurred unless he had allowed and encouraged free rein to the less conscious forces of devastating aggression, the desire to excel, the desire for prizes, the desire to kill and the desire to win.

But this is what Admiral Collingwood, who was second-in-command of the British fleet says of Nelson:

There is nothing like him left for gallantry and conduct in battle. It was not a foolish passion for fighting for he was the most gentle of all human creatures and often lamented the cruel necessity of it, but it was a principle of duty which all men owed their country in defence of her laws and liberty.

Collingwood himself, who was at war most of his life, wrote long gossipy letters home to his sisters and was devastated at the death of his dog, Bounce.

The violence and overwhelming bloodshed of Trafalgar are well known, but what is less well known is that immediately following the battle, the British fleet did everything humanly possible to save the lives of the French, during the three day storm that broke over them all.

Violence and gentleness coexisting, switching from one to the other when needed. Proving, if you like, that the chivalric ideal is something which is very far from being unobtainable.

Indeed, it’s not even a phenomenon of the dim and vanished past. ‘Last Man Standing’, which takes six modern young men out to compete against the warriors of various different tribes at their own particular forms of sport/ritual combat, showed that the ideal was alive and well. I’m thinking particularly of Richard and Rajko, who – when forced to kill animals for food – mourned. They were self-effacing, they spoke of their doubts and hesitation rather than boasting about how inevitable it was that they would win, and they attacked the challenges with every bit as much aggression as the ‘alpha males’ on the show. Rajko’s stepping up to the mark in Trobriand, despite a half-severed toe, and taking his team to victory against all the odds was a ‘Chariots of Fire’ moment I’ll not soon forget. All the better for being real and not fiction.

So I have no hesitation in making John Cavendish from ‘False Colours’ the sort of person who would blush in real discomfort on hearing a dirty joke, and take on a dozen men with an axe in the next breath, nor in letting Alfie Donwell beat up the boatswain of a rival crew and weep inconsolably over a dead bird.

If this means that both of my heroes are alpha and beta males at the same time I can’t help but feel that not only is that historically accurate, but that it makes for an interesting dynamic. There should be a back and forth – and a potential for conflict – there that just doesn’t exist in a less equal relationship.

Plus, of course, they both get to be awesome, and they both get to be tender. Twice the value! They know, as Captain Anselm Jon Griffiths says in his ‘Observation on some Points of Seamanship’ published in 1809

The man who endeavours to carry all before him by mere dint of his authority and power would appear to me to know little indeed of human nature.

You tell it how it is, Captain! No one likes a smart-arse or a bully ;)

~

The Accolade by Edmund Leighton

*Thomas Mallory; ‘Le Morte D’Arthur’. Sir Ector is describing Sir Launcelot.

Bisexual historical romance: writing the woman into that special relationship

1. Writing

The idea that inspired me to write, what ultimately led to the unholy marriage between gay male romance and Regency romance known as Phyllida and the Brotherhood of Philander, was probably not so very different from what inspired the other members of this group: two men in love, and making love, is a beautiful thing. From the age of twelve, when I first read Mary Renault’s The Last of the Wine, I was captivated by her ideal of love between two noble citizen-warriors, as in ancient Athens, and commended by Plato: the highest form of love known to the human species.

Of course, living in New York City, I had many opportunities to know actual gay men. I saw that love is love, whatever the genders of the people involved, and that gay men are people like any other, with the same mix of good and bad qualities as any of us. Still, as I grew older, and interested in sex and boys for myself, I never quite forgot this inspiring image of the “superior relationship.” Somehow, I thought, I want to be a part of that.

But how?

Now, I want to say up front that I in no way consider women inferior to men. While I never wanted to be a man, I have been very grateful to live in the modern world where women can do everything men do and where equal opportunity is the law. Like many people, I have a divide between what I know intellectually, that women are as good as, if not better than, men; and what I feel emotionally, that there is this “superior relationship” that only two men can have. One solution I have found as a writer is to write myself into the story, to choose one of those “superior” men for mine: a “bisexual” husband. (This affects only my writing, unfortunately, and has nothing to do with my “real life”—even assuming I had one.)

