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.

Review: The Keeper by Kalita Kasar

Cobbler’s apprentice Thomas Williams is on his way out for the night when he’s stuffed into a carriage and whisked away from the staid life he’s always known. Stolen away from his Quaker master, Thomas is sold into the household of Leon Chambellan, a Frenchman also known as the Keeper.

Caught up in the latent sensuality of the keeper’s home, Thomas finds his resistance slowly crumbling, and he submits to Chambellan’s charm. Pursued by his new master, jealously hated by this rival, Alex, Thomas must learn survive in a world completely alien to anything he has known before. A world of beauty, brutality, rivalry and intrigue that threatens to destroy him before he can win his rightful place at Chambellan’s side.

Review by Erastes

First the cover: Bafflingly it is not at all representative of what I found inside, as the book tells me it’s based in 1772, so the appearance of medieval helmet, chain mail and a broadsword on the cover was peculiar. Publishers will need to learn that it’s not only the words that need to be accurate!

This is an erotic novel, so if long sexual scenes with strong BDSM themes aren’t really what you are after, then it’s not the book for you. We are thrown into the action almost immediately as – not knowing Bilbo’s warning about being careful about stepping outside your front door, Thomas is swiftly kidnapped by a press-gang. However, unlike Benjamin York, a real-life cobbler’s apprentice of the same era, who was pressed and sent to the Colonial war, Thomas is lucky that he’s pretty for he’s taken as a sex-slave to Chambellan: kidnapper, white slaver and Monsieur of a bawdy house for homosexual men.

There he encounters all manner of pleasure and pain, is strangely drawn to Chambellan “The Keeper,” repulsed by Alex, one of the “groomers” and meets the alluring Lucien.

What struck me almost immediately was Thomas’ surprising passivity. I, as a reader, had to assume that the reason that this nineteen year old man, (who had been working as a tanner and cobbler for ten years, and would be pretty damn strong), didn’t attempt to escape or overpower his captor when he was alone with him, was that he was a Quaker. This is actually the case, but we aren’t told of his reasons for his passivity until page 52. He even thanks the man for his hospitality of his kidnap.

I didn’t like the rapes either. Thomas says no, but he’s raped anyway, and as is often the case in fiction, he enjoys it whilst finding himself repulsive for doing so.

I know that I was supposed to find Chambellan darkly attractive but I couldn’t. Apart from raping Thomas (and supposedly every boy who he has ever enslaved) and being a white-slaver, when Thomas asks him to send him home, he says that he’ll release him back to the press-gang if Thomas wants it. That’s a nasty thing to say, and then he stomps off when Thomas complains he’s been raped and says that he “won’t do it again.” What’s more disturbing is that Thomas then longs for him to come back.

Chambellan actually says “You know there are only young men in my household and none of them is compelled against his will.” Which made me go WHAT!? I rather think that imprisonment and sexual coercion upon young men who say “no” counts as “against his will,” Chambellan.

I did like that this was on the cusp of slavery being abolished in England, and that also the very real danger of running a “macaroni club” is mentioned, these issues should never be completely forgotten in gay historical fiction. I liked the prose too, mainly – it was the other issues that stopped me enjoying the book.

Sadly, there’s also the usual problem with Torquere’s editing. I don’t like to keep mentioning this in Torquere’s reviews but they do themselves no favours. As they are already infamous for bad editing, you would think that they would work doubly hard to ensure that stories are as without error as they can be, but it seems not. This story is less than 100 pages long, so there’s no excuse for things like “he had long brown hair that was tied back in a cue and “he lay on the bed, his eyes closed, abandoned,” to name but two

I actually felt bitterly sorry for Thomas, and wanted him to escape from his plight – and from the much worse one that he falls into later, too. I wanted him to get safely home – not to Chambellan, but to his apprenticeship because frankly he deserved neither the frying pan, nor the fire.

Whilst the writing is pretty good, and there’s no doubt that Ms Kasar is a good story teller I’m afraid I didn’t find this erotic or romantic – it’s eroticised Stockholm Syndrome and that’s not any more arousing to me than eroticised rape, but your mileage may vary.

Buy from Torquere Books

Review: Sandals and Sodomy (anthology)

Review by Erastes

I don’t often comment on a book’s layout but this one deserves it. It’s beautifully done – a tasteful cover to complement the mention of Sodomy and a restrained, classical theme inside. Books aren’t often this pretty. Well done, Dreamspinner Press.

