Review: Beyond the Veil by Stevie Woods

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

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

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

Review by Alex Beecroft

I admit I wanted to like this book from before I even picked it up. The Barbary pirates of the Ottoman Empire make a fabulous setting, rich with Arabian Nights romance, that isn’t explored enough, in my opinion. I would have picked the book up for nothing more than that.

‘Beyond the Veil’ makes great use of that setting to spin a tale that is equally balanced between action adventure and sensuality. It hits the ground running with the battle at sea during which David and his companions are captured by the mysterious pirate Malik, and keeps you turning pages through tense moments, exciting rescues, exotic voyages etc right to the end. As this is happening, David’s awareness of his own desires mounts and he has to come to terms with the fact that he is in love with another man – his rescuer, Robert Charteris.

This is a fast paced, entertaining novel with more than a flavour of the mysterious East, and I can recommend it on that level alone. I can also recommend it for the slow and sultry way that David experiences his sexual awakening. The sex scenes are some of the best in the book, and I really enjoyed the escalation of confusion, UST, fascination and finally abandon.

I did, however, have a couple of problems with the book which prevented me from enjoying it as wholeheartedly as I wanted to. A nitpick struck me in the first page – why are the pirates firing their cannons while their own boarding party are on the deck of David’s ship? They’ll hit their own men! A similar problem occurs during another chase at sea – the pirate ship, while coming up behind its prey, fires ‘a shot across the bow’. You can’t shoot across the front of a ship while you’re behind it.

These things stand out to me because I write Age of Sail stories myself, and the mechanics of sea-battles are of interest to me. I hesitated before pointing them out at all, because I don’t suppose many other readers would notice or care. But they bothered me.

A more fundamental problem to me was the book’s hero David. David is a beautiful young man, who seems to cry a lot. He occasionally puts up a plucky resistance to his captors, but it’s a very ineffectual resistance which only seems to emphasise that he’s a traditional spirited heroine. I call him a heroine advisedly because he’s too passive to be a hero. He’s the cause of action in other people, but not a force in his own right. Having said that he causes other people to act, this wouldn’t be a bad thing at all if he wasn’t so damn stupid. Other characters praise him for his compassion, but it’s a compassion mixed with blind irrationality and a tendency to nag people who know better to do things which they know are suicidal, but can’t resist doing to please him:

‘But why can’t you rescue everyone? I know you’ve explained that you can’t do this too often without risking the entire future of the white-slave underground railroad you’ve painstakingly built up over years. But why? I’m not going unless you rescue everyone. Oh dear, the attempt to rescue everyone has resulted in them all being killed? Never mind dear, you mustn’t blame yourself.’

I was waiting with baited breath for Richard to look up and say what I was thinking, which was ‘no, David, I blame you,’ but sadly this didn’t happen. David gets to demonstrate his loveliness by comforting Richard instead.

I wish I could say it was just one incident, but David’s inexplicable whining carries on throughout. He claims to be depressed because there’s nothing for him to do to help Richard. So Richard arranges to give him a job appropriate to his skills and interests. Whereupon David throws a strop and claims Richard doesn’t care about him. Huh?

By the end of the book Richard is claiming it’s too dangerous to use a certain disguise too often, and David is still going ‘but why can’t you use it?’ Fortunately Richard has learned better than to actually listen to him any more, or I would fear for Richard’s life expectancy beyond the end of the book.

This is not a flaw in the author’s conception, because Stephie Woods gives David a perfectly convincing backstory which does explain why he is so emotionally needy and messed up. It’s just a matter of what I like and don’t like in a character. Reading other reviews I see that many other people have fallen in love with David for his vulnerability and empathy. If I could have done that myself, I would have enjoyed the book much more.

A second place where the characters got in my way of complete enjoyment was in the subplot with Suzanna and the pirate captain Malik. I honestly have no idea at all how Suzanna could delude herself that being a pirate’s bedslave equalled achieving perfect freedom. But mention of the subplot reminds me of the many things I did enjoy in the book – the slave smuggling ring, the action-adventure plot and the luxurious, sensual journey into Egypt, where David’s ingénue-like delight in everything he was seeing made him for once a pleasure to be with.

