Various historical (and maybe hysterical) mothers from Macaronis authors’ books will be dropping in tomorrow, some in the form of excerpts from gay romances and some in new material. They are a law unto themselves so why not drop in and see what’s going on?
March 9, 2013
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February 14, 2011
From Pieter in the North to Sebastian in the South (from Cane and Conflict)
14 February 1861
I’m lying here in bed, not ‘my’ bed because that is wherever you are and we are many hundreds of miles apart. I know it was my choice to leave as I can’t fight for the South if war does come, but that necessity doesn’t make me miss you any less or my wish any greater that we were lying in each others’ arms.
It’s only by chance that I discovered today is Valentine’s Day, but it matters not; I love you with my whole heart each and every minute of each and every day.
I will come home as soon as it may be possible; months – years, I will come, I swear. I pray you will still want me when that day finally dawns. Know I will always love you, always.
February 14, 2011
Richard to Julian (from Smoke Screen)
14th February 1802
You were restless last evening and you got up and went to the balcony. You thought I was asleep but I missed your warmth almost immediately. I lay there and watched you, entranced as the moon slipped from behind a cloud and bathed you in its light. You’re always beautiful to me but in that moment you were ethereal and I had the insane idea that perhaps you weren’t of this world, that you were but a dream that visited me when I needed to know that love was real.
Then this morning I awoke to find you in my embrace, your arms wrapped around me. Then you opened your eyes, smiled at me, and whispered, “Happy Valentine’s Day, my love.”
If you are but a dream then I am happy to forever share it with you.
I love you.
February 14, 2011
Love letters from Orlando to Jonty
My dearest Jonty
I wish I didn’t have to attend this conference, but needs must. I shall be thinking of you often while I’m away; I hope this note will serve as adequate communication until I return. The spirit is willing although I suspect University College’s flesh is weak in the matter of telephones. I will try to write a letter but the programme of work suggests I’ll be hard put to find the time.
I love you with all my heart. Should the train crash as we hurtle through Ware, please remember that fact.
Your very own
Don’t go getting into any mischief while I’m away. I know it’s a few nights up in the smoke for me, but it’ll be all work and no play. Anyway, what fun will it really be, without you at my side? The lights are never as bright, the film never as good and the steak never as tender as when I have you to share them with.
I’ll try to ring, although it’s always difficult from a public call box. I’m always afraid I’ll be overheard and we never say what we really mean, do we? And when I press button B I never get my money back.
Lots of love
A record of an MSN conversation between:
Jonty eat Tempest, drink Hamlet, live the sonnets
Jonty eat Tempest, drink Hamlet, live the sonnets says:
Hello; are you well?
Jonty eat Tempest, drink Hamlet, live the sonnets says:
Fine. How R U?
Very well, thank you. I gave my paper today.
Jonty eat Tempest, drink Hamlet, live the sonnets says:
Much better than the last time I was invited to the equivalent conference. I took your advice and tried to address the back of the hall and not my notes – it was extremely successful. I had several questions at the end and
Sorry – I forgot about the limit on characters.
Jonty eat Tempest, drink Hamlet, live the sonnets says:
U always do. Missing U. :) ♥ U.
I love you too. Must you use those stupid abbreviations? And those even more ridiculous little pictures?
Jonty eat Tempest, drink Hamlet, live the sonnets says:
Yep. I like them.
They give me a migraine.
Jonty eat Tempest, drink Hamlet, live the sonnets says:
Aw. Shan’t use any more emoticons. :(
Thank goodness for that. LOL
Jonty eat Tempest, drink Hamlet, live the sonnets says:
you used an abbreviation! *dances around the room*
‘You’ needs a capital. I miss you.
Jonty eat Tempest, drink Hamlet, live the sonnets says:
Idiot. I miss you too. GTG. ♥♥♥ you lots.
You too. XXX
Jonty eat Tempest, drink Hamlet, live the sonnets says:
October 25, 2010
Folks, I have been mulling about writing this post for some time now. Thinking I really need to speak up about it, but then pushing it away for fear that I might offend some of my online friends. But I kept coming back to the fact that by not speaking out about it, I am basically doing the same thing that I am about to accuse others of doing. That is, standing by and being silent because it serves my own interest.
