Author Interview – L A Witt

comfy chairMy guest today is a best-selling author best known for scorching erotica and erotic romance, writing both M/F as Lauren Gallagher and M/M as L A Witt. Her series of novels – Rules of Engagement, Cover Me, The Distance Between Us, Changing Plans and, with Aleksandr Voinov, The Market Garden – all have an avid following. In addition she has written many standalone works to delight her readers ranging from speculative fiction to steampunk and back via historical and contemporary romance. Her latest release, co written with Aleksander Voinov, is Unhinge the Universe, an exciting historical drama set in 1944.

Welcome L A and thanks for agreeing to the interview.
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Author Interview – Aleksandr Voinov

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My guest today has many strings to his bow with a successful publishing history in both German and English and now, additionally, as part owner of a highly successful publishing house, Riptide Publishing . Aleksandr Voinov’s work has been described as “darkly erotic, filled with gritty, violent, sexy incident” and I am very pleased that he has agreed to take the time to answer some of my questions.

Hi Aleks!

 Aleks: Hi Elin! Thank you for inviting me over for a chat!

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Review: On a Lee Shore by Elin Gregory

“Give me a reason to let you live…”

Beached after losing his ship and crew, and with England finally at peace, Lt Christopher Penrose will take whatever work he can get. A valet? Why not? Escorting an elderly diplomat to the Leeward Islands seems like an easy job, but when their ship is boarded by pirates, Kit’s world is turned upside down. Forced aboard the pirate ship, Kit finds himself juggling his honor with his desire to stay alive among the crew, not to mention the alarming—yet enticing—captain, known as Le Griffe. 

Kit has always obeyed the rules, but as the pirates plunder their way across the Caribbean, he finds much to admire in their freedom. He deplores their lawlessness but is drawn to their way of life, and begins to think he might just have found a purpose. Dare he dream of finding love too? Or would loving a pirate take him too far down the road to ruin?

ebook  – 289 pages (approx)

Review by Alex Beecroft

 First Impressions

 I love the cover – all that gold and rigging and lovely ruffly shirts. A proper naval jacket immediately catches my eye, but the piratical scarf and the fact that that’s clearly not a naval ship (with those crows’ nests) already suggests an interesting conflict.

My initial impression that this was going to be a romance between Kit and his delightful fashionable friend Tristan. The two of them had such chemistry that I was quite sad when currently turned-ashore Lieutenant Kit got a job as an elderly gentleman’s valet and set sail for the Leeward Islands. But soon their small merchant vessel is attacked by pirates and Kit is taken captive aboard the Africa, captained by the gentleman pirate La Griffe (Griffin to his friends.)

Kit is gay, but he has all the ingrained prejudices and internalized homophobia appropriate to a naval officer, for whom sodomy is a hanging offence. I liked the fact that he did not experience a sudden inexplicable change of heart on simply seeing Griffin.

I also liked the fact that Griffin is a cut above some romance-novel-pirates, who would think nothing of a bit of dub- or even non-con. I really dislike the whole ‘irresistible alpha male semi-forces himself on other bloke, confident he will like it in the end, and of course he does’ trope. It’s one of the things that generally puts me off pirate novels – all that threat of rape. Fortunately Griffin is too proud to force himself on an unwilling partner, which means that instead we get a relationship of slowly developing respect between the two men.

Kit is put to work doing such things aboard the pirate sloop that he can be trusted to do without sabotaging the ship or damaging his own honour. This gives rise to another of the great joys of the book, which is the fact that even without the m/m romance element this is a wonderful Age of Sail novel. I would almost go so far as to say that it’s an Age of Sail novel with m/m romance elements rather than a m/m romance-novel with AoS elements.

Elin Gregory’s research is impeccable, her scenes of shipboard life are endlessly engaging, full of lively characters, great nautical battles and intrigues and raving sailing. Anyone who has enjoyed Master and Commander, or Hornblower, would enjoy this novel as a thoroughly entertaining bit of historical swashbuckling.

The romance is slow developing, but I think it’s all the more convincing for that. Both men have time to show their finer qualities, which in both their cases are fine indeed. They also have time to work through their issues, making the development of the love between them more easy to believe. By the end, when Griffin is betrayed by one of his own men, it’s just as easy for the reader to be on the edge of their seat with nerves about how he will ever come back as it is for Kit.

Speaking of swashbuckling, there’s something satisfyingly old school about the ending, where by old school I mean ‘reminds me of classic pirate films like Captain Blood’. It’s a delightful twist, completely unexpected at least by me, and yet properly foreshadowed early on, so that when it does happen you go ‘oh, so that’s why…!’

To sum up. I can’t actually think of anything bad to say about this, other than that the pace and emphasis of the story is more that of an Age of Sail novel than that of a romance. To me that makes the book all the better. Lots to read and get your teeth into as well as a proper pace for the psychological journey Kit has to go on. But those who prefer a more wham, bam, thank you man pace may find it a little slow going. My advice would be to relax and enjoy the ride, because what a ride it is.

Author’s Blog

Buy at Amazon UK | Amazon USA | B&N | Kobo | All Romance eBooks

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Author Interview with Adam Fitzroy

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My guest today is Adam Fitzroy, author of five non-erotic M/M romance titles available from Manifold Press. Romances set in the White House, on Flanders Fields and on the border of England and Wales, some contemporary, some historical and some BOTH, have met with critical acclaim.  Thank you, Adam, for so kindly agreeing to answer my questions.

– Hi, Elin; it’s lovely to be invited, thank you!

Elin: You have written contemporary stories and historicals, which do you prefer? Do you find contemporaries easier to write than history?

Adam:  No, not at all.  In fact I’m far more at home with historical subjects, and I think the reason is that I’m a bit of a dinosaur; with contemporary subjects I have to keep reminding myself that the characters will have access to mobile phones, computers, the internet and so forth, and that they will be able to find things out quickly which would have taken a previous generation weeks or even years to discover.  I like a slow pace of storytelling, something that will be an immersive experience for me when I’m writing it and will hopefully be very much the same for the potential reader, and that somehow seems to be at odds with the faster pace of contemporary life.

Elin: When writing historicals, what do you enjoy most about the process? Do you enjoy research for its own sake?

Adam:   I love research; I love solving little problems and discovering how things would have been done in a bygone era.  To me, learning about a ‘new’ historical era is like learning a new language; I need to acquire a lot of information before I can write so much as a single word.  What job or profession would my characters have had, for example, and what would they have earned; how would they have made a journey from Point A to Point B and how long would it have taken them?  I’m also fascinated by historical diet, furniture, houses, clothing … and the fact that, whatever their trappings, human beings are essentially the same and have the same or similar hopes and dreams, fears and failings throughout history.  I love getting inside their heads and understanding their concerns, seeing how like us they are – and, in other ways, how very different.

One place where I draw the line in historical fiction, though, is with language – there is absolutely no point in trying to write historically-accurate dialogue full of ‘thees’ and ‘thous’ because it runs the risk of sounding like a bad parody of Shakespeare; a far more straightforward course is to stick to relatively simple English and indicate to the reader by the subject matter they’re discussing that these are not contemporary characters.  Ellis Peters did this to good effect in the ‘Brother Cadfael’ books, which in my view makes it an example that’s very well worth following.

Elin: I’m fascinated to see that you have set a romance in the White House with the President, no less, as one of the protagonists. What inspired that story?

Adam:   I’ve been a bit of ‘Presidency buff’ ever since I was a child, and I love the whole panoply of White House life – the staff, the settings, the prestige and the power – although I must admit that I’m less enthusiastic about the actual politics; I just see the Presidency as the American equivalent of royalty, with similar glossy trappings under which are very often flawed human beings.  I adore movies with a White House background – and as you can probably imagine I’m a huge fan of ‘The West Wing’, too – and basically with ‘Dear Mister President’ I set out to write the story of the kind of movie I would really like to be able to sit down and watch.  That’s my starting-point with most of my books, in fact; I try to write something that would be entertaining to me if someone else had written it.

Elin: Your novel Make Do And Mend is set during the early part of the Second World War in rural Monmouthshire. Can you explain why you chose such an unusual place to set the story instead of a more glamorous location?

This farmhouse, the site of a former youth hostel, is the site Adam chose for the fictional Hendra.

Adam:   There were two main reasons; one was that – as far as I knew – nobody had ever done it before, but the other was the old advice about ‘writing what you know’!  The location where the story is set is not a million miles from where I live, and I often pass through it by train – which you might think would lead to a superficial acquaintance with the area at best – but I’ve been doing so on a regular basis since the 1980s and it’s sunk in gradually, somehow, by osmosis.  I’ve also covered a lot of the same ground by car and also on foot, I should add – I walked the Wye Valley some years ago – and read up quite a lot about it.  Eventually I became fascinated with one particular valley, one particular road, one particular location … and over a period of several years the story of Harry and Jim slowly took shape in my mind.

Looking back towards the Hendra from the road to “Sermon Pass”

 

Elin: I can understand that Adam. It’s one of my very favourite places. Now, could you give me a reading recommendation, either in your genre or out of it? The type of book you would wade through a flood to rescue.

If you enjoy reading about men coping heroically with impossible situations you will enjoy this book.

Adam:   There is one book above all others that always springs to the forefront of my mind when this sort of question is asked, and it’s the one I would take to the legendary BBC desert island with me – Nicholas Monsarrat’s ‘The Cruel Sea’.  It’s probably the book that’s had the profoundest effect on me since the day I sneaked my father’s copy out of his bookcase when I was a teenager.  Monsarrat’s unsentimental style, his eye for detail and his characters – together with the overwhelming conviction that he has been in these places and seen these things for himself – combine to produce not only a powerful and absorbing narrative but also, looked at in another light, an example of the kind of book I would give my eye-teeth to be able to write.  He portrays, strongly and convincingly, the sort of devoted relationships between men that are all about love and not even remotely about sex; Erikson and Lockhart, for example, are closer to one another than they are to the women in their lives – and there’s Ferraby and his affection for his young friend Rose, too, which I’ve always found extremely moving.  I must confess that the surnames Lockhart and Ferraby appear in ‘Make Do And Mend’ as a direct tribute to ‘The Cruel Sea’, which some readers may have spotted.  Other favourites may come and go over time, but this is one book that will most definitely remain with me forever!

Elin: What’s next from the pen/word processor of Adam Fitzroy? Can you tell us about it or do you refer to keep the details to yourself until the work is finished?

Adam:   I’ve recently started – and it’s giving me a bit of trouble at the moment – a book about two male teachers of different ethnicities who meet and fall in love while working in a school in the East End of London in 1966.  They bond over trying to create – completely from scratch – a school cricket team, using the most unpromising materials.  Cricket is among my many enthusiasms, and in a way it’s odd that I’ve never written anything about it before, but of course it offers an ideal meeting-point for people from completely different cultural backgrounds.  I would like the book to be about unconscious prejudice of all sorts – whether originating in race, gender, age, social class, sexual orientation or anything else – but hopefully not ‘preachy’ in any way; it’s enough, I think, to show that sometimes people’s unthinking predispositions can be overturned, and it needn’t be by any great dramatic revelation – just gradually learning a little bit more about their fellow human beings.

Elin: Could we please have an excerpt?

Adam:   This is from ‘Make Do And Mend’ – the air-raid sirens have gone off during the village Christmas Dance, and the characters are sheltering in the crypt of the church:

Like all such occasions, it was almost fun at first; they crowded together in the vault, and it soon became warm enough to be comfortable, and for quite a while there was nothing but silence overhead.  Someone had brought over a set of dominoes and the top of a long-deceased Lyon’s slab tomb was turned into a table where the game was played with great enthusiasm; Gwen and the ward sister – her name was Hilda, it transpired – were deep in conversation; Blanche leaned against Kitty and fell asleep, and Kitty in turn leaned against Jack.  Harry, under some obscure compulsion not to rest even for a moment, circulated slowly like the host at a particularly unsuccessful party; he and the vicar, working together as if they had rehearsed it, stepped gently over stretched-out legs, found Alka-Seltzer and headache tablets and extra blankets, distributed magazines and sandwiches and light conversation wherever appropriate.  By the end of the first hour, however, when optimism had turned to resignation and novelty had already begun to pall, there began to be a minor rumble of discontent amongst the ranks.  People had already started to talk about making a dash for it back to their own homes – to pets shut in, to children being looked after by neighbours – when the sounds of approaching violence became audible in the distance.  Parry ARP, out in the graveyard with his fellow wardens, twitched the curtain aside to say “Here they come”, and husbands pulled their wives closer to them and friends pressed tightly against one another’s shoulders in order to be in contact with someone, anyone, in a time of fear.  The church may well have stood for a thousand years before tonight, but it would be no proof against a direct hit; if that happened, there would be a thousand years of solid masonry and carved oak down around the ears of the shelterers in an instant.

Harry’s father had been killed in just such a way, barely eight months before, when seven hundred German bombers had torn out the historic heart of London; crushed in the ruins of the library at Gray’s Inn, he had died surrounded by the things and places he had loved the most.  Harry, however, could not simply stand still and wait for the same to happen to him.

“I’m going outside,” he said quietly to the vicar.

Eltringham glanced assessingly around the vault; Gwen and Hilda were looking calmly in their direction, but nobody else seemed to have a single thought to spare for either of them.

“All right,” he replied.  “I’ll come with you.”  And they pushed through the blackout, up the twisted stairs, emerging into the chill graveyard where they joined Parry ARP in a little sandbagged redoubt tucked into the angle between nave and transept.  There was already an ominous droning in the air, accompanied by a series of far-off thuds that certainly betokened nothing good.

“They’re coming up the railway line,” said Parry.  “From Pontypool.”  And even as he spoke the separate impacts drew nearer, stitching along the valley with an almost paralysing slowness, bombs falling repetitively one by one by one in a long and deadly rhythm, flashes of light sometimes perceptible where they fell.  “It’s mostly farmland over by there,” he added hopelessly.

“What can I do?” asked Eltringham, in a distracted tone.  “Whatever can I do?”

“Pray, vicar.  That’s all any of us can do.”

“Mr Parry, I’ve been praying continuously since 1939!”

“Well, sir,” replied the warden, “no offence, but I’m afraid it isn’t working.  Maybe you’d better start praying a little bit harder?”

The engine note was clearly identifiable now.  “Heinkels,” said Harry.  “I just wish there was a moon.”

“And I wish there was no war,” responded Eltringham, gripping his arm above the elbow with bony fingers that dug in and stayed clamped there as the thundering menace drew closer, juddering in the tight air, vibrating through ground and stones and bones and blood and souls.

“They’re going over the mountain,” Harry realised at the last moment.  “Over Hendra.  Over the quarry.”

They were above the village, two of them, three, maybe more, ripping holes in the sky, dropping fire from a great height, screaming from darkness into darkness leaving chaos and death behind them.

Somewhere high up on the mountain flames blossomed and rose quickly, and then were gone.

“Jim,” said Harry.

Idiotically, he began to run.

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You can buy Make Do and Mend here:

http://www.manifoldpress.co.uk/2012/10/make-do-and-mend/

Follow me at the following sites.

Adam’s blog:  http://www.manifoldpress.co.uk/2012/10/make-do-and-mend/

Adam’s LJ:  http://adam-fitzroy.livejournal.com/

Adam on GoodReads:  http://www.goodreads.com/author/show/3513066.Adam_Fitzroy

Adam’s Author Page on Amazon:  http://www.amazon.co.uk/Adam-Fitzroy/e/B00BF045YG/

I’m afraid I don’t do either Facebook or Twitter … still too much of a dinosaur!

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Many thanks for joining us today, Adam, and good luck with the WIP.

Review: Promises Made Under Fire by Charlie Cochrane

France, 1915

Lieutenant Tom Donald envies everything about fellow officer Frank Foden–his confidence, his easy manner with the men in the trenches, the affectionate letters from his wife. Frank shares these letters happily, drawing Tom into a vicarious friendship with a woman he’s never met. Although the bonds of friendship forged under fire are strong, Tom can’t be so open with Frank–he’s attracted to men and could never confess that to anyone.

When Frank is killed in no-man’s-land, he leaves behind a mysterious request for Tom: to deliver a sealed letter to a man named Palmer. Tom undertakes the commission while on leave–and discovers that almost everything he thought he knew about Frank is a lie…

ebook and audiobook- 18,000 words

Review by Erastes

Anyone who has read and likes Charlie Cochrane will be expecting quality and a sweet romance and you definitely won’t be disappointed in this book. She is consistently good and I always start one of her books with a sense of pleasure. I have to say I ended this one in that state too.

Frank is everything Tom would like to be. He sees the best in things, and can laugh even in the trenches, in the worst of conditions. To do otherwise, he tells Tom would be a road to madness. Tom is much more realistic and finds the war and the conditions next to unbearable.

Such a set-up could be a very hard read in other hands, but Cochrane deals with it well. Somehow she doesn’t lessen the impact of the horror–makes it very clear to us how badly Tom is affected by events that transpire–but it’s dealt with so wonderfully and subtly that it wouldn’t put the most ardent anti-war reader off. It takes skill to do this–a rare skill–which is why most WW1 books are  a much more harrowing read. Tom is living a life not lived; chances never taken, risks never risked and there are instances in his life which therefore he regrets for inaction. And now he’s in the middle of action of a very different sort, he can’t see beyond the end of the next minute.

It’s almost a coming-of-age story, in a way, as Tom has to solve a little but rather satisfying mystery (as the reader should twig onto the truth a long time before Tom) and when he does his life begins to change and he gets the chance to finally risk all for his future happiness.

Told in first person, Tom’s head isn’t the happiest place to be. He suffers (with a good portion of stiff upper lippiness) with a fair smear of depression although he does his duty, even when it’s unpleasant. He doesn’t particularly want to go and see Frank’s family but he does his duty even though the loss of Frank has hit him hard, so hard that only really his parents know how much it’s affected him.