If you don’t mind your men passive, weepy and irrational, then you will love this. If you do mind it, you may very well still enjoy the book for its other fine qualities. It’s worth a try, at least!

Buy the Book: Phaze

Review: The Silurian Book One The Fox and the Bear by L.A. Wilson

Preview this book
Set entirely in the Dark Ages of post-Roman Britain, The Silurian is narrated in grim detail by Prince Bedwyr, The Fox. The Fox, who tells of his life with Arthur, of his own life and struggles, of the many different acts that make up the power of warriors who live in Dark Age war-bands, committed to their commanders and wielding swords that break. This is the Fifth Century AD, a time of fierce honesty. And these are the words of a young man who lives his life in the blood, guts, turmoil and love of an age that was both brutal and brilliant.

Review by Erastes

There are some books where you read them and you feel unsettled because you don’t know the era and the history and the author doesn’t make you feel safe – but I have to say that L A Wilson didn’t engender this fear with me. It was clear from the first few pages that the author knew this period damn well, and if anything was wrong then I didn’t get the feeling, and I didn’t get the itch to rush onto the internet and check facts like I sometimes do with eras I don’t know.

The facts seem to be similar to Geoffrey Monmouth’s history of Britain with some changes (such as Uthyr being brother to Lot, and not Ambrosius) – but as I say, I’m not an expert on the Dark Ages, so it bothered me not a wit and I was just involved in the story being told.

Prince Bedwyr (not really a prince per se as we know it today, but the son of a tribal chieftain) is a complicated and likeable character. Deeply flawed and realistic, I was drawn to him immediately. He’s in love with Arthur; they’ve been raised together as foster-brothers due to Arthur’s father Uthyr having rejected him and they’ve both been placed in the army together. However, as much as he loves Arthur, he holds his love back, confused by the emotions that he feels. He hides his love under fraternal devotion and it’s heartbreaking to read, especially as Arthur, with typical teenage lust, fucks his way around Britain.

Both young men (and the Mordred character, Medraut) have father issues which range from pride to incest, and much of this first book is concerned with Arthur’s rise through the ranks and subsequently taking control of the armies of Britain. There are a lot of political machinations, as you would expect, but they are never dull and over-involved. Wilson manages this by narrating from a viewpoint other than Arthur’s – so we are there to listen to Arthur for all his hopes and fears, rather than being involved in the plots and policto-manouvering. This works well and keeps the action moving along nicely.

As a fan of bad boys, I was charmed and delighted by Medraut, who is written as a most engaging character. He’s blond, extremely handsome and personable and is charismatic where Bedwyr is difficult for people to get to know or understand. As the book progresses though, we see that Medraut – whilst also being in love with Arthur, but for different reasons than most other people – has a dark side and his idea of loyalty is skewed and wrong. He’s pretty frank about his homosexuality in a time when Christianity was leeching across Britain and subverting the tradition of male-love, and whilst he’s not reviled for it, it doesn’t make him popular either. If I have any gripe about Medraut, it’s that I objected to more open homosexual of the saga to be the official baddie, and sado-masochistic to boot.

Understandably, in a saga this large, many characters are introduced in short order but they are well drawn, and unlike some multi-character plots it’s easy to keep track of who is who. That being said, perhaps a glossary would have been useful, in light of what I’m about to say next.

What the book really lacked though – was a map. I like maps, even in my fantasy reading – and because this is writing entirely using original names of tribes and towns (the only one I recognised was Londinium) and because there is so much travelling described from one end of Britain to the other, I felt a map was essential. Perhaps it’s something that the author can address in further printings.

i DID enjoy it, but I had to make myself continue to read it, I’m afraid. For my money the major drawback with this book was the fact that it needed a severe edit with a ruthless red pen, as the mistakes are legion and someone with less patience (or not possessing the punctuation blindness as I appear to have) would have given up fairly early on. Semi colons are used instead of many commas or full stops. They proliferate like bunnies as the book progresses and some of the many many typos are inexcusable. This is a real shame because if this book had been clean and well edited, I see no reason why any historical publisher wouldn’t have picked it up, as it smacks of the period and is a darned good story.