So I’m about to tell you what has been troubling me. Now first of all, I completely understand why writers use pseudonyms to protect themselves and keep their private lives private. I have no problem with that at all. There are crazy people out there and it is wise not to put all your personal information on the Internet. But what I don’t understand is how some writers of gay-themed literature are so ashamed of what they write that they keep it secret from everybody in their private lives. Online, under a cloak of anonymity they are as proud as peacocks of their literary achievements, but privately they keep it hidden, feeling that it would be so humiliating if anyone found out that they write about gay love. And then I read blogs from these writers (again under pseudonyms) fuming about the injustices to gay people. They rant and rave about every suicide, every anti-gay politician, and every anti-gay referendum. That’s great. But I have a morbid suspicion that these same writers, so bold online yet privately so ashamed of the novels they have penned, are saying NOTHING in defense of gay rights to their families, friends and co-workers. That really steams me. Those who oppose us probably don’t have a whole lot of respect for anonymous bloggers, but they would be forced to re-evaluate their opinions if someone they knew personally stood up and challenged them.
Perhaps some of this shame has to do with the stigma attached to romance novels in general, and I’m sure there are writers of straight romance who conceal their professions as well, so it might be that this shame was partially inherited.
Recently there was a big brouhaha when LiveJournal temporarily allowed cross-posting of locked posts. I remember one writer getting very upset and said if anybody at her job found out she wrote gay books, she could lose her job. Really? Of course everyone I work with knows what I write and publish, but if I were in her shoes and my employer found out I write gay books and then fired me for it, I’d get a lawyer (Lambda Legal is ready and willing) and sue his ass for discrimination! I’m sorry, but keeping silent in the workplace while your co-workers are freely spouting their anti-gay rhetoric because you might lose your precious job is, in my humble opinion, cowardly.
Okay there I’ve said it. Now if you are a writer who is closeted about what you write but are still vociferous about gay rights, then I give you a pass, though I still think if you are ashamed of your work, then why bother, unless it is just to pay the bills, in which case I’d have to say you are merely prostituting yourself. I hope I’ve given some food for thought and haven’t offended anybody. But if I did, I can’t apologize for it, because I truly believe it needed to be said.
June 30, 2010
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…)
June 4, 2010
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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.
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.
Query: Send an email to email@example.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.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Bristlecone Pine Press editorial team looks forward to hearing from you!
August 12, 2009
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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.
My apologies to the author, E.L. van Hine for the error and oversight. Certainly I should have known better!
August 11, 2009
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!
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!
May 11, 2009
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 gency 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 examples 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.
Another 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 Another 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 .
March 24, 2009
Making History Sexy
I don’t do a lot of historical romance. Not that I don’t love history — history is one of my passions, as a matter of fact — but I find that my single historical romance — Snowball in Hell — doesn’t sell as well as my other titles. It’s not, as my natural insecurity would lead me to believe, unique to me. I hear from a number of romance publishers that historical can be a hard sell — so many variables, you see. Readers tend to have preferences for time periods, so while a reader may adore Age of Sail, she may not be so hot on the Jazz Age. Regencies were huge for a long time, but the market was flooded and for a while there you could sell Stone Age more easily than Regency (although Regency is once again experiencing a resurgence). Like real history, these things go in cycles.
Anyway, I’ve always been partial to the rich dramatic possibilities of World War I. The tragedy and horror, the romance and chivalry — forty million casualties — and the dawn of a new age. In particular I’ve been fascinated by the aerial battles and the aces — the canvas falcons. There’s a lot of potential there for powerful storytelling. So I finally decided to write a novella about a WWI ace. It’s called Out of the Blue, and it’s coming from Liquid Silver sometime in August, from what I hear. It’s a nice little crime story…with wings. But the thing is, I have to make a living at this, so I had to find a way to take this historical tale and make it sexy and modern and appealing to contemporary readers, of which, I hope, there will be many.
Easier said than done, perhaps. Part of the difficulty is the early Twentieth Century itself. Westerns, Medievals…they’re far enough back that they almost have a fantasy quality to them. And stories from the 1930s and 40s…well, who hasn’t seen The Maltese Falcon or at least Chinatown? These stories have a sort of vintage cachet to them. But the early 1900s…it’s tricky. It’s modern enough to be a little less romantic than, say, the Victorian period, but it’s so…quaint.
There’s a danger of parody as with this letter from British ace, Albert Ball, to the folks at home.
Cheerio, dears…Really, I am having too much luck for a boy. I will start straight away, and tell you all. On August 22 I went up. Met twelve Huns….
A little of that goes a long way. Obviously, to keep it real, you do want to sprinkle in a few “old beans” and “jolly goods,” but it’s got to be done sparingly or the modern reader begins to feel too detached, like she’s watching characters in a play. In good fiction, we’re in the moment with the characters, we’re living each scene with them — flinching at the bullets singing past, laughing at the jokes, blinking back the tears at the death of a beloved friend.
