writing


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.

17th Century

17th Century

By Mark R. Probst

My current writing project is a piece about a gay soldier in a famous historical battle. It is a unique challenge to write a fictional story with fictional characters and have them interact with real characters and true events in a historically significant battle, especially one as well-known as the one I have chosen. I have to envy fantasy writers as they have the liberty to completely invent the battles to serve their characters. However in my case I must delicately weave the threads of my fictional story into the tapestry of history while carefully avoiding collisions that would alter true history.

My first step was to thoroughly research this particular battle to see where my story would best fit in. I read a book written by an authority and I also dug up all the information I could find on the internet (isn’t Wikipedia great?)

18th Century

18th Century

In my case it was necessary to choose a specific real-life troop to which my soldiers would belong, and map out the logistics of the story based on all the known facts about this troop. If a battle is large and complex, a writer might get away with inventing an entire troop. I didn’t have this luxury as the specifics of this battle are rather well documented. Research can be either fun or a drudge. For me, reading non-fiction materials comes under the drudge category, while watching all the movies about this battle is definitely on the fun side. As a film buff, I like to pattern my writing style after classic movies. This particular battle was immortalized on film a number of times, and it is quite interesting to compare all the different interpretations. Though I do have to be careful, because some of the movies I encountered in this instance took a ridiculous amount of artistic license to reinvent history!

19th Century

19th Century

I found that with my one other published work, I had the most success by marketing it as a traditional romance since it did fit within those guidelines.  Now, writing about war, I’m making a departure from that genre.  Because I am striving for authenticity, it occurs to me that “happily ever after” rarely exists in war.  Sure, being away from home and under extreme duress, soldiers often found comfort in the arms of lovers.  But once the conflict ended, they returned to their wives or families and left these temporary wartime romances behind.

 

One problem I see in a lot of gay historicals, is what Erastes has coined as OK homo – the tendency to make it a little too easy for gay people to live and be happy in a historical context.  While it is certainly pleasant to imagine a happy idyllic gay couple living in the 19th Century, it’s just not realistic.  Don’t get me wrong; I have nothing against these feel-good gay historical romances, after all I wrote one myself!  It’s just that my goal with this new story is to create a believable environment in which a soldier knows he has romantic yearnings for a comrade, and also knows that to reveal these desires would be fatal.

The whole subject of gays in the military became a rather conspicuous news story 17 years ago when President Clinton made a campaign promise to lift the ban; and then again as our present administration announced its intention to abolish “don’t ask, don’t tell.” I don’t think it’s unreasonable to believe that by the time President Obama leaves office, gays and lesbians will be proudly and openly serving their country.

For research purposes this book is essential

For research purposes this book is essential

So the fact that gay and lesbian military personnel have had to serve in secret throughout history makes for a rich landscape in which to cultivate stories. For inspiration, check out Randy Shilts’ wonderful book entitled “Conduct Unbecoming” that documents real-life gay and lesbian cases all the way back to the Revolutionary War. You will be astounded to know the very large number of dishonorable discharges that were processed every year for homosexuality as the U. S. military was actively entrapping and ferreting out gays and lesbians. Not to mention the cases of soldiers who actually spent years in military prisons after being court-martialed for sodomy. What is absolutely inconceivable to me is that in 1975 decorated Viet Nam war hero Leonard Matlovich was dishonorably discharged from the Air Force after publicly coming out. He sued the Air Force for reinstatement. While he was never reinstated, he did get his discharge changed from dishonorable to honorable. The Air Force did this mainly to rescue their eroding PR, but policy did not change and thousands of men and women continued to be ferreted out.

In closing I’d like to bring your attention to this submissions call. We are looking for good stories that demonstrate what life must have been like for gay and/or lesbian military personnel in a historical setting. Whether it’s 18th Century English Naval officers, 19th Century cavalry soldiers, the men storming the beaches of Normandy on D-day, or the draftees of the Viet Nam War, homosexuals were present and participated in these events and its time they got their due.

LGBT Military History Submissions Call

LGBT Military History Submissions Call

And finally please allow me to mention a few of the books that have been written with major gay characters in military settings: The upcoming Transgressions by Erastes (English Civil War) and False Colors by Alex Beecroft (One of those English Naval Wars), A Different Sin by Rochelle Hollander Schwab (American Civil War), Ransom and all its sequels by Lee Rowan, Captain’s Surrender by Alex Beecroft, and last but certainly not least The Charioteer by Mary Renault.

 

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!

Stone Age

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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!

Wikipedia starter on the Stone Age

Bronze Age

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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?)

Wikipedia starter on the Bronze Age

Iron Age

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:

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Thanks to http://www.mysteriousetruscans.com/theopompus/index.html

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!

by Kiernan Kelly

A reader recently remarked to me that he found the thought of writing a historical piece of romantic fiction intimidating. “I don’t know enough. I’m not a historian, like you,” he said.

 

After I finished laughing hysterically, I had to set him straight.

 

When it comes to being an authority on anything besides tying my own shoelaces, I’m the first to admit to my sad lack of expertise. I am not a history buff; I cannot quote the dates and places of famous battles, nor can I pull details of Victorian Age fashion, or Renaissance architecture out of my ass. I cannot intelligently contribute to discussions of pre-Greece Middle Eastern culture — or post-Greece, for that matter. I do not offhand know the difference between a brigantine and schooner; or what Edwardian men wore under their trousers. 

 

In my opinion, it’s much easier to write contemporary romance. I already know what the locations look like — even if I’ve never been there personally, there’s a good chance I know someone who has, and there’s always Google Earth, travel documentaries, and the web. I know the protocol of dating, the etiquette of the dinner table. I know from personal experience how it feels to ride in a car, a train, a plane, and on a cruise ship. I know how hot dogs taste, have eaten truffles, and understand how a thick, frosty milkshake can give you a brain freeze. I know how to rent a room in a motel, and the differences one might find between a room at Motel 6 and the Hilton. I can place a character virtually anywhere on the planet, and describe him and his setting with some conviction.

 

Writing historical romance is much, much trickier. The details of the story, the setting, the props, and the landscape are as alien to me in my personal bubble of experience as the far side of the universe.

 

All of which raises the question: why is this person, who admits to being the human equivalent of a historical factoid void, posting to a historical fiction writers’ group blog?

 

The answer is simple. While I know precious little about history, I do write historical m/m romance, and enjoy it. Before anyone begins sharpening the guillotine or fashioning a hangman’s noose, let me explain — my statement isn’t as oxymoronic as it sounds. While my brain cells aren’t steeped in historical data, I do hold both a fondness for, and interest in our species’ past. I don’t profess to be a historian, neither professional nor amateur, but I do possess a healthy imagination, a computer, and a library card.

 

That said, all I can possibly contribute to this blog is to share what I told the reader who mistakenly pegged me as an expert — my view from the short bus, the remedial history class as it were, where I sit at the back of the room trying to pass the exam by shooting my cuffs.  

 

I believe it is entirely possible to write a piece of credible, believable historical fiction without holding a PhD in Ancient Civilizations or the high score in Jeopardy. While I won’t begin to pretend to be a historian, I can discuss how I, someone who doesn’t know the difference between a cutlass and a scimitar, can write a historical romance.

 

The trick — for me, at any rate — is research, and lots of it. It isn’t unusual for me to spend as much or possibly more time researching details as it does for me to write the story. Sometimes I begin collecting data months before I even take the time to rough out a plot.

 

I’ll take trips to a brick-and-mortar library where I’ll take copious notes in chicken scratch decipherable by me alone, later to be transcribed into a Word document, and I’ll surf the web until my fingers are worn down to nubs. I’m in the process of building my own library of reference books, fettered only by the limits of my sorely overtaxed credit cards.

 

Has any of this research made me a historian? No. Again, I must remind the reader that I am not an expert. What I am is an information pack rat.

 

I keep my notes along with everything I’ve found scouring online resources — whether in the end, I use them or not — in a computer file. I never delete these files. My reasoning is that if, in the future, I decide to write another story set in that period, the research is already done and at my fingertips.

 

I never make the mistake of assuming I know anything. Aside from the entire ass/you/me thing, assuming I know something as fact is a surefire way to screw up the details, and believe you me, someone, somewhere will notice and call me on it. I once got an angry two-page letter from a reader berating me because I didn’t correctly describe the splatter pattern of a shotgun blast.