I have the remaining two books of the trilogy and will certainly give them a read. If you can excuse the editing, then I do recommend this book – particularly for those with an interest in the Dark Ages – but I can’t rate it higher in terms of stars, I’m afraid, as the editing really pulls it down.

Buy the Book: LULU
(there’s an extensive preview of the book here, so you can make up your own mind)

Review: Two Spirits by Walter L Williams, Toby Johnson

With its sweet tale of inter-racial romance between a young Civil War survivor from Virginia and a Navajo berdache/two-spirit healer of the Old West, this novel demonstrates gender variance as a source of spiritual power and documents “same-sex marriage” as indigenous to the American continent.

Reviewed by Ruth Sims

Two Spirits combines a moving love story with a dark part of American history. Most American know, and choose to ignore, the historic treatment of the peoples who “were here first,” the broken treaties, the broken promises, the broken hearts and lives. It would be silly to pretend that the Indians (if I may use that non-p.c. term) didn’t war among themselves because they did. But they didn’t have machine guns and railroad trains and the belief that God gave them all the land from coast to coast, a.k.a. “manifest destiny.” Two Spirits is about one small group caught on the dark side of that manifest destiny: the people Americans called Navajo, but who called themselves Diné.

In 1864 the Diné were forced to walk 325 miles in winter from their green, fertile homeland in what we call Northeast Arizona, Canyon de Chelly, to what was actually a concentration camp at Bosque Redondo near Fort Sumner. At least 3,000 of their number died on the way. This was General James Carlton’s version of “pacifying” the natives. Carlton, by the way, was a real person. The U.S. Government allocated what probably was sufficient money for the displaced Diné to feed, clothe, and house them, but the money found its way into Carlton’s private coffers. Not only were the Diné starving and unable to grow crops in the inhospitable land, living in substandard shacks, and dying from illnesses, Mexican bandits regularly struck from what became New Mexico, carrying the Diné children to be sold into slavery. Carlton did nothing to protect his charges.

Into this living hell comes a shy, uncertain and untrained Indian Agent named William Lee from Virginia, a young man kicked out by his father for loving another man. Young Will is truly tested by many fires—both from within and without. He’s puzzled why he’s fascinated and attracted to the beautiful healer and wise woman,

Hasbaá, a loved and revered member of the tribe. A near-tragedy reveals Hasbaá’s physical strength and Will soon learns that the beautiful, spiritual, strong woman is really a man—a two-spirit. Far from being shunned, as she would have been in white society, Hasbaá is considered blessed. Will and Hasbaá fall deeply in love and are joined in a union by the customs of the tribe.

There is plenty of action and danger in this book, as Will, the Diné, and Hasbaá face persecution and annihilation when Will uncovers Carlton’s corruption and evil. He delves deeply into the life and spirituality of the Diné and his beloved Hasbaá.

As an incurable reader of forewords, afterwords, and footnotes, I especially appreciated the commentaries at the end. “About the Historical Accuracy of This Novel” is as interesting as the book itself, explaining as it does about, among other things, the use of peyote, some of the mystical references, and the acceptance of two-spirit people. This is followed by “A Commentary” by Wesley K. Thomas, a member of the Diné. These brief extras are the cherry on top of the sundae.

Buy from Amazon UK Amazon USA

Review: Frontiers by Michael Jensen

The year is 1797. John Chapman, an impulsive young man and a sexual outlaw, forsaken in the bitter winter of the Allegheny Plateau, clings to his one tenuous dream: to claim a future in the Western outpost. Unarmed and near death, Chapman is on the brink of giving up when an unexpected rescue changes his course in life forever, and he discovers the true meaning of survival.

The mysterious savior is Daniel McQuay, a loner whose overpowering bond with Chapman is as shifting as a shadow, as dark as the prairie tale he spins for the impressionable young man. For Chapman, McQuay’s story of a deranged killer clings to his transient soul like a nightmare, tracking him further south and into the safe haven of a gentle Indian woman named Gwennie. His journey also takes him into the intimate deliverance of Palmer, a brash but irresistibly innocent seventeen-year-old settler.