Part of how we achieve the goal of keeping the reader in the moment with us — even if the moment is April 1916 — is by staying focused on the humanity of our characters. Humans haven’t changed as much as you might think (and hope) since the dawn of time. Okay, our hygiene is better. Our hair is definitely better. But though our definitions may change, but we still need to feel successful, to love and be loved. We still experience the same emotions: joy, sorrow, jealousy, triumph, fear…
Fear is a good one for m/m romance because western society’s views on homosexuality have altered significantly throughout history — from generation to generation. Passionate but platonic male friendship was the order of the day during WWI. Homosexuality carried a potential death penalty. So we can play on that paranoia, we can use that fear effectively, and the modern reader can identify with that — can certainly identify with the need for love and companionship, and from there can empathize with the strain of having to disguise your true nature, the difficulty of hiding your needs…indefinitely…from those closest to you.
In order to write comfortably about the past, you need to know your stuff. That means doing your homework. But when the time comes to share that knowledge with the reader — to build the stage upon which your characters will play — it’s got to feel real and casual. Historical romance should never be clinical or textbookish. And part of how we keep it real and avoid reading like a sexy syllabus is by putting in the sensual details. No, I’ve never taken a bi-plane for a spin, but I do know how the icy wind feels blowing in my face, what petrol smells like, what a sunrise looks like, or how ale tastes.
Details matter — and never more than in historical fiction. Do not put your Knights Templar riding into battle in 1315 or have Apaches attacking in Ohio. Mistakes are not sexy.
And the last and most obvious way of making your historical sexy is…er…putting in a lot of sex. As much as makes sense. Yes, I know it sounds crass, but when it comes to historical romance, take a tip from those old bodice rippers of the 1970s. Sex sells. Sex is one of those universals, and there seems to be a certain amount of kink inherent in seeing people from the past doin eet. Maybe it’s the costumes. Maybe it’s the suspicion we all have that our parents couldn’t really have done that. Whatever the charm, romance readers — m/m romance readers in particular — like sex. If there’s one thing history teaches us, it’s that some things never change.
January 27, 2009
I’ve been noticing recently that almost every historical to cross my path has a Regency or possibly Victorian setting. I’m sure there’s a good reason for this – those ages are more modern in their outlook, and are also very popular in costume dramas on the TV and the movies.
But there are other eras to choose from. Here’s a little list. In fact I grew exhausted by the end, so here is the start of a little list, and I’ll carry on with the Iron age in another post!
This is a long, long period of time, during which all sorts of exciting changes in human society occurred. Modern humans interacted with Neanderthals – there were two different kinds of human on the planet! Amazing. Agriculture was invented. America was discovered and colonised. Stonehenge was built.
How about a gay Clan of the Cave Bear? Lots of things to discover, invent or fight for the first time. Was there homophobia in the stone age? I suspect we really don’t know, so this might be a good place for a happy ever after. And men in leather, hunting mammoth for a living, can’t be a bad thing.
If you can’t live without a city, however, how about Çatalhöyük a stone age city in Turkey. It would make a change!
In Britain, you have the mysterious Beaker people, who arrive and establish friendly relations with the indigenous stone age inhabitants. They ‘improve’ Stonehenge and build their own massive earth and stone circles. Classic stranger in a strange land territory; love across the divide of culture. This is also the age when textile production starts. Surely there’s a f/f story there somewhere?
In Mesopotamia you have the Akkadians, the Babylonians, the Assyrians and the Sumerians. But this is also the great age of ancient Egypt, which is a setting made for romance.
You’ve got Persians, Anatolians, the Canaanites, the Hittites. You’ve got the Minoans – bull dancers and minotaurs and carmine stained pillars in cool palaces on the Greek islands.
There’s the Seima-Turbino Phenomenon, where a mass migration of people from what is now Russia and China ends up leaving cultural and metallurgical traces in Finland. Surely there’s a story there!
There was an Indus Valley civilization in India, and Chinese civilization is going strong. There’s the fascinating Dong Son culture in Vietnam. There’s all sorts of stuff going on with the Tumulus people in central Europe, and in the Americas the Inca civilization developed bronze independently and simultaneously (or did they…? Might the knowledge have been brought over by a shipwrecked Cornishman in a Dover bronze age boat?)
Now we’re really motoring!
This is a good age to be a Bantu-speaking native of East and South Africa, who discover iron and use it to drive out the stone-tool using hunter gatherer peoples they encounter on the Savannah. I’d like to read a story about that from either pov or both.
I have dibs on the Etruscans, my favourite not-quite-Romans, whose morals scandalized the ancient world:
A Greek historian’s account of the behaviour of Etruscan women.
