m/m romance


An interview with two purveyors of gay historicals, expanded from the original which appeared in the Romantic Novelists Association magazine, considering the differences (and similarities) between straight and gay romances written within a historical setting.

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

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

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

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

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

Of course, the lack of a socially sanctioned wedding doesn’t mean that they can’t privately offer one another similar vows.  They can have every bit of the same emotional impact.  Even more so, perhaps, since the reader knows what an act of love in the face of all odds they represent. I know too that there are some readers of gay romance who might regard the traditional Happy Ever After = marriage ending as worryingly heteronormative.  What are your thoughts on that?

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

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

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

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

How about you?

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

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

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

Wild Bells, two historical novellas by Charlie Cochrane.

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Captain’s Surrender by Alex Beecroft

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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?

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.

Piet

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.

Richard

Love letters from Orlando to Jonty

1911 style

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

Orlando

1961 style

Jonty

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

Orlando

2011 style

A record of an MSN conversation between:

Orlando

<OCoppersmith1@cantab.net>

and

Jonty eat Tempest, drink Hamlet, live the sonnets

<hotcrumpet@hotmail.co.uk>

Jonty eat Tempest, drink Hamlet, live the sonnets says:

Hi 🙂

Orlando says:

Hello; are you well?

Jonty eat Tempest, drink Hamlet, live the sonnets says:

Fine. How R U?

Orlando says:

Very well, thank you. I gave my paper today.

Jonty eat Tempest, drink Hamlet, live the sonnets says:

🙂   Go OK?

Orlando 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

Orlando says:

Sorry – I forgot about the limit on characters.

Jonty eat Tempest, drink Hamlet, live the sonnets says:

U always do. Missing U.  🙂  ♥ U.

Orlando says:

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.

Orlando says:

      They give me a migraine.

Jonty eat Tempest, drink Hamlet, live the sonnets says:

      Aw. Shan’t use any more emoticons.  😦

Orlando says:

      Thank goodness for that. LOL

Jonty eat Tempest, drink Hamlet, live the sonnets says:

      you used an abbreviation! *dances around the room*

Orlando says:

      ‘You’ needs a capital. I miss you.

Jonty eat Tempest, drink Hamlet, live the sonnets says:

      Idiot. I miss you too. GTG. ♥♥♥ you lots.

Orlando says:

      You too. XXX 

Jonty eat Tempest, drink Hamlet, live the sonnets says:

      XOXOXOXOXOXOXOX

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.

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…)

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