As the three adventurers carve a new life out of the endless wilderness, they face the ultimate enemy — man — in a life-and-death struggle that unfolds in the shadow of a legendary and avenging evil.

Review by Mark R Probst
I have a great deal of affection for Michael Jensen’s unique retelling of the origin of Johnny Appleseed in his pioneer adventure novel Frontiers. Since in reality Johnny Appleseed is more folklore and legend than historical fact, the character was a perfect vehicle for Jensen to mold into his own creation. In an interview from his website, Jensen talks about how through research he found that John Chapman (Appleseed) never married nor had a sweetheart but when he did occasionally settle down, it was always with a man. So it’s not that much of a stretch to presume that Chapman might have been gay.

Frontiers begins in 1797 with the 23-year-old Chapman heading to western Pennsylvania, an advertisement in hand offering free supplies and land to encourage western expansion. The giveaway is to occur in the spring but Chapman has arrived early, so he spends the winter with the overseer of the supplies for the management company. There is some sexual chemistry between the two men holding out the long winter in the small cabin, but I won’t spoil the twists and turns that occur. I’ll only say that a discerning reader will probably figure out the surprises, but I didn’t, and in retrospect I felt rather dense in that I couldn’t see what was coming up. But kudos to Jensen for fooling me! Once the winter is over, John takes over an abandoned claim complete with a furnished cabin and food store, close to the nearby settlement of Franklin. He becomes acquainted with the frontiersmen and women who are fired up by the town’s Native-hating preacher and anti-ecology mayor to kill all the trees and Natives (that is the ones who won’t convert to Christianity, though they are never really given a chance.) Palmer, the 17-year-old brother of the preacher, is the town rebel and not only is he sickened by the destructiveness of the townsfolk, but he is also an atheist and secretly, a sodomite. He takes a shine to John and gives him a lot of insight into the true nature of the town, all the while becoming more intimate. As John farms his land, Gwennie, a Native-American woman known as the “Apple Lady” because of the orchards she has planted and maintained, teaches him how to plant his own orchard, in a foreshadowing of what he will become. The end of the story is fraught with peril and I won’t spoil it to tell you any more.

I found a lot to like in this novel. Jensen’s breezy style is easy to read and the high adventure briskly rolled along with flourishes of humor and some really well-handled suspense as well as a few erotic scenes. Many have mislabeled this story as a Western. It really is not, since it is set in the early pioneer days before western expansion really took off. As part of the legend is John’s love of animals, I found the following particularly endearing.

Scowling, he flung a bag on the table. “Bloody hickory nuts from a squirrel’s nest.” Chocolate-hued nuts scattered across the table. “I figured we at least could roast them.”

“Sure,” I replied, unable to help wondering what the squirrel was going to eat.

Though I’ll have to admit it’s a little disheartening that every single animal John cares about meets a grisly death. Another tiny quibble I have is just my own personal dislike for the scenario where one goes to great lengths to save someone from a perilous situation only to have them killed off later. It’s also interesting to note that while legend has John as a man of God and perhaps even a minister, Jensen shows him as struggling with his faith.

As I have read a few complaints from readers regarding modern language, I will give a word of warning. If modern language in a historical is a particular pet peeve, I’d say you probably shouldn’t read this book. While Jensen did pepper the text with some relevant language from the time period, there are enough anachronistic words and phrases to lead me to believe that is was an editorial decision to use such modern language. It really wasn’t a problem for me, as I just treat it as though the modern words were a translation of what the characters really would have said.

I enjoyed my time spent with Johnny, Palmer and Gwennie and as this story only covers what led up to Chapman becoming Johnny Appleseed, naturally I was left wanting the story to continue so it’s nice to know that there is a sequel Firelands waiting for me. I, for one, will be curious to see how the legend plays out as well as how Johnny resolves his religious strife.