 

Two entire pages. Seriously.

 

The only other tip I can offer is never to take anything you read at face value. Wikipedia, perhaps the most oft-used — while equally oft-lamented — database on the Internet is a good stepping-off point for research, but an unreliable one. I’ll take what I’ve learned there and find other, credible sources to support the information. I’ll double-check my facts, then triple-check them to be certain. In this stage of the game, I feel free to be as obsessive as I’d like — in this instance, anal retentiveness can only stand me in good stead when I finally put pen to paper. 

 

I question everything as I’m writing. For example, if writing a dinner scene set in ancient Greece during the Bronze Age, I’ll ask myself whether my characters would know what a fork is, let alone how to use one (probably not, considering the fork didn’t make an appearance in Greece until roughly 400 AD, and yes, I had to look it up). What type of furniture did they use? What type of bowls and serving platters? What did they eat? What kind of clothing did they wear, and of which type of fabric? I’ll make a list of these questions and more, then hit the books to find the answers.

 

If I’m writing a pirate story set on one of the aforementioned brigantines during the early 18th century, I’ll research how the ships were built, find diagrams, and learn which parts served what functions. I’ll learn how many sails there should be, how they were rigged, and the difference between the forecastle and the poop deck.

 

Speaking of poop, I’ll even consider how my pirate hero might manage the most routine of everyday chores and ablutions — how was food cooked aboard a wooden ship, and how did they manage their waste? Even if I don’t use all the information collected, I feel the knowledge of the most intimate details of my character’s life will only add believability as I write the story.

 

I’ve become comfortable saying, “I don’t know,” and “I need help.” When all else fails, I’ll ask an expert. The web is stuffed full of contact information for historians. I’ll send an email explaining who I am and my mission, along with my question to an appropriate source, and politely ask for an opinion. At worst, I’m ignored, and at best, get an educated response, or at least, a nudge in the right direction for further research.

 

I’ll also ask other authors for their favorite informational sources. Most, like the Macaronis, are more than willing to share their special sources, those books and websites they rely on when fishing for facts.

 

I think another invaluable tool for a historical writer — or any writer for that matter — is a strong sense of empathy. It isn’t enough to simply find the facts, to envision a ship or a castle, to stare at illustrations of doublets and frock coats, or paintings of wattle-and-daub huts, or cobblestone streets lined with gas lamps. I think a writer needs to be able to feel what it’s like to be their character in that setting, wearing those clothes, living in that civilization, in that time period.

 

As children, we found this an easy task. We became the pirates, the knights, the princes on our white steeds. We lived and breathed inside their skins, with little or no effort on our parts. As we grew older, we were taught to put aside childish nonsense, to act our ages. What a shame. The ability to pretend so easily, so completely, would do us in good stead now.

 

A writer needs to know how to recapture that long-lost freedom to believe we are the character, to look at our modern kitchens and see an open hearth and rough-hewn table, to walk the aisle of a supermarket and see an open-air market in Babylonia. That skill and the facts uncovered during research will combine on paper to form a believable, historically accurate story. 

 

Will I ever be a historian? Probably not. I am a jack-of-all-trades and master of none, stuck forever in the back row of the remedial history class, admiring those among my peers who’ve aced the honors course.

 

Can I write a believable piece of historical romance? Sure. I can, and I have.

 

So can you.

 

 

Kiernan Kelly is the author of In Bear Country, and In Bear Country II: The Barbary Coast.  

 

 

conflict200x300I am happy to announce the release of CONFLICT,  the sequel to my novel CANE.  I seem to have been waiting a long time for the release of the follow up novel but it’s been worth all the effort :)

BLURB:
Two men, one war. Can love survive when each takes a different side?

Leaving his lover behind to support the Abolitionist cause, Piet Van Leyden finds himself leading one of the first all-black Union troops
into the heart of battle. Reuniting with free slave and former love, Joss, brings some comfort, but will his presence tempt Piet into forgetting the love waiting for him at home?

Sebastian Cane wonders how he’s able to go on without Piet by his side. When a series of unfortunate events lands him a prisoner of the Union, Seb knows he must rely on his wits and his love for Piet to survive…and get home to him.

EXCERPT:
It was difficult for Pieter to concentrate on Grainger’s words. Of course he had thought on the possibility of running into Joss once it was permitted for blacks to join the army, but he had never really believed it would happen. There were literally thousands of men in the Union army, the numbers rising all the time and the odds must be enormous.

His thoughts faltered again as he heard the lieutenant state the private’s name. Peters? Joss had taken… Pieter didn’t know what he felt about it, that Joss had taken that as his name. Flattered? Appalled? Touched? Oh, Joss!

“Peters?” Pieter queried haltingly, his voice sounding odd even to his own ears.

“Yes, sir,” Joss replied, keeping his voice formal, staring over his commander’s shoulder. Then abruptly he shifted his eyes and looked directly at Pieter. “Named for the only man who ever showed me a kindness, sir.”

Pieter stared at his old friend and ex-lover, emotion running through him to find him looking so well. “I see,” he replied softly. “Thank you, private.”

“Sir!” Joss said smartly, stepping back into line.

Pieter knew he gave orders and passed out praise and criticism in equal measure, but when the day ended the only thing he could clearly remember was the look in Joss’ eyes as they had stared at each other. Pieter just had to talk with him but he couldn’t simply single him out to speak to privately without reason. A company commander would have no cause to communicate with a private soldier without going through junior officers, unless for censure or commendation.

He paced his tent for thirty minutes until he recognized there was a way. Grainger had inadvertently given it to him.

“Grainger!” he called, sticking his head out of his tent, looking round for the lieutenant.

“Here, sir,” a voice floated from nearby in the dark and then the pale face of the lieutenant came into view.

“That private, the one who you introduced?”

“Peters, sir?”

“Yes, that one. Send for him. I want to have a few words and he should be ideal for providing me with background.”

“Yes, sir, immediately.”

Pieter sat in the rickety chair behind the small folding table in his small tent. He was nervous at the prospect of seeing Joss again, and being able to talk to him. Pieter smiled at his own reaction, he knew it wasn’t at all logical.

Presently, the lieutenant brought Private Peters inside the tent and the black man saluted his officer smartly, eyes staring straight ahead, back ramrod straight as he stood to attention.

“At ease, Peters,” Pieter said, a surreptitiously shared look between them at Joss’ choice of surname, and then with a glance at Grainger he added, “Thank you, Lieutenant. I will take it from here.”

Grainger glanced from his captain to the private as if silently asking if he were sure, but he merely nodded, saluted and left.

Pieter just stared at Joss for a long moment and his old friend stared back and slowly smiled. He was suddenly assaulted with images of the two of them together, long years ago when all that mattered were those snatched moments together. Memories of his hands moving slowly as they skimmed over Joss’ ebony skin; Joss kissing him with abandon and each murmuring promises of forever. Those had been naïve times he realized now but they had been good times.

Things were very different now, the love he’d felt for Joss then had been real but he knew it paled into comparison with what he’d learned he was capable of, but he would never regret his feelings for Joss. Suddenly Pieter’s face was split by a grin and he rose and strode around the table, and the two men embraced. They didn’t hold the hug for long, both being aware of the difficult situation.

“God, it’s good to see you looking so well,” Pieter commented as he retook his seat. “Grab a stool,” he said as an afterthought.

Joss did as he was asked and sat opposite his captain. “Oh yeah, I never expected to see you here.” He hesitated a moment, giving Pieter a long look.

“What?”

“I didn’t know if you were still in Louisiana,” Joss explained, his voice low.

Pieter nodded, dropping his eyes as he said, “I didn’t want to leave Sebastian. I remained as long as I could, but I just wasn’t able to stay among those people down there. I was… I couldn’t keep bottling up my real feelings and it was starting to…to. I didn’t want to damage what we had by staying,” his voice barely above a whisper as he spoke. He looked up at Joss then, attempting to smile at his friend, but it might just as well have been a grimace.

Joss recognized the sorrow in Pieter’s eyes that his friend was trying to hide, the ex-slave knew him too well.