It’s this repression that Cochrane manages to portray so very well. The fact that Tom and Frank had shared a trench and command for a good while but the repression of both men meant that they knew almost nothing about each other–not really–and they couldn’t trust each other enough to let each other know about their secret lives. She really gets into Tom’s mind and is utterly convincing as he unravels the tangle of Frank’s life.

As much as I enjoyed much of the Cambridge Fellows series, I prefer Cochrane’s standalone books. Her writing gets stronger as she finds her style (although she’s just as capable of contemporary, fantasy and historical) and gains strength and confidence in her writing. This is–to my mind–one of the most mature pieces she’s produced, and is romantic enough for those who seek it but thought provoking enough for those who want a more gritty read.

Author’s Website

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Review: The Low Between by Vivien Dean

It was supposed to be simple.

All struggling actor Carlo Baresi had to do was pick up a man in a taxi, drive him to the location he specified, then report where he’d taken him. The only problem is, the man isn’t who he claims to be…and they both know it.

Bookstore owner Joe Donnelly has a reputation for helping those in need, but this plan has been a bad one from the second he stepped in. Discovering someone has switched out the taxi driver is one more complication he doesn’t want, especially since Carlo is the kind of distraction that can get a man in serious trouble if he’s not careful.

But the men have something in common other than their mutual attraction. They’re both loose ends, struggling to find out what is really going on.

And murder is always complicated, even when you’re on the same side.. 

ebook  – 144 pages

Review by Erastes

Ms Dean has had me as a fan for a good while, although it’s been a while since she published a gay historical, and I’ve missed her. This was a very enjoyable read I’m glad to say!

I love Noir, I’m a big fan of Bogart and Marlowe and Spade and all that, so I was looking forward to a New York 50’s vibe and in that, I’m afraid, I was a little disappointed. There’s not enough immersion into the era. Dean lost an opportunity here–possibly by sticking to a more traditional for a romance two-POV style rather than a first person narration–in really steeping the story in a Noir feel. Part of the prop shafts for great Noir are mouth watering descriptions of clothes, guns and cars and the reader is short-changed in all these departments. There’s rain, which always adds to the genre, lots of rain and in that respect it’s atmospheric but it could have gone a lot further to really bring out the flavour of the era.

It’s a good plot, although the mystery did confuse me rather, which starts with a great scene of a switched driver and a different contact than the one Carlo was expecting which sets the scene nicely for the growing romance and the mystery. I liked Joe a lot more than I did Carlo–we learn a lot more about him, for a start. He’s beautifully flawed and having tasted tragedy in his life, professionally and personally, he keeps the world at bay. We know much about his character simply from the way he interacts with the people he knows–and doesn’t know. I felt that the “OK, now we are partners” aspect was a tad rushed–couldn’t quite see why Joe would have trusted Carlo quite so quickly, particularly after Carlo violates that trust pretty sharpish.

As for Carlo himself, I didn’t really get him at all. We know very little about him, not his past or his home life, or his past homosexual experiences. I couldn’t really warm to him the way I did Joe because of that, as by the time we are really inside his head he’s entirely smitten with Joe and that’s all he can think about.

The prose is good, as expected with this author, and there are quite a few phrases that were outstandingly beautiful and original which made me bite my lip in jealous fury that I hadn’t thought of this or that analogy or metaphor. The editing needed more work, but I’m used to that with Amber, it’s not a deal breaker, I just wish they’d pull their socks up and get editors who know the right place for a comma.

Once the relationship kicks in, it’s handled nicely and sparingly. The protagonists aren’t forever hard and aching for each other, there’s a major sex scene in the place where you’d expect it, and a glasses-fogging kiss scene which was–for me, at least–was hotter than any sex scene. It takes talent to write gorgeous kisses and not many people can do it as well as Dean.

Sadly, probably in deference to the “M/M conventions” there’s also a long sex scene after the denouement of the mystery which for me was unnecessary and didn’t interest me at all. I can understand the reason why this scene may have been put in, but my rule-of-thumb is: if you can take out the scene and it makes absolutely no difference to the plot, then it shouldn’t be there. This is appease the sex-lovers of the genre, but I found myself skipping through it to get to a rather more “pat” ending than I liked. I felt the true end of the book had actually happened naturally just before the sex scene which was probably why the sex seemed a little shoehorned in, as if the publisher said “One sex scene isn’t enough!!”

However, it is a well-written, well-paced book which I enjoyed reading. It might not be a keeper, but it gets a thumbs up from me. I have to say that the title baffled me though–what does it mean?

Author’s Website

Buy at Amazon UK | Amazon USA| Amber Allure

Author Interview – Lisa Henry

My guest today is Lisa Henry, resident in Australia but her imagination roams the world and the genres from contemporary drama to ancient history. Her work has received glowing reviews and has been picked as The Romance Reviews top picks.

Thank you very much, Lisa for agreeing to answer my questions today.

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Elin: Do you have a crisp mental picture of your characters or are they more a thought and a feeling than an image?

Lisa: I like to know what makes my characters tick, but I never have more than a vague idea of their physical descriptions in my head. I’ll write sticky notes about eye colour, hair colour, and who is taller than who (otherwise I’d get mixed up when it comes to love scenes) but that’s about the extent of it. When I read I usually like to fill in most of those gaps for myself, and I think a lot of readers do. Sometimes when an author reveals their inspiration for a character I’m very surprised. Wait, that’s not how I pictured him at all!

Elin: Do you find there to be a lot of structural differences between a relationship driven story and one with masses of action?

Lisa: I tend to write relationship driven stories rather than action, simply because I think I’m better at it. I love reading a great action sequence, but I do find them trickier to write. In an action driven story you have to keep a very tight pace, and one piece of action has to lead directly to the next and so on. In a relationship driven story you’re allowed more space to breathe and reflect, I think, which suits my style more.

Elin: Are you a plotter or a pantser?

Lisa: I’m a pantser who is attempting to be a reformed-pantser, but I have found that whenever I attempt to sit down and plot, I get bored with it because I just want to dive right into the writing. So instead of working more at the beginning with plotting, I work more at the end with brutal editing. There is often very little in common between my first and final drafts.

Elin: Villains – incredibly important in fiction since they challenge the main protagonists and give them something to contend with beyond the tension of a developing relationship. What sort of villains do you prize? A moustache-twirling nightmare or … ?

Lisa: I love villains, but no moustache-twirlers for me. I like my villains to be more complicated than that, and I think it’s important to remember that “evil for the sake of evil” is incredibly rare. Most villains don’t think they’re evil, which makes them much more terrifying. The closest thing I’ve ever written to a moustache-twirling villain would be Vornis from The Island, but even he’s not evil just for the sake of it. He makes examples of the men who cross him because it is necessary in his line of work. He happens to enjoy it as well, but it’s not done without reason.
I think Nero is one of history’s most fascinating and complicated villains, because he really did start out with so much promise and so many good intentions. Because of that, it’s tempting to be somewhat sympathetic towards him: you can see how the people around him poisoned his mind, you can see how tormented he was, and you can see how power corrupted him. That aside, he was a complete monster by the end, and deserved to die.

Elin: Do you enjoy research for its own sake or do you just do what is necessary for each project? What was the most interesting fact you discovered in the course of your research that didn’t make it into your novel?

Lisa: I can get totally lost in research, because it’s all too fascinating. I love learning about how everyday people lived, and I try to get the details right. I have a by-no-means-comprehensive list in my head that I need to check off before I feel comfortable writing about an historical period. It includes things like what did they use instead of toilet paper, what did they use for birth control, what did their shoes look like, what did their houses look like, and what did they eat for dinner? I think you have to know the basics before you can attempt to recreate a world, even if those details don’t make it to the page.

One of the most fascinating things I learned about Ancient Rome that never made it into He Is Worthy — and was never going to, I just got completely sidetracked — was about cosmetic surgery. Yes, in Ancient Rome you could get breast reductions, nose jobs, and eyelifts. The Romans knew about blood and circulation, and even how to reshape cartilage, but given that they didn’t know about germs, or have much in the way of anesthetic, I imagine you would have to be very brave or very desperate to go under the knife.

Elin: Short vs long – which do you prefer to read/write?

Lisa: I prefer to write long, but I’ll read anything. As long as the story pulls me in, I don’t mind if it’s a tiny piece of flash fiction, or War and Peace.

Elin: Would you say that a short story is harder to write than a long one?

Lisa: Absolutely! For me, at least, which is why I generally write long. Short stories require almost a different skill set. They have to be sharper, and neatly honed, if that makes sense. I like that in longer works I can detour a little bit, and see where it takes me. It probably comes back to being a pantser rather than a plotter.

Elin: Put together your ideal team of men – drawing from all and any walks of life, fictional or non-fictional – who you would want to come to your rescue if menaced by muggers/alligators/fundamentalists?

Lisa: I’m going to choose all fictional, since my chances of a happy ending are stronger there. I think Dean from Supernatural would be great in the case of both muggers and alligators, and demons of course, but maybe not fundamentalists. In the case of fundamentalists, I would want a Special Ops team including James Bond, Boromir from The Lord of The Rings, Daryl Dixon from The Walking Dead, and Jack Bauer from 24. And, just to cover all bases, the Scarlet Pimpernel. Oh, and Moriarty from the BBC’s Sherlock. I want him planning the entire operation.

I don’t think I’ve left any room for error there…

Elin: “Had we but world enough and time” and no other commitments, is there anything you would write that you’ve been eyeing and putting off because it’s just too big a project?

Lisa: I want to write a series of novels set in the one universe, full of political machinations that would make the Borgias proud. At the moment I’m leaning towards space opera rather than historical, because that way I can do all the world building myself, and fit all the pieces together without having to worry about historical accuracy. But I wouldn’t say I’m putting it off because it’s too big a project — I’m putting it off because I keep getting distracted by new, shiny ideas.

I’m also being plagued by plot bunnies for a sequel to Dark Space, an m/m romance that came out in December. I’ve never written anything before with the intention of writing a sequel, so this feels entirely ambitious for me. But Dark Space has been so well received, and I loved writing in Brady’s voice so much, that I just know I’m going to have to go back to that world.

Elin: Borgias in space? You can put me down for one of those.
When you have been writing a scene, have you ever scared yourself/upset yourself so much that you decided to tone it down a bit?

Lisa: There was one scene in an earlier draft of He Is Worthy that I cut, because it was just too much. I wanted to show Nero’s brutality, so I had a scene written from Aenor’s POV where another slave was turned into a human torch. When I’d finished it was just too horrible, so instead that scene was cut down to the one sentence where Senna is in the gardens and sees the remains of the slave. I didn’t want to shy away from showing how monstrous Nero was, but that scene was just too upsetting.

Elin: I’m very glad you didn’t put that in the book. The little bit you did include was upsetting enough, though necessary, I think, to get across just how perilous a slave’s position was in that society. What are you working on at present?

Lisa: At the moment I’m in the process of editing The Good Boy, co-written with the amazing J. A. Rock, which is a contemporary m/m with a BDSM theme, which will be released around March by Loose Id. I’m currently writing another historical, set in Wyoming in 1870, with the working title Sweetwater. My MC, Elijah, is partially deaf thanks to Scarlet Fever, and finds himself having to choose between two very different men with two very different agendas.

Elin: Could we please have an excerpt?

Lisa: I’ll go with Sweetwater, since this site is all about historicals! This is the (very unedited) opening scene:

1870, South Pass City, Wyoming Territory

A spray of blood hit his face like hot rain, and Elijah Carter clamped his mouth shut.
“Hold him! Hold him!”
The rope had slipped when Dawson made the first cut, and the yearling was trying to buck them off now. Elijah and Lovell had it pushed against the fencepost and were trying to hold it there, Lovell against its hindquarters and Elijah shoulder-to-shoulder with the yearling. Elijah didn’t know which of them had the worst end of it. He wasn’t sorry to be out of the way of those back legs, but if the swinging thick skull of the panicked animal collided with his, he’d be in real trouble. Elijah pushed his forehead against the yearling’s neck. Closer was safer, if they could hold it.
Dawson was drunk, probably. His hands shook too much, and they were weak too. He’d been a good butcher once, back when Elijah first started working with him scrubbing the floors and the counters in the shop and doing the deliveries. Then Dawson’s drinking had picked up, and now he couldn’t even slaughter a yearling without fucking it up.
Elijah’s cheek scraped against the coarse coat of the yearling. He smelled blood and dust.
The yearling pitched forward and Elijah’s grip slipped.
“I said hold him, you simple deaf cunt!” Dawson grunted.
Elijah didn’t need to see the shape of Dawson’s mouth in the lamplight to make out the words. He’d heard the insult often enough.
Hot blood washed over Elijah’s fingers. He dug his boots in the dirt, fighting against the struggling animal. The yearling bellowed — a long, high-pitched sound that vibrated against Elijah’s face, his hands. It moved through him, and jarred his bones.
Elijah closed his eyes as Dawson’s knife passed close in front of his face. He hoped Dawson wasn’t drunk enough to take his fingers with the next cut. He hoped the lamp hanging off the fence gave enough light for Dawson to finish the task.
Working in the dark was dangerous, but it had to be done. The beasts were mavericks, brought down from the hills into South Pass City. They had to be slaughtered and butchered under the cover of the night, and served up on dinner plates all over town before the sheriff came asking questions.
Elijah hadn’t seen the faces of the men who’d herded them into town. There had been maybe four of them, all wearing their hats pulled low. In the darkness, they could have been anyone. Elijah hadn’t stared. It was safer that way. He’d stayed out of the way while Dawson had done business with the men, then Lovell had come to fetch him. And here they were.
The yearling bellowed again.
Blood again. A flood of it this time, as free flowing and hot as bathwater poured from a kettle. It turned Elijah’s stomach, and he fought the instinct to pull away.
The yearling sank to its knees and Elijah went forward with it. He could hear its heartbeat echoing inside his skull, in panicked counterpoint to his own. It beat slower, and slower still.
Elijah was slick with blood. He shifted back, his body aching. He kept one bloodied hand on the neck of the yearling, his fingers splayed. It was too weak to struggle now. Its ears flicked back and forth and its eyes rolled.
The yearling’s breath came in short pants. So did Elijah’s. Kneeling together in the dirt, they waited. Blood, black in the night, pooled around them.
Dawson laughed, lifting his arm to wipe his sweaty forehead on his sleeve. The blade of the knife made an arc in the scant lamplight. Dawson’s skin was yellow and puffy these days. His gut was bloated. Elijah had read enough of Dr. Carter’s medical books to recognize it as cirrhosis. Dawson was an asshole, and every day, every drink, he was closer to death. Elijah had more sympathy for the yearling than the butcher.
The yearling sighed, stilled.
Lovell dropped a hand on Elijah’s shoulder. “We’re done.”
Lovell never treated Elijah like a fool. Never pulled his mouth into exaggerated shapes to mock the way Elijah spoke. Never laughed at him or slapped him in the head for being slow to understand.
Elijah rose to his feet, bracing himself against the dead yearling. The beast felt more unyielding now than when it had been struggling against them. Dead things always did. The difference between alive and dead was both infinitesimal and immense: the tiny space of only a single heartbeat was as wide as an abyss.
Elijah spat, and wiped his hands on his bloody apron for all the difference that it made.

~.~

Thank you, Lisa, that was terrific.

If you would like to follow Lisa online you can find her blog here, on Twitter as
@LisaHenryOnline and she hangs out on Goodreads a lot too.

He Is Worthy

Rome, 68 A.D. Novius Senna is one of the most feared men in Rome. He’s part of the emperor’s inner circle at a time when being Nero’s friend is almost as dangerous as being his enemy. Senna knows that better men than he have been sacrificed to Nero’s madness—he’s the one who tells them to fall on their swords. He hates what he’s become to keep his family safe. He hates Nero more.

Aenor is a newly-enslaved Bructeri trader, brutalized and humiliated for Nero’s entertainment. He’s homesick and frightened, but not entirely cowed. He’s also exactly what Senna has been looking for: a slave strong enough to help him assassinate Nero.

It’s suicide, but it’s worth it. Senna yearns to rid Rome of a tyrant, and nothing short of death will bring him peace for his crimes. Aenor hungers for revenge, and dying is his only escape from Rome’s tyranny. They have nothing left to lose, except the one thing they never expected to find—each other.

 

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Review: The Pretty Gentleman by Max Fincher

Erotic sketches, a blackmail letter, a closeted aristocrat, his ambitious lover, and a sacrificial murder. Love, betrayal, deception and vengeance in Regency’s London’s art world.

George Rowlands, an aspiring young painter and apprentice to his father in the Haymarket theatre, meets Sir Henry Wallace while drawing the river at Richmond. Wallace invites George to his home in St. James’s square to draw his collection of sculpture and his good-looking valet Gregorio Franchese. Securing him a place to study painting at the Royal Academy of Arts under the eccentric Gothic painter, Henry Fuseli, George meets the mysterious John McCarther who befriends him. Meanwhile, Lady Arabella Wallace records in her diary her suspicions about her husband’s night-time absences and his ‘enthusiasm’ for his new protégé. George discovers his every move with Wallace is being watched after Wallace confesses his love for him.

ebook – 306 pages

Review by Erastes

I’ve been musing a while as to whether I should still be reviewing self-published books on this blog, and the editing–I’m sorry to say–on this book has pushed me so close to the edge of deciding, it’s only going to take one more like this to get me to fall off the fence one way or the other. From the huge list of helpers, encouragers and friends that the author lists in his acknowledgements, you’d think SOMEONE might have pointed out that he has a comma abuse problem. As well as subject confusion, and many other issues such as random tense changes, homonym mistakes and typos.

