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Welcome to The Advent Calendar 2011!

The posts will go up around 14:00 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.

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 on erastes at erastes dot com and be in the running for a bag of goodies.

   


       
         
   
     
Double day!

   

Double Day!

 

Review: The Wages of Sin by Alex Beecroft

Charles Latham, wastrel younger son of the Earl of Clitheroe, returns home drunk from the theatre to find his father gruesomely dead. He suspects murder. But when the Latham ghosts turn nasty, and Charles finds himself falling in love with the priest brought in to calm them, he has to unearth the skeleton in the family closet before it ends up killing them all.

Review by Erastes

Anyone familiar with Beecroft’s writing will know that she has turned her hand successfully to Georgian Age of Sail and also fantasy. To blend the Georgian era–about which she is superbly knowledgeable–with a phantasmagorical element seems a very logical next step.

The story is included in The Mysterious a trio of stories including others by Josh Lanyon and Laura Baumbach. However, The Wages of Sin (which, incidentally, if you are interested, seem to be more sin, happily) is available as a standalone title. As the title suggests it’s a mystery, and right from the first chapter it had me guessing, and in no time at all I was thoroughly spooked out, baffled, and enjoying myself hugely.

If you love the deeply Gothic, then this will certainly be your cup of horror, as the book positively drips with it. The protagonist, Charles–the rather dissolute second son of the Earl of Clitheroe appears in the first chapter, slightly worse for wear from a drunken night out and proceeds with the thoroughly mundane task of putting his horse in the stables. However, a head full of drink, the eerie dark, his conversation about vampires with his friends, and what he thinks is his imagination (at first) takes over and before long he’s encountering something that I’m sure many of us have encountered, a sudden dread of the real unknown. Shades of Udolpho shudder out from the hidden places: from the echo of the horse’s hooves on the cobbles, to terrifying shadows on the ivy, to an unease that can’t be explained and then something happens both horrible and inexplicable–which is passed off as being very explicable in no time at all, lulling us into a false sense of security.

If you are looking for a formula romance then this certainly isn’t it. If you looking for a light and frothy read, then this probably isn’t for you. Beecroft’s prose–always lavish and descriptive–is given full rein here: no fabric is undescribed, no ornamentation or wig left unnoticed. Any lover of antiques will positively wallow in the furniture and the trinkets. Historical purists will revel in the fact that the men are wearing as much–or more–make-up than the ladies and are dressed in just as much lace and peacock-bright finery. From a lesser writer, this layer upon layer of description might seem injudicious or heavy handed, but Beecroft’s skill merely brings this slightly more alien Georgian world than than the familiar Regency we know so well, to vivid, sensual life. You feel you are walking down those polished, creaking floors, that if you were to touch that lace, or brocade, you’d know just how it felt on your skin, you are left in no doubt that the clothes are unsuitable for just about every pursuit other than polite conversation, and that to be pilloried, or caught in the rain in a powdered wig are things you’re really glad you’ll never have to suffer.

The relationship–I hesitate to call it a romance, as the ending leaves Beecroft open to write more about these characters–ably shows why gay romance, and particularly gay historical romance baulks from being shoe-horned into a formula that readers of hetero romances have become used to. From what we can glean from the historical record homosexual men would often take their pleasure quickly on the slimmest of encouragements and so it is here; due to the length constraints of the novella it’s difficult to have a dignified wooing, so the pair tumble into a connection which is primarily sexual–it’s not until the end that Charles begins to wonder and hope if there’s any future for them both. This grabbing of touches and kisses where they can, and where they hope they are safe, adds to the tension of the book which is unremitting throughout.

I absolutely loved the protagonists: Charles, with his clever mind and impetuous youth, who gets to grow up fast and learn things about himself and his family which change him for the better, and the delicious mysterious, conflicted Jasper with his own inner demons, his filial loyalty and his fingers in the butter. 🙂 The minor characters are rarely short-changed; the sister Elizabeth is quite masterly, the Admiral–I really loved the description of him–made me laugh with his silly feud with Charles’ father, and even the one-line servants are vibrant and believable. The only character that I didn’t really get a real line on, was Charles’ brother, George–he’s a little two-dimensional and his motives muddied – but that’s possibly because Charles is a lot younger than him, and they are not close. Plus I feel there’s more of this story yet to be told.