After I finished the book, for fun, I decided to pull out my Melody Time DVD and watch Disney’s interpretation of Johnny Appleseed for comparison. Here are the words of the narrator: “Workin’, singin’, carefree and gay, that’s how Johnny spent each day tendin’ to his apple trees.” I couldn’t help but smile, wondering if Michael Jensen had watched this as a young boy and that’s where he first got the notion that Johnny was gay.

Buy: Amazon UK Amazon USA

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

Sanity Clause? Ain’t No such thing as Sanity Clause

Thanks to T J Pennington for the heads up on this one: Spotted on Diane Duane’s LJ and the Guardian- Random House are inserting a morality clause into their contracts for children’s and YA authors:

If you act or behave in a way which damages your reputation as a person suitable to work with or be associated with children, and consequently the market for or value of the work is seriously diminished, and we may (at our option) take any of the following actions: Delay publication / Renegotiate advance / Terminate the agreement.

Apparently Random House will remove the clause if asked, which is the old “negative effect” thing which was made illegal in contracts and junk mail here a while back. The old “to take advantage of this offer you need do nothing” sort of malarkey.

I can’t believe that it is a direct reaction to William Mayne, as that was four years ago, they should have done this immediately if so. This – as the Grauniad rightly says – should affect all sort of “authors” such as Madonna, Jordan and even Sarah Ferguson – as I don’t think that being photographed sucking a man’s toes whilst topless is a great role-model for those tender young minds who love Budgie the Helicopter.

What’s next? A police check on all children’s authors in the same way that any person working with children is checked for employment?

And who is the moral arbiter here?  What standard are they using? Who, exactly, gets to say what is suitable? Are gays suitable? Adulterers? What behaviour will get you a bad name? How high is that bar?

It’s a nonsense, a dangerous precedent, a step backwards to the old days of Hollywood where the actors had such morality clauses in their contracts. Didn’t work then, won’t work now. Boo, Random House, boo.

Turns on and Squicks: a rebuttal

By T J Pennington

Were it possible, I would have posted this response on Erotica Readers & Writers Association. Regrettably, while Jean Roberta’s’ editorial on women who write male/male romance was there, there was no reply button, and thus no way to discuss or debate her statements…or beliefs that she stated as fact. So I am compelled to answer her comments here.

Ms. Roberta begins by saying, “Sexually-explicit literature comes in various genres and genders these days. Explicit sex scenes can appear in literature of every genre, as well as in “erotica” per se. “ I would agree with the first comment and raise my eyebrows at the second—after all, according to the rules of punctuation, a word or phrase separated from the rest of the sentence by quotation marks implies rather strongly that she doesn’t find explicit sex scenes in the least erotic—but no matter. We will let this, and her assertion that butch and femme are genders on the level of male, female and transgender rather than two different forms of sexually oriented behavior, pass.

However, she then says that “[o]ne genre which interests me is male/male erotic romance” while saying that male/male pairings were more rarely posted to ERWA’s Storytime section than the male/female and female/female pairings. This does not surprise me; ERWA is run by a woman who prefers het pairings above all, and who prefers f/f to m/m. It takes very little time for a member of ERWA to learn that while all pairings may be posted, writers of male/male stories are likelier to find positive feedback on lists and in communities where the webmistress and the membership do not favor the exact opposite of what they’re writing.

Ms. Roberta, though, does not mention the strong het bent of ERWA as a possible reason that male/male writers might be posting elsewhere. Instead, she offers a theory that, allegedly, an unnamed person in an unlinked thread told her. This nameless someone, she said, “explained that heterosexual men (who largely ruled the world) were squicked by images of men with men, but no one was squicked—or threatened—by images of women with women or by more conventional sex (men and women together, provided there was no coercion or incest).”

The theory does not make any sense when applied to ERWA. The membership is overwhelmingly female, and the webmistress and her two associates are female. Therefore, there is little reason for straight patriarchal males to have the influence that Roberta’s unidentified source claims over what gets posted to Storytime—especially as the tales are posted directly to the e-mail list. Nor does the unnamed source, who claims that squicked heterosexual men were the reason that there were were so few self-identified gay men on ERWA’s lists, even consider that gay men might not want to be hanging around a predominantly het-and-lesbian list or website.