Theopompus of Chios, 4th cent. BCE (Histories Book 43)
Sharing wives is an established Etruscan custom. Etruscan women take particular care of their bodies and exercise often, sometimes along with the men, and sometimes by themselves. It is not a disgrace for them to be seen naked. They do not share their couches with their husbands but with the other men who happen to be present, and they propose toasts to anyone they choose. They are expert drinkers and very attractive.
The Etruscans raise all the children that are born, without knowing who their fathers are. The children live the way their parents live, often attending drinking parties and having sexual relations with all the women. It is no disgrace for them to do anything in the open, or to be seen having it done to them, for they consider it a native custom. So far from thinking it disgraceful, they say when someone ask to see the master of the house, and he is making love, that he is doing so-and-so, calling the indecent action by its name.
When they are having sexual relations either with courtesans or within their family, they do as follows: after they have stopped drinking and are about to go to bed, while the lamps are still lit, servants bring in courtesans, or boys, or sometimes even their wives. And when they have enjoyed these they bring in boys, and make love to them. They sometimes make love and have intercourse while people are watching them, but most of the time they put screens woven of sticks around the beds, and throw cloths on top of them.
They are keen on making love to women, but they particularly enjoy boys and youths. The youths in Etruria are very good-looking, because they live in luxury and keep their bodies smooth. In fact all the barbarians in the West use pitch to pull out and shave off the hair on their bodies.
And who have a very fine line in tomb-decoration:
But I think they may deserve an entry of their own.
I’ve suddenly realized that this is a topic which is going to stretch on and on, so I’ll draw a line there and do part two another time!
January 23, 2009
by Kiernan Kelly
A reader recently remarked to me that he found the thought of writing a historical piece of romantic fiction intimidating. “I don’t know enough. I’m not a historian, like you,” he said.
After I finished laughing hysterically, I had to set him straight.
When it comes to being an authority on anything besides tying my own shoelaces, I’m the first to admit to my sad lack of expertise. I am not a history buff; I cannot quote the dates and places of famous battles, nor can I pull details of Victorian Age fashion, or Renaissance architecture out of my ass. I cannot intelligently contribute to discussions of pre-Greece Middle Eastern culture — or post-Greece, for that matter. I do not offhand know the difference between a brigantine and schooner; or what Edwardian men wore under their trousers.
In my opinion, it’s much easier to write contemporary romance. I already know what the locations look like — even if I’ve never been there personally, there’s a good chance I know someone who has, and there’s always Google Earth, travel documentaries, and the web. I know the protocol of dating, the etiquette of the dinner table. I know from personal experience how it feels to ride in a car, a train, a plane, and on a cruise ship. I know how hot dogs taste, have eaten truffles, and understand how a thick, frosty milkshake can give you a brain freeze. I know how to rent a room in a motel, and the differences one might find between a room at Motel 6 and the Hilton. I can place a character virtually anywhere on the planet, and describe him and his setting with some conviction.
Writing historical romance is much, much trickier. The details of the story, the setting, the props, and the landscape are as alien to me in my personal bubble of experience as the far side of the universe.
All of which raises the question: why is this person, who admits to being the human equivalent of a historical factoid void, posting to a historical fiction writers’ group blog?
The answer is simple. While I know precious little about history, I do write historical m/m romance, and enjoy it. Before anyone begins sharpening the guillotine or fashioning a hangman’s noose, let me explain — my statement isn’t as oxymoronic as it sounds. While my brain cells aren’t steeped in historical data, I do hold both a fondness for, and interest in our species’ past. I don’t profess to be a historian, neither professional nor amateur, but I do possess a healthy imagination, a computer, and a library card.
That said, all I can possibly contribute to this blog is to share what I told the reader who mistakenly pegged me as an expert — my view from the short bus, the remedial history class as it were, where I sit at the back of the room trying to pass the exam by shooting my cuffs.
I believe it is entirely possible to write a piece of credible, believable historical fiction without holding a PhD in Ancient Civilizations or the high score in Jeopardy. While I won’t begin to pretend to be a historian, I can discuss how I, someone who doesn’t know the difference between a cutlass and a scimitar, can write a historical romance.
The trick — for me, at any rate — is research, and lots of it. It isn’t unusual for me to spend as much or possibly more time researching details as it does for me to write the story. Sometimes I begin collecting data months before I even take the time to rough out a plot.
I’ll take trips to a brick-and-mortar library where I’ll take copious notes in chicken scratch decipherable by me alone, later to be transcribed into a Word document, and I’ll surf the web until my fingers are worn down to nubs. I’m in the process of building my own library of reference books, fettered only by the limits of my sorely overtaxed credit cards.
