romance


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)

I must be getting used to this. I no longer get butterflies in the tummy as I go in through the door of Joe Daflo’s, I’m used to being the second youngest person present and I know that no-one will kill me if I say I write gay romance. I do still have the feeling that they’ll out me one day and discover that I’m not really a writer, but that’s more how I feel about me than how they feel.

Today’s speaker was Jenny Haddon, author, RNA treasurer and generally good egg. She was telling us about the history of the RNA, which celebrates 50 years of existence in 2010. They’ve undergone changes of name, and perhaps of mission, but the present day organisation’s aims are (in their words):

We work to enhance and promote the various types of romantic and historical fiction, to encourage good writing in all its many varieties, to learn more about our craft and help readers enjoy it.
Romantic Fiction covers an enormous range, from short stories through category romance and much of women’s fiction, to the classics. The nature of romantic fiction means that most of these novels are written and read by women. The RNA, however, boasts a number of very successful male authors amongst their membership.

The list of past officers boasts plenty of well known names, and it was the stories about some of these larger than life characters which enthralled us. There was no surprise in hearing tales of people who had Ivor Novello round to tea or ones who didn’t think you were ‘in’ unless you had royalty in your address book. What was more intriguing were tales of the author who travelled abroad to watch operas and came home wearing fur coats and jewels which belonged to Jewish people who were about to leave pre-war Europe (the valuables being, in effect, smuggled in plain sight so that when these émigrés arrived they would have something of value to sell).

Given the present hoo-hah on various fronts (you don’t need to spell that out, do you?) I listened to some of the early history trying to fight a wry grin. Back-biting, power struggles, people unable – or unused – to working together and having consensus decisions, all the familiar elements were there. Author branding and maintaining the image the public expect, the under-appreciation of romantic fiction by the ‘highbrow’ critics – plus ca change? And when Ms Haddon described organising authors as being like herding cats I wanted to shout out ‘Bingo!’

As I keep saying to any UK writers, find your local RNA chapter and hie thee hence. You’ll love it.

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!

Today was the bi-monthly local Romantic Novelists’ Association lunch. I love going to these – not only is it held in a nice venue, and I get lunch out, the event makes me feel young and rather techno whizzy (as opposed to feeling old and techno Neanderthal, which is my usual state).

Out of about fourteen people present, there was an author in her thirties and then, at a sprightly fifty-one, I was second youngest. (Apart from my sixteen year old daughter, of whom more anon.) If I was being stereotypical I’d say that most of my fellow romance writers look just like you’d expect them to. And there’s nothing wrong with that, in fact it’s rather reassuring.

It’s always interesting when we start chatting about how we meet other authors, promote, deal with publishers, etc. A number of people aren’t into online stuff at all, which makes me think I’m cutting edge, although it was interesting that it was the youngest author who thought one of the reasons Kindle wouldn’t take off was not being able to read it in the bath. And one of the more mature ladies who said that Kindle was the way forward, once they sorted out the technology and was outlining its many advantages. (So don’t judge a book by its cover…)

The speaker was Jean Fullerton; it’s always fascinating to hear successful authors talk about how they got their break and she was particularly interesting when she spoke about her experiences with the RNA new writers scheme, which had been decidedly curate’s eggy. She is dyslexic, so had taken the decision to have her submissions professionally produced to create a good impression (that rang bells, given the four macaronis’ experiences on the acquisitions team for ‘I Do’).

I sat with a different group of people this time, so had to go through the whole “What do you write?” “Gay romance, Edwardian gay romantic suspense.” Slightly different responses this time – not negative but a distinct hint of people thinking “I really don’t know what to say in reply”. Interesting to have Number two daughter listening in, as she picked up this, too. The pro-Kindle lady was least nonplussed, comparing the genre to Sarah Waters’ work, and the conversation neatly turned to doing historical research for novels. Still, I got invited to another writers’ event (a group who meet at Borders) so I wasn’t persona non grata.