A number of years ago, having read far too many heterosexual romance novels than is good for anybody, I discovered fantasy fiction. In one of those imaginary worlds, a planet in a distant galaxy, in a time far in the future and yet with many archaic, faux-medieval customs, I discovered a fictional character, primarily same-sex oriented, who, “a man of impulse,” had a brief affair with a woman and fathered a child. Aha! I thought, taking my first step toward the idea of “bisexual romance.”

From fantasy fiction to fanfic is but a quick and easy truncation. Soon I was writing stories in the first person as the wife of this bisexual husband, in a world where same-sex relationships were acceptable and where a man with both a wife and a male lover was considered a perfectly fine arrangement.

But apart from the fact that the original author of the world I was writing in changed her mind about allowing fanfic, I was faced with an even greater hindrance to my dreams of a career as a fantasy writer: my voice is a comic one. No matter what I was writing—war, death, political machinations, steamy love scenes between my hot husband and his even hotter younger boyfriend—it all came out with a humorous tone. I was faced with two choices: go on writing bad comedy or try to write good comedy.

To write good comedy, it helps to write in a comic genre. Finally, all that romance reading paid off. The Regency romance, as begun by Georgette Heyer in the 1930s and 40s, is a comedy of manners. Later romances, more properly called historicals set in the Regency period, incorporate some sex into the plots. This is when I had my epiphany: why not “slash” the Regency romance? (Slash fiction, for those unfamiliar, is fiction that takes an existing work—a novel, stories, film or TV show—and rewrites it, or writes stories set in its world, with same-sex relationships between the characters, usually, but not always, m/m).

And so Phyllida was born. My original idea, very soon abandoned, involved a hero torn between two lovers, a man and a woman, and having to choose. Well, that wouldn’t work. If he chooses the man, I was writing myself out of the story—a story I had spent half my life trying to get into. But if he chooses the woman, then what am I saying? That heterosexual love is better? That a gay man can “change” or be “converted” by the “right woman?” Barf! And gack! That’s not only disgusting, it’s immoral—or should be.

Luckily, comedy came to the rescue. The romantic comedy, and the romance novel itself, are full of conventions, standard ideas and situations, that are used over and over. This is one reason that romance is considered formulaic, but we shouldn’t confuse form with formula. A sonnet has the same form, used for centuries. A good poet can write a fresh sonnet using the same centuries-old form. A poor writer will write stale, tired, formulaic prose whether or not s/he uses a conventional plot.

Once I got going, there was no end to the romance-novel conventions I could put a “twist” on, starting with the basic plot premise itself: the typical rakish gentleman, sexy and domineering, who is forced to marry for convenience. Just suppose, I thought, I make him gay. He’s had lots of experience, but with men. Settling down and marrying isn’t a problem of choosing one woman out of many, but of having to choose a woman at all.

My opening scene, in which our hero, Andrew Carrington, wakes up, supremely hung-over, to discover he’s picked up a seventeen-year-old boy prostitute the night before, is a way of establishing the hero’s just-right mix of libertinism and honor. Yes, he’s red-blooded man enough to go for a young street boy when he’s lost all his inhibitions through too much “blue ruin,” but he’s principled enough to feel shame the next day, and determined to reform. This was the impetus for him to do his duty to his family and choose a wife. (In the interests of shielding modern sensibilities, I made the boy “almost eighteen” rather than the younger age I thought likely. The age of consent at the time was thirteen, but why push more buttons than the elevator-bank full I’d already jabbed?)

The idea that our gay hero might fall in love with his bride is only slightly more farfetched than many other comic devices of this genre. Some kinds of comedy require that readers accept a certain amount of absurdity. They forgo surface truths of realism and probability in the interest of discovering deeper truths of human nature as the story unfolds. We’ve all read obituaries, perhaps known instances, of a gay man married to a woman, not for camouflage, but because this was the one person he loved enough to marry. The writer Joseph Hansen, author of the Dave Brandstetter mysteries, is one example. That our hero will fall in love with the bride chosen for him or forced on him is a given in this kind of comic story. It’s the writer’s job to persuade readers that this woman is the right one for this man, not to renounce comic coincidence or serendipity.

One detail that disappoints some people is that Matthew Thornby, our hero’s “true love,” only makes his appearance more than halfway through this long novel. But there’s a limit to how much improbable stuff you can make readers swallow. I was convinced that Andrew, honorable as he was, would never have submitted to “duty” if had already met the love of his life. He’d let his younger brother do it, or shrug off the whole problem as something that will be of no concern to him after he’s dead. No, in the interests of getting this unusual romance started, Andrew had to be alone at the start of the story, his young man away overseas for almost three years in the Peninsular War, for him to be willing to shoulder the burdens of family obligation and inheritance.