After a moment, Pieter continued, “I tried to persuade Seb to come up north with me, not that I really expected he would. He has too much of a commitment in Louisiana.”

Reaching across the small table, Joss laid his hand over Pieter’s and gave it a small squeeze, attempting to comfort him. “I’m sorry, Piet, but I can’t say I’m surprised. His family have lived there for generations, don’t suppose he feels he can simply walk away from that.” He didn’t add that he also felt that if Cane had loved Pieter
as much as he claimed he ought to have had different priorities. It would be no kindness to Pieter to voice that thought.

“I know and also in the few letters I did manage to receive from him before the mail stopped getting through, he admitted to feeling a greater responsibility to his slaves now and that…” Pieter stopped, as if remembering just who he was speaking to. He shrugged an apology.

Joss looked Pieter square in the eyes and commented, “Well, we know who to thank for that change in outlook, don’t we?”

“Enough about me,” Pieter said decidedly. “How about you?”

Joss gave Pieter a quick rundown of his life since they had parted in New Orleans, admitting that after a slow, difficult start the life he now had was good. He explained a little about Nathaniel and how the old Negro had helped shape his new outlook. Joss told him that Nathaniel had even taught him to read, and he reminded himself that he should show Pieter the letter he’d written when he got the opportunity.

He admitted he was glad to be able to accept responsibility for his own life, though it had been hard at first to get work and he had felt so lost and unsure most of the time until Nathaniel had taken him under his wing.

He gave a deprecating laugh. “Strange as it sounds,” Joss confessed, “I have felt happier since I joined up. Even after a year or so of freedom I was used to the,” he sought for the word he wanted and smiled wryly when he remembered it, “constraint of slavery and oddly I missed the…structure it gave my life.” He shook his head at his own confused thinking and Pieter smiled sadly at what had been done to people like Joss.

Joss regarded Pieter, giving his old friend a long assessing look. A little unnerved by the stare, Pieter asked, “What?”

“You’ve changed,” Joss said quietly and as Pieter frowned, he explained. “You’re more…comfortable, more sure of yourself.” Eyes lighting up as if Joss suddenly understood, he smiled broadly and added, “You know who you are.”

<end excerpt>

Available from Phaze Books: http://www.king-cart.com/Phaze/product=Conflict/exact_match=exact

[There is in fact a longer excerpt available if you follow the link on the book page at Phaze, as per the above link]

Stevie
http://steviewoods.com
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Let me tell you all about my grand adventure on Wednesday…

Window

(more…)

*doffs hat and bows*

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“My name is Hugh, please use it.”

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

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

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

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

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

http://www.oldbaileyonline.org/index.jsp

I’m sure you’ve already discovered this site – and for any historical writer it’s an essential bookmark and a huge wealth of resource. When I first found it it only had cases in a range of about 100 years, but it expands – and now there are cases from the 1670s to the 1910s. it’s a very easy site to navigate too, and has a lot more information than first appears.

When researching Standish I found so much that I didn’t know – the offence that Ambrose is accused of – that of “consenting to an assault of sodomitical intent” sounds incredible to our modern ears, but it’s true – the person having the sodomy perpetrated upon him, could be charged and could be found as guilty as the person performing the act.

Assault with Sodomitical Intent

This charge was levelled in cases of attempted or actual anal intercourse where it was thought impossible (or undesirable) to prove that penetration and ejaculation had actually occurred. This offence was a misdemeanour. See also: Sodomy. Prosecutions for this offence become markedly more common from the 1840s.

What I found interesting was that the burden of proof – penetration AND ejaculation had to be attested to by two witnesses – which would have made it more difficult to prove. However people often lied, I’m sure – leading to more hangings than were necessary, perhaps.

Sodomy

Anal or oral intercourse between a man and another man, woman, or beast. In order to obtain a conviction, it was necessary to prove that both penetration and ejaculation had occurred, and two witnesses were required to prove the crime. Both the “active” and “passive” partner could be found guilty of this offence. But due to the difficulty of proving this actual penetration and ejaculation many men were prosecuted with the reduced charge of assault with sodomitical intent. Details of sodomy prosecutions were censored from the Proceedings from the 1780s onwards. For more information on the gay communities of London see the Homosexuality pages.

http://www.oldbaileyonline.org/static/Gay.jsp

Don’t forget that a “lenient punishment” such as pillorying or imprisonment (usually in Newgate, as that prison was attached to the Old Bailey by an underground corridor) were hardly lenient at all, and could both of them mean a death sentence. Unlike Hollywood and the BBC portrayals of the Pillory, people didn’t always throw rotten fruit and vegetables to the general amusement of all. Rocks were often used, faeces and “cannonballs” of mud and stones. People died in the Pillory – John Waller (perjurer) was stoned to death – and the six convicted members of the Vere Street Coterie (men arrested at the White Swan, a Molly House, in 1810 – had to have the protection of 200 armed constables to prevent the crowds from killing them in the pillory.

And a sentence, even a small one, for a stay in Newgate depended very much on your financial circumstances.  The prisons of days before the reforms instigated by Elizabeth Fry and Dickens during the mid 1800′s were dreadful places. You had to pay an (unofficial) fee upon entrance to the warders – food wasn’t provided as a matter of course, you had to buy it – so if you didn’t have money you were in danger of starving to death.  Before you could be released you not only had to pay your fine (difficult if you were in prison and not earning money) but again, another strictly unofficial “release fee” to the warders. If you couldn’t pay this – you didn’t get out, simple as that. Of course if you had money, or a way to earn money within the prison walls, or kind friends and relations – anything was for sale inside the jail itself. Including a a cleaner or a maid, alcohol (Newgate had two bars) and sex of any type.

Here’s a small selection of cases: (more…)

by Mark R. Probst

I think you may be surprised by the answer to that question. Truth be told, just about every historical out there uses some modern language. If not modern words themselves, then at least modern usage. Language has evolved over time, and the further back you go, the more foreign the language becomes to us. So a dedicated author could, in theory, write prose that is fairly authentic to his chosen period, but imagine what the poor reader would have to go through trying to decipher such antiquated language. I know of one such writer, Patrick O’Brian, whose meticulous research actually results in novels that very well could have been written in the 18th Century. While I admire O’Brian’s superior achievement in authenticity, I personally had one hell of a time comprehending Master and Commander, due to the language. There are a couple of writers here at The Macaronis who write age-of-sail with a decided shift towards modern language usage, and their novels are quite a bit easier to digest.

So what the historical writer should strive for is a delicate balance between the authentic and the modern. It is desirable to use enough words and phrases that the reader will recognize as being appropriate to the era and therefore be sold on the illusion of authenticity, but at the same time blend in enough modern language so the reader will comprehend what he is reading. Of course it is the personal preference of the writer and editor how far to tip the scale in either direction. Some writers, like O’Brian, will prefer to be heavily weighted on the authentic end, while other writers may choose just the opposite and go way towards modern.

For The Filly I tried to discard anything that I knew readers would clearly recognize as anachronistic, as that is the first thing that will break the illusion, but rather than use 100 percent authentic language from the real Old West, I tried to emulate the language of the old Hollywood Western movies. But for the discussions between my two protags regarding sexuality, of course there was no point of reference from the old movies as the subject was taboo, so I shifted to what I imagined real people in that time and place would say to each other and how I though they might say it.

Now, the next subject I’d like to bring up is translation. If, for example, you are reading War and Peace or Les Miserables, the only way for you to authentically experience the language is to learn Russian and French and read them in their original text, otherwise you are reading a translation that is of course an approximation of what was originally written. If one were to write about ancient times such as the Romans, English as we know it didn’t exist back then so of course everything written will be an interpretation anyway. So if a writer naturally tells an ancient story in modern words, who’s to say he can’t write a not-so-ancient story in modern terms as well, and just consider it a “translation” from the old words that would have been used into modern words that today’s readers can fully understand? Hey, the Bible’s been translated into modern English, so why can’t an historical be written that way? There is no reason it can’t. In fact a few of the recent historicals I have read do just that. But I will warn the writer that if he does take that approach, he should be prepared that some readers just aren’t going to tolerate it.