All this, she says, was in 1998, when she first joined ERWA. “Some said [male/male erotica] would never fly,” Ms. Roberta says—though again, she does not tell us who said it. Ms. Roberta and these unnamed people seem unaware that gay erotica and literature involving gay characters and gay romances (which is not the same thing as gay erotica) have both been around for a while. “Gay fiction never existed as a distinct genre until the 1970s,” says David Seubert, but, he adds, gay pulps—primarily erotica and exploitation stories, dealing as much with stereotypes, neuroses, the difficulty of coming out and so on as they did with love and sex–existed in the 1950s and 1960s. One of the earliest of the pulps was Andre Tellier’s Twilight Men, which was originally published in 1948. As for literature involving gay romances, I do not think that it would be a stretch to go back to Ancient Greece, with its tales of the Theban Band and the myth of Zeus being smitten by the beauty of the boy Ganymede.

Ms. Roberta does not mention the history of gay literature or gay erotica, however. She cites slash fan fiction and the popularity of yaoi in manga and anime as ways that women became exposed to and started writing male/male romance. “Both the history and the appeal of m/m erotic romance are clearly complex,” she says, and in this I agree with her.

But then, alas, Ms. Roberta hits her stride. She does not like women writing male/male romance, and she says so: “The motives of women who write sex scenes featuring two or more male characters have never seemed self-evident to me.

I confess that I am perplexed. The motives of a writer have never mattered to me in the slightest; all I care about is whether the writer can tell a good, believable, well-characterized story. Why on earth would it matter to anyone why a writer was writing a story, as long as he or she was doing a good job?

Conceding that there is good work being done in the male/male romance genre and that many of the characters are well-written, interesting people—things that she dismisses a couple of sentences later—Ms. Roberta then raises two peculiar arguments.

First, she says, “describing bodies which are different from one’s own is bound to be a challenge.” Apparently she feels that women are inherently less able to write about men because they are not men. Yet she does not make the same complaint about male writers. Men have been writing about women for thousands of years, yet Roberts does not seem to consider their female characters invalid simply because their creators lacked vaginas. But in her discussion of females writing m/m romance or erotica, their lack of a Y chromosome is the first thing that she brings up.

Secondly, she claims that “[t]here seems to be no corresponding genre of f/f erotic romance written by men—aside from the work of a few very versatile writers such as M. Christian.” It astonishes me that she would say that no men seem to be writing f/f, as the genre has been around for some time. Indeed, Edgar-winning mystery author Lawrence Block, to name but one male writer, admits freely that he got his start writing f/f erotica. Some of his books have recently been reprinted. Perhaps it has not occurred to Ms. Roberts that males writing f/f fiction might have female pseudonyms. Consequently, it might be somewhat difficult to discern whether a f/f book was written by a man or not.

Ms. Roberta also makes it clear that she has asked women who write male/male romance why they write on the subject—and that she will not be satisfied by the answer. She has received answers, certainly: that the writers find men interesting, that they like writing about gay men, that they became used to writing about male/male romance in fanfic, that men historically had more freedom than women. She takes great exception to the last, disingenuously comparing maidservants who were seduced or raped by lustful employers to men facing imprisonment and execution if, as she puts it, they wanted to express their love for another man. The argument that men had freedom in the past while women had none does not hold up to scrutiny as a reason to write exclusively about men,” she says.

To me, Ms. Roberta is arguing apples and oranges. Men DID have greater legal, economic and social freedom in the past than women did, simply by virtue of being born male. Men, in general, had access to parts of society that women did not: the military, the law, medicine, the church. If you want to write stories set in the past…well, yes, there were women who ran businessess, wrote books, painted pictures, sculpted statues, healed the sick, ran forges and went to war. But they were all operating, to some degree, outside of the established society, and all were facing a great deal of static–societal and legal. Most women did not do this.