The book made some valid social comment, too–after a tragedy with a servant there’s an exasperated rant from Elizabeth about the inconvenience it will cause this close to Christmas which made me laugh. (Although it really wasn’t funny.)

The language overall is rich, and gives a real sense of being there, rather than simply reading about it. The mystery is beautifully paced, if you are anything like me you’ll have to read it at least twice to work out how you’ve been gulled, how you didn’t notice the clues being laid out there for all to see, and I happily went charging off in the wrong direction, which for me is the mark of a good mystery.

I did notice a couple of minor typos, and although the language was English English (colour etc) I did notice the dreaded whiskey sneak in. Once or twice I had to re-read sections to fully comprehend who the “he” was – an all too easy trap with gay romance, but it really only was once or twice. Sometimes the dialogue was a bit too modern, and clashed with the prose. The cover is horrible too, imho–for some reason known only to itself, MLR seems to favour covers with headless torsos and a jumble of out of focus images. but I’m being uber-picky–like a judge in the final of Strictly Come Dancing/Dancing with the Stars who criticises the angle of the shoulders in a 10 point performance.

I’m not sure if it’s called “The Wages of Sin” or just “Wages of Sin” as I’ve seen covers with both titles. No matter – whatever it is, it’s an utterly spellbinding and spooky read, a cracking mystery and a really lush piece of Gothic literature.

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Review: Insubordination by Alex Beecroft

A nice bonus for you today as Insubordination is a free-read and can be found here at Linden Bay

For the sake of their lives and careers, Josh and Peter agreed to put their need for one another behind them. But then a luxurious and sensual dinner together becomes foreplay, leading Josh to an act of insubordination that Captain Peter Kenyon will never forget

Review by Erastes

The characters have – for reasons that hardly need explaining to any reader of gay historical fiction – decided to cease their affair,  but Josh – beautifully in character – is finding this hard to deal with. So is Peter, but being the more controlled of the two would rather snap in half than admit it as readily as Josh does.  Josh pushes the matter in this wonderful speech

“Despatches from London. Butcher’s bill from the
Seahorse. Sightings of the Avenger and the Cruel Bones.
Papers containing news of the war, and incidentally, Sir, I
still love you. Why not take an evening off from being
respectable? I’m owed a chance to bugger you for a
change, don’t you think?”

If you love UST, or if you don’t quite know what it is, or if you need help writing it – I can do no better for you than to point at Alex’s writing, especially here as the tension she writes is exquisite, almost painful and you find yourself screaming at the page for them to stop bloody fooling themselves and get on with it because you know they want to.

And that’s the point, really. They do want to, but Peter’s infuriating good sense and understandable fear gets in the way.  He feels that he’s dallying with Josh, that he’s risking Josh’s life over something that he can control, can stop, and after all there’s no future in it, he thinks – and it’s Josh who is the key to this, Josh who is the one who needs take the control away from Peter, to show Peter how much it all means and that it’s all worth the risk.

The writing is exquisitely crisp, perfectly in tone and the details of the period, the food, the crystal, the uniforms are all done with the deftness and expertise that you’d expect from Alex if you’ve read her work before. The sex is perfect, never overdone, just enough to leave a warm smile on your face.

If you haven’t read Captain’s Surrender, then I recommend this little freebie because it will convince you that you need to, and if you have, this will not help you, because it will leave you wanting more.

Linden Bay

World’s longest pub crawl: An Interview with Alex Beecroft

Back in midwinter, I asked Alex Beecroft for an interview. We agreed to meet over virtual pints and spent the rest of the winter happily trading rounds along with questions and answers. Now that the lilacs and azaleas are blooming (in my corner of the world, anyway) it’s time to share our adventure with all of you. So belly up to the bar, the next round’s on us!

Lee Benoit: What inspired you to undertake Captain’s Surrender?