But I also made sure to keep him actively “gay.” It was important for me to show that marriage to a woman hasn’t made Andrew lose interest in men. He enjoys a friendly night of sex with his club-mate from the Brotherhood of Philander, the upscale molly house he belongs to, on the eve of his wedding, and pursues his casual affair with a handsome young actor during his early married life. Good fiction has no agenda—it should tell the story that’s right and true for the characters, whatever that is—but a writer can’t help having preferences. This was my ideal husband I was writing, and I was damned if marriage to a woman was going to turn him straight. A very slight degree of “bisexuality” was all I required, just enough to encompass one woman.

As to my heroine, Phyllida, some readers have objected that no proper young lady of the period would be so accepting of a sodomite husband or so sexually aroused by seeing him with his lovers. This is where I think people’s personal preferences are skewing their judgment. While the love match had triumphed in the popular imagination by 1812, there were still many people making more practical alliances, as Jane Austen’s fiction demonstrates, albeit for a different level of society. I gave my heroine a mother with a rather shady background, a woman who had begun her adult life sold by her family into a form of prostitution, and ever alert for a good chance for her daughters to make their own fortunes. In other words, there were undoubtedly many young women who, whether by coercion or by choice, were willing to put up with a great many unpleasant things for the sake of marriage to a wealthy aristocrat.

But, people still protest, Phyllida likes it. This sounds a little too much like those Victorians who didn’t believe women could or should have sexual feelings, or the many people even now who don’t think that a woman can enjoy anal or oral sex. The fact that some women nowadays enjoy seeing men together means it’s highly unlikely that nobody two hundred years ago had the same feelings. I imagine the same basic things that turn people on now in front of the TV and computer were exciting people thousands of years ago around cave fires. Young people, especially those in the middle and upper classes, have always been told by their elders what they should and shouldn’t do, and many societies have told women (and men) what they should like and what they should not. But there are always some rebels who discover their tastes for themselves…

Of course, the one ingredient in this story essential to romance and often lacking in real life is honesty. We know that many gay men in the past made marriages of convenience to women; some more or less successfully, in the sense of producing children and not killing or divorcing each other; others less so. But it was unlikely that these men felt free or safe enough to be honest and open with their wives, or that many of these marriages developed into what we would recognize as a romance. In order for the possibility of love to exist in my contrived comic form, I needed my hero and heroine to be honest with each other from the start. For all the deceit and misunderstanding that occur subsequently, the only chance this gay-bisexual man and his wife have of finding love is to begin with honesty on his part and acceptance on hers. Whether this is any more or any less “realistic” than other conventions of the romance novel, I leave for readers to decide.

After I had finished writing Phyllida, I joined a listserv called RomanceScholar, for academics who study romance seriously as a form of popular fiction. At one point the topic of gay male romance written by women came up on the list, and there was a lot of discussion of why? Why did women write it? Why did they read it? One woman on the list said she couldn’t understand the appeal, because when she reads a love story with two male protagonists she misses the woman’s point of view. “Where is she?” she wonders. “Where am I?

Aha! I thought. Here’s one possible answer.

2. Getting published

But what now? I’d written this slashy, trashy, twisty, romantic-comedy thingy. Did I have a hope in hell of getting it published? I tried, going the slush-pile route first to publishing houses and editors, then to agents. After six months of rejections (about the average for writers’ breaking points), I decided to do print-on-demand. The upfront cost isn’t high and it’s a way to get the book out there.

The only interesting thing about my particular choice of POD company (AuthorHouse, one of the biggies) was the resistance I encountered to my “bisexual” story. My first submission of material, on CD, was mysteriously “lost,” along with a scan of my headshot I had gone to a great deal of trouble to have made. A second submission, by e-mail, was necessarily acknowledged as being received, as I was on the phone with a representative as I sent it. During the formatting process (there is no editing, copy or otherwise, unless you want to pay a penny a word or more on top of the basic fee—in my case, with a large book, over $1500), the technician brought up “words” and “phrases” of a “sexual nature” he had noticed. (This was a young man, as far as I could tell from his voice.) I pointed out to him that AuthorHouse had an Erotica category, with a large number of titles, and that my content was below the level of even soft-core. He actually denied it, although the category is right there on the company’s website for the public to search. (They also have a “Gay and Lesbian” category.) In all of these altercations, I simply brought up the fact that I had prepaid $500 for them to format and print my book, that it was neither hard-core porn nor hate speech (the only two things they won’t handle) and that if they wouldn’t print mine I would have my $500 back, please.