And as for my beloved daughter? Another book you can’t judge by her cover. She creates a rather ditzy impression, so people are left gobsmacked when she confesses to wanting to read medicine. She doesn’t say a lot when she’s with strangers but what she says is very perceptive. When asked if she had any writerly ambitions, quick as a flash she said “Writing’s a bit too much inward looking for me. Authors are in a room somewhere, working on their own. I prefer things where I can interact with other people.”

Which left silence around the table and me with real food for thought.

charlielogobig

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.

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

Window

(more…)

‘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.

(more…)

This seems to be a perennial question. Answer it once and it dies down like a dandelion only to spring up in three new places in a week’s time. People seem terribly concerned that women should do anything so strange, and they offer explanations which to me seem stranger than the fact itself.

The latest of these concerned commentators surfaced recently on the ERWA ‘Smutters’ column here: http://www.erotica-readers.com/ERA/SL/JR-Turn-ons_and_Squicks.htm

If I’m reading this correctly it seems to conclude (it’s hard to say, because the reasoning is not exactly coherent throughout) that in this author’s opinion women write m/m because they dislike women. If they did not dislike women, she seems to think, then they would naturally want to write about women. They would not want to write a genre which by its very nature excludes the possibility of a woman being one of the two main characters.

This explanation sounds quite convincing until you start asking actual m/m writers why they write what they write. Once you do that, it rapidly becomes clear that the picture is more complicated and that one size very much does not fit all.

So, here is a quick summary of the reasons I personally write m/m, and the reasons I have heard other people give for why they write it.

First of all – why shouldn’t we write m/m?

Why do some people decide to write crime when others decide to write romance? Why do some desperately want to write science fiction, and some can’t imagine doing anything other than horror? What is it that draws some authors to chick lit and some to historicals? I venture to suggest that the same mechanism is in play with the m/m genre. This is simply what some people are wired up to write.

For my part, the stories which have come into my head have been m/m stories from the moment I started writing at age 11. I didn’t choose it – it’s just been the way my mind has always worked.

Surely the question ‘but why do you write m/m of all things?’ indicates more about the questioner’s attitude than the writer’s. Is there something wrong with m/m? Something more peculiar about it than other genres? Something that needs more justification than other genres? I don’t think so.

No one asks a crime writer to become a murderer in order to write about psychopaths, or insists that science fiction writers ought to be alien lifeforms before they can write about other species. Why should a woman not be perfectly capable of, and entitled to write about men?

But still, some reasons:

There are several different reasons I’m aware of for women to want to write m/m, and I’m sure there are other reasons I’m not aware of. This is a short list off the top of my head:

1. One man is sexy, two men doubly so.

Just as many men enjoy the thought of two women together, many women enjoy the thought of two men together. Why not? Men are sexy. If you’re reading a story in which they are both viewpoint characters you have the treat of being able to identify with whichever hero you find it easiest to empathise with and still be able to admire the other one through his eyes.

Rationalizing the appeal of two men together can probably be done, but why should we have to? Too many people have tried to tell women in the past what their sexuality should be. To them I say ‘tough’. I find this sexy. Whatever guilt trip you try to impose on me to try and ‘correct’ this kink, I’m not buying it. Why shouldn’t I write stories celebrating and enjoying something that I find very lovely?

2. M/M relationships are not plagued by the same gender stereotypes as m/f.

If we want to examine what a truly equal relationship feels like – a relationship without any of the inbuilt prejudices and assumptions which have dogged us as women for millennia – m/m is a good place to do that. We don’t have to struggle with or against the reader’s expectations. We don’t have the baggage of centuries to deal with. We can just put that all down and start off at a position of equality that in real life we still haven’t necessarily reached. It’s a refreshing imaginative break from a society that still at times treats us as second class citizens.

3. M/M fiction is edgy and transgressive and it makes the writer feel as though they’re doing something cool.

4. M/M fiction is an attempt to correct an overwhelming preponderance of heterosexual messages in the rest of the media, whether that’s movies, books or TV, and make sure that another segment of the population has romance novels which are relevant to them. The desire to examine and celebrate love is the same whether the love is m/m, f/f or m/f.