Alex Beecroft:The honest answer would be ‘Pirates of the Caribbean: Curse of the Black Pearl’. While everyone in the world was swooning over Jack Sparrow, I was transfixed right from the beginning with the lads of the Navy. That fabulous great ship (which I now know was a twin of HMS Victory) emerging out of the fog. Those gorgeous young men in wigs and stockings, looking well scrubbed and well pleased with themselves in their fancy coats and their gold braid. I forgot about pirates in an instant and went away and bought ‘Master and Commander’ on DVD. After which I had to read the book.

Except that it turned out there were twenty books in Patrick O’Brian’s seafaring series about Captain Jack Aubrey. I went through them at a rate of two a week, feeling utterly transported. When I’d finished I found I had to move on to even harder stuff – text books about the 18th Century Navy, biographies of Admiral Lord Rodney, Lord Cochrane, Anson, Nelson and Collingwood, non-fiction about 18th Century society, etc. I had ended up with an 18th Century fixation. After that it was inevitable to want to tell a story in that setting, and as my mind naturally comes up with m/m love stories, it ended up as a m/m love story in the Age of Sail.

I’d also stumbled across Rictor Norton’s website about homosexuality in 18th Century England and was pondering what it would be like to be a fairly sensitive young man, living amid so much hatred. That’s why my character Josh turned out so angsty and so conflicted!

LB:Can you tell us a bit about how Captain’s Surrender came to be published by Linden Bay Romance?

AB: Oh, that’s one of those amazing flukes where you feel that someone up there is looking after you. I had known for a long time that what I really wanted to write was m/m fiction, but I thought there was no market for it at all. So I’d been writing a series of short stories for my friends just for our own enjoyment, when one day one of them discovered Ransom by Lee Rowan.

She reviewed it, saying how much she’d enjoyed it and how delighted she was to find that there were actual published books of the kind of fiction we enjoyed. And then Lee dropped by to say thank you for the review. I mentioned to her how exciting it was to find this new genre, and how I hoped one day to get involved myself. Then she said, “Well, my publisher is running their annual competition to select a new writer. If you can get something together in the next month, why not try entering it?”

At that point I didn’t have a book at all, I had a linked series of short stories. But I thought “nothing ventured, nothing gained”, and spent the next month sitting up to all hours writing the bridging material needed to turn the stories into a novel. I entered it into the competition one day before the deadline. And it won! Unbelievable! I was sure that such things didn’t happen to me. But this time they did.

LB: That’s not unbelievable at all to those of us who’ve read and relished Captain’s Surrender. It sounds like your involvement — coming to the genre first as a reader, then as a writer — reflects the experience of many, including writers, who crave rich plots and fully-realized characters with their smex. Could you tell me more of your thoughts on this?

AB: Thank you! And yes, I know that there’s an initial rush when you discover m/m fiction or slash fic or whatever, and you read whatever you can get your hands on, the smuttier the better. It doesn’t really matter at that point about good writing, because it’s all so new and you’ve been starving for so long — and for the first time in your life there is enough of the stuff. But once that initial rush wears off, I think you start to want the same things you want in mainstream fiction too — namely good storytelling. There’s no reason why we can’t have m/m fiction *and smut* and quality writing too.

LB: You clearly know your era well. You mentioned Rictor Norton’s web site as a reliable source for information; can you tell us more about how you conducted your research? What advice would you offer someone who’s considering writing historical fiction? Any special advice for those writing gay historicals?

AB: My advice would be to set your book in a time that you love. When I fell in love with the 18th Century Navy I knew nothing about it other than that the uniforms were gorgeous and the cannons sounded cool (if the films could be believed). But it was sheer enthusiasm that drove me to read every book I could lay my hands on about the time. Because I was powered by an infatuation with the historical period, I emptied libraries and read textbooks for fun, going ‘oh wow, that’s so cool!’ all the time. As a result, I learned an awful lot, while enjoying myself at the same time. But I can’t imagine what it would be like to dispassionately decide on a period and to research out of obligation. I think that would make the research feel too much like work, and you would be tempted to skip it in order to get on with the story.