Sidebar: Self Published authors. I’m sick of this. Don’t go skipping towards self-publishing with the attitude that by not having to give most of your royalties to your publisher you can coin it. Think rather that you should be paying a fucking editor the money your publisher would have. Because? If you skip this, cut corners and think gleefully at the money you’ve “saved” you’ll produce a shoddy product which no one will bloody BUY. Rather defeats the object. I apologise for losing my temper, but this book really tipped me over the edge, and when you review books and you read so many self-published books which clearly are not ready for publication, and there’s so many authors doing good work, it makes me mad.

That all being said, there is something to like in this book. If it had not had that kernel of promise I would have either not reviewed it at all, or dismissed it with a half of one star for putting words in a line–kind of the equivalent of putting one’s name at the top of an exam paper, but there is talent here, there is a knack for description and the ability to communicate a time and place. It’s just a shame that the shoddy workmanship drags it down.

The other main problem is the pacing; putting aside all other issues, if this had been the type of polished self-publication–as say, The Painting was–I would still have problems with the execution. It’s possibly the most realistic Regency set book I’ve read, the research has been done mostly impeccably and you really feel that–with the descriptions of the grit and grime of the streets and the dark, candlelit rooms that you are in a time before gas lighting and electricity. But the first half of the book is so painfully slow and laboured if I hadn’t been reviewing it I would have given up, and I almost never feel that way. There’s just nothing much going on–George meets Wallace by chance whilst out painting the landscape and so slowly you can almost see the glaciers growing faster they move to a position of artist and patron while George falls in love with Wallace. Apart from one instance where George follows Wallace in stalkery fashion to Vere Street and another time he sees someone he thinks is following him, for over 50 percent of the book nothing much else happens. Oh, there’s attendance at art school, and the occasional party, and endless pages of George painting and sketching–all interspersed with the increasingly paranoid journal entries of Wallace’s wife, but there’s no real sense of foreboding or even burgeoning love on either side. George tells us he’s (probably, how can he tell?) in love with Wallace on numerous occasions, but he doesn’t really give any reason for that, nor is the reader given any. Wallace, for me, was a thoroughly objectionable, spoilt brat who wants everything his own way, and everyone to agree with his own opinions. He’s not even depicted as being entirely mesmerising which would explain why George falls so completely under his spell.

As I said, there’s a lot of historical detail in the book, most of which is accurate as far as I could tell–I wasn’t knocked out by modern language or attitudes. But many of the touches which the author obviously wanted to put in so we can tell he did the research were a bit superfluous and I was often thinking – “yeah, ok, nice scene, good description, but what’s the point of it in the plot?” I also rolled my eyes at George being paid £200 for his very first portrait and then wondering how he was going to live – the minimum conversion of that sum of money is well over £11k so it’s unlikely he’d have had any money problems for a good long while.

The major conflict, when it happens is not unexpected, but is actually well-handled. Wallace proves himself to be the git I took him to be all along which was gratifying, at least. I think what the author was aiming for was a gradual escalation of the plotline as after the middle of the book things start to kick off, but the beginning needs to have some acceleration rather than pages of walking around painting and or looking at things.

So, I’m torn about the book. On one hand it’s well done to the extent of the feel and the paranoia and the atmosphere of the times, but the painfully slow pacing would make it a do not finish for many. I would probably recommend it as a read if you can get past the pacing – AND if you are prepared to put up with the legion of grammatical errors throughout. I would advise the author to get it very carefully proofed by someone who knows how to punctuate, at the very least. A neatly edited version of this would have earned a 3.5 but as it is–specially the conversion from PDF to Kindle where all the double Ts were entirely missing–I can’t give it more than a 2.5

Author’s Website

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Review: Lord of Endersley by S.A. Meade

Will the passion ignited during a violent uprising survive the rigid confines of Victorian society?

Jacob Endersley is glad to escape the confines of his family home for the exotic and dangerous beauty of India during the glory days of the Raj.

Marcus Billington, an Army officer, is tired of the stifling social mores of life in a British enclave. When the Sepoy Uprising of 1857 leads to chaos and bloodshed, the two men seek the safety of Agra and find refuge in each other.

Once the rebellion is quashed, Jacob returns to England while Marcus remains in India. They have no hope of a future together until Jacob learns that Marcus has returned to England. When they meet again, Marcus makes it clear there can be nothing between them and Jacob returns to Endersley resigned to a solitary life until Marcus arrives out of the blue and then everything changes.

ebook and paperback – 161 pages

Review by Erastes

Now here’s something rare – I might even say unique! A gay historical romance set during the Indian Mutiny, a period that fascinates me and evokes the mysterious, the strange and the exotic. Jacob is the eponymous Lord of Endersley who has come to India to sort out a cousin’s finances and meets up with Captain Marcus Billington and sparks fly almost from the first.

I have to say that I was impressed with S.A. Meade’s writing. It’s nicely descriptive without being over the top, and with the exception of a couple of repeated sentences that a good editor should have winnowed out, she manages to place the reader in the stifling, lung drowning heat of India. The weather is almost a third character because everything one does in India is pretty much done in tandem with the weather. It’s excellent the way Meade notes small details such as the women struggling to deal with “roughing it” after the rebellion starts–struggling with their dresses for a start–without making such small details interfere with the flow of the story.

The romance trundles along nicely–I loved the way that they weren’t able to leap into bed together and have night after night of passionate sex, that the social structure of the time made this almost impossible and that it was clear that they had to be careful and circumspect all of the time. The couple of times they did get together were cleverly managed and quite believable. The one thing I didn’t really understand though was why they didn’t get more than one opportunity to use the little shack they used just the once. The ubiquitous handy vial of oil is really beginning to bug me, the more of these I read.

The one thing I would have liked more of was the rebellion itself, and the reasons for it, as there’s no explanation of it and the reader would come away from the book no wiser than when they started. I don’t believe that fiction books should be history tomes, but I do think they should reflect the situation. Englishmen and women talked a lot about the natives and there could easily have been club talk and gossip as to what was happening in the wider scheme of things. Sadly there’s not, and Jacob simply does guard duty. The infuriating thing is that when he leaves the fort after the rebellion has been put down, we get this sentence:

It seemed an anticlimactic moment after months of near starvation, close calls, death and privations.

And I agreed with him entirely, because we’d seen nothing of all this, and whilst I don’t think a blow by blow account of daily life at the siege of Agra would have been suitable for a romance–although there are books that get away with it– I would have liked to have seen something of this. Nothing is mentioned of the magnificent Agra fort either–other than one of the small pavilions along the walls, it surprised me that Jacob never gave any description of the wonderful interiors instead of moping around in the heat.

Only fifty percent of the book takes place in India; the rest plays out in England where again, the weather and the descriptions really anchor the reader in the sense of time and place. It’s a gasp of fresh air after the suffocating warmth of India and I laughed at Jacob already complaining about the chill when he’d spent all that time longing to be home in a cooler climate.

The dance between the two of them once they got back to Blighty became a little tedious for me, and it sadly was a case of rinse and repeat once back in England, including the hurt/comfort aspect. It was all “no no, we mustn’t” “but why not?” “no no, I must go” and so on and so on. It’s a convenient conflict, but it’s not terribly interesting reading. In fact I found much of the British section really boring, most particularly the chess match the two men have which is described for pages and pages and pages and I simply couldn’t see the point of it, as there wasn’t any sub-text dialogue going on at the same time, which you’d expect there would be.

The historical feel is quite well done, but it did tend to dip into a 20th/21st century vibe from time to time, particularly when the two men were “talking it out” some of the phrases were quite anachronistic and modern in feel

I am guessing–as this is the first part in a series–that the title of The Endersley Papers will become clear, and I have to say that as a personal niggle the title “Lord of Endersley” does nothing to evoke any interest in this book. Neither the title nor the cover give any hint of the exciting backdrop of the Mutiny and that’s a shame because I’m sure more people would try it if that was made a tad clearer.

Overall I enjoyed reading this, and I gobbled it up wholesale which is a good sign believe you me! I think that anyone who’s looking for a well-written romance will love this. I look forward to the next parts.

Author’s Blog

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Review: The Actor and the Earl by Rebecca Cohen

Elizabethan actor Sebastian Hewel takes his bow at the proscenium only to embark on the role of a lifetime. When his twin sister, Bronwyn, reneges on the arrangement to marry Earl Anthony Crofton, Sebastian reluctantly takes her place. At nineteen, Sebastian knows his days as a leading lady are numbered, but with this last performance, he hopes to restore his family’s name and pay off his late father’s debts. Never mind the danger of losing his head should he be discovered. 

He didn’t expect Anthony to be so charming and alluring—not to mention shrewd. While he applauds Sebastian’s plan, Anthony offers a mutually beneficial arrangement instead. Sebastian will need every drop of talent he has to survive with both his head and his heart intact, because this is the best part he’s ever had

ebook and paperback – 216 pages

Review by Erastes

This is a plot done before, and to be honest, done better–in Madcap Masquerade by Penelope Roth–but that’s not to say it’s not worth a read.

It’s set in an era that isn’t covered enough in gay historicals–Elizabethan England and although, as the title explains, one of the protagonists is an actor it’s not set solely in a theatre. Shakespeare does get a mention here and there, though–is there anyone living in London at this time who didn’t know him!?

Overall, it’s nicely readable, and the plot canters on engagingly, but there is a major error that runs throughout which made me grind my teeth and will do for others I suspect. Let me just get that out of the way first. An Earl is usually “an earl of somewhere” e.g. the Earl of Pembroke OR simply as a prefix e.g. Earl Waldgrave. They are NOT addressed as “Earl Crofton” but as “Lord Crofton” as is the case here.

That aside, the book makes a good attempt to get a flavour of the time without an overabundance of detail. The food is mostly convincing–there are good descriptions of feasts where the meat goes on forever and there’s nary a fork in attendance–and the clothes are nicely illustrated: the gaudy doublet and hose of the men and the uncomfortable and restrictive clothes of the women. There was one scene where Sebastian put on his own corset which I found a little unlikely, but in the main it’s well done. The author even manages to tip a nod to the make-up of the day–white lead paint for the face–by having Lord Crofton (Anthony) forbid Sebastian to wear it when not at court.

The way the deception was managed–having Sebastian “visit” in his male persona while Lady Crofton was in bed with a mysterious illness was a bit unlikely. Despite having a couple of staff in on the truth it was rather unbelievable that a country house with dozens of staff would not sniff out what was really happening. There’s one section where Sebastian (as a male) goes over to visit neighbours and has a serious fall, and no mention of contacting his sister is made, let alone how that sister’s illness is continued when Sebastian isn’t on the premises. I mean, there’s no flushing toilets, so someone would notice at the very least, the lack of chamber pots.

There’s a fair smattering of OKHomo throughout, however. Everyone who is in on the secret from the beginning is all right with it, and the people who discover it as the book progresses are also perfectly fine, and are more concerned for the couple’s safety than the horror of what they are doing, as was the tone of the day. In fact everyone in the book–with the exception of Sebastian’s sister–is thoroughly Nice and all the conflict, which could easily come from external sources in this time and place, is managed by jealousy.

And that’s its major failing, really because I was never really convinced of the couple’s devotion to each other. That’s possibly because of the fact that the point of view is only from Sebastian’s side, so we never see Anthony’s feelings–although that’s part of the plot, too. But I didn’t understand WHY Sebastian fell in love with Anthony; I could see why Anthony fell for Sebastian as he’s quite doormatty until he finally has enough, but Anthony–other than being sexy and seductive–isn’t particularly nice until he realises that he might lose Sebastian for good.

So, all in all, a decent enough read and if you like the era you’ll probably appreciate it, but not a keeper for me. The sequel will be out later this year.

Author’s Blog

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Home is the Heart by J M Gryffyn

The last thing war-weary veteran William O’Sullivan expects to find while walking his family’s property is the love of his life, but that is exactly what happens. Under the summer sun, well-born Irishman Will meets gypsy lad Brock, and the two are instantly love struck. 

Their newfound love may be rock solid, but so are the obstacles in their way. Will is expected to marry his childhood sweetheart and produce an heir for the family estate. Brock has his own waggon now and is expected to marry another Traveller.  The roads to their futures are embedded firmly in the past—and don’t include their love. Running off to America seems a perfect solution, but in the mean streets of New York City, they very quickly find that even a love as strong as theirs must be earned.  

ebook only – 100 pages approx

Review by Erastes

I really liked JM Gryffyn’s first book “The Wishing Cup” and I was eagerly looking forward to reading the second. Sadly I was disappointed by “Home is the Heart”

The writing is still good, there’s a flow to her prose that I like a lot but although The Wishing Cup managed a complete arc in a 100 pages, the pacing of Home is the Heart didn’t work for me at all. Perhaps it was the more static feel to the beginning–a young man stuck at home and travellers with their caravans. But throughout the book from literally the second scene it jumped around, introducing characters as though they rose from the grass and leaping from moment to moment with almost a dizzying speed.

The main protagonists literally meet and are just about having sex from second one. I’m not averse to insta-attraction but love, coupling and endless adoration from first sight is a bit too much for me. The author attempts to throw a couple of caltrops in the lovers’ path, but again, it’s sudden, seems shoe-horned in, and there’s no background to shore it up.

I think really, that there’s a point when a book simply can’t be done in 100 pages, not if the author wants to do the plot justice, and in this case to include sex scenes as well.  There’s too much here to be dealt with other than in this rather rushed way and it shows.

However, the research, particularly that around the gypsies, seems well done, I’m not familiar with the customs of the people, but what we are told seems to make sense.

There are a few minor quibbles, there are a good few Americanisms scattered around, like the dreaded “gotten” and a few context errors but all in all it is a sweet romantic tale and I’m sure that many will enjoy it. I can’t say I did, although that won’t stop me getting Gryffyn’s next book, as I’m sure that the promise of The Wishing Cup will bear fruit – it is a shame that this book didn’t live up to the promise.

Buy from Dreamspinner Press

Author Interview – Rebecca Cohen

comfy chairMy guest today in the Comfy Chair is Rebecca Cohen, author of historical and fantasy stories with a male male romance theme. Her first published story, Captain Merric, appeared in Crossbones, an anthology of pirate tales from Dreamspinner, and as you can imagine I was all over that. 🙂 Since then she has published more short stories, one of which appeared in the UK Meet anthology Lashings of Sauce, her first novel, a fantasy entitled Servitude, and her second novel, The Actor and the Earl, set in Elizabethan England. More recently she has also published a unique and important co-written piece – her son. Congratulations to Rebecca and Mr Rebecca!

Many thanks for agreeing to inhabit my Comfy Chair and answer my questions.

#

Elin: As mentioned above, you have written both historical and fantasy fiction. What is the particular draw of those genres? Is there any genre that you wouldn’t attempt?

Rebecca: I’m a geek, of both science and history so the fantasy and historical genres push my buttons like no tomorrow! I studied biochemical engineering as a post-grad and I love to try and write about science, particularly biology, in a different way. In Servitude, Lornyc is trying to discover his powers, and he is scientist, and I tried to explain his magic though his scientific view.

In term of history, I have always loved the Tudor and Stuart era. Although I love a good regency story as the next reader, I wanted to see different periods of history for my romance, so it was only natural I turned to the period I love.

As for a genre I wouldn’t attempt… tricky, as I’m not one to say never as who knows how inspiration will take, but I’m not really a fan of westerns/cowboys.

Elin: The 16th century was a hotbed of innovation that laid the foundations for earth shaking events – colonisation of the Americas, civil war in England, changes in religion and politics. What one thing excites you most about it? Or two. Well as many as you like really. I don’t think I could choose just one.

Rebecca: The politics of the Tudor period, and the machinations of the Tudor family themselves are absolutely fascinating. Politics and religion were so intimately tied together that it almost impossible to separate them. Basically the Tudors were real bastards, and life at court must have been one hell of ride. In addition, the spectacle must have been something to see. The rich folk of the time dressed sumptuously and like something out of a fairy tale. Elizabeth I was known to move her court from residence to residence, and I imagine that would have been an amazing sight to watch.

Elin: I very much enjoy historical research for its own sake but authors have to be wary of putting in too much detail. What’s the best bit of information that you discovered that didn’t make it into The Actor and the Earl? Likewise for Captain Merric?

Rebecca:I did a lot research around the day to day life and pastimes of the Elizabethans. I did use some of them in The Actor and the Earl, but there is only so much you can include without sounding like history textbook. And I’ve kept back a couple of couple prime examples (duelling and dancing!) for the sequel Duty to the Crown (Feb/Mar release). Also, life at court was a fascinating tale… I haven’t gone into the interaction of Queen Elizabeth and her favourite courtiers, but she was known to flirt outrageously with men, but also she had a terrible temper – she would throw thing and spit at his courtiers if they displeased her!

For Captain Merric, I learnt far more about the British Navy and pirate ships than I could use. Life at sea was harsh, and many men died at the hand of the hands of the barber surgeon or accident for gunpowder on board. The medical ‘care’ was extremely basic. The thought of quarterizing a wound in hot tar still turns my stomach.

Elin: Do you have a crisp mental picture of your characters or are they more a thought and a feeling than an image?

Rebecca: I get a general idea of what a character looks like, especially my main characters, but they’re not usually based on anyone in particular. An exception here is Anthony Crofton from The Actor and the Earl, in my head at least, looks like Robert Dudley (1st earl Leicester). Although I was in Starbucks in London and a young man walked in and he was what I imagined Lornyc (from Servitude) would look like it… it took all my will power not to take a photo with my phone.

Elin: Are you a plotter or a pantser? By which I mean to you outline your work first and try to follow the story arc you have planned or do you start writing and see where the characters take you?

Rebecca: Plotter all the way – in fact, I don’t feel comfort writing a story without having written the skeleton outline first! I’m the kind of writer who believes that they are in control of their characters and not the other way around, so they are kept in line by knowing the plot they will inhabit. That’s not to say I know every detail and story kink, because where would the fun be in that?