Greeks Bearing Gifts by D.G. Parker

Young Antenor of fallen Troy faces violation and death, only to be rescued and enslaved by a gruff, older Greek, a hard-bitten soldier in the king’s good graces. What Antenor does not expect is Calchas’s good heart that sees him through shipwreck, marooning, and rescue.

I was expecting another sex-slave-who-comes-to-love-his-master story and was pleasantly surprised when it didn’t go exactly the way I envisaged. It turns into a decent adventure which I found very readable. The period details are few, but not so very vague as to be completely unfocussed in time. If I have a quibble it’s the fact that Calchas admits to have been an erastes “many times” and yet he has been at the Trojan siege for at least ten years. He’s described as “older” but I’m not convinced that he could have entered into an erastes/eromenos arrangement “many times,” as it often lasted for more than ten years itself.

It’s a great little story, sweet and surprising in turns.

Troy Cycle by Dar Mavison

When the gods abandoned men during the battle of Troy, the greatest of those men – Hector, Odysseus, Paris, Achilles – schemed to end the war. Amongst themselves they waged war both vicious and tender in a desperate attempt to achieve peace, a peace that for some would only be found in death, leaving others to discover it in new life. But no one would ever be forgotten by the other three.

This is an AU story, Trojan fanfic if you will, a scenario where Paris, instead of being rescued by Aphrodite during his duel with Menaleus is captured by Odysseus and delivered to Achilles

It’s an interesting take on the relationships, however, for all the warping of the story, Paris’ relationships with his father and brother are examined – and Achilles’ thoughts on the other people in the saga make sense. There’s explicit incest too between Hector and Paris, for those who find that unpleasant. I thoroughly enjoyed that part. However it’s a little difficult to see Hector (in the light of what that civilisation thought about the “female or passive role” in homosexual sex, that the receiver was weaker and of a lower status than the giver) bottoming for Odysseus.

All in all it’s well written, the dialogue is formal and fraught with politics and machinations. I particularly liked canonical Achilles who treats Agamemnon with disdain. However, I felt a bit lost at times – it’s clear that the author knows the saga inside out and I was floundering around trying catch the nuances of the dialogue: why so and so did this, why so and so said that, which is always a danger with fanfic and the reader isn’t as expert with the canon. It’s an interesting take on the Paris-Achilles-Hector triangle but for that’s its very well written I would have preferred an original piece. I couldn’t get past the “Yeah, but this changes the saga” part (although the last line really made me laugh out laugh. Genius).

Undefeated Love by John Simpson

The men of the Sacred Band of Thebes are remembered for their valor, their honor, their devotion to duty, and their great love for their partners. Alexandros and Agapitos found a place amongst them, but little did they know their love and sacrifice would face the test of war – and survive to shine eternally.

I was initially thrown by this one, as it seemed a little “Thebes High 90210″ with the two Jocks in the gymnasium who everyone loves and one of them saying that he had to brush his hair for ages until it was just right. Clueless in Thebes, I wondered? Then there’s a long and graphic sex-in-public scene and I sort of forgot about all that. However then the characters started to speak and I was jolted away again. There’s a difficult fine line to tread when one writes dialogue with characters from a time and/or a place where we wouldn’t understand them, and I’m afraid I found this over-affectionate and high-fallutin’ style of dialogue a little risible.

“That was incredible, Agapitos. My thanks for taking my seed into your mouth and making it part of your body.”

“Go on then. Deposit your seed deep within my bowels.”

The over-formal language put me off, and really, nothing actually happens other than the battle at Chaeronea and towards the end it slips in omniescent narration-style, pulling the reader out of the action completely. It’s more of a docu-drama sadly and failed to grip me.

Hadrian by Remmy Duchene

Roman Emperor Hadrian is all-powerful … and alone. But when Antinous trespasses into Hadrian’s bath, the ruler’s eyes are opened to a whole new world of love.

This starts well, with a believable introduction of Antinous to Hadrian – Hadrian insists on bathing alone, and that’s canonical from what we know of him, as he was a bit of a recluse and liked his solitude. However it slips when the sex scene begins as it all becomes a little 21st century with phrases like “Hadrian lost it” and “getting drilled”. And that’s all there is, really – just a short PWP introducing the characters to each other – I would have liked some plot, I have to say.