Because I loved the world first, it became fun for me to drop in little details like Emily’s fashionable ‘sack’ dress, or the ostentatious meal Captain Walker gives to Reverend Jenson. But if it had been miserable labour to look up the menus of the time, the proper set of a toga or whatever, I think the detail would be sparser.

As for advice on writing gay historicals — I think it’s important to check the specific shape of the prejudice at the time. For example, the later 18th Century was fairly modern in that there was already a dawning understanding that it might be an innate trait, whereas earlier it was seen as entirely a matter of choice. In Biblical times it was disliked because it was seen as a waste of seed (which was regarded as killing a potential child), whereas in Roman times it was all about status. No one cared if a Roman citizen buggered a boy or a foreigner, but it was an enormous shame for a Roman to allow himself to be buggered. So check which form the prejudice takes!

Also, try to keep away from the two extremes of ‘oh, everyone knows and they’re ok with it, despite the fact that it’s a crime that warrants the death penalty’ and ‘oh, it’s so dreadful, their lives are not worth living.’ Gay people seem to have managed to live full and defiantly happy lives under the worst conditions. As an author it’s a fine balancing act to keep both the dread and the happiness of gay love in a time when it could get you killed.

LB: Tell us about your writing process. Where and when do you work? Do you outline? Write each scene in order? Work on projects one at a time or concurrently? Have any special rituals or idiosyncrasies?

AB: I have a computer desk tucked in the corner of the dining room. (At least, the estate agent called the room a dining room. We have two computers, three bookshelves and no table in there). It’s not organized enough to be an office, though. It’s true that an office doesn’t need to be organized, but this isn’t even organized enough to contain useful books. I have to wander all over the house to find my research.

I try and write between 10am and 2.30pm (when I have to get the children from school) each day, though I’ll admit that I procrastinate a lot.

My process is to fly by the seat of my pants for the first 5 chapters or so, by which time things will have sorted themselves out in my mind enough for me to outline the whole thing. After that I do write each scene in order until I get to the end — and only start revising and editing when the first draft is finished. I prefer to work on one thing until it’s finished, not to do multiple things at once.

Heh, and I will admit that I have a special writing hat. I email and netsurf and so forth on the same computer I write on, so putting on the writing hat is a way to signal to myself that it’s time to stop all that and concentrate on the writing now.

LB: A special writing hat? What’s yours like and where do I get one?

AB: I bought myself a special beanie with scratchy glittery bits, so that I would be able to tell by feel that it was not a normal hat (I wear hats quite a lot, and didn’t want my subconscious to get confused).

LB: What’s surprised you the most about your own writing?

AB: I don’t know if I’m allowed to say so, but it still surprises me that anyone thinks it’s anything special. I look at Patrick O’Brian or Ursula Le Guin, and I still have a very long way to go!

LB:What has surprised you the most about being published?

AB:I never imagined it would be so much work! If I’m lucky I spend four hours a day writing, but now the rest of my life has gone under in trying to promote, keep up with chats, write reviews, deal with Facebook, MySpace, etc., write to Amazon, sort out tax etc., etc. If I do four hours writing a day, I then do another 10 hours trying to keep up with my various groups. It’s insane – but kind of fun.

I save up reviews or interviews or excerpts for a Monday (which is promo day on most of my lists) and then send the same thing simultaneously to five or six lists. I can’t keep up with commenting on everyone else’s promo, though I try to say something nice once in a while, whenever I have five minutes to spare. That’s about as much as I can manage. But then I don’t expect anyone to comment on mine – and very few people do, so that’s OK!

LB: If you had the opportunity to travel back in time, where would you go and why? If you could bring one item or idea from the present to the past with assurances that your action wouldn’t disrupt space-time, what would it be? And, if you could nick something from your historical destination, what would that be?

AB: It’s quite boring, I’m afraid. I probably would go to mid 18th Century London, just to see how it really was. If I had to go as a woman, I’d take sanitary towels with me (oh and pants — is that underpants in America? Because they didn’t wear underwear in those days, and I think I’d feel a bit uncomfortable with that.)

I think the best thing to bring back would just be the experiences; no matter how you try to imagine things, really living them brings it home like nothing else. However, I wouldn’t mind bringing one of these fantastic coffee-percolators home with me.