Elin: I was gutted not to be able to attempt Nanowrimo this year. Have you ever tried it? If so, how did you get on? If not, why not?

Rebecca: I’ve never attempted Nanowrimo, and I must admit it doesn’t hold much appeal for me. While I can see how it would works for others, I feel I’d just end up with 50000 words of drivel that would take much longer to fix than the month it took to write. How I write, I tend to end up with a fairly complete, and clean(ish) first draft, I doubt I could manage that doing the Nanowrimo approach.

Elin: We all have our favourites. If you walked into your library and found water pouring down the wall [it happened to me last month @_@] which book would you grab and move to safety and which would you happily consign to papier-mache?

Rebecca: Making History by Stephen Fry is one my absolute favourites so would be grabbed straightway. And I’d be using the Lord of the Rings Trilogy to mop up the water and protect my Terry Pratchett hardback collection.

Elin: What are you working on at the moment? assuming you have a moment to think between feeds and nappy changes 🙂

Rebecca: I’ve just completed the first round edits for Duty to the Crown (the sequel to the Actor and the Earl) which is due for release in Feb/Mar. I pretty much wrote those two novels back to back last year.
I also have a number of WIPs at the moment. The sequel to Servitude, working title Idolatry, is about a third done, and I’ve just finished the first draft a magical realism-esque novella. And I have also just started a sci-fi novel based at the British government ministry that deals with extra-terrestrial visitors – think a very British version of Men In Black with less guns more tea and biscuits!
And I have an urge to write a romance based at the court of Charles II – a restoration comedy… but that one will have to wait.

Elin: Could we please have an example of something?

Rebecca: Here’s a pre-publication extract from Duty to the Crown:

The evening air was stale, the warmth of summer a claustrophobic blanket across the city, stifling the back streets that sprawled behind the Globe Theatre. Sebastian weaved through the short-tempered mass of people annoyed by the heat and the pungent smell. He was hot, too, hidden as he was under his heavy traveling cloak, but being dressed as a man was nowhere near as uncomfortable as being Bronwyn. Sebastian had slipped away from Anthony at the end of the play, pressing a note into his hand and smirking before disappearing into the throng of theatergoers.
A couple of tankards of wine had steeled his courage and helped to while away enough time for the evening to set in properly. Long shadows appeared in the wider alleys and in the others, where the sun hardly penetrated even at midday, it was now almost dark. These were the alleys Sebastian was interested in, their darkness a perfect cover for his plan. It was the kind of place Sebastian had frequented only on very rare occasions when he’d lived in London, having been warned off by the tales the other actors had told of cutthroats and pickpockets lurking around every corner. He checked that his dagger was close at hand before heading into the warren of little alleys where London’s least salubrious inhabitants would perpetrate the most disreputable deeds.
Sebastian didn’t stop to worry about what went on behind the closed doors of the buildings on this street; he had no wish to be seen as a nosey passerby and ultimately a body that would need to be disposed of. He rounded the corner briskly, relieved to enter a better-lit area where the local water pump was situated, grateful that he’d found the place he’d been searching for without getting lost.
There were three women gathered outside a bright red door, standing provocatively to show as much of their impressive bosoms as possible. A young man, probably a few years Sebastian’s junior, with wild brown hair sat on the pump’s pedestal, his long legs out in front of him and leaning back as if on display. One of the women, her age obscured by heavy makeup, was talking to a man dressed in expensive, fashionable clothes, whose face was hidden by the brim of a wide hat. Sebastian’s appearance made the other two women, also wearing heavy makeup and low necklines, preen to get his attention, one pouting almost comically while the second leaned forward to flash her cleavage and play with her hair. The young man jumped to his feet as he saw Sebastian approach, but his interest in Sebastian was sidetracked when the gentleman talking to the first woman called him over, and the three of them entered the house with the red door together.
Sebastian hung back as two more men arrived from different alleys and the two remaining women beckoned them over, and after exchanging a few words, led them inside the house, leaving Sebastian on his own. He prayed he wouldn’t have to wait long; his fingers curled around the hilt of his dagger unprompted. Taking off the traveling cloak, he laid it on the pedestal of the water pump, then, checking all the possible approaches, leaned against the pump in a way he hoped would come across as alluring. Sebastian was dressed in a set of clothing on which the tailor had done an amazing job of complementing his build, and he knew that he should make an attractive figure.
The bells of a nearby church rang out, telling the city it was eight o’clock. Footsteps approached, and Sebastian’s heart began to beat rapidly in his chest. The shadow preceded the man, and resplendent in his favorite dark red doublet, Earl Anthony Crofton arrived. He grinned as he saw Sebastian, his eyes raking slowly down Sebastian’s lean frame. Sebastian pushed off the water pump and sauntered forward, with a deliberate sway to hips.
“Are you lost, sir? Perhaps I can help.”
“Oh, I am sure your services would be very welcome, but it is not directions I am after,” replied Anthony, standing only inches away.
Sebastian leaned in close to whisper in Anthony’s ear. “There are many things I can offer, sir. Do you have anything particular in mind?”
“That would depend.”
“On what?”
“On whether I can buy you for an hour or a whole night, and if you have somewhere we can go.”
Sebastian bit the inside of his cheek to keep his moan caused by Anthony’s words and the heat in his eyes under his breath. “I have a room at a nearby tavern.”
“Then you can consider yourself bought for the night.”

~~~

Many thanks, Rebecca for answering, my questions and good luck with your writing.

Buy links for Actor and the Earl:
DSP: http://www.dreamspinnerpress.com/store/product_info.php?products_id=3429&cPath=55_462

Amazon:
http://www.amazon.com/The-Actor-Earl-ebook/dp/B00AFW0KOO/ref=tmm_kin_title_0

Rebecca’s author pages at DSP: http://www.dreamspinnerpress.com/store/index.php?cPath=55_462

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/rebecca.cohen.710

Blog: http://rebecca-cohen.livejournal.com/

Twitter: https://twitter.com/R_Cohen_writes

Review: King of Angels by Perry Brass

the story of Benjamin Rothberg, a 12-year-old master of shape-shifting, of changing identities while steadfastly grasping the unique features of his own. The child of a marriage between a handsome Northern Jewish father and a classic-WASP-beauty Southern mother, Benjamin must change identities from Jewish to non-Jewish, from being a smart, precocious self-aware kid to masquerading and passing as a regular boy, from growing into a sexually curious (and possibly gay) young man to experiencing a fragile adolescent innocence, almost in love with a pretty girl.

Set in Savannah, Georgia, during the tumultuous Kennedy years, King of Angels explores the role of Southern Jews in the still-segregated South, the explosive race relations and racial consciousness of this era, and the emergence of a genuine gay community with its own honest, outsider viewpoint. It is also a realistic story of the underground world of boys who must fool their parents and each other in order to achieve any form of unguarded closeness. As a half-Jew attending Holy Nativity, a Catholic military school in Savannah, Benjy will form some of the most important friendships of his life, and experience the full brutality of boys bullying each other. He will also become aware of many forms of seduction and attraction: the seductions of a secret sexual life in the school, the seductions of his own heart taken with a quiet handsome Puerto Rican male student, and the attractions of the Spirit itself in all of its revealed forms. This is truly a novel about the mysterious origins of identity and belief, in a questioning heart and questioning time, while growing up in the changing South in the early 1960s.

Paperback and ebook – approx 400 pages

Review by Erastes

The story is narrated by Benjamin Rothberg and it starts when he’s quite young, from his first memories of his mom and dad. It’s an engaging voice and easy to get into as you work your way through his early grade school years. He’s a Jew — or rather his father is a Jew even if the household doesn’t exactly keep a fully Jewish house and he learns about duality of personality very early on as his father is Leon when he’s being more Jewish and Robby when he isn’t. Benjamin considers himself a Jew–and he’s sent to a Catholic Military Academy (which accepts other faiths) he finds that duality even more pronounced.

I found it a little heavy going because like many memoire-type stories, it struggles as to whether it wants to tell the story from the actual point of view of a 13 year old boy–which may have lent it more weight–or from a hindsight perspective, told from an adult version of Benjy. I never quite felt it knew where it wanted to be as it tended to waver between the two.  The trouble with having a child’s pov is that you can’t have them understand much of what goes on, and the trouble with hindsight is that you can imbue your child protagonist with a much too knowing persona – this manages both at times.

Be warned that most of the sexual interaction  although it’s pretty lightly (although not lightly enough I think) described is between young kids. Benjy isn’t even 13 before he’s jacking and blowing his friend and having it done back to him. There’s very broad hints and rumours that many of the monks are child-abusing but thankfully this is not described at all.

There is a lot of repetition which I found an interesting device after three mentions and intensely irritating after about ten mentions. We don’t need to be constantly told that his mother is a social lightweight who seems to do nothing more than attend a country club and drink Salty Dogs (although what these are is only explained quite late on, and for my mental health I wish they had been explained earlier) with her friends and we don’t need to be constantly told about Benjy’s father using two different personas. It became rather wearing after a time when I was still reading these two same facts more than half way into the novel.

Other than the two facts above, Benjy doesn’t seem to describe his parents–he calls them by their first names (in the text, although not, it seems to their faces) and I found that odd, it’s not like he’d gone to any particular progressive school and he wasnt a rebellious kid with weird ideas (like Eustace for example from Prince Caspian). The parents simply spawn on the page as the Salty Dog drinker airhead and the big looming man that Benjy adores for some reason.  I would have liked to have seen them, particularly at the beginning, more often on the page, giving reasons for Benjy’s opinion on them.

The story itself doesn’t actually pick up until about half-way either when an incident at Summer Camp throws the whole military academy and Benjy’s life into a turmoil, plus the fact that his home life begins to fall apart at the same time.

One thing I felt was sorely missing was a real sense of when this was all occurring. If you passed a blind eye over the fact that no one had mobile phones or game consoles then this really didn’t feel rooted in American 1960’s. Perhaps that’s partially because of prejudices towards Jews and Catholics and gays are still sadly similar today as they were back then, but it’s partly also to do with the fact that much of it takes place at the Military Academy (which, like Public Schools in the UK can have a timeless feel) and indoors at people’s houses mostly in tents or bedrooms. Surely kids would have been listening to music, watching TV shows of the time, talking about Space and goodness knows what? There’s one instance where his mother has the radio on in the car and she’s listening to the Beatles, but really, that was a rare instance of pop culture. It needed more of a flavour of the time to make you feel you were there along with Benjy. These kids only ever seemed to talk about having sex with each other who was queer and who wasn’t.

The kids seemed impossibly knowing, too. I guess that the book is semi-autobiographical perhaps because Brass was half-jewish and grew up in the same area, but when I was 12 I certainly wouldn’t have been having the  same conversations about life and theology these kids were having. Or about having sex with each other and who was queer and who wasn’t either, to be frank.

It makes it all sound as though I didn’t enjoy the book at all, but that’s not true, I did like the voice, and although the whole religion thing left me cold as I couldn’t care less about it, the story was interesting enough to stick with, for all the niggles I had.

One thing I could have done was the tagline to the novel it’s officially called “King of Angels, A novel about the Genesis of Identity and Belief”

Well, really. Thank you, Mr Brass because I am obviously too dumb to have picked up on that, and with that swipe you’ve put off many of your potential readers who will think it’s far more preachy than it is, or some kind of religious text book, and you’ve insulted those who will read it, because you’ve already explained what it’s about. Those who haven’t been put off by that dreadful cover, at least!

Benjy does go through a lot, but as with many first person child narratives, it all felt very remote to me. Even his sexual experiences–which I clearly remember mine shaking me to my core at that age–don’t really seem to register with him.  Perhaps that’s because the author didn’t want to describe a 12 year old having mutual masturbation and blow jobs in any detail, but it’s more than that, there’s no aftermath to it even when he’s pretty much forced–although he denies he was afterwards–to have a blowjob by a much older boy. He says he “weirdly likes” the boy, although for the life of me I couldn’t see one reason for that, and no reason is given other than he likes him. He tends to drift in and out of his relationships with just about everyone, and as often happens in books with the main protagonist Benjy is irresistible, and just about everyone wants to be his friend or have sex with him, monks, older boys, girls, you name it. He’s told it’s because he’s got a “seducing” air but it struck me as Gary-Stu-ism, along with all the other things he could do with no effort at all.

It’s a shame that he was quite so intelligent and so knowing because when it comes down to it, this is a coming of age-coming of religion-coming of self-coming of gender book and I felt that Benjy had no doubts at all, and that he didn’t really cross any great Rubicon to be who he was because, as several people said in the book, he already knew who he was from the beginning.

Well worth a read, but it didn’t set me on fire.

Author’s Website

Amazon USA Paperback | Kindle

Review: Secret Light by Z.A. Maxfield

Rafe Colman likes his life. He has a nice home, a good job, and a wonderful dog. But he’s exhausted by living a lie. When his home is vandalized because of his perceived German ancestry, he can’t even share the irony with friends.

Officer Ben Morgan falls for Rafe’s dog first, but it isn’t long before he’s giving her owner the eye. He thinks they have more in common than the search for Rafe’s vandals, and he’s willing to take a chance and find out.

If life in 1955 is tough on a cop in the closet, it’s even tougher on a refugee who’s desperate to hide his roots and fit in. Rafe knows from tragic experience how vicious prejudice can be. Every second with Ben is stolen, every kiss fraught with danger.

When Ben’s partner threatens to ruin everything, Rafe and Ben have to fight to protect what they have but they’re tired of hiding their secret light.

ebook only  258 pages

Review by Gerry Burnie: This review was previously posted on his own book blog in July 2012

Editorial comment: The Goodreads’ posting of this book comes with a caveat, i.e. Publisher’s Note: This book contains explicit sexual situations, graphic language, and material that some readers may find objectionable: male/male sexual practices,” which I find ‘objectionable’. Were this a heterosexual story with heterosexual ‘sexual practices’ would it have the same caveat? I think not. Therefore it is demeaning at best.

This is the second of Z.A. Maxfield’s stories I have reviewed (see: St. Nacho’s, February, 2010) and I am happy to say that Secret Light [Loose ID LLC, 2011] is generally of the same well-written calibre.

Set in 1955, a period when the memory of WWII is still fresh in many people’s minds, we find Rafe Colman, an gay Austrian DP (displaced person) with his own, tragic memories of the war. These include the death of his parents and the murder of his dearest friends, a gay couple, and so he is understandably and profoundly affected by these events.

As is so often the case (it certainly was in mine) he has learned to cope by adopting a persona that ‘fits’ mainstream expectations; especially for a single man–nice guy with an eye for the ladies, friendly with everyone but seldom personal, successful with a medium-high profile. The problem with role playing of this nature is that it sublimates the real person inside, and no one can be allowed behind the scenes for a closer look.

Of course, this doesn’t prevent some busy bodies from drawing their own conclusions, rightly or wrongly, and from acting on them on account of prejudice or spite. So, when Colman’s house is vandalized because he is perceived as ‘German,’ the police become involved in the person of officer Ben Morgan; a closeted gay man, himself.

Call it “gaydar,” or whatever, the two of them come to recognize themselves in the other, and a relationship is formed based on mutual understanding, honesty and caring. It is not all cotton candy and roses, however, but at least the promise of an HEA ending is there.

While the plot circumstances aren’t particularly original, as they were in “St. Nacho’s”, the same attention to detail and atmosphere has been used to give the reader a sense of time and place. The character-development is also topnotch, which adds greatly to the credibility of their actions, and the pace allows the reader to appreciate both these aspects.

The drawback for me was the somewhat obvious story manipulation, resulting in resolutions that were just a bit on the convenient side. I hasten to add that these were not incredible in nature, but they were noticeable enough to affect my score.

Altogether, though, I have no hesitation in recommending Secret Light as an enjoyable read for all its great parts.

Author’s website

buy at Loose-ID

Author Interview – Sam Starbuck

comfy chair

My interogatee today is Sam Starbuck – dreamer of dreams, spinner of stories, teller of tales short and tall. Sam’s blog, a winner in the 2010 Author Blog Awards, is so well attended that he laid on refreshments in Sam’s Café and he has pioneered a unique method of novel writing using peer group appraisal that led to the founding of Extribulum Press. He has recently published a novella by a more traditional method – The City War, part of Riptide Press’s “Warriors of Rome” series – and since Rome, Republican or Imperial, is close to my heart I decided to try and get him into my Comfy Chair.

All right there, Sam? Here we go!

~~~
Elin: The City War is about one of the best known incidents in historical Rome. What inspired you to retell it?

Sam: It’s always easier to retell a historical story when everyone knows a little bit about it. But because everyone knows a little, and very few people know a lot, it’s also really fun and interesting to tweak it slightly — to say “This is how it could have been” and make people look at the story differently. I like taking stories that everyone knows and turning them on their head — you see it done a lot with fairy tales in popular media these days. And at this point the story of Julius Caesar’s assassination is almost fiction anyway; it did happen, but most of us know it from pop culture references or Shakespeare.

Elin: You have been publishing successfully with your own set up Extribulum. What prompted you to go down the more traditional route with The City War? Did you find the process very different?

Sam: I have to admit that I didn’t have The City War written and ready and just decided to send it to a press. I was linked by a friend to Riptide Press’s call for stories of Ancient Rome, and noticed that the Warriors of Rome collection only had thirty days left before the submission deadline. I wanted to adapt an idea I’d had about Cassius and Brutus being lovers, because while Caesar is interesting from a military and a tactical standpoint, I’ve always felt that there was more potential for interpersonal exploration with the men who killed him. It seemed like the perfect time to actually sit down and write the story, and I liked the challenge of writing it in a month. I’m a fast writer and fortunately the novella word-count limit was within my capacity.
The process is different mostly once you’ve got the first draft in, and mostly it was different in my head. With independent publishing I really only answered to myself and the readers, but with small-press publishing you have people depending on you, you have deadlines that matter because if you don’t meet them someone else has more work to do. There’s more pressure, though that’s not necessarily a bad thing when you’re a procrastinator like me.