It’s really all a matter of personal choice, but what makes the historical something special is that it creates an illusion for the reader that he is witnessing the past, and it is up to the writer to maintain that illusion, and the words he chooses can make all the difference.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

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

BLURB:

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

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

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

EXCERPT:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

<end excerpt>

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

Stevie

http://steviewoods.com

My Publishers:

http://www.phaze.com

http://www.torquerepress.com

We’re hoping that this will be a new regular feature. As we all write, we are simultaneously researching, so each week we come across useful, interesting, or just downright bizarre sites. We’re going to post a selection of them every Friday for your delectation ;)

A list of British Army Officer casualties in the Peninsula War

Lots of fascinating information about

Medical Services
Surgery
Treatment of Wounds
Medical Hygeine
Evacuation of the Wounded
Amputation Instruments and Chart
Causes of death in British Army hospitals 1812-1814

but I chiefly find it useful as a mine for men’s names and surnames.

And

which is a wonderful site full of old maps and original papers from the 11th Century onwards.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

EC: You did!
AB: Thank you!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(c) 2008 Emma Collingwood

Yes – that’s him.

As a fun post I thought I’d ask you all some questions based on Captain Grose’s Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue (1811) and see how many you get right.

No cheating now!!

1. What would you be doing if you were cocking your organ?

2. “She’s an owl in an ivy bush” – is this a good thing?

3. “The flashman bounced the swell of all his blunt” – Is this something you’d want to do?

4. What would you be doing if you were riding a horse foaled by an acorn?

5. If someone told you that your beau had been seen in his altitudes the night before, would you break off the association?

6. Someone’s just told you that your youngest daughter has sprained her ankle. Would you call a doctor or throw the baggage from the house?

7. Is Arbor Vitae the Latin name for a tree? Or something else?

8. You see a gorgeous man at the ball, and you overhear one rake say to another that the object of your attention is a great backgammon player. Surely that’s a good thing?

9. How many rolls ARE in a baker’s dozen?

10. What would you wear to a Balum Rancum?

11. Wow-wow Sauce – Invented by the Regency or by Terry Pratchett?

12. What’s a beau trap? An eager spinster? or something dirtier?

13. Your husband announces he’s off to Bedfordshire. You don’t have any estates there and it’s dark! Where’s he really going?

14. Where would you dance at Beilby’s Ball?

Brutes, Wimps and Heroes.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So what exactly do I mean by that?

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

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

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

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

Nicolson describes Admiral Nelson thus:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

~

The Accolade by Edmund Leighton

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

Bisexual historical romance: writing the woman into that special relationship

1. Writing

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

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

But how?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2. Getting published

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

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

The POD went ahead, released in September of 2005.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Muse n.1 (Muse) Gk& Rom. Mythol.any of the goddesses who presided over the arts and sciences. They were the daughters of Zeus and Mnemosyne, traditionally nine in number (Calliope, Clio, Euterpe, Terpsichore, Erato, Melpomene, Thalia, Polyhymnia, and Urania), though their functions and names vary considerably between different sources. 2 (usu. prec. by the) a a poet’s inspiring goddess or woman. b a poet’s genius or characteristic style.

I was – heh- musing on the subject of muses the other day. On a long drive down to the longhall my re-enactment society is building in Kent, I switched on the radio to discover a presenter interviewing a famous soprano.

My knowledge of opera is such that I had never heard of her and immediately forgot her name. However, the programme went on to explain that she had a composer whose music was written specifically for her to sing. This composer was invariably inspired by her voice – inspired to the extent that in a long career almost every piece of his work had been written specially with her voice in mind.

The presenter was evidently slightly awestruck and charmed by the idea that he was meeting a living muse. The soprano on the other hand did not like to think of herself that way, and preferred to think of it as a partnership in which the work of each of them inspired the other.

I come from a writing tradition where ‘the muses’ is used to mean the voices of the characters – usually the one character from whose POV the story is told. We speak of ‘our muses’ wanting us to tell one story or another, wanting us to illustrate their good points or their bad. Sometimes demanding that they be given more of a starring role, at other times stopping us in our tracks while they force us to write down a story it feels as though they’re dictating to us.

Although this doesn’t initially fit with either of the above dictionary definitions, I wonder if this is the modern interpretation of the voice of the goddess or the muse in sense 1.

We get to know our characters so much that they begin to lead a shadowy sort of independent life in our heads. I have, once or twice, had the experience of a character telling me ‘I am going to do this…’ and me going ‘no! No way! There’s no way you can get away with that!’ I have actually been shocked with what they come up with.

It’s a strange experience, to have characters you know you have created yourself suddenly start answering you back and refusing to obey you. When it happens, most writers rejoice. Like Dr. Frankenstein, watching the lightning crawl over his creation stitched together from a thousand corpses – watching it stir, begin to breathe, open its eyes – we cry ‘it’s alive!’ Possibly with the addition of a slightly manic laugh that makes the rest of the world sidle away, doubting our sanity.

In fact it’s an apt metaphor. We have stitched together this character from scraps – a model’s fine eyes, the nice things our husbands do on a good day, the annoying-but-funny habit from that woman we speak to on the train in the morning – and at some point the breath of life has mysteriously entered into this motley collection, fusing it into a real person.

Nowadays, post Freud and psychoanalysis, it is easy to accept that this almost miraculous coming to life is a product of our own subconscious. Having got enough dead details, our 90% unused hindbrain steps in, fits the pieces together, extrapolates what a person like this would behave like in other situations, and presents it – live and argumentative – to the surface of our minds. A wonderful feeling, but not in any way supernatural.

But now imagine what that would feel like if you had no concept of the subconscious. Pre-Freud. You’re a writer, an artist, a lyric poet, and you struggle with the words just as modern writers do. But every so often something – a breath of something mystical, unexplainable – brings your characters to life, whispers into your head thoughts higher and more complex than your own thoughts, presents fully made solutions to problems you had thought were insuperable.

No wonder they thought it was divine!

We are lucky – modern writers – when our words dry up and writer’s block comes on us, at least we have the comfort of knowing that everything we need for writing is within us and is unlikely to have suddenly left us. It must have been a thousand times worse for the writers of the past who believed they really were writers merely at the whim of a sometimes capricious goddess. We can do exercises to stimulate our minds, with the hope of dragging out our creativity from where it has gone to ground. They could not count on the goddess to stay, nor coax her back if she had decided to go. And every time she did abandon them, they must have felt ‘this could be the time she never returns.’

The thought of being at the mercy of genuinely supernatural forces for your creative inspiration reminds me of the debate I’ve been having with Ann Herendeen, over how much self-reflection/self knowledge the people of the past could have achieved without the apparatus of psychology. Imagine that you do not have a concept of the subconscious, and now picture those occasional berserker rages you can get when you feel lifted out of yourself or – if you’re not as violent as me – those moments where fear or joy seemed to come on you from the outside and overwhelm you.

Surely for the ancient pagan these must have been the voices of the gods – Woden, the god of rage and poetry, Hermes, the messenger, telling them something, acting through them. To a certain extent for them the more inspired they were, the less they themselves were acting. Something else worked through them, taking them up into the supernatural world, absolving them of personal responsibility. No wonder Homer’s battlefield was full of gods and goddesses. There too, in the exhaustion and stress of the battle, the warrior’s mental state would have been exalted, open to possession and inspiration.

As for the muse in sense 2: a poet’s inspiring goddess or woman, I will admit that it amuses me no end that yet again our language assumes that men are the only people in the world.

I say this because I have had several muses in sense two over the years, and they have been, without fail, men. Presumably the dictionary writer did not suspect that poets (or writers) could be women? Or that a woman could be inspired, by the mere existence of a particular man, to create art or literature.

Or perhaps it’s just that I’m weird?

Before I realized that my muse was in fact a muse, I would have had every sympathy with the soprano I was talking about earlier. I would have thought there was something slightly sordid about it. After all, so many of the great painters’ muses were also their mistresses, and there’s something so… incestuous about that.

And here I am, a straight woman, being inspired by young men? It doesn’t seem unlikely that there’s a sexual component in that. But what I can say is that that’s not what it feels like from the inside.