5. M/M fiction is a way to write about GBLT relationships without having to fit the story into the more constrained, domestic sphere which history has traditionally allotted to women. In other words, particularly if you’re writing historical fiction, it’s easier to believably add a mixture of action/adventure to m/m fiction than f/f fiction, simply because society made it all but impossible for women to be involved with the ‘outer’ world of politics, war, the professions etc.

6. M/M fiction is selling well, and to market-savvy writers it looks like the up and coming place to be.

I’m sure there are more reasons than this. If you have a different one, why not add it in the comments? J

To the question ‘can m/m fiction ever be motivated by misogyny?’ I’m sure the answer is ‘yes, at times it can’. I would be surprised if there was any genre of fiction where none of the writers were tainted by misogyny, if only because it’s such a staple of our culture that – like other sins – if we say we are without it, we deceive ourselves. But to tar the whole genre with the same brush is both unhelpful and unscholarly. It smacks of having come to the conclusion beforehand and bent the data to fit it.

In my experience, most people write not because they have an agenda but because they have stories to tell. If you have an explanation for why some stories turn up in your head and others don’t – why some are impossible to write and some can’t be stopped – you’re doing a great deal better than I can. Do comment! I’d love to hear it.

GAY PSYCHOLOGY, EIGHTEENTH-CENTURY STYLE

Ann Herendeen

fnallady

Alex Beecroft’s last post, on Romance vs. Research, leads neatly into this topic. From discussing historical factual research, such as shoe buckles and weevils in ships biscuit, she progresses to something intangible and hard to define: the question of people’s beliefs, outlooks and attitudes in the past—their psychology. Beecroft rightly points out that we don’t want to create fictional characters who are merely modern people in costume, that we need to give our historical characters appropriate ways of thinking for their time. But I wonder how much we can know of people’s inner lives in the past, or whether we can know at all.

During most of the recent past, few people wrote memoirs as we define the term, or were deeply introspective on paper. And chances were, if they did leave anything revealing behind, a relative or friend had the presence of mind to destroy it. Even if nothing scandalous was recorded, it was nobody’s business. Privacy was all-important; self-knowledge merely vanity.

As writers, we have to extrapolate from the facts, which often means choosing between two diverging paths of interpretation. We know that in most previous centuries the level of infant and child mortality was high. But what did this mean for people’s emotional lives? Did parents stoically accept the deaths of their children, perhaps even shrug off the losses as a common occurrence? Or did most parents live in a constant state of grief and mourning? An article in The New York Times comparing modern Americans’ health and vital statistics with those of their Civil War (1860s) ancestors, brought out a remarkable finding: not only did most 19th-century people die in their 50s and 60s, but many relatively young people lived with painful undiagnosed or untreatable ailments. Rheumatism, arthritis, heart and lung disease, hernias and a host of unknown complaints—the sort of misery we wouldn’t put up with for five minutes—was the chronic condition for the majority of adults only a hundred and fifty years ago. But how did this affect their outlook on life? Did they consider their lives wretched? Or could they not imagine a different way of existence?

No, it’s not the facts that are missing; it’s the insight. Anybody trying to get a sense of how people thought in the past comes up against the almost complete lack of reflection. People confessed their misbehavior in diaries (like Samuel Pepys’) in meticulous, often coded detail, and wrote encyclopedic volumes of letters dissecting every social event, stray remark and shortcoming of friends, relatives and acquaintances over a long, verbose life. But too much concern with oneself was just…wrong. It was like cheating at cards or spitting in front of ladies. A gentleman (or a lady) didn’t do that. Most people of every class didn’t do that. It wouldn’t have occurred to them.

One of the oddest innovations of the modern world, the byproduct of our exposure to the disciplines of psychology and psychiatry, is our acceptance of constant, routine self-analysis. Not only do we ask probing questions of ourselves, but we discuss them endlessly with each other and keep journals and blogs for fear a waking moment should go by without our striving to understand ourselves better, and we keep dream diaries, searching for clues to what’s going on in our sleeping brains.