It is possible to write about a woman historically operating in a man’s world, of course, but then you would have only two options: to write an actual biography or a historical novel/romance based on a real woman, or to write about a romance heroine being anachronistically revolutionary and trail-blazing in ways that would not have been legally possible in order to satisfy the outraged sensibilities of readers who do not wish to think about the fact that men and women were not, for most of human history, considered equals.

Now, were gay men liable to lose a great deal if penetration and emission could be proven? Of course they were! Imprisonment and hanging are no joke. I think that is part of the appeal of gay historical romance—the reader’s awareness of how much is on the line for such a couple. There is a certain charm in knowing that someone will hazard all they have and all they are for the sake of the person he or she loves. (And the legal and social consequences for gay historical couples, should they be caught, blackmailed or arrested, means that conflict is built into the story from the beginning.)

Not content with muddling the difference between the legal, economic and social liberties granted to those who were born with a penis and the lack of freedom suffered by males who’d been caught violating sodomy laws, Ms. Roberta then states that there is no reason for women who write male/male historical romance to bother their heads about historical accuracy. “And if it is true, as I suspect, that fantasy literature has had an influence on this genre,” she says, “writers of m/m romance are not trapped in the pillory of historical reality anyway!”

In other words, why bother being historically accurate? Why bother writing historical novels at all? You could write male/male fantasy romance and not have to deal with the problems of gay men in history at all!

And there, as in so much else, Ms. Roberta misses the point. People write what they write because they want to write it. If a writer wants to write accurate historical novels, it is foolish to complain that she could write fantasy novels and not have to deal with actual historical problems. Presumably if the writer wished to write fantasy novels instead of historicals, she would choose to do so.

Ms. Roberta then proceeds to lambaste women who write male/male romance for being self-hating females. “Choosing to write about males need not be based on an aversion to females,” she says primly (strongly implying, by her sentence structure, that it usually is), “but several women writers have explained why they write m/m by explaining why they don’t write erotica about female characters.”

To write about characters that one person does not like or one group of people do not like, is not the same as expressing hatred for characters that a writer does NOT choose to write about. Writing is about freedom–saying what you have to say in the way that you choose to say it. There are not and should not be any restrictions on this. Women can write about gay men. Men can write about gay women. Blacks can write about Asians or Amerindians. Jews can write about Catholic saints. And so on.

Given that the tenor of Ms. Roberta’s comments is “Why can’t women writers write about women?”, I’m not surprised that some of the writers she queried responded by politely explaining why they preferred not to write about women—not realizing that she would misinterpret this as gender hatred. “Invariably,” she says, (contradicting her earlier statement that “several women”–no more than three or four—said this), “these reasons are based on the supposed negative qualities of women in general, or of supposedly unbreakable female roles.”

I have no idea what she means by “supposed negative qualities of women in general.” I suspect that it could have been as innocent as “I like reading and writing about men more than I like reading and writing about women.” As for “supposedly unbreakable female roles”–well, here we are, dealing with Ms. Roberta’s dislike of historical accuracy again. Let’s face it—if a writer who likes historical accuracy wants to write about a love affair in the British army circa 1790, she’s not going to be writing about Lieutenant Elizabeth Farrell, the noblest and bravest officer in His Majesty’s forces. There are plenty of scriveners already composing drivel of that sort, blithely ignoring the fact that the past was not, with respect to women’s rights, an exact copy of the present.

“In addition to the claim that actual women in the past lacked the independence to inspire fiction centering on female characters,” she continues, “several writers have mentioned the difficulty of writing sex scenes involving females who can still be respected afterward. This looks to me like an internalized double standard presented as an objective fact.”

This, more than anything, shows me that she doesn’t know what she’s talking about. Trail-blazers, whether male or female, are never the norm. Most women in the past—and most men, as well—were not trail-blazers. They were not independent; they simply tried to fit into society as best they could while remaining individuals. And women lived in a far more circumscribed world than men did—one focused on marriage, children, society and religion. Of course, this also limits the kinds of stories that a historically accurate writer can tell.