It’s still about the story — rewriting for clarity, making sure there are no typos or continuity mistakes — but you have a group of people who are specifically dedicated to helping you out, which does take some weight off your shoulders. And once the final draft was in, I was done; no typesetting, no coding, I could just take a breath and wait for the finished product. For some that might be nervewracking but for me, giving up control of that part gave me some time to process and come down from the excitement of the writing.

Elin: I know one author who can’t write without copious amounts of Diet Coke and another whose first priority is to establish her characters’ playlists. Do you have any writerly habits, without which you find the composing process difficult?

Sam: I don’t think I have as many habits as others do. For a long time, writing was something I had to do on the fly — when I had no students during office hours as a grad student, when I had nothing to do at the desk during my first job, and now on lunch breaks and after work. I had to get used to working in a variety of environments and frequently in public.
I think the only thing I really have trouble with is noise — the ambient office noise around me doesn’t bother me, but I can’t listen to music or spoken word audio while I write. I find the words too distracting.

Elin: This is a horrible question to ask but here goes – where do your ideas come from?

Sam: Ideas come from all over, really. Sometimes it’s a situation you’d like to see someone put into, or a situation you’ve experienced in real life; sometimes I see photographs and wonder about the people in them, or news articles, or stuff on the television. A lot of writers will say that there’s no way to explain how they get their ideas, but I know mine mostly come from the world around me, and the more I interact with that world, the more ideas I have. The City War definitely came from history, and I am a Classics nerd so I have read the original life of Caesar and the life of Brutus, but also from seeing Brutus played sympathetically in a production of the Shakespeare play, and wondering why such a moral man chose to throw in with a slightly shady character like Cassius.

Elin: The City War is historical. Trace and Nameless are contemporary with a little twist of paranormal. You have also written Other People Can smell You a college survival guide. Is there any other genre that you are eager to try? Any you wouldn’t touch with the longest sharp stick?

Sam: When I was a younger writer I used to really like moving around between genres and even media — prose to screenplays to poetry, and stories from all over the place. I’ve settled down a bit and generally I write either contemporary lit or magical realism, but I wouldn’t mind trying more science fiction if I could come up with a plot I felt hadn’t already been done. I admit science is not my strong suit, though, so I’m a bit wary of scifi as a writer. I like it as a consumer.
I think really one of the few genres I haven’t done much with is the murder mystery, because in all honesty I’m terrible at mysteries. I like reading them, at least some of them — the old classics from the twenties through the fifties are often my favorite — but I don’t have the kind of tricky brain I think it takes to write them. Plus they usually have a large cast of characters, and the more characters I have to track, the more scatterbrained I become.
So…there’s nothing I’d never go near out of sheer dislike, but I’ve reached a point where I know what I do well, and I choose to avoid what I do badly.

Elin: So what next? Are you working on anything now? Can you tell us about it or do you prefer to keep stories under wraps until they are finished?

Sam: Oh, I don’t mind talking about stuff, but sometimes I never finish it, so it’s always a toss-up. For Riptide, I’m looking at writing a piece set during the second world war, about the Monuments Men who ran around Europe trying to rescue precious artworks from the ravages of war. In terms of other work, I’m a little adrift right now; the holidays always make it harder to focus. But I always have a few things in the pipeline, which leads us to…

Elin: Could we please have an excerpt of something?

Sam: Absolutely! This is a short clip from the opening of Pirate Country, a sequel to my novel The Dead Isle.

***

The new airshipyard of Australia, housed in a dusty field just south of Canberra, was bustling in the late morning light. Shipbuilders recruited from the ports at Sydney were at work on boats and engines, metal and wood creaking. In the great shady balloon house the clack of sewing machines could be heard, and cries of greeting as an automobile laden with Chinese silk from the trade ships to Asia pulled up to the loading door. The sun turned everything golden, sawdust dancing in the air.
Jack Baker shaded his eyes from the roof of the chemistry building, balancing precariously on the central beam, studying the airshipyard critically.
“Saying goodbye?” Murra asked, head and shoulders emerging from the window below the roof. Jack, his sun-bleached hair ruffling in the wind, looked down and smiled.
“Just watching it all go,” he replied, settling the wide-brimmed bush ranger’s hat back on his head. “It’ll run fine without me. Practically already is.”
“Bet you wish you were down there elbows-deep in the guts of an engine,” she said.
“Maybe.”
“Come inside, Jack, the train’s leaving soon.”
Jack grasped the angled flagpole at the edge of the building, sliding down it deftly; she obligingly backed away from the window so he could swing inside, boots-first. The staff, engaged in the delicate process of making and bottling helium, were used to his habit of coming in through windows and didn’t even look up as he descended the staircase, Murra a step ahead.
“How long until the first ships take sky?” she asked, as they walked through the yard towards the gate, where the afternoon train could run them back to Canberra. Jack had a Harrison, a gift from the automobile-maker, but Murra’s brother Memory had asked to borrow it that morning for some errand or other.
“Two weeks, maybe three.”
“Sure you don’t want to stick around, be certain nothing goes wrong?” she asked.
He smiled. “I’d like to, but it’s well in hand. Purva’s ready to go, and I’m afraid she’ll hijack the ship and go without me if I stall.”
“And you miss the air.”
“More than anything,” he said wistfully, turning his head up to the sky. “I didn’t know I could miss flying so much.”
***
The City War
By Sam Starbuck

Senator Marcus Brutus has spent his life serving Rome, but it’s difficult to be a patriot when the Republic, barely recovered from a civil war, is under threat by its own leader. Brutus’s one retreat is his country home, where he steals a few precious days now and then with Cassius, his brother-in-law and fellow soldier—and the one he loves above all others. But the sickness at the heart of Rome is spreading, and even Brutus’s nights with Cassius can’t erase the knowledge that Gaius Julius Caesar is slowly becoming a tyrant.

Cassius fears both Caesar’s intentions and Brutus’s interest in Tiresias, the villa’s newest servant. Tiresias claims to be the orphaned son of a minor noble, but his secrets run deeper, and only Brutus knows them all. Cassius, intent on protecting the Republic and his claim to Brutus, proposes a dangerous conspiracy to assassinate Caesar. After all, if Brutus—loved and respected by all—supports it, it’s not murder, just politics.

Now Brutus must return to Rome and choose: not only between Cassius and Tiresias, but between preserving the fragile status quo of Rome and killing a man who would be emperor.

The City War is part of Riptide’s ‘Warriors of Rome’ collection and may be obtained here.

If you would like to follow Sam his blog is here and he is on Twitter as @ouija_sam

Review: The Red King by Rosemary O’Malley

A man abused and discarded is left to rebuild himself with naught but vengeance in his heart. A youth cruelly torn from all he knew and loved is cast adrift with no hope for the future. What will happen when Fate thrusts them together?

He is known as Ruaidhri and his extraordinary strengths and stamina are said to be born of the Devil. His ferocity is matched solely by his ruthlessness. For seven years, he has sailed his ship the Taibhse with one goal in mind: to avenge the years of torment he suffered at the hands of a depraved Danish lord. He has one final plan to succeed, but he searches yet for the implement.

His family destroyed by violence and his body enslaved to a brutal master, Andrew’s future promises only misery. He is saved from this desolate fate by a pirate captain with fiery hair and an ultimatum; help him achieve his revenge and go free, or be sent to a horrific, painful death. As Andrew struggles with the choice of slave or assassin, he finds that all is not as it seems aboard the corsair’s ship.

Pain is tempered by pleasure and loss consumed by love in the flames stoked by…The Red King..

ebook only – 320 pages (approx)

Review by Erastes

I always enjoy a well-written nautical adventure and this doesn’t disappoint. It’s clear right from the beginning that the author knows her subject and while I’m clueless about knots and lines and sheets I don’t really care about that stuff in the long run, as long as the book appears to know what it’s on about. Perhaps some expert sailor will find mistakes “a Xebec isn’t rigged like that” blah blah but I don’t know and with all else going on in the book I don’t particularly care. It reads like it does and that’s good enough for me!

The trouble with many nautical books-and I’m assuming that this is a hangover from all those hetero romances where the feisty heroine is dragged onboard by a scurvy but dangerously handsome captain and sparks fly–is that they tend to have the same trope which is exactly as described above, but with a feisty, or otherwise young man captured by that ubiquitous captain. This starts out like that but moves into different territory soon enough not to bore.

Here we have Andrew who is not-quite-a-monk and whose ship was waylaid by pirates.  Andrew – as these captives often are – is beautiful and everyone wants either to rape him or to protect him. I know it’s hard (cough) for a man to be without sex for a long time, but surely not every sailor automatically turns to gay rape rather than the alternatives.

Andrew, as the trope demands, starts out as particularly feeble–although that didn’t stop me from liking him. It wasn’t his fault he was raised gently by monks, after all. He mans up quite quickly which I approved of, and his character arc is fun to read, and he’s soon topping from the bottom and we find he’s not as feeble as we thought.

“I was raised by simple men, not simpletons!”

he says at one point and I cheered. There’s a bit of that problem with age and consent though, he’s 18, and of course has to be for American audiences, but at that age he’d be considered completely grown up in the 17th century, and it seems odd that despite raised by monks he never got around to taking holy orders, as that was his aim when in his monastery.

We get the first inkling that Andrew might eventually be swayed by the Captain’s lust quite quickly in the book.

“This was the captain? This man who looked like barbarian but was tending his wounds with the gentle touch of a Holy Sister? Where am I?” Andrew asked again, pulling his hands out of the man’s grasp. His touch, while gentle, was…disturbing.

Yes. the dot dot dots of foreshadowing!

The captain himself, Ruaidhri  or Rory, the Red King himself, is a larger than life character and one we can quite believe in, those of us raised on stories of Henry Morgan and Edward Teach. He’s a protector as well as a pirate and his aim is to kill a man and he is quite willing to use Andrew to do it. He has the fanatical devotion of his crew, and they are a great mixed bunch of miscreants too.

Lovers of yaoi will like this as it has very much a yaoi feel, particularly at the beginning where the naked innocent, who looks a lot younger than he is, is predated upon by “grown up” men. But I think lovers of shipboard romances will like it a lot too as there’s enough salty action to satisfy. There didn’t seem to be a lot of actual managing the ship–this tends to happen in books I’ve found. More chat than hauling on lines, but ships seem to sail themselves for the most part except in battles or storms! There are one or two tiny tiny instances which made me suspect this was converted fanfic, mentions of apples for example and people simply saying “Pirate” at each other, but if it is then it’s very well converted as never once did I see parallels in characterisation as I have in other books I’ve reviewed.

The growing relationship between Andrew and Rory is nicely done. There’s a rather delicious scene where Andrew tells Rory about a monk in the abbey who had confessed to wanting to kiss his bare bottom which is titillating and far more sensuous than many love scenes I’ve ever read. The fact that Andrew can’t see the effect he’s having while telling the story is quite squirmingly nice. All in all, there was rather too many sex scenes for me, but they aren’t really gratuitous, they do all lead forward in a progression, but well, there are a lot–although well written.

Description is pretty great throughout, to be honest. Without pages of the stuff, O’Malley manages to bring out the huge ocean, the huge sky, the hot claustrophobia of Algiers, the scent of a horse, the noises of the market. I could very easily see this transfer to a great graphic novel, as there’s images here in abundance. It’s much much more than a romance, there’s adventure and danger and philosophy and Cromwellian history and all sorts but it’s certainly never dull.

In fact, I thought I was the master of torturing my heroes especially when they look set for a happy ending, but O’Malley beats me hands down, she had me begging the book for a happy ending, which is something I never do. The ending for me, though, was a bit too drawn out and I got rather impatient with it and found myself skipping to get to the conclusion.

Editing is good, a couple of jarring instances -“lightning” was spelled “lightening” throughout for an example, compliment/complement being confused and some phrases that needed a firmer editing such as:

Rory quelled his sudden, urgent desire to kiss those lips and carry Andrew to the nearest couch with difficulty.

For those who need to know such things, there is one hetero sex scene in the book, and Rory as a ten year old had been taken and used by an adult. These scenes are short, rightly disturbing and not at all for titillation and are dealt with in memory segments. There are some unpleasant scenes towards the end too which if your squick factor is quite low you might want to avoid, but I hope it doesn’t put you off trying the book.  I’ve seen this book labelled BDSM on some sites but I certainly would not label it thusly. BDSM for me means a relationship and the abuse featured here is certainly no relationship, it’s abuse and shouldn’t be prettified.

Overall this is very enjoyable book, one that surprised me with each successive scene for the variety and scope. It should appeal to you whether you like your gay historicals to be well written, exciting, adventurous, factual (as far as this landlubber could ascertain, anyway), romantic and/or sensual. Well done, Ms O’Malley!

No Website that I could find.

Amazon UK | Amazon USA |

Review: Life Begins at 40 by Jessie Blackwood

After months of physiotherapy, Group Captain Jack Ratigan has regained some of the mobility lost in plane crash at the end of World War II. But six years later, he still requires the care of his cousin’s butler, Ifan—who is also Jack’s secret lover. In an era when homosexuality is an imprisonable offence, they have to maintain the utmost discretion or risk prosecution.

Insecurities, outside attacks, and misunderstandings are close to tearing Jack and Ifan apart: Jack’s impending middle age, an act of violence in their house, a letter threatening the close-knit community Jack now calls home—and the detective inspector from another jurisdiction investigating a similar unsolved case. The threat of exposure is growing, and for their love to survive, Jack and Ifan must determine who their true friends are—and if they are strongest together or apart.

ebook only 112 pages

Review by Erastes

OK. I had to work hard with this book and I took the effort because it’s pretty well written and it’s clear the author has talent. But there’s a but coming, you can tell, can’t you?

But.

It’s Torchwood fanfiction and it’s another one of those annoyingly done ones which have taken the merest cursory swipe of the cleaning rag to remove any serial numbers and frankly might as well not have bothered because anyone who has watched the programme and has any knowledge of the characters is going to spot it. Perhaps the place the author should have started was by not having her main protagonist be Captain Jack–an Englishman who was raised in America (hence the American accent) who flew in the RAF and (sigh) has a Welsh lover.

In fact this is the sequel to “Per Ardua” which Speak Its Name reviewed in 2010.

When you get this level of blatant non-conversion (despite it being set in the late 1940’s/early 50’s) it’s (for me, as least) almost impossible to enjoy the book as a book for itself as the characters from the canon keep leaping in and you are saying “oh, here’s Gwen, (Bronwen) here’s Rees  (Hugh) and so on and so on. I was constantly on edge waiting for the Japanese character to make an entrance. The author–who is possibly too close to it, and obviously extremely fond of the characters–probably thinks that this is merely an homage, and the little references (like to TW’s Captain Jack’s greatcoat) are such fun but it’s an extreme irritant when you know what’s being ripped off.

You might say that this shouldn’t be part of a review and I disagree. I don’t see how the author can think she’s fooled anyone by this veneer of changing the fandom. Just because it takes place in a different time from Torchwood doesn’t make it any less recognisable, and if I was the Torchwood creators and had spotted this, I think I would have issued letters to the publisher.  The trouble is that Dreamspinner have published near-to-the-knuckle fanfic, and outright plagiarism before and although in the latter case they nipped the book in the bud, I would have thought they would be very very careful choosing projects since then. The disclaimer clearly says: “Names, characters, places and incidents are either the product of the author’s imagination or used fictitiously…” which in the case of character, clearly isn’t true.

THAT  BEING SAID, I can’t decry the book for entertainment value. I liked the story. I mean I already liked the characters, so that was a given. Blackwood makes Jack a little more vulnerable in that he’s had a major crash in his aeroplane before the story starts and it’s taken him months to get back on his feet and he’s only just managed that. There’s some nice tension introduced with poison pen letters, bringing their relationship into jeopardy and the relationship stretches almost to breaking point because of it and Jack’s infirmity.

I have to say I did chuckle a bit when Ifan (sigh) who is the Ianto character goes around declaiming that they hadn’t been at ALL indiscreet either inside or outside the house when two minutes later he’s calling Jack “cariad” in an open part of the house where anyone could have walked in. Not to mention having blazing arguments in their bedroom as well as loads of hot monkey sex. Not terribly discreet at all, old boy, to be honest.

I was rather confused too, when the poison pen person was revealed. The general trope for this kind of thing is to have it revealed at the end after we’ve met all the characters and for it to be someone we’ve met, whether we suspect them or not. However it was all cleared up in a short action sequence, and I was left scratching my head because I didn’t care or know who it was.

The reviewer of the previous book in the series had similar issues – that of the war taking a sideline to the relationship, and for me this shoehorning a plot, which had great promise, into the book only to tear it away and concentrate more on birthday parties and birthday presents left me feeling short-changed. But then this is basically romance fanfic for Torchwood fans, and isn’t about the plot, it’s more about how next to get Jack and Ifan into a schmoopy situation with their arms around each other.

As a continuing romance it works well and read simply as that I enjoyed the story as it was, it was just a little light when it could have had more punch. There’s a fair amount of repetition particularly at the beginning of the story where we are told about ten times that Ifan is Jack’s companion, Bronwen’s butler and goodness knows what which irritated me and some of the back story is lengthy and unnecessary as some of it was dealt with later on in dialogue and frankly could all have been dispatched thusly.

I will leave it, as usual, for the reader to decide whether to buy this book or not. Personally I wouldn’t want to make money on someone else’s characters–and I’d be scared to while they are very firmly still in copyright. It’s a good enough story, and that’s why I can’t understand why someone who writes as well as Miss Blackwood does can’t create her own world and characters and have them live it out, rather than those already belonging to Russell T Davis.