We are so accustomed to the idea of hashing over our every thought and emotion that we can’t imagine a time when people didn’t. People a mere two or three hundred years ago couldn’t be fundamentally different from us—could they? But it can be astonishing how “other” they can appear. When we read Samuel Pepys’ account, totally lacking in irony, of beating his boy servant—a child of perhaps ten—so hard and for so long that Pepys was only forced to stop because he hurt his own hand; when we see the 1742 portrait of the young Thomas, Baron Mansell, shotgun and dead partridge in one hand, his other hand holding his blind half sister’s, their fingers touching over the bird’s bloody wound, we know we’re dealing, on a psychological level, with some very different people, or at least people who haven’t spent hours on the analyst’s couch.

Once we get into the subject of gay historical fiction, the question becomes even more complicated. Sometimes it seems as if we can only speculate, and it’s not easy to know when we’re simply projecting out own outlook onto our characters. The facts are grim: capital crimes leading to threats of blackmail and arrests; suicides, emigration, hangings, the pillory and jail; lives ruined or led in fearful secrecy. Combine repressive laws with our instinctive feeling that people’s basic psychology hasn’t changed in the past two hundred years, and we can come up with some pretty depressing stories. Most of us, and certainly a comic novelist like me, can’t work with characters who are so severely demoralized as to be incapable of romantic feelings or heroic acts, or lack the self-confidence to be witty, sexy and brave on occasion. But can we justify any other way of being—and thinking—for our historical characters?

Many people I speak to about my work wonder aloud whether gay people existed in the past at all. The idea that there were not only self-identified “sodomites” or “mollies,” but that they had a vibrant, thriving subculture usually comes as a big surprise. If we set our story in 1700 or later, we can be true to the period while allowing our heroes, at least those who lived in a large city, to recognize their same-sex feelings for what they are and to identify, in a very modern sense, with a community, not just an individual relationship or sexual act. Once we establish that there was a gay identity similar to the modern one, many readers might logically assume that “gay” men of 1790 thought about their “sexual orientation” in the same way as gay men of 1990 did. But the world of 1790 was not much like the world of 1990—or 2008—and I’m not convinced the inhabitants of that world looked at it the same way we look at ours.

Alan Bray, in Homosexuality in Renaissance England, writes of a time, before the late seventeenth century, when the urge to have sex with one’s own kind was seen as natural to men. Men are superior to women; it is only to be expected a man will prefer another man. But “natural” didn’t equate with “right.” The urge was sinful, and must be suppressed. This attitude continued to find adherents well into the eighteenth century. Rictor Norton quotes a letter-writer to the newspaper who complains that if sodomy were not strongly punished, all men would choose it over marriage to women and the human species would go extinct. So, if we’re writing of a gay man in 1600 or even 1650, we might decide that he saw himself as having a strong natural, if sinful, urge that he must conceal, but was not really different from other men.

By 1700, Bray writes, “what had once been thought of as a potential in all sinful human nature had become the particular vice of a certain kind of people, with their own distinctive way of life.” This was the molly subculture so thoroughly documented by Norton. There’s a much more modern feel to this world, and it seems logical that our gay characters might have shared some of our own existential or at least psychological worries when faced with brutal, repressive laws that criminalized their natural sexual expression. Did they hate themselves? Deny their sexuality? Or did they swagger boldly through life defying the authorities, ending up on the gallows and shouting, “Kiss my arse,” before submitting to the hangman’s noose? Amusing as that last choice is, it’s highly improbable, difficult to justify for writers of realistic fiction. But it’s not immediately clear from what we see of the historical record that the first two are much better.

Reading of the men who committed suicide and those who felt the need to emigrate, it’s easy to conclude that they were the broken, demoralized people I rejected as desirable heroes for my writing. But is this the right way to see them? We know today that many suicides occur, not because a person wants to die or thinks he deserves to be dead: it’s simply that he can’t find another solution to his problem. Tragic as these stories are, they’re not proof that these men hated themselves. They were victims, but they defended themselves the only way they could.