LB: Not boring at all. Underthings are an inspired choice!

I’ve just picked up The Witch’s Boy, though I haven’t read it yet. It looks to be very different in theme and structure (as well as plot and genre) from Captain’s Surrender. I’d love to know how working on the new fantasy novel was different from working on your first, historical piece. Did you have any trepidation about shifting genres?

AB: Ah, well, curiously enough, The Witch’s Boy is the earlier written of the two books. I wrote it when I was first at home with my newborn daughter. She would sleep for an hour and a half a day, and I seized that chance to write. It took me two years to finish the book, but because it was slow and steady work I had plenty of time to think about the plot when I wasn’t actually writing it. It allowed me to make the plot quite complex — I was able to work out where all those loose ends could be sewn back in to achieve an effect that seemed inevitable.

I’ve always been a big fan of Fantasy; I grew up on Tolkien, and it seemed natural for my first book to be a fantasy. I have to admit that I love what I think of as ‘the appeal of the strange’. I like to open a book and be caught up in a different world, where everything makes sense, but it’s not the same sense as our ordinary, commonplace life. I like to take a holiday in a book, so that when I come back my own life is more welcome and homely — as it would be when you’ve just returned from somewhere exotic.

And that’s the link, I think, between Fantasy and Historical. Both are books about other worlds; strange, exotic places where people think and act differently. It’s just that in the historical that world was once a real part of our past. The only real difficulty with Captain’s Surrender was that it had a strict word-limit of 60,000 words, which I found a little too short. I wanted to pay more attention to Josh’s time with the Anishinabe, but I couldn’t manage to cram more than the bare minimum into the word count.

And thematically, they’re both about the triumph of love, whether that’s Sulien’s attempt to save Tancred from the consequences of his own evil actions, or Peter’s refusal to bow to the expectations of society and condemn Josh. So I didn’t really perceive much of a difference in any basic technique in writing them. I tend to feel that a story’s a story, no matter the genre. Though having said that I am a bit intimidated by the demands of the strict murder mystery. I haven’t tried one of them, but I’m keen to try at some point just to see if I can do it.

LB:Now I really can’t wait to read it! What’s next for you (besides a cab home)? I meant, what’s next on your writing agenda?

AB: I’m just entering the home stretch on the second draft/rewrite of another m/m Age of Sail novel, currently under the working title of ‘False Colors’. It’s 80k words at the moment, but needs a couple of extra scenes and a bit of expanding at the end, so it may end up 85-90,000. And I can finally see the light at the end of the tunnel with it! It’s exciting, but of course external forces are now conspiring to stop me doing that final twenty pages. Still, I should have a new novel to hawk around by August, touch wood!

LB: That certainly is exciting! What can you tell us about False Colors? Is it a sequel to Captain’s Surrender?

AB: It isn’t a sequel to Captain’s Surrender, as it has different characters, but it will be similar in tone — lots more nautical action, heroism and forbidden love.

LB: Something for us all to look forward to, then. What else is on your horizon?

AB: I have a short story called ‘90% Proof’ (when I say ‘short’ I mean 10,000 words) which is due out fairly soon from Freya’s Bower in a m/m anthology called ‘Inherently Sexual’. I’m looking forward to that one coming out because, from the summaries I’ve seen of the other stories included, it should be a really good read.

I’m also busily writing another m/m short of about the same length, tentatively called ‘Away With The Faeries’, and when that’s finished I’m going to settle down and write a short, lighthearted contemporary novel, just for a bit of a break.

LB: I’m sure I have lots of company is wishing you best of luck with your new projects. It’s been a real pleasure, Alex. Thank you.

Alex Beecroft is the author of the novels Captain’s Surrender and The Witch’s Boy, along with several stories. She is currently at work on False Colours, a new Age of Sail novel. She’s also the founder of The Macaronis, a blog dedicated to writing gay historical fiction.

Lee Benoit reviews fiction at Uniquely Pleasurable and Rainbow Reviews, and Speak Its Name, and is the author of several stories published through Torquere Press.

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