The POV is off-putting, I’m afraid with POV switches vacillating wildly between the two. And Hadrian allows Antinous to top him – which is a little unbelievable in the customs of the day. (It should be said that it was rumoured that Julius Caesar allowed this when he was a young man, and the rumour blackened his name all his life)

Short and a little disappointing.

After the Games by Connie Bailey

When the Emperor sends a beautiful concubine, Valerius, to the slave pens to slake the hunger of his fiercest beast, the fighter Alaric, he doesn’t anticipate that Alaric just isn’t interested. But to keep Valerius from being punished, the fighter keeps him close for one night, a night that turns from talkative to passionate.

Much more absorbing is After the Games. A successful gladiator is offered sexual tribute from his Emperor and tries to refuse it, and ends up sheltering a male concubine to (seemingly) save him being gang raped by other gladiators. It’s clear Ms Bailey has done her research and I learned things I didn’t know. This is a nice little story, as the concubine tops from the bottom as it were, seducing the barbarian gladiator in a Scheredzarde kind of way. It’s all very sensual and arousing, spoiled only now and then with silly euphemisms such as Alaric prodded the young man’s nether port with the head of his arousal. (shudder)

However – I thoroughly enjoyed this story, and thought it the highlight of the anthology; it’s highly erotic, with a keen sense of the storyteller’s art and a surprise ending which makes me hope well for the characters’ futures.

The Vow by Ariel Tachna

Adrastos still mourns his dead partner and lover, and he has hardened his heart and spirit to any other. Knowing his duty to bond and train a soldier, he reviews a trio of Army recruits, but he insists he will not choose one. Eager to prove himself worthy to serve the Army and Aphrodite alike, Erasmos presents himself for the final test…and finds that he, the petitioner, is the savior rather than the saved.

This is another bonded pair of soldiers story, and starts off, quite arousingly, with a group sex session – which, according to the author is the way the bonded pairs were chosen, (although the reader shouldn’t take this as fact.) Sadly, the editing – which has been fine up to now, falls down a little in this story and there are a few silly typos here and there. However, it’s an attractive tale, as Erasmos slowly works to heal the pain that Adrastos feels for the loss of his previous bond-partner using music and the inevitable baths! I particularly liked how this story explored the erastes/eronemos relationship in more detail than is often seen – how the responsibilities of the mentor for the pupil are laid out, and we see just what is involved in moulding a new citizen, and the problems that might arise when the eronemos is old enough to become the erastes to another.

This is another decent read from Dreamspinner, who seem to be going from strength to strength.

Buy the book: Dreamspinner Press Amazon UK Amazon USA Kindle

Review: Sappho Sings by Peggy Ullman Bell

Here SAPPHO SINGS in her own words. Ancient phrases become the warp and weave of an intricate tapestry so delicately woven it becomes impossible to distinguish the imported threads from the weaver’s own.

Readers familiar with the myriad translations of the few fragmented lines of Sappho’s work left available to us may recognize a word here or a conjunct there but, as one renowned expert in antiquities discovered, the author has herself become the voice of The Poetess to the extent that invented passages read like newly discovered wonders from the past.

Review by: Margaret Leigh

This novel relates the life, loves and sorrows of “Sappha” as the poet called herself. It is a richly crafted novel which draws from what little survives of Sappho’s works and threads these through the story, whilst also adding the author’s own original compositions to them. Sappho comes to life in these pages. The story shows the author’s admitted deep love for Sappho in every page.

This is a book which requires concentration to read, and not one I would recommend if you’re looking for a few hours of easy escapism. The world portrayed within its pages is lavishly detailed and drawn with the masterful brush strokes of an artist.

I found myself falling in love with Sappho and deeply involved in her story, wanting to know if she would eventually triumph, and how. I could relate to Sappho’s deep need to be recognized and to become more than just an ordinary Aeolian woman of her times. Her repeated prayers for her voice to be heard are heart-cries that couldn’t fail to stir the sympathy of anyone who has ever felt stifled or voiceless.

Sappho lives her life, sings her songs and makes her mark all over again in this beautiful retelling of her life.

The threads of poetry interleaved within the story, both those written by Sappho herself, and those crafted by the author lend an authenticity to Sappho’s voice and keep the reader ever conscious that this is a poet, a songstress, dare I think even a prophetess?