Author’s website

Buy at Dreamspinner Press

Review: Roses in the Devil’s Garden by Charlie Cochet

In a city overrun by lawlessness and corruption, best friends and lovers Prohibition Agents Harlan Mackay and Nathan Reilly, are fighting a losing battle. With bootleggers running amuck and countless speakeasies materializing every day, how can two men possibly hope to make a difference? Especially when they can’t even trust their own bureau?

If dealing with hoodlums wasn’t enough, a ghost from Nathan’s past threatens to destroy everything Harlan and Nathan hold dear.

Review by Erastes

Written for a Goodreads writing fest, (Love is Always Write) this is now out in ebook form and is a nice quick read. The more I read from Charlie Cochet the more I appreciate her. She knows her era, she specialises in the 20’s and 30’s in America- and I don’t know of anyone doing the era better than she does.

This is the story of Harlan and Nathan–two cops working in the Prohibition Unit in New York. Lovers and partners they have successfully managed to avoid anyone finding out about their love affair. At work they are as hard bitten and tough as any of the other cops on duty–and why should they not be, after all? The only thing that I didn’t like about these guys was the fact that their names were too similar because I am a bear of little brain and can’t remember which is which.

What I particularly like about Cochet’s writing is her economy; somehow she manages to push a quart into a pint pot, as it were, and in the space of a small novella–hardly more than a longish short story, there’s action, romance, jealousy, character building, backstory, promise of more to come and more action. She makes it look easy and believe me it isn’t.

She intrigues with her characters. Small hints are thrown out, the fact that Harlan is loaded–money from his family–but we aren’t told very much more than that and I for one wanted to know more. Then there’s a character introduction that deals with Nathan’s past, and again, you want to know the full story behind that too. Don’t get me wrong, Cochet doesn’t leave you hanging with these plotlines, she tells you exactly as much as you need to know for this story, but if you are like me you’ll be writing to her and saying “more please!”

The historical details are, or seem to be, spot on. She’s a “safe pair of hands” and there are no jarring moments which throw you back into the 21st century, these are men of their time, and if that makes them bigoted and makes them say things that we would find objectionable, then so be it. If a guy is considered a fairy by 1920’s standards, then he’s described as such as so it should be. No political correctness in Prohibition Noo Yawk no sirree!

Highly recommended and even better – its a FREE READ!

Author’s website

Download at Goodreads

Speak Its Name’s Best of the Year 2011

Happy New Year!

Last year I said that it had been a bumper year for historicals and I had trouble keeping up with reviews. Well, this year it’s official. I haven’t been able to keep up with the releases at ALL. There are books out there, I know, that I haven’t seen, haven’t been advised about and even today I heard that a good friend of mine has two books coming out and I hadn’t a Scooby.

Part of this is because it’s been a busy year for me, troubles healthwise myself and troubles as my Dad has deterioated, but the GOOD part is that there are so many gay historicals coming out that it’s a flood – and one that I hope is never dammed. 😀

The genre is going from strength to strength and I couldn’t be more proud of it. It’s wonderful to see existing authors trying it out – and even more wonderful to see newly published authors who are obviously brilliant at it.

Our “best of 2012” picks are books that have been read and reviewed, not just books that came out in 2011. They are taken from the very small list of books that merited our Five Star  and Four and a Half Star ratings.

The awards (other than the Reader’s Choice) are purely subjective and you may not agree. That’s not a problem, please comment and let me know your favourites that you’ve read this year.

Speak Its Name’s Best Book of the Year

The best thing I read this year was The German by Lee Thomas. Gritty, multiple POVs, fascinating and endlessly re-readable. I can’t recommend this book enough.


bestnovel2012

A very close second was All the Beauty of the Sun by Marion Husband

Speak Its Name’s Best Cover of the Year

This was a difficult choice, purely because there was no stand out cover for me this year – don’t forget we are only choosing from the books that were reviewed – I was disappointed with the covers I came across this year, nothing seemed to pop the way the covers did from last year. However, my favourite of the bunch was Reese Dante’s design for Shadowboxing by Anne Barwell.

bestcover 2012

Runner up for me was The German by Lee Thomas.

Speak Its Name’s Best Author of the Year

This goes to Charlie Cochet, who made a spectacular debut and since then has been consistently good. Every single book of hers I’ve read I’ve been impressed with, and she writes her specialist era with such skill and clarity that you can’t help but be transported to the 1920’s and 30’s America.  Keep it up, Charlie!

  

bestauthor2012

And finally, the

Speak Its Name Readers’ Choice Award

which was done by Poll (HERE) so you can see the results were fair.

The winner is Aleksandr Voinov with his lovely, poignant novella set in WW2 “Skybound
Well done!
readers choice 2012
A Happy New Year to all the readers of the blog–thank you for supporting, for commenting and for buying the books. Let’s hope 2013 is even better.

Advent Calendar Winners Post

Merry Christmas to all!

Thank you ALL so much for following the blog this month. The visits have been growing steadily and loads of people have subscribed to the posts and have been visiting each day. Here’s hoping that you’ll stick around in the New Year and enjoy the masses of reviews we still have to get through, and all the new books yet to come that we don’t know about yet. It’s great that the genre has so much support.

I’d also like to thank the pantheon of willing authors who volunteered their time and their possessions to blog for your enjoyment and to give away such great prizes. I hope you all got a kick out of the posts – what a great variety of posts there were, too – and that you all won a prize. If you didn’t then I’m sorry about that! Better luck next year.

So – without further ado – Here’s the list of lucky winners! Continue reading

Holiday Recipes

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Continue reading

Speak Its Name Awards 2012

Sorry to cut into the Advent Calendar which I hope you are all enjoying.

It’s awards season again and the Speak Its Name Awards will be running once more.

The Awards will be:

Best Novel

Best Cover

Best Author

and Readers’ Choice.

The first 3 are chosen by Speak Its Name, but the Readers’ Choice gives you a chance to participate. We’ve compiled the list of the books we considered to be the best reviewed in 2012 – those rated 4½ and 5 stars. There’s a few but still only a fraction of the books reviewed in the year. Note that these aren’t all books released in 2012, but merely reviewed.

The poll is below – so please go and vote if you would be so kind.

The books concerned are these below, with a link to the reviews if you need a reminder of their goodness. The only thing I ask is that you vote for the book itself, and that you have read it. Not because you’ve read other things by the author or you really love them as a person.

Many thanks and enjoy the rest of the year!

Erastes

An Unexpected Gift

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HAPPY HOLIDAYS FROM JULIAN GRIFFITH

An Unexpected Gift

Thursday, 16 December

Fort George, Guernsey

My dear William,

 I hope this letter finds you well. I haven’t much in the way of news — life continues on here as it usually does, with the men’s lives occupied with drill by day and drinking by night. Not ideal by any means, but only to be expected, as so many have joined for their daily half-pint of rum. One might also add dicing, if they think they can get by unobserved. The officers’ lives are little different, save that cards are more favored than dice. I find myself thinking often of the weeks we spent together in September, after I took my oath to the new Parliament.

 Unsurprisingly, it is unlikely that I will be granted leave again so soon, though I had hoped to spend Christmas at least with my family. Colonel Smith has not yet given me an answer, but I fear it will be “no,” despite the fact that I have only asked for a week. You are fortunate that this peace gives you the chance to keep Christmas with your mother, and your sisters and their children, whatever other difficulties it may bring.

 I am fortunate also, in that the present calm affords me the leisure to write to you, and to know that my letters will reach you in good time, as yours reach me. If the peace breaks, as I fear it must before long, your ship (for I am certain Marcus shall have one, and take you with him) or my regiment may be sent beyond the reach of regular letters. Even if that should happen, I will remain

 your affectionate friend,

 Anthony

Lieutenant William Thorne re-folded the letter from his lover and slipped it inside his writing-desk. He took out a half-sheet of paper, trimmed his quill, and had got as far as “Dear Anthony” when there was a knock at the door. He got up to answer it.

He wasn’t sure who he had thought to find, as the carrier had already been that day with his letter, and his sisters, if they had reason to come by, usually came straight into the kitchen. Still, the tall, blond figure in its bright red coat with the insignia of a major was as unexpected as he was welcome. Thorne seized his hand. “Rockingham!”

Thatched_Cottage_in_Berneval


“Is that how you greet me, William?” his lover said, embracing him. Though they were alone, he still took care to make it a brief one, such as might pass between friends. Thorne, mindful of his mother in the next room, was grateful for that, even as he longed to kiss him.

“Anthony.” His voice was low and warm. “But I thought you said you wouldn’t get leave.”

“By the time Colonel Smith decided I might have it after all, a letter would have arrived after I would,” Rockingham said. “I hope I’m not imposing.”

“Of course you’re not,” Thorne said. Anything else he might have added was interrupted by a voice from the next room.

“William? Who’s at the door? It’s not bad news?”

Thorne grinned, and opened the door to the kitchen, gesturing at Rockingham to follow him. “Look who’s come to see us, Ma.”

Mrs. Thorne dropped the paring knife she was using to scrape parsnips. She bobbed a hasty curtsy. “My lord!”

Rockingham bowed politely. “Your servant, ma’am. I apologize for giving you no notice of my arrival, but it wasn’t possible.”

“Never worry about that, my lord,” Mrs. Thorne said. “I only hope you’ll consent to stay to dinner this time, as you couldn’t before.” Despite her words, the look she gave Thorne was indignant, to say the least.

“I would be honoured,” Rockingham said. “As long as you’re certain it will be no trouble.”

“None at all,” she said staunchly. “It only wants half an hour, at that. But you’ve had a cold journey, to be sure, and a rough one, most likely, with the roads frozen as they are. Would you like a cup of tea while you’re waiting, my lord?”

“That would be most kind of you.”

“Just you wait in the front room, my lord, and I’ll have William bring it in to you,” Mrs. Thorne said. “And mind you don’t spill it on yourself this time! It’s no weather to be standing about in your drawers, even by the fire.”

Rockingham laughed. “Do you know, these are the selfsame breeches? I’m indebted to you for your skill in getting the stain out. I promise I’ll be careful.”

“I’m glad to hear it, your lordship.” Mrs. Thorne nodded towards the door. After he’d gone into the other room, she spoke urgently to Thorne, keeping her voice low. “William, fetch me the jar of mincemeat from the larder, and the three best apples you can find. No notice, and only pea soup and cold pie! I’d hoped to do better for your viscount, if he ever sat down with us.” She pulled the small tea caddy down from its spot on the mantel shelf.

“I’m sure it will be fine, Ma,” Thorne said. When he came back with the apples, she had already put the brown teapot and two mugs on a wooden tray. She handed it to him and shooed him into the front room.

Rockingham had already drawn one of the rush-seated chairs close to the fire. He stood up as Thorne came in. “Let me take that. You’ll want to fold up your writing-desk.”

“No, don’t bother,” Thorne said, setting the tray down on the blanket chest at the foot of the bed. “It’ll do just as well here.” He filled both mugs. As he put the teapot back down, he felt a hand between his shoulder blades. Straightening, he turned, stepping gladly into Rockingham’s tight embrace.

“I’ve missed you, William,” Rockingham said, after they’d broken their first long kiss.

“As I’ve missed you,” Thorne said. He reached up to brush away an errant curl that had escaped from Rockingham’s queue. “You’ve little enough to do on Guernsey, you say, but I’ve even less; I’ve only to go to Portsmouth each month to collect my half-pay, and ask after a berth that of course the Admiralty hasn’t got for me. That, and splitting wood for the fire. My mother doesn’t even care to trust me with the marketing.”

tall ships 2005 newcastle gateshead

Rockingham laughed, and kissed him again. “When you’ve seen a ship provisioned for a six-month voyage or more?”

“Even so. She says that she’s still fit to walk the five miles to Chichester on her own, and that counting up bolts of canvas and barrels of salt beef doesn’t make me any judge of a decent knitting wool or a good cheese.”

“No more than my mother would trust me to choose her gowns, I expect,” Rockingham said. “Though when my regiment was in Ireland, years ago, I sent her an embroidered linen kerchief, and she thought well enough of that.”

“Our mothers have that in common, I think. They’re both apt to treat us as the boys we were when we first left home.” Thorne dropped his hands, and squeezed both of Rockingham’s. “Let’s have our tea before it gets cold.”

They sat down in front of the fire, wrapping their hands around the blue-glazed mugs. Rockingham looked around at the greenery in the room. “I see you’ve been preparing for Christmas already.”

“Aye, my gran always insisted that we have a sprig of holly over every window and door, to keep the evil spirits from coming inside,” Thorne said. “My mother said there was evil enough in the world without worrying ourselves about spirits, but she likes to have the holly up, just the same.”

“My mother would fuss about the berries getting everywhere, but Grandmama said it wasn’t a proper Christmas without it,” Rockingham said. “And Mama didn’t dare argue with her.”

Thorne chuckled. “No more would I! She’s one to be reckoned with, is your grandmother.”

“She always has been,” Rockingham said. “But she thought well of you, when you stayed with us. Said she could wish I had more friends with your plain good sense.”

“I can’t think what I might have done to deserve such praise.”

Rockingham grinned. “I’d think it was by taking care to agree with her. That’s what she calls good sense.”

“I call it not caring to have my head bitten off,” Thorne said. “But I’m glad of her good opinion.”

“So am I,” Rockingham said. He laid his hand on Thorne’s arm. Thorne looked back at him, seeing the wistful look in his lover’s eyes. He knew the reason: Lady Rockingham would never say the same if she knew how it stood between them, but there was no need to speak of that, any more than they needed to speak of how she wished Rockingham to marry. It was enough for now to be accepted as his friend.

Rockingham broke the silence first. “Will all your sisters and their families come here for Christmas dinner?”

“Not this year,” Thorne said. “My uncle never had any boys, you see, so by the time he’d chosen his best apprentice to carry on after him, his older girls had wed already, and the younger ones were still too young, except for Mercy, who wouldn’t have him. So it was my sister Annie who made a match of it, in the end, and they’ve the smithy now, and the good brick house that goes with it. They’ve far more room for all of us than we do here, so that’s where we’ll have our dinner. It’s as well my mother hasn’t much for me to do; I’ve needed the time to work on the gifts for all my nieces and nephews and young cousins. And to make more clothes-pegs for my mother, to replace the ones I’ve taken.”

“Clothes-pegs?” Rockingham said.

“Peg-dolls,” Thorne explained.

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“I’d no notion,” Rockingham said. “Would you show me? I’d like to see them.”

“Be glad to,” Thorne said. “I’ll be right back.” Rockingham watched as he went up the stairs that led to the cottage’s two upper rooms, and came back down carrying a wooden box. He handed it to Rockingham, who opened the lid.

“They’re marvelous!” Rockingham said, taking out a miniature lady dressed in white muslin with bits of yellow yarn for hair, and a figure of a sailor in a striped top with a tiny black kerchief around what passed for his neck. “I didn’t know you had the toymaker’s art.”

“Soldiers and sailors for the boys, and ladies for the girls,” Thorne said. “I played with such things myself, when I was a boy. You do your own mending, at sea, so I can handle a needle, and it only takes a scrap or two to dress them. That’s my mother’s striped apron, that she burnt the hem beyond patching, standing in for the little seaman’s Guernsey frock.”

“I’m impressed,” Rockingham said. “I shouldn’t wonder if your young relations won’t like them better than whatever I find for my sister’s children. Sarah is seven now, and Bertie’s four, and I’ll stop in London to see what the toy shops can offer, but a stick horse and a toy theatre of printed paper seem unoriginal compared to these.”

“Unoriginal to them, maybe, but mine would think them a treat beyond measure,” Thorne said. “Perhaps we ought to trade?”

Rockingham looked at his lover. Thorne’s voice had been serious, and there was no smile on his lips, but the crinkling at the edges of his pale blue eyes gave him away. He laughed at that, and Thorne joined him. “I’m tempted to say yes, but I suspect you’d have a hard time explaining it,” he said. “Just as I’d be hard pressed to explain these.” He picked up another doll, this one dressed in scarlet. “The army as well as the navy. Nicely done.”

“Kate’s old cloak,” Thorne said. “Though it was Jane’s, and Annie’s, and Mary’s before that. By the time it got to Kate, and she tore it on a nail, it served well enough mended for her, but it wasn’t worth passing down to another girl. So I’d plenty of red wool to use.”

Rockingham nodded. “So I see.”

Just then, Mrs. Thorne opened the door between the rooms. “Dinner’s on the table, my lord, if it please you,” she said. “Won’t you come sit down?”

Rockingham stood up from his chair. “Delighted to, Mrs. Thorne.” Thorne followed him, bringing the tea tray and mugs without being told.

“I’m afraid it’s only plain fare, my lord,” Mrs. Thorne said, ladling pea soup into pewter soup plates. “I’d have liked to give you better, if only I’d had notice.”

“I must apologize once more for imposing myself upon you,” Rockingham said. “I had such short notice myself, and as I’m never certain when I may have leave next, I felt I could not pass up a chance to see such a good friend on the way to my family.”

“Nor should you have, my lord, if that’s what you wished,” Mrs. Thorne said. “You’re always welcome here, just as any friend of William’s would be. But we’ve not even any butter for our bread today.”

“I would never have missed it, with your quince preserves, ma’am,” Rockingham said. “If you knew of the times I’ve spent with my men, cut off from the supply train and down to short rations indeed, you would know how I might have dreamed of food such as this. Though perhaps not precisely of these pickles,” he added. “The beetroot, of course, but I’ve never had this other. What is it, if I may ask?”

“What, the samphire, my lord? It grows in the salt marshes here, and I gather it in the summer. Just a bit of green to see us through the winter.”

“It’s delicious,” he assured her. “I could wish it grew near Richmond.”

johnny_automatic_cook_and_hearth

“I could spare you a jar, to take to your lady mother, if you like,” Mrs. Thorne said. “Since you were so kind as to have William to stay this September, seems it’s the least I could do.”