And the emigrés—well, they were the ones with enough money to say “The law be damned” and live abroad on their own terms. William Beckford, who spent years in Portugal, kept scrapbooks of newspaper clippings about homosexual scandals, making sympathetic notes in the margins on the “poor sods.” James Ogilvy, 7th Earl of Findlater, who spent most of his life in what are now Germany and Austria, was “outed” at his death in 1811 by his relatives, not for reasons of morality but for his estates worth 40,000 pounds a year, which he had left to his lover. These are the men saying, “Kiss my arse,” as they board the boat and watch the White Cliffs of Dover fade in the distance.

What about the majority of men, the ones not wealthy enough to live abroad? Surely these men were timid, cautious, even depressed or downright miserable a lot of the time. This is where I think we as writers have to make an imaginative leap of faith. Yes, the laws criminalized some sex acts between men. Yes, a man could be hanged if convicted of committing “sodomy” (anal sex) with another man. Yes, even if penetration couldn’t be proved, he could be pilloried, fined and imprisoned—almost a death sentence for anyone frail, old or just unlucky—for “attempted sodomy.” He could be arrested for being in a molly house during a raid, or for walking in a known cruising spot and being accosted by a mugger who could then accuse his victim of being a sodomite. And yes, he could be investigated, blackmailed, informed on, his life ruined, just for living in his own house with his boyfriend, bothering nobody.

But…here’s the interesting part: we know this because men did do all these things. They went to molly houses and danced and drank and had sex with other men. They visited the streets and parks and public toilets frequented by men looking for casual sex. They bought men drinks in taverns and went upstairs with them to private rooms; they hooked up with soldiers and sailors; and they lived with their boyfriends and didn’t get married (to women). We know this because some of them were arrested and put on trial and we can read the records.

And when we read the testimony, very little of it sounds like intimidated, miserable suicidal losers. Some of these men were ignorant of the law, but most were, like most of us, just hoping that they won’t get the speeding ticket this time, that the employer won’t check to see if I really have that Ph.D. from Harvard, and that a tube of mascara in my bag won’t set off the alarm, and besides, the checkout line is so damn long and so slow, I shouldn’t have to pay for this overpriced junk anyway. Yes, the stakes were much higher for the mollies, but when we look at all the drunk-driving fatalities today we can see that risk-taking hasn’t disappeared from our psychology; it’s just moved into other arenas.

In most of the past, as now, people did what they had to or what they could, or, occasionally, if they were very fortunate indeed, what they wanted to. If it was illegal or dangerous or sinful, they made some sort of mental adjustment. Many obvious dangers (to us) like drinking unfiltered water without boiling it first, or being bitten by malaria-carrying mosquitoes, or going horseback riding without wearing a helmet were either unavoidable or not perceived as dangerous. Life was dangerous—and violent—in the past to a degree unimaginable to us. Even the concept of sin could be construed in various ways, like our modern, “It’s wrong in general but right for me.” Sex outside of marriage was a sin, but there were far more female brothels in any large city two and three hundred years ago than now.

Another factor to consider is how astonishingly (to us) naïve many people were about basic sexual acts. The eighteenth-century physician telling of his patient who contracted a sexually–transmitted disease from being fellated by another man—who did it by choice—has the same breathless, semi-apologetic tone as today’s gullible friend who passes on every e-mail urban legend and Internet scam. “Yes, I know it sounds incredible, but I heard it with my own ears.” The modern mind, sexually overexposed from early childhood, reels. But this was the emotional and sexual universe our characters inhabited. George MacDonald Fraser, author of the Flashman books, put an excellent example of this dissonance in the first novel, when the antihero narrator relates his future wife’s pleasurable loss of her virginity. “Was that what the minister means when he talks of fornication?” she asks afterward. Told that it is, she wonders, “Why has he such a down on it?”