Has any of this research made me a historian? No. Again, I must remind the reader that I am not an expert. What I am is an information pack rat.
I keep my notes along with everything I’ve found scouring online resources — whether in the end, I use them or not — in a computer file. I never delete these files. My reasoning is that if, in the future, I decide to write another story set in that period, the research is already done and at my fingertips.
I never make the mistake of assuming I know anything. Aside from the entire ass/you/me thing, assuming I know something as fact is a surefire way to screw up the details, and believe you me, someone, somewhere will notice and call me on it. I once got an angry two-page letter from a reader berating me because I didn’t correctly describe the splatter pattern of a shotgun blast.
Two entire pages. Seriously.
The only other tip I can offer is never to take anything you read at face value. Wikipedia, perhaps the most oft-used — while equally oft-lamented — database on the Internet is a good stepping-off point for research, but an unreliable one. I’ll take what I’ve learned there and find other, credible sources to support the information. I’ll double-check my facts, then triple-check them to be certain. In this stage of the game, I feel free to be as obsessive as I’d like — in this instance, anal retentiveness can only stand me in good stead when I finally put pen to paper.
I question everything as I’m writing. For example, if writing a dinner scene set in ancient Greece during the Bronze Age, I’ll ask myself whether my characters would know what a fork is, let alone how to use one (probably not, considering the fork didn’t make an appearance in Greece until roughly 400 AD, and yes, I had to look it up). What type of furniture did they use? What type of bowls and serving platters? What did they eat? What kind of clothing did they wear, and of which type of fabric? I’ll make a list of these questions and more, then hit the books to find the answers.
If I’m writing a pirate story set on one of the aforementioned brigantines during the early 18th century, I’ll research how the ships were built, find diagrams, and learn which parts served what functions. I’ll learn how many sails there should be, how they were rigged, and the difference between the forecastle and the poop deck.
Speaking of poop, I’ll even consider how my pirate hero might manage the most routine of everyday chores and ablutions — how was food cooked aboard a wooden ship, and how did they manage their waste? Even if I don’t use all the information collected, I feel the knowledge of the most intimate details of my character’s life will only add believability as I write the story.
I’ve become comfortable saying, “I don’t know,” and “I need help.” When all else fails, I’ll ask an expert. The web is stuffed full of contact information for historians. I’ll send an email explaining who I am and my mission, along with my question to an appropriate source, and politely ask for an opinion. At worst, I’m ignored, and at best, get an educated response, or at least, a nudge in the right direction for further research.
I’ll also ask other authors for their favorite informational sources. Most, like the Macaronis, are more than willing to share their special sources, those books and websites they rely on when fishing for facts.
I think another invaluable tool for a historical writer — or any writer for that matter — is a strong sense of empathy. It isn’t enough to simply find the facts, to envision a ship or a castle, to stare at illustrations of doublets and frock coats, or paintings of wattle-and-daub huts, or cobblestone streets lined with gas lamps. I think a writer needs to be able to feel what it’s like to be their character in that setting, wearing those clothes, living in that civilization, in that time period.
As children, we found this an easy task. We became the pirates, the knights, the princes on our white steeds. We lived and breathed inside their skins, with little or no effort on our parts. As we grew older, we were taught to put aside childish nonsense, to act our ages. What a shame. The ability to pretend so easily, so completely, would do us in good stead now.
A writer needs to know how to recapture that long-lost freedom to believe we are the character, to look at our modern kitchens and see an open hearth and rough-hewn table, to walk the aisle of a supermarket and see an open-air market in Babylonia. That skill and the facts uncovered during research will combine on paper to form a believable, historically accurate story.
Will I ever be a historian? Probably not. I am a jack-of-all-trades and master of none, stuck forever in the back row of the remedial history class, admiring those among my peers who’ve aced the honors course.
Can I write a believable piece of historical romance? Sure. I can, and I have.
So can you.
January 20, 2009
I am happy to announce the release of CONFLICT, the sequel to my novel CANE. I seem to have been waiting a long time for the release of the follow up novel but it’s been worth all the effort
Two men, one war. Can love survive when each takes a different side?
Leaving his lover behind to support the Abolitionist cause, Piet Van Leyden finds himself leading one of the first all-black Union troops
into the heart of battle. Reuniting with free slave and former love, Joss, brings some comfort, but will his presence tempt Piet into forgetting the love waiting for him at home?
Sebastian Cane wonders how he’s able to go on without Piet by his side. When a series of unfortunate events lands him a prisoner of the Union, Seb knows he must rely on his wits and his love for Piet to survive…and get home to him.