My current muse is an actor who is pleasant looking, but would never find his way onto the cover of a romance novel. What makes him a muse, for me, is the fact that he does not seem to be able to act a role that doesn’t light the ‘must tell a story!’ blue touch paper in my head. There are undoubtedly better looking men out there. There are possibly better actors. But I don’t know of anyone else who can act a minor role in a soap opera in such a way that I suddenly need to write a book.

I have no desire to get to know this bloke at all. On a personal level I would prefer him to remain a complete stranger, but something about him triggers my creativity. And this is – to me – much more of a mystery than the way the characters come alive, or the plots shake themselves and suddenly make sense. That’s all inside my head, but this, this free gift of inspiration, or dependency, depending on how you look at it, isn’t. I am as enthralled – literally in thrall – as Dante to his Beatrice, and I don’t know whether to accept it gratefully or resent the fact that I’m not complete unto myself. (Not that I’m comparing the quality of my output to Dante! If only!)

Of course, there is always the possibility that I am simply weird. This article in the New York Times certainly seems to proceed from the idea that muses are always female:

http://query.nytimes.com/gst/fullpage.html?res=950DEEDC143FF933A0575BC0A9649C8B63

But although I write about a time when that might have been true, I’m also a modern, feminist, female writer of gay love stories. I believe in equality between the sexes. Surely it’s entirely appropriate in that case to stand the tradition on its head and to have a male muse? Can inspiration really only come in one gender? Am I honestly the only one?

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

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

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

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

With me so far? Good.

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

It’s a safety net.

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

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

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

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

BUT.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But I’ll HOPE. I’ll hope like hell.

And THAT’S what the journey is all about.

GAY PSYCHOLOGY, EIGHTEENTH-CENTURY STYLE

Ann Herendeen

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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/

The perils of a historical novelist, part two: Romance versus Research

Parker hanged

This struck me as a necessary follow on to my post about research (The perils of a historical novelist, part one). I’d like to think that we’re agreed that research is good; that it’s always preferable that an author pays attention to real history and doesn’t just make things up, and that real history is more interesting than fake history any time.

As writers of historical fiction, we don’t want our characters to be modern people playing dress up, let alone modern people playing dress up in badly made polyester capes and sneakers. No doubt there are readers with such powerful imaginations that they can conjure up a dazzling scene of elegance and glory from a selection of cliché characters wearing bad live-role-playing costumes but, alas, for the rest of us something more is needed. And that leads right back to the importance of researching both the big trends and the small details of your setting.

However, after you’ve done your research and accumulated these details, that, unfortunately, is not the end of it. Once your head is stuffed with facts and your computer is bristling with bookmarked sites about the correct boning of a corset and the height of that season’s shoes, and your bookshelves are groaning with scholarly tomes on social mores and miscellanea, that’s only where you start.

Can you ever have too much research?

The short answer to this is ‘yes and no.’ I’m not sure that you as an author can ever do too much research, but not all of your research needs to find its way into your book.

And he who strives the tempest to disarm
Will never first embrail the lee yardarm.

For example, you may have spent hours pouring over sailing instructions, figuring out exactly how your ailing, scurvy-wrecked crew would take in the sails in a storm. But now that you know, you also need to consider the enjoyment of your readers.

How many readers are likely to be engrossed in a storm scene—to feel the howling of the wind, the surging of the seas that sweep across the deck in unbroken sheets of freezing water, while the men cling with all their strength to the rigging and the sails whip-crack through the air—if your characters are spending pages and pages of dialogue in an argument over whether to take in the lee or weather clew first, or let go the tack and risk the sails blowing through the buntlines?*

You may want to get this information into the book because dammit, you did all this work! You can’t help feeling that it would be nice if everyone knew the kind of lengths to which you had gone to get your facts right. In the same vein you may be tempted to stop the action every so often to explain the history behind the Boxer Revolution, Harold Godwinson’s trouble with his brothers, the careful fashioning of the staves in the barrels used for the Gunpowder plot etc etc. But this is a temptation you have to rein in hard.

Heavy handedly shoehorning in your research, where it isn’t necessary for the story, is almost as bad as not doing the research in the first place. Firstly because you will bore the socks off your poor readers, and secondly because—paradoxically enough—drawing attention to your historical facts will actually make your book seem less authentic.

What? It’s sort of like homeopathy – the research isn’t there any more but you can still reap the benefits?

Well, in a way, yes. I know I’ve said ‘study everything; nothing is too small to be just the right detail to establish the background’, and that’s true. The art here is to introduce enough small details to convince your reader that you know loads, without randomly spraying around information which isn’t relevant to the story. We want enough history to firmly set the story and reader in a different time, without making the novel read like a textbook.

There are all kinds of tricks as to how to do this, but probably the easiest is to remember that none of these little details are unusual for your characters. Their surroundings are normal life to them. Explanations of things, drawing attention to things because they’re historically accurate, are actually going to give less of an impression of verisimilitude than merely treating them as unremarkable facts.

For example, rather than saying ‘when cut steel buckles were introduced in (whenever) they had proved very popular with officers who couldn’t afford silver,’ which is an awkward info-dump and tosses you straight out of your immersion in the story, just say ‘the cut steel buckle glittered as he hurled his shoe across the room.’ It doesn’t get in all the facts, but it adds just that tiny pinch of historical detail to keep the reader rooted in the era, and it does it without slowing up the action.

bread beetle

Weevils are a good example of this. I was watching both the Hornblower TV movies and the film of ‘Master and Commander’ over the past month, and their treatment of weevils (a kind of flour grub/beetle which regularly infested the bread aboard ship) seemed to me a very clear lesson in how to do it well, and how to do it very badly indeed.

The Hornblower series had Pellew sitting at his desk eating a piece of hard tack which was covered in white maggots. The camera zoomed in on the maggots and you saw him tapping them off onto the table while he and Hornblower grimaced in a sort of ‘ew, the things we have to put up with!’ way.

The equivalent scene in Master and Commander; everyone’s eating, chatting, Jack indicates a couple of weevils that have fallen out of the hard tack on Stephen’s plate and sets him up so that Jack can make a joke about ‘the lesser of two weevils.’ Stephen rolls his eyes at Jack’s attempt at witticism and everyone laughs.

The Hornblower one is bad because Pellew and Hornblower have grown up in the Navy. It’s out of character and out of period for either of them to even notice the weevils unless the biscuit is so infested that it’s fallen to dust. This ‘OMG! Disgusting creepy crawlies on the food! Ew! That’s horrible!’ scene is entirely set up for the modern viewer, not for the benefit of the characters themselves. It’s the movie equivalent of an author writing ‘because of the poor methods of preservation in the 18th Century, even the dried bread on board ship was attacked by a variety of pests such as weevils and bargemen. My hero, because he is really far more sensitive and advanced than anyone else in his century, thought that this was disgusting.’

(It’s also bad because those are obviously bargemen, not weevils – but that’s another story: http://www.hms.org.uk/nelsonsnavymaggot.htm )

The Master and Commander one is good because it achieves the same thing – informs the watcher that ships biscuit often came with added weevils – but it does so without fanfares. It does so without a neon sign going ‘oh, look, fascinating historical fact here!’ It gets the information across without making the characters act out of character. Not one of them, for example, is surprised or disgusted to find a weevil on the plate. That in itself is a glimpse into a different world, a different attitude than our own.

But it also combines this with a bit of deft characterization of Jack as a man who is overwhelmed with joy at his own cleverness in being able to make a rather simple joke. And it does this inside a scene which is also making a point about conviviality, the irrepressibility of the human spirit, the tendency of the navy to be drunk in charge of large warships and the fact that this would be a life it would be possible for a person to live and love not merely to endure.

One rather lengthy diversion later, and I try to sum up by saying that part of writing historicals is maintaining that balance whereby you can manage to tell the modern reader what they need to know without info-dumping or violating the characterization or historical integrity of your characters. If your research is visible, calling attention to itself, it’s probably doing more harm than good.

In this way we can also solve the perennial problem of ‘oh, but they must have had terrible hygiene/smelled/been infested with parasites etc. Do I say so, or do I pretend otherwise?’

In fact there is no need to talk about whether your characters smell or not, because everyone would have smelled. It would have been normal for them and they would not, therefore, have even noticed it. A man who washed every week, changed his shirt every day and wore pomade and cologne would have been, by the standards of his day, a paragon of cleanliness. It’s more authentic, then, to treat him as such.