Points that might weigh against it:

It can be a little heavy handed at times with descriptions of setting and place which, though necessary to bring the reader into the world, occasionally verge on being distracting rather than evocative.

Overall , I would recommend this book to anyone who loves a good, solid, historical read and doesn’t mind the need to really concentrate and focus on it.

Author’s website

Buy the book: Create Space Amazon USA Paperback Amazon USA Kindle

F/F fiction

There is so much lesbian historical fiction out there that we are going to start reviewing it from today.

However, we have literally ONE reviewer, so don’t expect an equal weight.  If you would like to review lesbian historicals please let me know on erastes AT erastes DOT com.

I also need to work out how to reorganize the site…

Call for Submissions: A Study in Lavender

Editor Joseph R.G. DeMarco will be reading for a forthcoming Lethe
Press gay men’s anthology tentatively entitled A Study in Lavender:
Queering Holmes.

All stories must be both gay-themed and mysteries set in the Holmes
mythos, however the character of Sherlock Holmes need not be the focus
or even present.

Writers must do their homework to ensure that the stories are
historically accurate if taking place in the Holmes era (though tales
can be set later than the Victorian era, such as in the Golden Age of
Hollywood during the filming of a Holmes movie or other appropriately
familiar settings).

Before you submit, please query the editor with a synopsis of your
story and the content, specifically, which characters are being queered.

Word Count: Submissions should be between 1,000 words and 8,000 words.
Longer works may be considered but require advance permission from the
editor.

Payment: 2 cents a word, of course, plus 2 copies of the book.

Submissions will be read from January 1, 2009 through March 30, 2009.
Queries/Submissions to: holmesanthology@gmail.com

No electronic submissions will be accepted EXCEPT in the case of
writers living outside of the United States.

A street address for submissions will be provided once you send an
email query with the required synopsis, etc. If you would like to have
your submission returned, please send a self-addressed envelope with
sufficient return postage.

Electronic copies will be required for submissions accepted for
publication.

Email queries and other communication may be made to
holmesanthology@gmail.com

Review: Reconstruction by GS Wiley

The second son of a noble family, James has retreated from his family’s fall from favor, finding peace at his beloved abbey. When the abbey burns to the ground, James knows his life is in ruins, and he is forced to return to the genteel world his relations still inhabit under the reign of Henry VIII.

The one good thing about James’ life outside his sanctuary is his love for Richard, who holds a dreaded high place in society. Richard’s life is also torn apart, and threatens to separate the lovers as nothing else could. When James has the chance to run away to his abbey once more, things get even more difficult. Will James be able to discover what is truly important in his life?

Review by Hayden Thorne

“Reconstruction” has all the potential for a longer work of fiction, given all the character and situational complexities that G.S. Wiley manages to stuff into a novelette. Because of the length of the published story, however, these complexities fall a bit short by way of development. The promise is clearly there, and I really hope to see Wiley expand her scope and go all out next time.

As a work of M/M fiction, “Reconstruction” is a bit unusual. Firstly, there’s no sex. A few very light touches of sensuality here and there, but there’s nothing graphic, nothing by way of paragraph after paragraph of kissing, undressing, and fucking. There might be something coy about Wiley’s approach, but it works perfectly for the story, whose focus is less about the romance, let alone the actual physical act itself. There’s no overwrought angst-ing over one’s beloved or one’s forbidden feelings or over society’s censure. The relationship’s already established, and it’s met with uncomfortable acceptance or a half-hearted blind eye from those who know about it. The characters belong to Henry VIII’s court, hence the story’s exploration of the scandalous nature of different relationships between men and women. There’s resistance, of course, from people close to James, and that resistance is also defined by an ambivalence toward the dictates of church, society, and the individual’s right to happiness.

The story is also less about James’ relationship with either Hugh or Richard. He’s torn over the choices he’s being forced to face, but his decisions aren’t completely dictated by his romance with these two men (one from his past, one from his present). “Restoration,” on the whole, is about James. Period. The story follows his progress from his spiritual to his secular life, what he desires and what he’s willing to sacrifice. To whom does he owe his allegiance? To whom does he turn for answers? For the latter question, especially, Wiley resolves James’ dilemma in a short yet beautifully-written and poignant flashback that segues nicely into the present, which makes the final passage of the story all the more vindicating.