It was difficult for Pieter to concentrate on Grainger’s words. Of course he had thought on the possibility of running into Joss once it was permitted for blacks to join the army, but he had never really believed it would happen. There were literally thousands of men in the Union army, the numbers rising all the time and the odds must be enormous.
His thoughts faltered again as he heard the lieutenant state the private’s name. Peters? Joss had taken… Pieter didn’t know what he felt about it, that Joss had taken that as his name. Flattered? Appalled? Touched? Oh, Joss!
“Peters?” Pieter queried haltingly, his voice sounding odd even to his own ears.
“Yes, sir,” Joss replied, keeping his voice formal, staring over his commander’s shoulder. Then abruptly he shifted his eyes and looked directly at Pieter. “Named for the only man who ever showed me a kindness, sir.”
Pieter stared at his old friend and ex-lover, emotion running through him to find him looking so well. “I see,” he replied softly. “Thank you, private.”
“Sir!” Joss said smartly, stepping back into line.
Pieter knew he gave orders and passed out praise and criticism in equal measure, but when the day ended the only thing he could clearly remember was the look in Joss’ eyes as they had stared at each other. Pieter just had to talk with him but he couldn’t simply single him out to speak to privately without reason. A company commander would have no cause to communicate with a private soldier without going through junior officers, unless for censure or commendation.
He paced his tent for thirty minutes until he recognized there was a way. Grainger had inadvertently given it to him.
“Grainger!” he called, sticking his head out of his tent, looking round for the lieutenant.
“Here, sir,” a voice floated from nearby in the dark and then the pale face of the lieutenant came into view.
“That private, the one who you introduced?”
“Yes, that one. Send for him. I want to have a few words and he should be ideal for providing me with background.”
“Yes, sir, immediately.”
Pieter sat in the rickety chair behind the small folding table in his small tent. He was nervous at the prospect of seeing Joss again, and being able to talk to him. Pieter smiled at his own reaction, he knew it wasn’t at all logical.
Presently, the lieutenant brought Private Peters inside the tent and the black man saluted his officer smartly, eyes staring straight ahead, back ramrod straight as he stood to attention.
“At ease, Peters,” Pieter said, a surreptitiously shared look between them at Joss’ choice of surname, and then with a glance at Grainger he added, “Thank you, Lieutenant. I will take it from here.”
Grainger glanced from his captain to the private as if silently asking if he were sure, but he merely nodded, saluted and left.
Pieter just stared at Joss for a long moment and his old friend stared back and slowly smiled. He was suddenly assaulted with images of the two of them together, long years ago when all that mattered were those snatched moments together. Memories of his hands moving slowly as they skimmed over Joss’ ebony skin; Joss kissing him with abandon and each murmuring promises of forever. Those had been naïve times he realized now but they had been good times.
Things were very different now, the love he’d felt for Joss then had been real but he knew it paled into comparison with what he’d learned he was capable of, but he would never regret his feelings for Joss. Suddenly Pieter’s face was split by a grin and he rose and strode around the table, and the two men embraced. They didn’t hold the hug for long, both being aware of the difficult situation.
“God, it’s good to see you looking so well,” Pieter commented as he retook his seat. “Grab a stool,” he said as an afterthought.
Joss did as he was asked and sat opposite his captain. “Oh yeah, I never expected to see you here.” He hesitated a moment, giving Pieter a long look.
“I didn’t know if you were still in Louisiana,” Joss explained, his voice low.
Pieter nodded, dropping his eyes as he said, “I didn’t want to leave Sebastian. I remained as long as I could, but I just wasn’t able to stay among those people down there. I was… I couldn’t keep bottling up my real feelings and it was starting to…to. I didn’t want to damage what we had by staying,” his voice barely above a whisper as he spoke. He looked up at Joss then, attempting to smile at his friend, but it might just as well have been a grimace.
Joss recognized the sorrow in Pieter’s eyes that his friend was trying to hide, the ex-slave knew him too well.
After a moment, Pieter continued, “I tried to persuade Seb to come up north with me, not that I really expected he would. He has too much of a commitment in Louisiana.”
Reaching across the small table, Joss laid his hand over Pieter’s and gave it a small squeeze, attempting to comfort him. “I’m sorry, Piet, but I can’t say I’m surprised. His family have lived there for generations, don’t suppose he feels he can simply walk away from that.” He didn’t add that he also felt that if Cane had loved Pieter
as much as he claimed he ought to have had different priorities. It would be no kindness to Pieter to voice that thought.
“I know and also in the few letters I did manage to receive from him before the mail stopped getting through, he admitted to feeling a greater responsibility to his slaves now and that…” Pieter stopped, as if remembering just who he was speaking to. He shrugged an apology.