Just as most people nowadays don’t notice their bed-mites until they cause a problem, why would your historical characters need to notice their parasites unless they caused a problem? By all means if you’re going to have an outbreak of the Black Death in chapter 9, mention the troublesomeness of the characters’ fleas in chapter 3, but otherwise, if they’re not pertinent to the plot, your characters are probably not going to be noticing them. You can put them in if you want, or leave them out if you want, depending on what you are trying to achieve.

I personally like to include a bit of filth where it’s appropriate – walk on parts for people with visible syphilis, people who have lost limbs, people who have lost teeth to scurvy or bad dentistry, etc – because it is part of the flavor of my setting. I like the great big, lively, unwashed, squalid sprawl of Hogarth’s gin lane, through which gentlemen in lace and peacock silk hurry with one hand on their sword hilt and the other on their purse. But if you really can’t bear the thought of a hero who doesn’t wash every day, you can always either make his mania for cleanliness a character trait, or set your story in a setting where they were big on bathing – like the Romans.

What if it’s not just washing, though? What if it’s something worse?

To me, the cleanliness problem seems quite a minor example of a more far reaching problem caused by trying to be realistic in your romance. It isn’t only in matters of washing that the past sometimes causes a modern reader to go ‘oh, that’s just wrong!’ Sometimes it’s a more moral issue.

Suppose we’re writing a book set in the Viking age, in which a Viking warrior falls in love with the Irish warrior he captured in a raid on the town that will at some point in the future become Dublin. It sounds great, until research indicates that the standard Viking tactic for dealing with defeated warriors was to rape them in order to humiliate them and break their spirit. Do we allow our hero to be authentic – and a rapist – which, in my opinion, and I believe that of many modern readers, is not a good start for a happy ever after? Or do we somehow fudge the issue?

And once we have fudged that issue, how do we deal with the problem that the Vikings (like the Ancient Greeks and Romans) considered it shameful to be the bottom in a m/m relationship? It’s probably not a problem if you’re writing yaoi or d/s, but if you’re attempting to show a reciprocal relationship of equals then I’m sorry, sir, but he really won’t respect you in the morning.

What about slavery? I’m sure that in the 18th Century there were people who honestly and sincerely believed that slavery was ordained by God, as a method of civilizing savages, saving them from damnation and introducing them to the possibility of education. Allowing them to better themselves. Why it was practically an act of generosity!

But will any modern reader be able to accept a hero who believes such a thing?

As a writer there is a big temptation to say ‘well, I’m going to go with what was historically realistic at the time.’ After all, you’ve done the research and you understand how all these attitudes looked to the people of the time. And you care about being authentic. It’s important to your professional pride.

However, I do personally think that this is another place where a balancing act is required. Ignoring the historical attitude and making everyone behave like moderns in frock coats results in plastic history and a story that is just not believable. But lobbing in the historical attitude wholesale results in a story where everyone hates your hero and wants him to die. Neither of these are good things ;)

For example, in Captain’s Surrender, when Peter was finally forced into a position where he couldn’t avoid thinking about what he and Josh were up to, his reaction was to seriously consider turning his lover in to be hanged. He hadn’t had time to think through the implications – he went with the reaction society had instilled in him. And this example of him being a morally upstanding citizen (by the standards of his time) rightly made many people dislike him. Equally, Adam Robinson’s refusal to allow Emily to support them both with her money made him seem – to a modern reader – pig headed, chauvinistic, stupid, whereas at the time it would have been proof of his good character and honorable intentions.

This is where you have to perform a delicate high wire act of getting enough of the historical attitude in to make your characters realistic by the standard of the times, but not so much that your modern readers will hate them.

Fortunately there are at least two good workarounds for this problem.

1. Make your character peculiar by the standards of the time. Patrick O’Brian’s Stephen Maturin is a good example of this. He’s a natural philosopher, and he has the most outrageously liberal opinions about just about everything. He can get away with this without appearing to be blatantly anachronistic, because the other characters make it quite clear that they are merely humoring the Doctor’s peculiar little ways. They like him, and they consider him a harmless weirdo.

Without the support system of all the other characters making it plain that Maturin’s attitudes are odd, (not to mention the places where he really is odd by anyone’s standards) he would come across as anachronistic. As it is, he comes across as charmingly eccentric and believable.

The disadvantage of this method is that you can’t use it for more than one or (at a pinch) two characters without undermining the believability of your whole world.

2. Make your character think through the issue. You want your Viking warrior to decide against raping his captive? Give him a father who was killed in his sleep by a vengeful slave-girl, years after he thought all the resistance was kicked out of her. Help him to connect the dots. It may be that getting him to the point where he realizes that he can’t force his captive to love him takes up half of the plot. That’s great! It means you’ve got a plot that arises out of an authentic historic situation and character. And then you can tackle the whole ‘well I’m not going on the bottom’ thing for the second half!

Both 1 and 2 are very plot and characterization intensive. But that’s OK because the issue of the characters’ historical attitudes is not one you can sweep under the carpet without sweeping away much of your realism as well.

So there you go. In the Realism v Romance stakes, my position is that you need to thoroughly know what would be realistic. You need to have done the research and faced the occasional place where history is just plain nasty. And then you have to somehow take that history and make it entertaining and romantic. There are things you can fudge, things you can overlook because the characters themselves would not notice them, and things you have to work through to come to a compromise which will appeal to your historical purist and your romantic softie equally. But that’s half the fun of the thing!

Alex

*(Example frivolously borrowed from Falconer’s poem ‘The Shipwreck’ via ‘Seamanship in the Age of Sail’ by John Harland.)

More from Alex on her website

There are the facts in the history books, and then there’s the fiction in my books. That’s the basic problem I have as an author – establishing a balance between the two. I’m a bit of a perfectionist; if I write a story set aboard a ship of the Royal Navy in the 18th century, I want the setting, the language and the characterisations to be as historically correct as possible. But there’s a group of people I’m not allowed to forget in my navy-induced euphoria: my readers! Some of them would appreciate a book written in the language of the 18th century, or lengthy descriptions of uniforms; they’d greatly enjoy tons of naval terms and information regarding a purser’s handling of payments and book-keeping.

But the majority wouldn’t. I write to entertain (myself and my readers), and I can’t expect the audience to buy three lexica, four guides and a special edition of The Young Officer’s Sheet Anchor just to understand what the hell I’m talking about. My work must be understandable. It’s a difficult balance act to find the right words and terms to keep the characters and their actions in the correct timeframe but not bore the readers out of their skulls. And don’t say that couldn’t happen – it happens faster than you think! Yesterday I went through a chapter I’ve been very proud of, only to realise that, from a reader’s point of view, it was about as exciting as an article about the mating rites of dung beetles. Now I’m not saying that there aren’t folks out there who would find great pleasure in the love-life of bugs, but – you know what I mean. The chapter had to go.

Too much realism or historical accuracy can ruin my work. I write historical naval adventure with supernatural elements and male/male romance, not a history book or a naval manual. Reading about a supper the heroes enjoy is probably more enjoyable than the details of the food’s contents. Of course, no Age of Sail story without mentioning weevils at least once, but personally, I draw the line at whipworms, hookworms and pinworms. It’s great if a reader thinks at the end of the story “Mmmm, now wouldn’t it be nice if Captain Denningham walked right through that door and stayed for dinner?” I don’t want said reader to add “…but I’ll have him deflea’d, dewormed, thoroughly bathed and sent to the dentist first before we move on to the dessert.” It might be true and historically accurate, but – no. Just no.

If I wrote gritty, realistic drama, things would be different. There couldn’t be enough dirt and stench and whips and whipworms, I guess. But I’m a 21st century person. I have to create a scenario in my head that allows me to throw some romance into the adventure, and that scenario does not allow too much dirt and parasites. Well, not of the animal-kind.

Looking at the final draft of “The Purser, The Surgeon, The Captain And His Lieutenant” now, I can say that all the characters are fitting into the time-period and behave accordingly. But the only character who’s really “authentic” to the core is the purser, Sebastian Quinn. And while many of his actions are ruthless from our modern point of view, they make perfect sense for the man he is and the time he lives in.