The POD went ahead, released in September of 2005.

Time passed. Phyllida sold perhaps 200 copies, the average for a self-published work. I don’t have much in the way of family, and just the few friends that a middle-aged, single writer has managed not to scare off. I did my best, although perhaps I might have done better if I were a Mormon or living in some sort of polyamorous society.

Exactly a year and a half later, in March 2007, I received an e-mail message on my website address from a young editor at HarperCollins asking if the rights were available. In a month or so, I had a contract for a small advance, and a year after that, at the end of April 2008, the HarperCollins edition was released. During that year, as people who have been published learn, the work of internal selling is going on. Junior editors are “selling” senior editors on the book’s potential appeal, categorizing it for easy sales pitches, and editorial is selling the in-house marketing and publicity staff, who will then go out to distributors and bookstores, fired up with enthusiasm for the forthcoming titles. This is how what was originally subtitled “a bisexual Regency romance” became “a novel.”

Oh, yes, there was some actual editing. But it was mostly copy editing (grammar, punctuation, and clarity), not content. Not one word of my original story was changed because of sexual content, and the story line was kept intact. There was a lot of discussion of anachronisms, because the book was going to be marketed as a historical novel rather than a romance. My original version had included a number of deliberate anachronisms, inspired especially by the similarities between the gay subculture of 1800 and my own memories of the 1970s. (Filled with the hubris of the unedited writer, I had imagined myself to be a new Tom Stoppard or Jasper Fford of The Eyre Affair, playing brilliantly with time and language). These anachronisms were changed to language more accurate for 1812. The only other difference from the POD version was that I wrote a new and improved History Essay (like an Author’s Note) for the back of the book.

I learned eventually that my editor had discovered the POD Phyllida on someone’s Amazon list of “fun reads.” He liked it because of the comedy and the writing style, as I had already seen during the process of writing the press kit materials, where I was encouraged to stress the comic aspects of the story and to stay away from the B-word. For him, the book’s writing style trumped any flaws of length and convoluted plot. During the copy editing process, my editor insisted he “liked it as it is,” and had chosen not to make any substantive changes.

So that’s how a “bisexual” romance sneaked into the mainstream. I often think a (dare I use the word?) “straightforward” gay male romance is less threatening, or at least clearer to many people. They get it, a lot of them, that two men might fall in love and want to spend their lives together. But the husband who gets to “have it both ways”? That’s scary and a little discomfiting, which is why I think it’s the perfect subject for comedy. Comedy makes us uncomfortable, and it’s highly subjective. What makes one person scream with laughter leaves another person scratching her head in bewilderment and a third person ready to punch the so-called comedian’s lights out.

It’s interesting to see that the few reviews I’ve received so far from the mainstream media have all been positive, and they all “get” both aspects of Phyllida as I had only dared hope: the romance and sympathetic characters; and the comedy-satirical side. Readers are another matter, as should be expected. I’ve had some wonderful reactions from people who love the story and identify with parts of it. I’ve been thanked by bisexual men for telling what is ordinarily considered to be a tragic situation as a love story. Many women of all orientations like the heroine, and are delighted with her sexual exuberance. And I’ve heard from some of the people who think the book is too long, the plot confusing, or that the whole damn thing, especially Phyllida herself, is stupid and trashy.

Well, now I know I’ve succeeded. If it turned out I pleased everybody I’d be lying awake nights asking myself where I went wrong.

Yes, this is going to be an opinionated post. That is: it’s my opinion. You may have your opinion, and I look forward to hearing it.

However, just because you have your opinion it doesn’t make mine any less valid. In 1794 if I had said that I considered the French Monarchy was a waste of space and you were of the opposite view, who was right? Was your opinion right? Was mine?