Joss looked Pieter square in the eyes and commented, “Well, we know who to thank for that change in outlook, don’t we?”
“Enough about me,” Pieter said decidedly. “How about you?”
Joss gave Pieter a quick rundown of his life since they had parted in New Orleans, admitting that after a slow, difficult start the life he now had was good. He explained a little about Nathaniel and how the old Negro had helped shape his new outlook. Joss told him that Nathaniel had even taught him to read, and he reminded himself that he should show Pieter the letter he’d written when he got the opportunity.
He admitted he was glad to be able to accept responsibility for his own life, though it had been hard at first to get work and he had felt so lost and unsure most of the time until Nathaniel had taken him under his wing.
He gave a deprecating laugh. “Strange as it sounds,” Joss confessed, “I have felt happier since I joined up. Even after a year or so of freedom I was used to the,” he sought for the word he wanted and smiled wryly when he remembered it, “constraint of slavery and oddly I missed the…structure it gave my life.” He shook his head at his own confused thinking and Pieter smiled sadly at what had been done to people like Joss.
Joss regarded Pieter, giving his old friend a long assessing look. A little unnerved by the stare, Pieter asked, “What?”
“You’ve changed,” Joss said quietly and as Pieter frowned, he explained. “You’re more…comfortable, more sure of yourself.” Eyes lighting up as if Joss suddenly understood, he smiled broadly and added, “You know who you are.”
Available from Phaze Books: http://www.king-cart.com/Phaze/product=Conflict/exact_match=exact
[There is in fact a longer excerpt available if you follow the link on the book page at Phaze, as per the above link]
December 29, 2008
I had been thinking about doing a historical novel based upon the life of Robert Schumann since 1990, when I discovered a translation of his letters in the public library in Seattle. I wrote several poems based upon what biographical material I could glean in those letters and other general biographies that were at that library, but beyond buying recordings of his piano and symphonic works and becoming a fan of his music, my hope of writing a book about this curious and tragic genius remained remote until I found a job working for the US Army as a contractor in the fall of 2001, became friends with a violinist in an orchestra in Darmstadt, who – like many career musicians, had a library of books about composers. It was here that my research began.
I was lucky, in that I had a day job that supported me more than adequately, allowed me weekends off as well as vacation time, and I was geographically situated near several spots where my research subject had lived – and most importantly, only 300 km from where he spent his final years, a private psychiatric hospital in Bonn which I found out – still stands.
I had already written three historical novels, and in each case, the actual places were too remote for me to venture to in person for a sense of place and for the kind of detail that would allow me to visualize my setting and character. The first book, which was about the Hunnic empire and Attila, took place in Asia Minor and what is now Hungary, and the only available sources I could find were some archeological studies, and the fragmentary work of the Roman senator Priscus, who had visited Attila in the early 5th century.
Due to a lack of research material, my planned trilogy languished, despite a plethora of maps from the time period, and assiduous study of the books I could get. Book study of an era and of a people were not quite enough for me to synthesize into a believable, coherent, and convincing historical novel.
I needed to be there. And in fact, still hanging on to my hope of finishing the Hun book, I set off in the late fall of 2001 thinking I would be able to draw enough from a day trip to Troyes, in eastern France, the site of Attila’s final battle, to renew my interest and give me enough sense of place to breathe life into my project again so I could finish it. I didn’t make it to Troyes – it was 4 hours away by car. But I did go to concerts, and I did go to Johannes Brahms’ house in Baden Baden, and to downtown Heidelberg, and in those historic towns, left intact by the ravages of WWII, I began to absorb the atmosphere and sense of place that would eventually get an historical novel off the ground – the book about Schumann.
Although it is not enough to simply go to a place that remains as it was a century before (or largely so), I have found that sense of place – its geography, its character, its smell, for want of a better word – is crucial for visualizing it in historic context, to make the people who lived then, breathe and move about enough for me to capture them. It provides specificity. One can read in a book that the baths of Baden Baden are situated in the woods, but to travel up the twists and turns of what was once a carriage road through the dense pines to a towering stone mansion mostly obscured on a high bluff, is to be able to picture it vividly and accurately. I took photos of the crumbling ruin of forts and castles that had been crumbling and in ruins when my protagonist saw them. Europe – the parts that survived the intense bombings, would be as he had seen them.
Heidelberg, where Schumann spent a year of university and first began to compose, was less than 15 miles from where I lived. I loved that city, and took hundreds of photos of the historic downtown, and the enormous ruin that hovered over it, Heidelberger Schloss. The views of the gardens of the Schloss are the most beautiful. One historical footnote is that by a curious coincidence of fate, both Hitler and the Allies had identified Heidelberg as a strategic goal for headquartering troops, so neither side bombed there – as a result, Heidelberg remained untouched by the war, while Mannheim to the northwest, was severely damaged, and is almost entirely rebuilt except for specific neighborhoods.