The strength of “Reconstruction” is two-fold: Wiley’s graceful, lyrical writing style and the quiet, contemplative quality of the story. Every scene is given equal care so that the pacing slows down, but it’s necessary, given the inward-driven focus of the conflict. Readers who’re used to – or are big fans of – stories brimming with action, breathless passion, and drama might not take to “Restoration”‘s languid quality. There’s a lot of emphasis on family, both happy and unhappy, in addition to marriage (also happy and otherwise). As with James’ intimate relationships, family scenes are given quite a bit of “screen time,” which helps in creating a multi-layered world in which the conflict takes place.

That said, there are a few things that held me back. First, there’s the lack of sense descriptions. Given Wiley’s chosen period and location, it would’ve helped to have drawn the readers more deeply into James’ Tudor world with detailed descriptions of scenes as varied and colorful as a jousting tournament, a banquet held in Henry VIII’s court, a monastery, and a domestic scene. Most of the details are generalized and at times rushed, which is unfortunate. We need to be more firmly entrenched in James’ world, which would’ve given us even more reason to sympathize with him or the monks (as they’re persecuted under Henry VIII’s reign) or Thomas or any other character.

Second, the flashbacks aren’t set apart from present scenes, which can be pretty confusing to some readers, especially since the flashbacks tend to be pretty lengthy. It often took me about three paragraphs into the flashback to realize that I was reading one, which was a bit of a jolt.

Language quibbles are very minor. There are a few modern terms like “dad,” for instance, but I appreciate Wiley’s attempts at finding a balance with regard to historical accuracy in the dialogue. The farther back in history we go, the more delicate the balancing act becomes, since we can’t be too accurate in the language to the extent of sacrificing readability or flow. There’s enough of a dated and formal quality to Wiley’s prose to set the story in the 16th century without the awkward “markers” that some historical writers use in their characters’ dialogue.

“Reconstruction” is the kind of story that deserves to be expanded into a novel. What we’re given right now is the proverbial tip of the iceberg, and I really do hope that once the e-book contract expires, Wiley would work on developing this into a longer work of fiction.

Buy the book: Torquere Press

Historical Competitions/Submissions/call for speakers

1. The Historical Novel Society has two competitions:

a. Win copies of Harry Sidebottom’s Warrior of Rome Fire in the East

b. Tony Pollard’s The Minutes of the Lazarus Club, both from Michael Joseph/Penguin UK. Deadline 31 Aug.

You need to be a member of the HNS to enter.

2.Fish Publishing, in cooperation with the HNS, announces Short Histories IV. This short story competition offers a top prize of €1,000 plus publication in the Fish Anthology 2008. Five runners up will each receive an award of €100 and will also be published in the Anthology. Deadline 31 Aug. Click for details. (note-Fish has other competitions open right now)

3. The 30th June, 2008 is the centenary of the birth of Winston Graham – one of the most successful and prolific novelists of the twentiethcentury. To mark his centenary the Royal Cornwall Museum Truro is holding a Centenary Exhibition – Poldark’s Cornwall: the life and works of Winston Graham Graham and is launching the Winston Graham Historical Prize for an unpublished work of historical fiction.

4. Solander are looking for historical short stories

“We pay $150 (US dollars) or £100 (UK pounds) for each story.Submissions should be historical fiction according to our definition. They must be self-contained short stories, not first chapters of novels. The preferred length is 4,000-4,500 words, to a maximum length of 5,000 words. We do not acknowledge receipt of manuscripts, nor return manuscripts, nor enter into discussion about manuscripts.

What kind of stories are we looking for? It’s hard to answer, and the next story may be the exception that proves the rule, but in general we are not looking for ‘genre’ stories. We are not looking for old-fashioned historicals (we love authors like Buchan, Sabatini and Conan Doyle, but don’t wish to publish pastiches of their styles). What we are looking for is storytelling ability in its broadest sense. We want to publish stories where the history is intimately researched but deftly conveyed, and, if possible, where it is integral to the plot. Our stories must advance and be resolved – in other words, must have a beginning, middle and end. Above all, the characters in our stories must be passionately engaged with their world, and with THIS particular moment in their lives. Manuscripts should be emailed to Richard Lee preferably attached as a Word document.”

5. The Historical Novel Society is having its USA conference in Illinois on 12-14 June 2009. I personally would KILL to be there.