“I would be honoured, Mrs. Thorne,” Rockingham said. “I’m certain she would be most grateful.” Inwardly, he admired her boldness: she might only be mistress of her own home, she was saying, but she had something to offer that the lady of a fine manor lacked. And he admired the generosity as well, for he knew that jar of pickled samphire would be missed in a way the jars of strawberry and apricot preserves his mother distributed to their tenants never were.

The conversation continued, Rockingham asking politely after the rest of Thorne’s family, and answering inquiries about his own. Thorne didn’t pay it his full attention; he was just glad to listen to the sound of Rockingham’s voice, smooth and polished as always, but with the undertones of good humour that he kept for his friends. When they had finished the ham-and-chicken pie and the sliced parsnips, Mrs. Thorne cleared the dishes away, and bent to the hearth, brushing coals from the top of an iron Dutch oven, and lifting the lid to a rich smell of spices. She poked at the contents with a fork, and then turned to the dresser, fetching three small saucers. With an air of satisfaction, she set a baked apple stuffed with mincemeat at each of their places.

“There,” she said. “I was afraid they might not bake through in time, but they’re just ready.” She gave Thorne a look as if she’d scored a victory over him.

“They’re magnificent, ma’am,” Rockingham said, after taking his first bite. “I stand in awe of your talents. And your hospitality.”

“As I said before, you’re a welcome guest, my lord,” Mrs. Thorne said. “If this had been my baking day, I’d have given you mince pies.”

“I’m sure they would have been as excellent as these,” Lord Rockingham said. “William is a fortunate man.”

“You’re very kind to say so.”

The talk turned to more serious matters. Rockingham tried to sound reassuring about the chances of war returning, but Mrs. Thorne was too perceptive to be comforted by platitudes. To his relief, Thorne brought the subject back to Christmas, and Rockingham’s good fortune in having leave to go home. By the time they stood up from the table, the light through the windows was growing dim.

“You’ve a long journey yet ahead of you to your home, my lord,” Mrs. Thorne said. “And it’s late to be setting out on your way again. Will you stay the night?”

“It’s kind of you to offer, Mrs. Thorne, but it won’t be necessary. I’ve taken a room at the Pound, and my horse is in their stables now; I’ll set out from there early tomorrow. I thank you very much for the dinner. It’s the best I’ve eaten in some time.”

“I shouldn’t wonder, if you’ve been at the mercy of the cooks in His Majesty’s army,” Mrs. Thorne said. “It was an honour to have you at my table, my lord, and I hope we may see you again.”

“Nothing would give me more pleasure, ma’am.” Rockingham stood up. “Would you care to walk back to the inn with me, William? I thought I might buy you a drink or two.”

“Be happy to,” Thorne said. “Don’t wait up for me, Ma.”

Mrs. Thorne sniffed. “Wasn’t planning on it,” she said. “Begging your pardon, my lord, but I’ve known long enough that ‘a drink or two’ might as well be a dozen, when a man hasn’t seen his friend in a while.” She turned back to Thorne. “Just remember to bring the latch-lifter with you, as I’ve no mind to get out of my bed in the small hours to let you back in. And take a lantern. I’d not have you trip and break your skull coming back home in the dark.”

Thorne glanced over at Rockingham, catching the quirk of his lips and the amused glint in his warm brown eyes. He raised his eyebrows in return, as if to say, <i>What can you do?</i> “I will, Mother,” he said meekly.

“That’s that, then,” she said. “Safe travels, my lord.” She curtsied, almost as an afterthought.

Rockingham bowed. “Thank you.”

The Pound was only a mile away, so their walk was brief. “Have you seen Marcus and Alexander in London, since we were there in September?” Rockingham asked.

“No, but we write,” Thorne said, grateful that Rockingham wasn’t speaking of war. “That puppy of theirs is an enormous creature now, Marcus says — comes up to Alexander’s waist!”

Rockingham laughed. “I hope he’s learned not to jump up on visitors, then. He’d knock them down!”

“He would,” Thorne said. “But Alexander says he’s grown quite calm.”

At the inn’s door, Rockingham touched Thorne’s wrist. “Is there any reason you need to be back before morning?”

Thorne looked up at Rockingham. “I can’t think of one.” He felt his smile growing to match the one that appeared on his lover’s face.

That night, as they lay in each other’s arms, they needed no words to agree that these hours were their Christmas gift to each other. Each kiss was an unspoken promise: No matter what separates us, war or rank or wealth, we will find our way back to each other. This love will remain.

~~~~~~~~~~

Julian Griffith’s first book was a travelogue of St. Croix, lavishly illustrated in crayon. She’s been writing ever since. Meanwhile, she’s worked as a professional gift wrapper, a receptionist, a baker and caterer, a data entry clerk, and has even run a jackhammer on a construction site. She’s been a devoted fan of Doctor Who since she was a teenager, and hopes to finish her Fourth Doctor scarf sometime before the end of the decade. She has a strong interest in historical cooking, and a good thing, too, because there are times when her characters won’t let her write the next bit until she makes what they’re supposed to be eating.

 Julian says, “I never expected to find myself writing romance, because I’ve been a fantasy and science fiction reader since I discovered  “The Hobbit”  at age seven. But I’ve always liked stories that focus on the relationships between characters more than they focus on the magic or technology they use, and the past is another world just as surely as any distant planet. And one you can research, at that.”

 “I choose to write about GLBT characters in historical settings because, living today as a bisexual polyamorous woman, I can’t help but think about how my life would have been different in another era. How do my characters live their lives in a culture that doesn’t even acknowledge them, much less accept them? How do they even think of themselves, before the terms ‘gay’and ‘lesbian’existed the way they do now? And, most importantly, how do they find happiness?”

 Julian hopes that her answers to these questions are believable as well as satisfying, and that you’ll enjoy reading her story. You can find her Livejournal here: julian-griffith.livejournal.com

 

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Advent Calendar Giveaway!

Julian will be giving away two hand-knitted coffee cup cozies, meant to protect your hands from a very hot paper cup of takeaway coffee, one blue with white edging and one red with white edging, to resemble the redcoat and naval uniforms. (see photo below). Comment to be in for a chance of winning!

photo

The BONUS BUMPER PRIZE QUESTION (don’t answer this – just save them up for Christmas Eve.)

23. What animal is Snowball in George Orwell’s book Animal Farm?

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Looks Like We’re Still Here…


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old and new


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Per Ardua Ad Astra


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My New Holiday Traditions

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What Does Historical Fiction Mean to You?


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Io Saturnalia


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Christmas at Chez Mudd


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Excerpt from “My Father’s Semen”


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Innocent Abroad

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All I Want for Christmas is my Two Bottom Teeth


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You’d Better Watch Out


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Four Christmas Offerings


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Seven things you might not have known about Christmas


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Welcome to the Advent Calendar 2012!

I can’t believe that this is the Advent Calendar’s Fourth appearance. This year we’ve got some great posts for you – posts from old favourites and posts from newly published authors and posts from yet-to-be-published authors, I am sure you’ll find something to like!

The posts will go up around 11:00 hrs GMT daily – so no peeking in advance! And we will know if you try! Come back daily to check for new posts, and every day there will be a prize up for grabs for at least one person. All you have to do to enter is comment, so come back every day – why not put the comm on your feed, or add it to your Twitter feed (@speakitsname) so you don’t miss an opportunity to win.

There will also be a BIG FESTIVE MYSTERY PRIZE (ok, not that big) so there will be a question posted every day. Save them up, email them in to me on Christmas eve at erastes at erastes dot com and be in the running for a bag of goodies. Some of them are easy, some are them are fiendish but do have a go!

Aleksandr Voinov  

Comfy Chair Interview – Charlie Cochet

Our guest today is Charlie Cochet, author of The Amethyst Cat Caper and  The Auspicious Troubles of Chance, and rapidly getting a reputation of being the ‘go to’ person for stories set in the Dirty Thirties!

Thanks, Charlie, for joining us today. Let the interrogation begin.

Elin: All the stories and excerpts of yours that I have read have been set in the 1920s and 1930s. What for you is the big draw of the Jazz Age that keeps you revisiting it?

Cary Grant, looking gorgeous

Charlie: Ever since I can remember, I’ve loved classic films, thanks in large part to the handsome, talented, and witty Mr. Cary Grant. He opened a whole new world for me with his movies. Whether it was Hollywood glam or not, his films just drew me in and held on tight. It was a time of elegance and charm. To me, there’s nothing sexier than a man in a well-tailored three-piece suit. The clothing, the music, the movies, the cars, you name it, I love it. I also find the history fascinating. The 1920s and 1930s brought about huge changes. In the 1920s, we were coming out of a terrible war. It was the dawn of the teenager, where folks were breaking away from their parents old fashioned ideals, a break from tradition, and a move into the modern world. Skirts got shorter, jazz music blossomed, it was the age of the flapper, and dapper daddy. With Prohibition came even bigger changes in society, especially in cities like New York, where it brought the gay community into the spotlight. Gangsters and bootleggers ran amuck. It was the age of anything goes.  Lindberg flew across the Atlantic, the first talkie was released, and a young fella named J. Edgar Hoover became director of a fledgling Bureau of Investigations.

With the 1930s came the end of these frivolous and booming times. With the Great Depression came new laws, an attempt to ‘cleanse’ the country over the epic failure that was Prohibition. The stock market crashed, leaving a huge portion of the population penniless and homeless. There were no jobs, veterans of the Great War were living in shanty towns in Central Park with homeless families, and then of course we moved into the Second Word War. It’s just astounding how much changed between 1920 and 1940. I tell you, there are so many plot bunnies, I haven’t a chance.

Elin: The love affair between Remi and Hawk in The Amethyst Cat Caper is an attraction of opposites. Is this your favourite type of relationship?

Charlie: As a romance writer, I love all kinds of pairings, but I really do enjoy a good opposites attract story. There’s just so much you can work with. Do their differences make them friends or enemies? Does it bring all sorts of drama, or is it the source of comedic shenanigans? With Remi and Hawk, their opposing personalities spawn both drama and comedy. Their social-standing will always be a touchy subject, and something they each know by now to approach with delicacy—or in Hawk’s case, just say what you’re thinking and deal with the fireworks later. They’re relationship works because they’re both willing to sacrifice, even if they come to that conclusion the hard way. After all, if you really love someone, you sometimes have to swallow your pride and give in, something Hawk is willing to do to keep Remi. He also takes a lot of things in stride, so he tends to find Remi’s little foibles amusing. Also, despite his behavior at times, Hawk is the more mature of the two. He’s very aware of the fact that he’s 13 years older than Remi, and until recently Hawk was a Pinkerton Detective, so he’s been around the block a few times. At heart though, they share important similarities. They’re both men who are constantly judged by others for their appearance and social-standing. Both have experienced terrible heartaches, loss of love, and family, which bonds them emotionally.
Elin: Huge amounts of research must go into each of your stories. Do you enjoy research for its own sake?

The Chrysler Building – an art deco extravaganza

Charlie: A fair amount of information about these time periods I was already familiar with, having done research because it interested me, or I had watched a film and wanted a better understanding of it. When I first started watching James Cagney’s Warner Gangster pictures, I had no idea what he was saying half the time, so I started researching the slang of the period. Things like clothing, music, movies, actors, and certain historical events I already knew just needed to expand my knowledge. Certain brands needed researching, minute details that need following up on, because those little details can make all the difference. Off the top of my head I could name several radio programs that were popular during those times, but I couldn’t tell you the specific year they started, which is something you have to get right if you’re going to mention it in your book. Also, most of my stories are also set in New York, so I’ve had to do a lot of research of the city during the 1920s, and 1930s. Can’t mention the Empire State Building if it hadn’t been finished yet. It’s certainly great fun!
Elin: Have you ever found out a little fact that was just delightful but regretfully decided that you couldn’t fit it into the story? Can you tell us about it or are you saving it for later?

Charlie: I’ve come across a lot of great facts having researched two decades, but I think one I haven’t fit into a story yet is about the Bureau of Investigations when they were first taken over by Hoover. I mean now the FBI is this huge, powerful force, but back then, they had guns but the bullets didn’t match, and that was only after they were given the okay from Washington to carry guns. A lot of the agents had to be trained how to shoot by police officers, and it wasn’t until after the kidnapping of the Lindberg baby that the Bureau were given the power to cross state lines. Even then, there was little training and strategy, with most of the agents recruited being college boys, which is why John Dillinger managed to evade them for so long. It really is fascinating.

Elin: Sequels – like or loathe? Have you plans to continue the stories of Remi or Chance?

Charlie: I love sequels, and I certainly have them in mind for Remi and Chance. They’ve actually been started. I’m just a little slow with my writing. The next book in Remi and Hawk’s adventure will concentrate more on Hawk, seeing as the first book was a little bit more about Remi. We’ll get a look into Hawk’s past, and the reasons behind why he is who he is, also his past will come catching up with him, and he’ll have to face the man who had a huge part in changing his life, something Hawk hasn’t been able to let go of. I think there are plenty of opportunities for Remi and Hawk to continue, especially with Remi’s younger brother coming into the picture. As for Chance, the next book will actually be about Johnnie and Henry. Johnnie is a character I quickly fell in love with, because he’s a lot like Chance as far as attitude, but a lot of the time, Chance is more bark than bite. Johnnie on the other hand will bite. Hard. He’s like a powder keg all the time just waiting to go off, and once he does, it’s hard to get him back under control. He has a lot of issues to work through, but he refuses to let anyone help him, and prefers to pretend what happened to him didn’t happen. The third book will be Bobby and Alexander’s, which we haven’t gotten to see too much of. I think Bobby’s going to surprise us all. You know what they say; it’s always the quiet ones.

Elin:  Is there any genre that you would love to have a bash at? Likewise any that you wouldn’t touch with a very long stick?

Charlie: Well, I’m hoping to tackle contemporary next, though what sub-genres I may end up doing is anyone’s guess. Personally, I think contemporary is harder to tackle. The research might be a little easier as far as research material availability, but there are more things to worry about. For instance, I don’t have to worry about any new technology or social media, because it just didn’t exist. In many ways, they were simpler times. Also the dynamics of certain character interactions, and the consequences brought about by those interactions differ vastly. I mean back in the 20s or 30s, very few men would have been ‘out’, whether to their family, friends, or co-workers. Many led double lives in order to keep their jobs, not to mention there was the danger of being sent to a work-house or prison. So it’s a completely different mindset to get into.

I think the one genre I don’t see myself doing is horror. I’m a wuss when it comes to horror, and I tend to stay away from most horror films, especially of the paranormal kind. As a kid I was always scared of spirits and such. It’s something that’s part of the culture I grew up in. When I was older, I went through a phase of watching Japanese horror films, and they just scared the pants off me. Had to turn on every light in the place just to visit the bathroom in the middle of the night. Having an overactive imagination doesn’t help either.

Elin:  Can you tell me a bit about GayRomLit? I know it was in Albequerque and that it was HUGE and sounded rather daunting to this country mouse. What made it so worth attending and should we be saving up for Atlanta next year?

Charlie: This was my first year attending GayRomLit, so as you can imagine, I was feeling pretty nervous. By then I had chatted to several other authors online, and was excited to be meeting them in person. I certainly had plenty of fan-girl moments. My first day at GRL, I was overwhelmed not only by the sheer size of the retreat, but by the fact that all these amazing people had gathered here to celebrate a genre they felt so passionate about. Everyone was so nice, and approachable. I spent nearly five days there, and I still didn’t get to meet everyone. It was an experience unlike any other. Not only did I get to meet authors, publishers, reviewers, and readers, but once I was there, it finally hit me: I am a published author.

What brought it home for me? Being face to face with readers for the very first time, and having them tell me how much they loved my stories. I swear my first day there when a lovely group of readers came over–having recognized my name, I must have looked like a loon just grinning from ear to ear. It took me a moment to realize the characters and stories they were excited about were my creations, my babies, and those amazing folks came over just to tell me how much they enjoyed them. I was over the moon, and couldn’t stop smiling. (For those folks who came up to me, I promise next year my vocabulary will consist of more than just “Oh my god, thank you!”)

It was an incredible experience. I got to talk shop, but I also got to have fun. I couldn’t remember the last time I had laughed or blushed so much. Whether you go for the autographs, the networking, or the go-go boys, it’s most definitely worth attending, and I have every intention of heading for Atlanta next year!

Elin: How are the WIPs going? Care to tease us a little with some hot off the presses info?

Charlie: Well, I have a sweet little Christmas novella out from Dreamspinner Press the 1st of December called Mending Noel, which is about a small elf with a big heart named Tim, who dreams of leaving his boring position in the AAD–the Abominable Administrative Department, for snowier pastures, especially with Noel–his supervisor, making life difficult for Tim. A coal delivery gone awry changes everything when Tim stumbles across a plot by some traitorous toy soldiers against Jack Frost. To make matters worse, Noel shows up and gets them discovered. Thanks to a run-in with Rudy, the Captain of the Rein Dear Squadron and the most famous pilot in the North Pole, Tim and Noel find themselves safe for the time being. But when Jack Frost shows up, all manner of truths start to come out, including the real reason Noel is always so mean to Tim. It’s now up to Tim to prove that being small doesn’t mean being insignificant, and to show Noel that being different doesn’t mean being broken.

A Rose by Any Other Name is Book 2 in my Fallen Rose series, and it’s currently in its beta-reading stage. It’s also my first full length novel. Book 1 Roses in the Devil’s Garden is a novella, and part of the Goodreads M/M Romance Group’s Love Is Always Write event. It’s available as a free download from All Romance eBooks. Book 2 takes place two years later in 1927 during the start of what was known as the ‘pansy craze’ in Manhattan. It was a time when the gay community wasn’t as hidden as most folks think. The story centers on Julius, who was in Book 1 for a short amount of time, though he played a significant part. He’s the hottest pansy act in town, and the lead act at the Pantheon, an Ancient Greek themed cabaret for gentlemen of a certain inclination. In other words, it’s a gay club, and yes, they did exist back then, though usually they were located in Greenwich Village or Harlem. The Pantheon is secretly tucked away inside the Parisian, a huge club in the middle of Time Square, and it’s where Edward Joseph Clarence Junior, the heir to the Clarence & Co. fortune is swept away for his birthday thanks to his wayward cousin Maxfield, and best friend Albert. Julius isn’t just a cabaret dancer, he also provides certain services to his wealthy clients as Eros—the God of Love, and one of his clients is a very dangerous man known only as Ares. When Eros and Edward meet, it’s going to be a night neither of them will soon forget.

Elin: Finally could we please have an excerpt of something? Published, WIP, just an idea, anything?

Charlie: Of course! Here’s an excerpt from A Rose by Any Other Name.

Perhaps it was time for Edward to get down to the heart of the matter, and the reason why Eros was doing his best to avoid him, even to the point of being brazen with him when every other chorus boy, cupid, and Ancient Greek deity seemed to be in a constant state of frenzy each night in the hopes of roping themselves a wealthy patron. “Have I done something to offend you?” He took hold of Eros’s hand again, refusing to let it go. After the second tug, Eros let out a sigh and left his hand in Edward’s grip. The young man was absolutely enchanting, even when he was irritated.

“No, nothing. I apologize.”

Then it struck him. How could he not have seen it? He had been looking at this all wrong. Just the thought had Edward smiling from ear to ear. “It’s not me you’re upset with, is it? You’re upset with yourself.”

“Don’t be ridiculous,” Eros scoffed. “I happen to be quite fond of myself.”

“You were hoping I’d be here.”

Eros tugged at his hand again. “Well, aren’t we sure of ourselves. For Pete’s sake, would you let go of my hand?”

“You’ve been curious about me since we met. Only now that you know the extent of my wealth, you feel threatened. You believe I’ll be no better than the others. That I want nothing more from you than what I pay for, and that’s disappointed you.”

Eros narrowed his eyes at him, at which point, Edward promptly let go of his hand. For a love God, Eros certainly had one hell of a murderous glare. He knew he was pushing his luck, but Edward went with his gut feeling.

“Edward, if I felt threatened by a man’s wealth, I would hardly be in this line of work. It’s quite the opposite, in fact. I feel empowered.” Eros closed the distance between them, and ran his hands slowly up Edward’s chest, over his shoulders, and down his back, smiling triumphantly when Edward gave a start at the feel of Eros’s fingers digging into his backside. “You see, you may have wealth, but I have the power to take it away.” Julius gave a low, sultry moan before running his tongue over his bottom lip. He pressed himself against Edward, one hand discreetly moved around the front, and he gripped Edward through his trousers. Edward shut his eyes, willing himself to breath.

“I can feel how hard you’re getting, Edward. Don’t play games with me or I will make you wish you never set foot in here. Do you think I haven’t come across men like you before?” His hand slowly started to stroke Edward through his trousers.

“Jesus.” He had to put a stop to this madness. It was clear Eros was willing to take this as far as he needed to in order to get his point across, and Edward knew he was foolish enough to stand there and let him.

“Honey-sweet words mean little to me, Edward. Do you know how many men have offered to whisk me away from my filthy, devious life? Put me up in some Fifth Avenue penthouse, pay me an allowance, and give me anything I wish for? Is that what you want, Edward? To make me your personal whore?”

Edward quickly, but gently pushed Eros away, drawing a look of surprise from him. “That’s enough of that. I neither believe so little of you, nor of myself. I won’t have my character insulted. If you have the power to take my wealth as you say you do, then why didn’t you take it? You saw how eager I was, yet you continually push me away.”

“You turned him away?” Pothos asked, gaping at Eros.

“Of course not.” Eros lifted his chin defiantly, taking a step back as if nothing out of the ordinary had just occurred. “He stated he would make an arrangement with Aphrodite and I didn’t object.”

“Only after I refused to leave,” Edward reminded him. “You had ample opportunity to take what you wanted from me, yet all you wanted was for me to leave. Why? What are you afraid of?”

“Being bored to death. Honestly, why aren’t you doing Vaudeville with that act? I choose my clients, Edward, and I didn’t choose you. Your bruised ego will simply have to get over it. Now if you will excuse me.”

“Why haven’t you told anyone else who I am? Is it that you don’t want to share me or you’re protecting me?” Edward held back a smile when Eros spun around, and marched back over to poke him in the chest.

“You seem to have developed this ridiculous notion that I care about what you do, Edward. I haven’t said anything because it’s not my place to do so. I pride myself on my discretion, and integrity. However, if you wish to announce your wealth to the whole damned club, be my guest! And you’re right; you aren’t like the others, because no one is as infuriating as you are!” Eros threw his arms up in frustration, and stormed off.

“I enjoyed our chat,” Edward called out after him.

Eros grabbed a champagne glass off the tray of a passing waiter, and hurled it at Edward. “Go fly a kite!”