Norton makes a compelling argument that the increasing number of raids and arrests as the eighteenth century progressed and into the nineteenth was due, not to a growing population of “mollies,” or more molly houses, but to the public’s greater awareness that homosexuality existed. The sixteenth century and most of the seventeenth saw very few prosecutions. Of course gay men existed before 1700; they simply had not yet developed a visible culture. As Bray tells us, after the Buggery Act (1533) was established during the Protestant Reformation (part of Henry VIII’s campaign to give the secular court prominence over the ecclesiastical court), the crime of “sodomy” came to be associated by lawmakers, and in the popular imagination, with witchcraft, treason and heresy. But on the individual level, who in his right mind would connect his loving friendships or simple lusts of the body with such demonic offenses? Throughout the next 150 years, as the gay subculture developed, I doubt many gay men lost much sleep over where they belonged in the witchcraft-treason-heresy-sodomy continuum.

When I set out to write this post, I was convinced that gay men of the Georgian era were freer psychologically before the mid-nineteenth century’s “medicalization” of homosexuality, in Norton’s phrase. Being a criminal or outlaw sounds less emotionally damaging than suffering from mental illness. A pirate or a highwayman can be glamorous, a popular hero; someone who’s sick is a patient at best, more likely a lunatic, or a bedlamite—or just pathetic. But as I reread Bray and Norton’s work, I changed my mind. Sodomites were never admired like highwayman; they were despised by the mob and treated worse than other offenders. Each era characterized the “problem” of homosexuality appropriately for its own way of viewing the world. As the dark, religion-dominated seventeenth century gave way to the Enlightenment, so sodomy moved from being a sin to “just” a crime. By the later nineteenth century, with the recognition of how natural homosexuality was in a biological sense, it seemed more humane to call it a disease, a condition beyond the sufferer’s control, rather than a sin or a crime, behavior that a sinner or criminal could change.

And so it is with gay “psychology” in the past. There can’t be one answer that fits all; neither diverging path of interpretation is always Right or always Wrong. Some parents mourned their dead children and sank into despair; others conceived more babies, and hoped. Some of the young sick people took on the persona of the “invalid;” others soldiered on uncomplaining. Some gay men internalized society’s views; many others accepted their sexual orientation as innate, perhaps even reveled in it. Norton cites examples throughout the eighteenth century and on into the twentieth of men who knew themselves to be gay and ignored the attempts by religious leaders, lawyers, judges, doctors and psychologists to “explain” what was as natural as breathing. As William Brown, arrested in 1726 and facing ruin, said at his trial, “I think there is no crime in making what use I please of my own body.”

Creating gay historical characters and writing queer historical romance gives us the perfect opportunity to do what novelists do, what writing fiction is all about: make stuff up. When I first set out to discover what the gay world of 1800 was like, I never in a million years expected to find that precursor of the late 1970s disco age I encountered in Rictor Norton’s work. Maybe his interpretation is slanted by his agenda of gay empowerment. Or maybe not. But I believed it. I hope, in my writing, to do a good enough job that I can make my readers suspend their disbelief, disregard the prejudices of the modern world, whatever they are, and convince them, for the length of the book, that this is how it was.

*****

Sources:

Alan Bray’s work, He published “Homosexuality in Renaissance” England back in 1982.

http://www.amazon.com/Homosexuality-Renaissance-England-Alan-Bray/dp/0231102895/ref=pd_bbs_sr_2?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1210753096&sr=1-2

Rictor Norton’s website:

http://www.infopt.demon.co.uk/

I also used his out-of-print “Mother Clap’s Molly House: The Gay Subculture in England 1700-1830.”. There’s a new edition out last year.

Another source I like is the glbtq encyclopedia:

http://www.glbtq.com/

It seems strange to introduce myself as a veteran writer of m/m historical romance when the fact is that my first book was only released on the first of January this year (2008). However, ‘Captain’s Surrender’ certainly is a gay historical romance. Set in 1779, just before the end of the War of Independence, it’s a sea-faring adventure in the tradition of Patrick O’Brian. If PoB had given greater prominence to his gay characters, that is.