“Are you a published author, editor, agent, or other genre expert who can speak about your experience? Would you be interested in serving as a moderator or organizing a panel? If you can answer “yes” to any of these questions, we’d like to hear from you. Please fill out the following form to indicate your interest. We’ve provided some options below, but all ideas are welcome. We’d like to receive your proposal(s) by September 30, 2008. Decisions will be made by October 31, 2008.

Review: Dealing Straight by Emily Veinglory

Richard is worn out, used up, and just plain cynical. Son of a wealthy Bostonian banker, he came west to gamble and carouse when his life fell apart. Though a sensitive and moral man, he finds a reckless life easier to bear—since he has no one to care about and no real hopes for his future.

Brave, beautiful U.S. Marshall Wayne Sneddon wants to change all that. He enlists Richard to help him find and take down a bigwig out to get water rights for himself, regardless of the settlers in the way. In part, Wayne needs help, but more, he wants Richard’s company.

In between the shooting, fighting and intrigue, Richard comes to share Wayne’s feelings…but after he finds the courage to share Wayne’s bed, will he find the courage to share his feelings?

Sometimes just about anything is easier than Dealing Straight.

Review by Mark R Probst

Emily Veinglory’s Dealing Straight is a well-told, gritty Western novella that has a lot of respect for the Western mythos and also manages to skillfully weave in some tasteful erotic elements. Though I’m admittedly not a fan of erotica, my take on it is that if the writer can make the scenes essential and relevant to the story, then hurrah! But if a stockpile of torrid sex scenes is lazily strung together with a paper-thin plot, (as unfortunately most m/m erotic fiction is) then I’ll pass. There are only three sex scenes in the entire novella and they all felt natural and sexy as Veinglory resisted overdoing it with the clichéd porn-style language of modern erotica.

The story centers around Richard, a gambler who has come west for a drier climate to soothe his advancing tuberculosis. Richard has befriended a younger man, Wayne, who is the Marshall of the territory, and has even ridden with him on a few jobs. One night Richard intervenes and saves Wayne’s life when he’s about to be ambushed by a hired killer. Wayne has a good idea who is behind the ambush and asks Richard to be deputized and help him bring in the men responsible.

You might be thinking right now, wait a minute! I know this story. That sounds like Wyatt Earp and Doc Holliday! Well that’s where the similarity ends. In a flashback scene, Veinglory shows us how each of the two men began to suspect that they shared a certain inclination. They embark on a journey to a faraway town and Wayne fills Richard in on the details. Someone has been terrorizing small farm-owners and burning them out. Wayne believes that the man behind it is a rich rancher named MacWaugh and he also believes it is MacWaugh who hired the gun to kill him. While on the journey Wayne is so confident in his suspicion about Richard that he playfully seduces him. Richard, while swept up in the lust, is reticent to give away his heart because of his impending illness and he can’t for the life of him figure what the young handsome Wayne sees in a thin, older, dying drifter.

Naturally things get pretty hairy from there. MacWaugh, his lovely but brash daughter Melissa, and MacWaugh’s top ranch-hand, the über-villain Zack, all play parts that make for a very grisly showdown that will surely please fans of the genre.

What I like most about Dealing Straight was that it felt like a throwback to the classic Western. I think Emily Veinglory did a fine job in setting up the imagery – The saloon where Richard gambled, the dingy hotel rooms, the home-spun little farm where they drop by to visit Wayne’s brother and his family. It is all well-described with an economy of words. A full-length novel would probably delve deeper into descriptions, but that’s not necessary in this format. The language and dialog were pretty true to the time-period and I only noticed two very minor anachronisms that aren’t even worth mentioning as I’m sure most readers won’t even pick up on them. I also admired that Veinglory allowed her characters human fallibilities such as freezing up in terror and losing the opportunity to be heroic. John Wayne they’re not. I have to say that the writing style reminded me of the Dakota Taylor books by Cap Iversen, which in my mind are the quintessential gay Westerns.

I should also mention that it is interesting that these men faced no persecution in a time when sodomites would have been beaten to death on the spot. The reason is a good one – it is not that they live in the world of OK homo, but that these men were smart enough to be discreet so that no one suspected a thing. That, I think, makes it very realistic in that it demonstrates how survival was dependent upon absolute secrecy. And it was also nice to be able to avoid the whole persecution storyline which is so prevalent.

At a little more that 26,000 words, Dealing Straight makes for a pleasant diversion that can be read in one sitting and is certainly worth the price of the download.

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