~~~

Many thanks Charlie for being such a good sport and for letting us have such a teasing excerpt.

If you would like to keep up with all Charlie’s latest news, her social media links are below.

 

Website: www.charliecochet.com

Blog: http://charliecochet.blogspot.com

Goodreads: www.goodreads.com/charliecochet

Facebook: www.facebook.com/charliecochet

Twitter (@charliecochet): www.twitter.com/charliecochet

Review: Full Service: My Adventures in Hollywood and the Secret Sex Lives of the Stars by Scotty Bowers with Lionel Friedberg

Newly discharged from the Marines after World War II, Scotty Bowers arrived in Hollywood in 1946. Young, charismatic, and strikingly handsome, he quickly caught the eye of many of the town’s stars and starlets. He began sleeping with some himself, and connecting others with his coterie of young, attractive, and sexually free-spirited friends. His own lovers included Edith Piaf, Spencer Tracy, Vivien Leigh, Cary Grant and the Duke of Windsor, and he arranged tricks or otherwise crossed paths with Tennessee Williams, Charles Laughton, Katharine Hepburn, Rita Hayworth, Errol Flynn, Gloria Swanson, Noël Coward, Mae West, William Holden, James Dean, Rock Hudson and J. Edgar Hoover, to name but a few.

“Full Service” is not only a fascinating chronicle of Hollywood’s sexual underground, it also exposes the hypocrisy of the major studios, who used actors to propagate a myth of a conformist, sexually innocent America knowing full well that their stars’ personal lives differed dramatically from this family-friendly mold. As revelation-filled as “Hollywood Babylon,” “Full Service” provides a lost chapter in the history of the sexual revolution and is a testament to a man who provided sex, support, and affection to countless people.

Review by Elliott Mackle

We knew that Randolph Scott and Cary Grant were housemates and longtime lovers. We knew that Tony Perkins and Tab Hunter were more than just close friends. And that the supposedly torrid romance between Katharine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy was born in a Hollywood dream factory and acted out in the pages of fan magazines and gossip columns. In certain circles, the Duke of Windsor’s bisexuality seems to have been an open secret. Still, some parts of Scotty Bowers’ sizzling tell-all are pretty surprising. Here in the United States, especially on amazon.com, there seems to be an organized effort to one- and two-star the book to death—on literary as well as moralistic grounds. I couldn’t put it down.

Scotty Bowers spent his early years milking cows and tending livestock on the family farm in Illinois. Like many such youths, the facts of copulation and reproduction were to him simply facts of life, with no moral value attached. Although he noticed girls at an early age, and liked what he saw, his first sexual experiences were at the hands of a neighboring farmer, the father of schoolfellows, and he liked that, too. The pattern was set: sex was natural and necessary. Love was where you found it. His libido was high—three ejaculations a day was not uncommon in his twenties and thirties—and the handsome man he was to become was attractive to, and attracted by, men and women with exquisite taste (or memorable kinks) and the means to buy their own unfettered pleasure. Given the fame, variety and kindness of his partners, longtime sweethearts and wife, who could ask for anything more?

The opening is well crafted, with alternating chapters charting Bowers’ coming of age during the Great Depression and his experiences as a fighting Marine in the Pacific followed by almost immediate success as a stud-for-hire and date-arranger in the City of Angels.

After the farm was lost and the family moved to Joliet and then Chicago, Scotty followed an undercover but believable track of shining shoes (and accommodating the men who wore them), delivering papers (same scenario) and allowing pedophile priests to use his pre-adolescent body. His turf in California was a Richfield Oil station on Hollywood Boulevard near several major studios. One day, after he’d pumped gas into a very expensive auto at another station, the customer, a man with an unforgettable voice, tipped him twenty dollars extra and asked what he was doing for the rest of the day. Although Bowers had had sex with men in and out of the military service, and at that time lived with a woman and their daughter, this was his first paid trick with a male. His arrangement with the driver, married film star Walter Pigeon, was ultimately long- term and satisfactory on both sides, though hardly unique.

Scotty arranged to work the evening shift at Richfield. The station became a hangout for his ex-Marine friends, their girlfriends and buddies. Many of these attractive young people were long on time and short on cash. Scotty kept a little black book detailing who might be available for what sort of activity. Word got around. Tricks were arranged by phone as well as in person.  Scotty might tell an inexperienced customer the going price for what he or she required but he declares again and again that his was not a prostitution ring. He never took a fee or cut. He was merely the middle man for private transactions involving sex and money.

Although Bowers had enjoyed name-brand companionship during wartime shore-leaves (playmates Cary Grant and Randolph Scott, platonic pal Marion Davies), his numbers soared postwar. “Professionally married” composer, Cole Porter, for instance, had no hesitation in phoning Bowers to ask that he bring over three or four or seven or eight Marines to be serviced orally. Bowers became a confidante of the insecure Porter as well as a regular sex partner.

And so on, including George Cukor, ex-Marine buddy Tyrone Power, Edith Piaf, Raymond Burr, Vincent Price, Vivien Leigh (while husband Laurence Olivier was busy with call boys), Alfred Kinsey (as an observer) and visiting notables, including both Windsors. No need here to mention every trick, affair and arrangement. Or to assume that an old man’s memory is faultless and every word literally true.

Probably the memoir’s juiciest section concerns the Tracy-Hepburn ménage conducted in a cottage on director George Cukor’s estate. Although Bowers was a source for William J. Mann’s “Kate: The Woman Who Was Hepburn,” his own report on the so-called affair is more detailed and less nuanced than Mann’s. In short, according to Bowers, Hepburn was a full-time lesbian who called on him to provide younger, smaller, darker girls for her amusement whereas the married Tracy regularly summoned Scotty to help steel himself into the sort of drunken insensibility that allows closeted or bisexual men to claim that they “don’t remember a thing” the next morning. Oddly enough, Tracy is an exception to Bowers’ routine detailing of the whats, whys and hows of most of the stars’ preferences and peccadillos. “Nibbling on my foreskin” and “a damn good lover” are about as graphic as it gets. I’m guessing that Tracy was so habitually drunk that he was usually unable to either perform or fully enjoy Bowers’ considerable skills.

What’s not mentioned is almost as interesting as what is. Bowers eventually moved on from pumping gas to full-time bartending, catering, tricking with and liaison-arranging for Hollywood royalty. As far as I can tell, his career was entirely private and his sensibilities resolutely lower middle class. There is little or no mention of dining or meeting friends at such hallowed Hollywood hot spots as the Polo Lounge or the Brown Derby. Bowers doesn’t explain but my guess is that the managers of such high profile watering holes considered him persona non grata.

No matter. For us, the eighty-nine-year-old and his spicy memories are welcome guests. Would that all of us—and our favorite literary characters—could lead such a charmed, erotically charged and romantic life.

Buy:  Amazon UK | Amazon USA | TLA Video&books

Review: Skybound by Aleksandr Voinov

Love soars.

Germany, 1945. The Third Reich is on its knees as Allied forces bomb Berlin to break the last resistance. Yet on an airfield near Berlin, the battle is far from over for a young mechanic, Felix, who’s attached to a squadron of fighter pilots. He’s especially attached to fighter ace Baldur Vogt, a man he admires and secretly loves. But there’s no room for love at the end of the world, never mind in Nazi Germany.

When Baldur narrowly cheats death, Felix pulls him from his plane, and the pilot makes his riskiest move yet. He takes a few days’ leave to recover, and he takes Felix with him. Away from the pressures of the airfield, their bond deepens, and Baldur shows Felix the kind of brotherhood he’d only ever dreamed of before.

But there’s no escaping the war, and when they return, Baldur joins the fray again in the skies over Berlin. As the Allies close in on the airfield where Felix waits for his lover, Baldur must face the truth that he is no longer the only one in mortal danger.

Available from Riptide Publishing.

Review by Sal Davis

Let’s cut to the chase. I’ll just nail my colours to the mast and say I absolutely loved Skybound, no ifs, buts or maybes!

Okay, fangirly moment over. Now I’m going to say why I think it’s such a good read.

First of all – the cover. Jordan Taylor has really delivered the goods with this deceptively simple monochromatic image of a climbing plane. No idea what type it is but I’ll lay good money that it’s both relevant to the story and a spot on accurate depiction of its kind. The strong type, echoing the ‘military armour plate’ design at the edges of the image to contain the bold outward bound diagonal of the plane, the subtle background saltires that draw the eye back into the image, the warm tone of the author’s name – a very clever and visually satisfying piece of work.

I would think that the amount of fact checking for this story was enormous but it’s expressed in tip of the iceberg fashion. The sense of time and place is established economically but without resort to cliche. The language is also economical, precise, considered, yet detailed. Care is taken in describing the little things, important things – a book, a meal – that take the characters mind off the War, though the thought of it is never far away.

Written in first person present from Felix’s POV, the book plunges straight into the action with a breathless sequence as Baldur’s squadron comes in to land. Felix impressed me very much by getting on with his business despite his anxiety to be sure Baldur wasn’t injured, but he won my heart completely with his thoughts about the Karl May books he still reads, thrilled by the close friendship between the protagonists, dreaming of similar acts of selfless devotion, but with too much humility to cast himself in the role of the sacrifice. He never doubts that his love for Baldur will be unrequited so expresses it with the care and devotion with which he repairs, maintains and fine tunes Baldur’s plane. When his peaceful reflection is disturbed by Baldur, who plonks himself down and bums a cigarette, Felix is unprepared and is made to feel foolish. That Baldur is interested in him is shown subtly by signs that the reader can pick up but that baffle the inexperienced Felix. It’s a tender moment and sets up the relationship well for the action to follow.

Since the POV is Felix’s, we never get to see what he looks like. He is a little smaller than Balder, who shortens his stride so Felix can keep up, and has very short hair. Balder’s appearance is described a little more fully but the important things to Felix are not what one normally finds in romances. I particularly enjoyed how Felix made particular mention that Balder’s very short nails are cut rather than bitten, with all that implies of self control and nerve.

Felix spends a lot of time reflecting on their situation, which could have felt contrived but actually suits his character. He is a man apart from his fellows and recognises that distance in Balder too, though he is too naive to realise what it means. Balder won my heart too by the care he takes in allowing Felix the time to realise and his kindness once the connection is made.

The last days of the war were horrifying enough without the added problems offered by starting a proscribed relationship, yet the two lonely young men are unable to resist when an opportunity is offered. As the story progresses, tensions are drawn between love and duty, and the recognition that while honour is absolute, it’s worth taking chances to grab what little comfort they can. Felix and Baldur are in an impossible position and as it comes down to the wire, the question is not will they survive but will they die together or apart, killed by the Americans or the Russians.

When one spends the last third of a book sick with worry, and occasionally hyperventilating a bit, one can assure the author that they are doing it right! It’s a “rush through to the end, then re-read immediately to savour it” kind of book. I wish it was on paper so I could cuddle it. No hesitation in giving this five stars.

Review: And There Was Silence by Louise Blaydon

Two years after the horrors of the Great War, Robert and Harry are fellow students at the University of Oxford, spending an idyllic day on the banks of the river. Robert idolizes Harry, though he’s sure the other man has no idea of his feelings. When Harry offers to take Robert out on a punt on the river, the afternoon takes a turn Robert never expected.

Short story, Ebook Only

Review by Erastes

This is more a mood piece and a soft-focus love scene rather than a short story, I felt. It had a taste of a missing scene from some larger work and I’d have liked to have read that larger work because this left me feeling – like one of the protagonists – rather unsatisfied.

The writing is pretty good and just the sort of thing I like, lush with description and heavy with summer:

They sat together at the river’s edge, lazily watching the boats go by. Robert’s feet, stretched out in front of him, were somehow damp, although the sun had been blazing all morning and dappled them now through the leaves, casting loose, blotted shadows that darkened their clothes like stains. Harry had taken off his shoes, setting them aside and drawing up his knees to dabble his toes in the grass. His hair was in his eyes, paled to its summer gold, and his sleeves rolled up past the elbow.

So I was drawn in immediately, and wouldn’t have stopped reading for a big clock.

There’s nothing much to it, lovely descriptions, Robert (as the blurb reveals) not knowing Harry’s predelictions and suddenly a stolen kiss in a punt (which struck me as a little incongruous due to all the “boats going by” — I was certainly expecting a furious shout of “you there, you cads, stop that unnatural behaviour” from the bank but nothing happened. Suddenly we are in Harry’s rooms and rather nice inferred sex is happening.

And that’s sort of that. If it had managed a real sense of a short story with a story to tell rather than a cliffhanger, I would have given this a five star for the sheer lushness of the writing, but it let me down with a bump and I wanted the whole book, and I hate always having to say that about short stories. Still it’s only $1.49, so I suppose I’m being greedy.

Author’s Website

Buy at Dreamspinner Press

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