Actually – and that’s really a weird thing I noticed – I had more problems writing the chapters set in modern London than those in the 18th century! It was more difficult to describe something I actually know! Switching from one time period to the other really wasn’t easy, especially as the language of the characters differs greatly between the two centuries.

Denningham is not a problem, nor is his sister, but Quinn and Barnett? Somebody pointed out to me that these two are really bad role models, and that it might not be such a good idea to describe the “good guys” as drinking, smoking and swearing. But what can I do? They are swearing. They are drinking. They are smoking. It’s part of their lives and personalities.

I’m all for “cleaning up” the 18th century setting (far thee well, beloved ringworms!), but I refuse to clean up the characters for reasons of political correctness. This is non-negotiable. But maybe I’ll put a special warning label on the front cover: “Being the purser is hazardous for your health! Especially when the lieutenant is close by!” It might increase sales…

(c) Emma Collingwood

Why research?

I could wish that it wasn’t necessary to ask this question; that all historical novelists naturally came with an inbuilt desire to learn all about their setting before they tried to publish a book about it. However, experience of reading historical romance proves that there are some writers who think that—for example—if they want to write about Highlanders all they have to do is watch Braveheart a couple of times.

I choked on my tea one day on reading the blurb for a book the hero of which was a handsome Scottish Highlander by the name of Seamus O’Hennessy. Possibly there was a reason for the fact that he had such a very Irish name, but the blurb did not hint at it, so I felt free to point and laugh. Seriously, that’s bad! Getting the nationality of the hero’s name wrong means that almost any reader will know, just from the blurb, that the author knows nothing about what they’re writing about, and the book is not worth reading.

There is one reason to research right there. It may be that you have a scorching tale to tell; your characters are fascinating and your plot is breathtaking. But if you get your historical facts wrong there are readers who will throw your book across the room nevertheless. Then they will ridicule it to their friends. There are readers who will pick it up in the bookshop and mock it aloud. You can guarantee that every review you get will pick up at least one mistake and shake its metaphorical head with disappointment over it.

Or to put it in a more positive way, if you do research and get things right you will garner critical acclaim. The Powers that Be will gush over your details and praise you for your erudition, and you can justifiably feel proud.

A second – and IMO better reason – is that research is (a) interesting and (b) a fantastic source of ideas.

If you’re not finding a historical period interesting – if you’re not going ‘ooh, that’s cool!’ or ‘oh, fantastic, they made false teeth out of wood!’ or ‘hee! ‘jonquil’, what a great word, I wonder what colour it is?’ – you may be better off not writing in that setting at all. It’s hard enough writing a book when you enjoy the world it’s set in. It must be purgatory writing in one you don’t.

If you’re enjoying yourself with your research, looking up more stuff than you actually need to just soak in the culture of the age, you may find inspiration hits you from the most unexpected places. Need to get Edward to Bath in time for his worthless beau to dump him in favour of a rich widow, but can’t think of a believable excuse he can tell his guardian? While you’re idly reading up on 18th Century Opera it may come to you in a flash that Edward is a big fanboy of the castrato Farinelli, and that him asking to go to Bath to see his musical idol would seem perfectly innocent. And now you also know that Edward is musical. And you can wring some extra angst out of him being dumped in front of his hero.

If I was asked that perennial question; ‘where do you get your ideas’? ‘Historical research’ would come close to the top. Researching Native American tribes for ‘Captain’s Surrender’, for example, made me aware of the massive complexity of the situation in 18th Century America. I wasn’t able to get any of it into ‘Captain’s Surrender’, but boy do I now know that there’s a fascinating setting there that I would love to explore for a future book.

When should you research?

Because research gives me inspiration I prefer to do a lot of it before I even start a book. If I don’t know what the inside of a Roman house looks like, or whether they eat breakfast in the morning or how many hills Rome is built on, I don’t feel equipped to start. I like to soak up enough for a broad brush picture before I set pen to paper. Often at this stage I will discover things which are too cool to be left out, and figuring out a way to get them into the book will influence the development of the plot.

I do know people who start writing and research as they go along, stopping to check that everything is correct as they proceed. This probably cuts down on the amount of irrelevant stuff you have to read and makes the writing process faster.

But I don’t recommend writing the book first and researching afterwards! While this approach would certainly cut down the amount of research you need to do, it will inevitably lead to big re-writes when you realize that nope, plot points x, y and z couldn’t have happened like that, characters a and b are unbelievable, and settings i-xii all have to be thrown out.

Where should you research?

Places you can go to find out more about your era of choice:

1. The Internet.

A Google search will usually turn up something of use. Sometimes it may even be exactly what you were looking for.

Advantage – it’s quick and easy.

Disadvantage – except when it isn’t.

There is a lot of information out there on the internet, but not all of it is accurate, sometimes it’s downright wrong. Sometimes it’s misguiding – without being wrong itself, it leads you to a wrong conclusion. If you need something specific, like the date when something was first invented or built, check it in at least three places before you start to believe in it.

If you’re looking for more general information, then scrutinize the facts carefully – don’t be tempted to use the cool thing you’ve just discovered until you’ve checked that it was actually known in your time, in your area of the world, and by more than the one person who invented it. Just because a thing was technically available doesn’t necessarily mean that it was actually used. (For example, 18th Century doctors could have used laudanum to anaesthetise their patients during operations, but they didn’t use it because they thought it was better that the patient be awake.)

Sometimes it’s also frustratingly impossible to find something specific on the internet – you’ll get hundreds of sites telling you hundreds of versions of the same thing, and never actually the thing you want. This is often the case when looking up information about facts specific to gay or lesbian subcultures, because sex as a whole is an area of embarrassment to the essay writing segment of the internet. If you try looking up ‘the gay subculture in medieval England’ the chances are that you’ll get porn – and it won’t even be medieval porn.

2. Google Image Search

Advantage – they say a picture is worth a thousand words, and I find that’s often true, particularly for describing scenery or costume. Image search also often turns up more interesting articles than just searching on text.

Disadvantage – all the same disadvantages as plain Google search; make sure your image is of what you think it is!

3. Books

Advantage – generally what goes into history books has been checked for factual accuracy by at least a couple of people. (Don’t believe anything that doesn’t cite its sources.)

Books are also short on the ‘white noise’ factor which you find on the internet. The information they contain tends to be more condensed, more in depth, and more relevant to your needs as a historical writer than an internet article. Obviously there are exceptions, but this is what I find in general.

If you have other history mad friends it’s always a good idea to compare the books you’ve got on hand and see if you can lend or borrow anything.

Disadvantage – books are not cheap. They may not be available from your local library, or if they are, you may have to wait months for them to arrive. And of course they still may not contain the answer to that question you’re trying to get answered. There may not even be a book in print that deals with the specific thing you are interested in.

4. Contemporary Sources

Pictures, books, plays, poetry, paintings, artefacts, even film from the era in question.

Advantage – nothing can more accurately give you an insight into the mindset of the people than reading a book, play or poetry written at the time. Want to know the kind of thing an educated Roman might have thought during Augustus’ time – read Horace or Virgil. Want to know whether your 18th Century hero can get away with an assignation at an inn – read Fielding’s Tom Jones. You cannot get more authentic than that.

I would say that it’s essential to at least look up the pictures, paintings, chairs, furniture, dress styles, tableware and general paraphernalia of living for whatever era you’re writing in. Visit the stately homes and the museums, look at the flea traps and the tassels on the swords. Nothing is too small or obscure to ignore because any of it might be useful for just adding that touch that convinces your reader they’re in a different time.

Disadvantage – this may take some effort and time. Possibly expense too. But if you love the period enough to want to write in it, it will also be good fun.

5. Find an expert

Many of the larger public libraries in the US have people who will do searches on request–some of them are very helpful.

If you have a museum or university near you (or even somewhere you can look up on the internet) it may be worth emailing and seeing if there is a postgrad student or friendly professor who would be willing to answer questions for a mention in the dedication and a free book.

Other places to look

Writer’s groups – someone may have already looked this up for their book.

Local History Groups

Churches/church wardens/college secretaries (for details on Oxfordcolleges for example)

Local Libraries (ie local to the place you need)

Historic houses

Tourist information offices

Your friends-list – someone may have already looked it up, know where to look, or have local knowledge.