As for her protest about an internalized double standard about the respectability of sexually active heroines…I’m not sure if the writers she cites were talking about whether the other characters would respect a sexually active unmarried woman during, say, the Regency (which they obviously wouldn’t) or whether they were discussing the fact that while readers rarely have problems with male characters being sexually active in any sub-genre of romance, there is often a division between those who will accept sexually active heroines and those who will not. Those who prefer virginal heroines—especially virginal historical heroines–are often passionate about them, protesting those who write about sexually active women and promising to boycott future books by such an author. I think that the reluctance to write about sexually active women has less to do with an internalized double standard than an awareness of historical vs. anachronistic attitudes and a canny knowledge of what the market will bear.

Ms. Roberta then states that she sent a draft of this article to the women who replied to her questions and asked that she be allowed to quote them anonymously. I don’t understand why she wanted to quote them anonymously, rather than putting names with specific quotations. Perhaps it would have been more difficult to make all of the women who write male/male romance sound as if they thought the same way. In any event, one of the writers refused permission. Ms. Roberta seems to feel that she got around the issue by not quoting directly but paraphrasing. Given her lack of comprehension of the women she is paraphrasing, I can only wonder how accurate the paraphrases are.

“It is clear to me by now that I can’t find a non-controversial way to report other writers’ squicks,” she continues. Again, she puzzles me. Up till now, she has been discussing why women write male/male romance. Squicks have not come into the discussion. Nevertheless, she comes up with an entire laundry list of squicks at this point—a list so long it only serves to demonstrate that one person’s squick is another person’s turn-on.

Then she delivers her polemic:

My comments here will probably squick a number of readers who will want to expose me, not themselves, as irrationally biased and therefore undeserving of this platform. One of the ironies of a commitment to tolerance is that it has to involve “zero tolerance” (to quote the anti-abuse movement) for hatred presented as fact.

I will not discuss whether or not Ms. Roberta is irrationally biased. I will say that she has stated a dislike for women writing about men based on female biology, an aversion to historical accuracy which does not stress of radical feminist view of women and a granite conviction that women who write about men are self-hating females—without supplying proof of any of her assertions. I feel certain that the readers of Speak Its Name can decide for themselves if this is biased, irrational, both or neither.

(However, I do find it amusing that she has zero tolerance for hatred presented as a fact while presenting her own considerable hatred for male/male romance and women who write it as a fact.)

“In my world,” she continues, subtly suggesting that she does not live in the same world as the rest of us, “men are approximately half the human race, and no more than that. Women are approximately half, and no less.” I think that this is her way of saying that men are disproportionately represented in romance, but I’m not entirely sure.

At any rate, she goes on…only now what she’s saying has no connection with the rest of the article. “The occasional lurid accident which happens when a sadomasochistic scene goes wrong is overshadowed by the constant, nonconsensual, institutionally-enforced oppression of whole demographics in most cultures on earth.”

Nonconsensual oppression? As opposed to what? Consensual oppression? And what, oh what, does constant, institutionally-enforced oppression of most cultures on earth have to do with women who write male/male romance? And what does a lurid accident in S & M have to do with either? If there’s a connection here, I’m not seeing it.

“Heterosexuality”, she goes on to say, “is culturally taught and enforced. It is not instinctive in all people, most of whom are not white.”

I don’t know what a cultural bias toward heterosexuality or the non-whiteness of most of the human race has to do with the subject of male/male romance. Again, I’m baffled.

Finally, she contradicts her entire article with these words: “Human beings are sexual and complicated, and these qualities can be found in the literature they write. That’s my view and I’m sticking to it.”

As it happens, I agree. Human beings are complicated, and they have multitudes of reasons for the things they say and do and paint and write. Those reasons are not always easy to understand, particularly if what is being said and done is not to one’s taste, but trying to understand is better than projecting one’s beliefs and prejudices on others and reporting those prejudices as stone cold fact. Projecting one’s assumptions onto a group one does not like does not really fit a vaunted ideal of zero tolerance.

I would hope that Ms. Roberta is not given the opportunity to use ERWA as a bully pulpit again. There is quite enough hatred in the world already without her adding to it. Frankly, Ms. Roberta should forget about the mote she sees in the eyes of women who write male/male romance, and concentrate on removing the beam from her own.

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