I like the Happy Ever After. Don’t get me wrong. I do. I WANT the Happy Ever After. I longed for Jack and Ennis to have ridden off to California and set up home. I want Romeo to get the note to say she’s NOT dead. Every. Single Time. I weep BUCKETS when I don’t get what I want. Everyone deserves to be happy.

I’m not here to overturn the barricades and to change the world, chopping at the pearl-adorned necks of those ladies who say that the HEA must exist. The HEA is a Good Thing.

With me so far? Good.

What I do object to is a label on my book saying “Romance.” Because this label tells me that I WILL get a happy ever after. Whether I’m ready for one or not.

It’s a safety net.

It’s someone standing in the theatre queue and saying loudly “The Butler did it.”

It spoils me. It’s just as much a spoiler as “Harry Potter doesn’t die.”

As someone recently said to me, a book is about the journey – and I totally agree about that. I buy a book that I don’t know with a sense of huge and tingling anticipation. It’s a virgin steppe, it’s an adventure. It could hold anything. It’s a treasure chest that only needs to be opened. It’s a river that will take me on a journey I can’t imagine.

I plunge into the current. I learn the world, I meet the characters. I fall in love and I’m swept away in the UST, the angst and the conflict. I hope and pray that the characters – who are so clearly mad for each other – will get together.

BUT.

I DON’T want to know that they will. I don’t want a little label on my book which tells me – even before I’ve opened the bloody book – that all will be well and that I don’t even HAVE to worry. Why give yourself high blood pressure? Why get invested in the story? Why fret? Look! There’s a label that tells you how the book is going to end. Hurrah!

Why then should I stress at your conflict? You might as well just tell me the end before I start. Oh, but you don’t have to. That little label “Romance” already has. Not hurrah.

Romance isn’t safe. It’s a leap of faith, a leap into the dark current of love and you risk all to hope you come out unscathed. When it ends well, it’s wonderful. When you risk all and lose? That can be wonderful too.

And what stories are remembered? Which ones live in the memory? Which ones live through time?

People don’t remember Caesar and Cleopatra, despite at least two of the best playwrights ever attempting to immortalise them. Despite them having their Happy for Now. Despite being “married”, and having at least one child. Or if they do, it is only because it is the pre-cursor to the greater and hugely destructive and doomed passion of Anthony and Cleopatra. That’s what people remember.

A lot of people don’t really care about what happens to Heathcliff after Cathy dies. The book ended there, for many many readers.

So who is going to remember the HEA’s of what is now marketed as Romance? In 100 years will we be still be reading and extolling “Tender Rebel” or “Captive of her Desires”? I doubt it.

But who is going to forget Tess, Juliet, Cathy, Madam Bovary, Anna Karenina, Scarlett, Jack and Ennis? Just because their stories ended badly, just because some American publisher or Board of some Romance Writers’ Association wants to slap a “Tragedy”, “love story” or “literature” label on them – does that make their romance any less valid?

I’ve had responses to my views before. “I couldn’t read those stories they upset me” – and that’s fine. But then if you haven’t read them, then you don’t get the right to criticise or deny the fact that they are romances. Great sweeping overpowering destructive violent romances, yes. But ROMANCES, over and above everything else.

I read a book a while back – written by one of the Macaronis, actually, but I won’t say who because if you are like me, it would spoil it for you. Right up until the last few pages I had no clue what was going to happen. In fact the author had convinced me that one of the protagonists was dead and I was weeping buckets. Brava!

If the book had been labelled Romance – I’d never have had that response. I would never have allowed myself to become so involved, to have invested such a huge amount of my emotion into it, because there would have been the safety net sitting there smiling and being SAFE. “It’s Ok,” it would have said, ” of course he’s not dead. See the label?” It would have ruined a great read for me, and would have been much less of a journey, an experience.

I’d like to see the categorisation changed; wishful thinking I know: it’s never going to happen, but in an ideal world I’d like people who want to be safe with their endings to have a sub-genre of their own such as “Romance – HEA” which guarantees the happy for the reader who doesn’t dare to dare. For the reader who wants to know where they are going when they get on the boat. For those who don’t want the current to sweep them away.

But just give me the genre of Romance, and I’ll take the risk with the protagonists. I’ll live every moment with them, I’ll cry, I’ll fear, I’ll laugh. And I won’t know what will happen until the protagonists do.

But I’ll HOPE. I’ll hope like hell.

And THAT’S what the journey is all about.

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