Besides touring the places my character lived, studied, and performed, I attended concerts, read books in German and English about the people and their times, got biographies of Schumann, Chopin, Liszt and Mendelssohn that were published in the country that I would never have seen in the United States, which included photographs, daguerreotypes, facsimiles of manuscripts… and the motherlode of all primary sources: diaries. Fortunately for me, my subject, while he suffered from the scandal of being a suicide in the 19th century, was largely rehabilitated as a “great German composer” by the time Germany reunited and reconstruction began. The hospital in Bonn where he died, badly damaged during the bombing of Bonn, was reconstructed, as was the cemetery and his memorial, and made into a music library, not only of Schumann’s music and biography, but of all German music. I wasn’t able to take books out, but I was able to read their private collection at the library, and take notes. They also published and sold books that were only available in Germany, and here I found the detail I needed to be able to fashion a story. Despite the destruction of many personal letters between Schumann and his closest friend, Felix Mendelssohn-Bartholdy, there was enough remaining in his diaries and letters to reveal, however subtly, the details of a poetic and musical soul who fell in love easily with both men and women. The nearly-inscrutable, elaborate left-hand script. Where he took his walks, and what he thought about. His nightmares. His confinement and the visitors he had there. Perhaps ironically, the Staatsbibliotek holds regular chamber concerts in the library where Schumann spent his last days, wasting away from a depressive illness which had stolen his ability to compose music. Preserved in glass there, the final piece of music, entitled only “Theme”, a mere 9 bars of melody, left unfinished and marred by an inkblot.
I was about two-thirds of the way through the first draft of my novel when I took a two-week trip to the former East Germany, to see Leipzig and Zwickau, Schumann’s childhood home, now also a museum and concert venue. The entire city has undergone reconstruction, and by the time I got there in June of 2003 for their annual concert festival (in Schumann’s honor), the 7 million euro renovation of his home was complete.
There, I found a wealth of new material, including published reviews he had made of other composers such as Chopin (whom he adored from afar), Mendelssohn-Bartholdy, who was both an intimate friend and benefactor, the originals of all of his extant portraits, and his own piano. I jotted down quotes, took photos of his visiting card. I listened to lectures by professors whose careers are devoted to discovering how and why the troublesome Third Symphony was edited as it was, whose only concern was what he produced – not what he was. I was looking for the man behind the composer. Seeing what he saw and understanding, with my developing fluency in the language, how he expressed himself. I finally had the level of specificity to write with confidence not only about the person, but about Zwickau, Bonn, and Heidelberg – I knew as much as I could know about what it was to experience life as he did, because the German federal government had pieced it all back together for me, put it in glass cases, published monographs and presented lectures, concerts and put on festivals to celebrate the culture that thrived before the Nazi era.
In fact, all of downtown Zwickau was renovated and refurbished – the entire cobblestoned Kornmarkt, the central mercantile square, had been rehabilitated and restored to as original condition as possible, with the occasional “new” shop or restaurant peeking out of a historic facade. In this picture of the Kornmarkt, which is taken from the point of view of Schumann’s house, you can see a Burger King beside the original facade.
I absorbed all that I could of the places I could reach, I read all the biographical material I could buy or borrow, but by far the best resource for me – and this applies equally to biographical figures as invented ones – is diaries. How long it took to travel by carriage from Zwickau to Heidelberg (2 weeks.) How frequently a devoted son writes his mother (daily.) How much it costs for a private room in a sanitarium (50 thalers a month.) The philosophy I emerged from this research amounts to this: it is not so much that people change throughout history, it is the specifics of how they live that change. The detail of everyday life in that specific time and place, and how that influences their outlooks. And, for those of us who write historical stories of nontraditional sexuality – how they expressed it, how they hid it, their view of themselves in a society that at best, silently ignored what was universally viewed as a disgusting perversion. There were precious few crumbs to sift through. One biographer theorized that whatever evidence of homosexuality was left behind in diary or letters that was not destroyed by Schumann’s wife or Mendelssohn’s executors, was systematically destroyed by Hitler’s government when he was elevated as an official cultural hero of the Third Reich. But they missed enough for me reconstruct (and to fill in where there were no facts to draw upon) a life lived at least half in shadow.
October 28, 2008
‘I never knew a woman brought to sea in a ship that some mischief did not befall the vessel‘
Admiral Cuthbert Collingwood
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.