Yahoo groups – somewhere out there is probably a group of enthusiasts already discussing the problem. Need to know whether the Great Western Railway carried a post van? – ask a group of trainspotters.

Re-enactors – these are people who live and breathe the period they re-enact. They will often know more about the nitty-gritty of day to day life in that period than anyone in a museum, and they can give you hands on experience of what a musket/corset/hangarok/longbow etc felt like to use or wear. Chances are there is a group somewhere out there re-enacting your period of interest. You can start by looking up your local SCA on the internet, or if you’re in the UK by going to a re-enactor’s market: http://www.reenactorsmarket.co.uk/

Again, the only real disadvantage to all of this is that it takes time and effort.

6. Ask the Macaronis,

We’re not guaranteeing we’ll know, but we can always just have a good grumble together. But check on this list first, because there are an awful lot of useful sites available here: http://erastes.com/historical-research-links/

To conclude: Research is your friend, and sometimes it’s also a wonderful form of cheap entertainment, and inspiration. Good luck!

~*~*~*~

Thanks to Erastes for the wonderful resource list, and to all the Macaronis for the suggestions on how and where to research, which I’ve incorporated above.

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.

My first post here at The Macaronis will be both an introduction and a few words about my writing process.  First of all let me say I was thrilled to be asked to be a contributor to this new weblog and I hope I will be able to add something interesting and useful to both readers and writers of gay historical fiction.

 

My debut novel, The Filly, was published last October.  It’s meant to re-invent the classic Hollywood Western with a pair of cowboy lovers.

 

I’ve had an interest in writing all my life, but I only seriously took it up five years ago.  For the past 20 years, I had it in the back of my mind that I was going to write a novel, but I just couldn’t come up with an original idea.  Then I finally had a revelation.  Why not write a Western?  I had literally watched hundreds of Western movies and countless Western TV shows.  My devotion to the genre had practically made me an aficionado.  Mix that with my true-life experiences of being a gay man, and I had something.  Thus, The Filly was born.

 

For me, the process works best, when I have a well-constructed outline.  I find that without one, my writing gets bogged down and tends to meander all over the place.  A strong outline of the plot is like the spine of the story.  Later, in the writing process I am able to brainstorm all the little details that become the “meat” of the story.  Research, I tend to do along the way.  I’ll find that I need to verify certain things, so I’ll scour the internet looking for tidbits of information that will bring authenticity to the details.

 

I find that the most thrilling thing that can happen during the process is discovering a new angle that was not originally part of the plan, yet fits perfectly into place.  One of the character turns in The Filly was just such an example.

 

Once the first draft is complete, I share it with my family and friends to get some feedback, but more importantly, I set it aside.  It is necessary to gain some distance and perspective that only time can provide.  For The Filly, I didn’t start working on the second draft until a year had passed.  With all the cobwebs cleared out of my mind, I reread it and could see its weaknesses.  There were sections of the book that were much too thin and needed some serious beefing up.  Draft number two was quite a bit longer and I also delved deeper into the psyches of my characters.  Once again, I shared it with my friends and set it aside.  The third draft was really not a rewrite, but simply polishing and making small changes based on comments from friends.  Then I began working with an editor, but that is a whole other story.

 

My current writing projects are a Filly pre-quel, which is an earlier story about Travis before he meets Ethan; a tentative sequel that takes place some 20 years after The Filly; and I also have plans to write a fictional biography along the lines of Miss Potter, but with a real-life character of my own choosing.

 

Stay tuned for my next post.  I’m calling it “Writing a Western:  Historical Accuracy Vs. the Mythical Old West as Rhapsodized by Literature and Cinema of the Early 20th Century.”

 

Happy writing, everyone!

Perhaps other members might follow this, and we could have  series of posts on the same theme – all of us work differently I am sure.

I was hooked on The Past from the first time I read The Pickwick Papers. I was extraordinarily young, I remember, about 7 or 8. I probably didn’t understand one half of the book, but I loved the illustrations and I adored the jokes, the characters, and so much else.

It’s a very lively book and like many of Dickens’ novels travel is an important theme; as a child I was fascinated by donkey carts and hired hacks, post-chaises, post-coaches, or people walking from one end of the country to the other. Pickwick is probably still my favourite Dickens and the jokes don’t get any less funny with time.

As I grew up I read voraciously, and my mother being a fan of historicals, I used to read everything she did. Her favourites were Victoria Holt and Norah Lofts but anything about Kings and Queens were hoovered up by her and me.  I developed an appreciation for the difficulties of the genre and knew that one day I wanted to write.

When I finally started, I realised just what a Herculean task it was – it I wanted to get it right. By this point I’d read a lot of “not so great” historical fiction – modern acting and speaking heroes and heroines ponceing around in a Disney-esque past where all the English roads were tremendously flat and one could travel, like Kevin Costner’s Robin Hood, from Dover to Nottingham in one day.

So how do I write? Probably not in a correct manner. I know people who won’t write a word until they’ve researched the era to death, sometime researching for a year before they write a word – but I admit that I tend just to jump in with both feet and work through it as I go.  This does to lead to interruptions, which can often be frustrating such as when, for my latest WIP I spent hours looking for the price of whores in the 19th century. You would not believe how hard that information was to find. Sometimes it’s easier “how much was a letter in 1815″ or “or long did it take a ship to get to Venice?” or “daily newspapers?” but sometimes my Google-Fu fails me and I have to ask friends, yahoo groups and (shock!) sometimes have to resort to going to a library!

For me, the characters are the important parts of the story and although I have an inkling of who the two main male characters are, I may not even have names for them when I start to write. This might sound reckless in the extreme to others who have huge character outlines written down before they start, but I like it because it means that the reader is learning about the characters at almost the same speed as I do.  I didn’t know how stubborn Ambrose was going to be in Standish until he grew that way and I didn’t know about Fleury’s doctor until he told Ambrose the story. Any author who says that this process of characters dictating the process is hogswash simply haven’t had it happen to them and I feel sorry for them!

I am a bit of a “jigsaw” writer too. If there’s a crux scene that I know will appear in the book (even if I’m not sure of the steps that will take the characters there) I’ll write that scene pretty early on.  This is a good way of avoiding being blocked in your novel and for me it’s the equivalent of eating the best chocolates out of the box and dipping into the bottom layer and eating my favourites there too.  In addition – and up to now, I always write the last scene/chapter early on too. I copied the idea from JK Rowling and I find it works well; It anchors me, and gives me a finishing line. Some of my other friends worry about ending and panic about how they’ll get the loose ends tied up, but I find writing the final scene early on helps enormously.

What I’m constantly aware of is the senses. I don’t simply concentrate on the thoughts and the feelings of the character because humans aren’t like that – they are affected, all the time, by external forces – and this can be used in historical fiction to good effect. Simply by having your character observe what is (after all) perfectly normal for him – the carriages/horses/sedan chairs, the muck in the streets, the smells of shops as he passes, the noise of street sellers, the tang of smoke in the air, the cries of prisoners from the barred windows of the prisons - all this can create a wonderful ambiance without you having to info dump on your readers at all.

Anyway – that’s my process. Scrappy, untidy, not at all organised but a lot of fun. I look forward to reading my fellow Macaroni’s processes.

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

Lee mentioned that the Macaronis might get a little cheesy at times, which naturally lead me to dig out this link.

I’m currently writing a WIP called ‘Secrets’ which is another Georgian Age of Sail novel. (Similar setting to Captain’s Surrender but different characters.) In the course of writing a certain intimate scene I was wondering to myself ‘I wonder how I can describe what John smells like’. I wanted something that combined cream, salt and citrus (from his lemon and bergamot cologne), and after a bit of Googling I came up with yet another reason that the 18th Century was indeed an age of Enlightenment.

Georgian Ice Cream!

OK, so I personally would not be so keen on the Parmesan Cream Ice, (which is where the cheese comes in) but the Royal Cream Ice – flavoured with lemon zest – was exactly what I was looking for. Also featured; Chocolate Cream Ice, Burnt Filbert Cream Ice, Punch Water Ice and Bergamot Water Ice.

Historic Food: Georgian Ices and Victorian Bombes

Oh and look, the bombes are in the shape of anarchist’s bombs! How cool is that?

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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