Captain's Surrender

Unlike many more professional writers, it never occurred to me to find out what the market was like; what was hot, what was not. If I had, I might have been discouraged by the fact that there seemed to be fifty contemporary novels and ten paranormals for every historical. This was an instance in which my own lack of savvy came to my rescue, because I just wrote what I wanted to read.

I’ve been in love with the 18th Century Royal Navy since watching ‘Master and Commander’. I wanted all that military glamor, all the excitement of battles, storms, shipwrecks, combat and life-or-death peril, combined with a strong focus on characterization, star-crossed, forbidden romance, true love conquering all, and a happy ending. In short, I wanted a book that would satisfy both the masculine and the feminine side of myself. I have to say that – for me at least – I managed to succeed in that.

My other published novel is called ‘The Witch’s Boy’, but as a pseudo-early-Norman fantasy, which is neither historical nor particularly gay (though hero and villain are ex-lovers), it’s probably not appropriate for this blog.

I do however have an Age of Sail short story called ‘90% Proof’ coming out soon in an anthology (called ‘Inherently Sexual’) from Freya’s Bower.

Inherently Sexual

And at the moment I’m working on a second Age of Sail novel, under a working title of ‘Secrets’, examining how society’s condemnation of same sex love harms not only GBLT people but society itself. Which sounds very pretentious, I know, but which also involves battles with pirates, the white slave trade, cannibals, threesomes, family angst, and recurring appearances by famous castratos, so it can’t be all bad.

I run the ‘In Their Own Words‘ blog, which is a promotional resource for GBLT novels, where authors can put up interviews with their own characters. I also moderate the Gay and Lesbian Excerpts blog on both WP and Myspace. I occasionally review on ‘Speak Its Name‘ and I blather on incessantly about anything that takes my fancy on my own blog: HMS Gruntleship.

I’m really hoping that The Macaronis becomes a great place for anyone who loves gay historic fiction, and if you have any great ideas for how to make it better, do get in touch.

Okay, get your minds out of the gutter! *G* My upcoming gay historical paranormal is finally on the “Coming Soon” page of my publisher. No cover yet, but I just finished the first edits and that’s always a good thing!
Re-reading it made me fall in love with my characters all over again. If I had any doubt that my story belonged here, it vanished after doing these deep edits.

All the research and love I poured into my guys’ stories came through – I hope!

More to come!

Or how I wound up a part of the Macaronis.

My first books published were part of a paranormal trilogy. The second book included two sets of characters who engaged in m/m sexual activity. One couple was comprised of the villain and his cohort. The shared sex verged on nonconsensual and was portrayed in a negative manner — not the gay aspect, the forced, cruel aspect. My other couple were written in a positive light. One character, traditionally for his position as a “shaman”, felt compelled to give up his love and remain celibate. This precipitated a break of twenty years since the rejected fellow misconstrued this rejection as a revulsion toward his feelings and left the community. My book was set twenty years after this breakup and the characters reconcile. Now, these guys were secondary characters, but I loved their scenes together. Several books later and only one contained m/m characters but in the back of my mind characters were begging for release.

I love history and more and more of my books have an historical overtone. So, finally, this year I thought of my favorite period in American history and wondered how was it for men who loved men? I knew a little about Walt Whitman’s vacillating homosexuality, but that was about it, and so, before I set out to write this book, I researched as much additional information about homosexuality in that time frame as I could.

Man, talk about don’t ask don’t tell. I did find material, but it was an arduous task. Anyway, now that I’ve dipped my toes in the water, I’ll be writing more m/m historicals because I love writing them!

Whew! Glad to get that off my chest!
Jeanne

This is a shared blog owned by Erastes, Lee Rowan, Alex Beecroft and Charlie Cochrane. We’re all published (or soon to be published) writers of gay historical romance novels:

standishsm.jpg ransomlr.jpg cs_200.jpg

And we’ll be posting here about our books and about history, writing, GBLT issues and any combination of the three.

If you’re a historical novelist and want to join the gang, or to contribute a post, just drop me a line on alex@alexbeecroft.com and I’ll see what I can do :)

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