Comfy Chair Interview – Charlie Cochet

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

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

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

Cary Grant, looking gorgeous

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

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

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

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

The Chrysler Building – an art deco extravaganza

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“No, nothing. I apologize.”

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

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

“You were hoping I’d be here.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

~~~

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

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

 

Website: www.charliecochet.com

Blog: http://charliecochet.blogspot.com

Goodreads: www.goodreads.com/charliecochet

Facebook: www.facebook.com/charliecochet

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

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

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

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

Review by Elliott Mackle

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Review: Skybound by Aleksandr Voinov

Love soars.

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

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

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

Available from Riptide Publishing.

Review by Sal Davis

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Review: And There Was Silence by Louise Blaydon

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

Short story, Ebook Only

Review by Erastes

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

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

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

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

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

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

Author’s Website

Buy at Dreamspinner Press

Review: The Celestial by Barry Brennessel

Hardened beyond his nineteen years, Todd Webster Morgan is determined to find gold high in the Sierra Nevadas. But his dream is violently upended. Complicating matters even more, he meets a young Chinese immigrant named Lao Jian, whose own dreams of finding gold have been quashed by violence. But life back in Sacramento isn’t any easier. Todd’s mother struggles to make ends meet. His invalid uncle becomes increasing angry and violent. Todd seeks employment with little success.

Meanwhile his friendship with Lao Jian turns to love. But their relationship is strained as anti-Chinese sentiment grows. Todd vows not to lose Lao Jian. The couple must risk everything to make a life for themselves. A life that requires facing fear and prejudice head on.

Paperback and ebook – 192 pages

Review by Michael Joseph

As “The Celestial” opens, Todd is working his claim in the mountains near Truckee, about 90 miles northeast of Sacramento. It’s about 20 years after the California gold rush started, but there are still a lot of men like Todd staking claims and hoping to strike it rich. Egged on by his irascible uncle, who was invalided in the civil war, Todd has stole away in the night, leaving his mother to care for her brother on their tumble-down farm near Sacramento.

Todd isn’t alone on the mountain where he has staked his claim. A group of Irishmen have a camp nearby, where they apparently are working their own claim, among other things. Todd doesn’t much care for the rough and tumble men, except for the youngest of them, Breandon. Todd has something of a crush on the other man, who isn’t much older than him, but he won’t dare admit it.

Unfortunately, just as it looks like Todd might have a chance to spend some time with Breandon when they go down to Truckee for supplies, the two camps erupt in conflict that results in Todd trying to get a wounded Breandon to a doctor. It’s while helping Breandon back to his camp that Todd first encounters Lao Jian, a Chinese man about his own age (‘Celestial’ was one of the more polite terms of the time for the Chinese). Lao Jian is also alone now, in this foreign land. He is uneasy around the two white men, since he has experienced a lot of ill treatment from the European settlers of North America, but he is still good hearted enough to help Todd out.

Unable to save Breandon, Todd and Lao Jian are thrown together in the middle of the wilderness. They learn to trust and rely on each other as they make their way to Truckee. The town is not a welcoming place for either of them, but especially for Lao Jian. (In 1886, less than 20 years after the time in which “The Celestial” is set, Truckee expelled its entire population of Chinese immigrants. At the time, Truckee’s Chinatown was the second largest on the west coast.) After just one night, both young men are ready to leave town, and the only place they have left to go is back to Todd’s home in Sacramento.

The reception for Lao Jian in Sacramento isn’t much better, but by this time the two young men are becoming more than friends and neither wants to be separated from the other. On returning to his home, Todd finds that his uncle is getting worse. His amputated leg is infected and his mother cannot afford the treatment he needs. But it seems that both mother and son have been keeping secrets from each other, and when it all starts to come out the path becomes clear.

“The Celestial” is a rather curious tale. Todd and Lao Jian are surrounded by a storm of violence and mistrust, which is what forces them together, yet the two find a calm place in the eye of the storm. It’s certainly not an unusual way for fictional romances to develop, but it’s not clear from the outset that these two will overcome the many obstacles to their relationship.

The story is told in the first person by Todd, in a style that sometimes wanders, the way a real person’s thoughts often do. Some might find this too distracting, but at least for me it never went far enough to take me out of the story. In some ways, the core issue of the book is the accuracy with which these thoughts are portrayed. Although inexperienced, both young men know that society strongly disapproves of the feelings they are developing for each other. So, while each is willing to acknowledge their friendship – something which is enough on its own to cause upset in both communities – they are both reticent to tell each other how they really feel.

In spite of the violence that surrounds the main characters, “The Celestial” is a rather sweet story, with a very emphatically happily-ever-after ending. While sweet, the book is never really saccharin. There’s enough of an edge to it to make it seem real, rather than just romantic fantasy. The writing is competent if not especially memorable. I’m giving it four stars.

You can find out more about Barry Brennessel at his web site.

Buy from  Amazon UK | Amazon USA

Advent Calendar Call to Arms

Well, it’s that time of year again – and this year will be year four! of the Advent Calendar.
Every year we post 24 days of articles, short stories, thoughts, blog posts, opinions – whatever for the month of December, and I’m putting out the call for volunteers now and hope you will consider joining up We’ve always had a full house – last year we were so bursting at the seams we actually doubled up a few days which was wonderful – I’m hoping that this year will be just as full.
You don’t have to write about gay historicals – but if you are doing a short story, it would need to be in the genre!  but articles can be about anything – be it seasonal, historicals, gay themed, recipes, (any holiday celebration is included obviously, not just Christmas), If you are stuck for inspiration, go and have a look at the blog and use this tag to find all the posts:
Each blogger should be willing to supply a small gift which will be given to one random commenter – these prizes will all be announced on Christmas Day together with a larger prize of a couple of books and sweets or whatever I can get hold of.
Please email me directly on erastes@erastes.com if you want to sign up for a day (if you need a particular day, please specify) and I’ll add you to the list. I’ll then put you on a mailing group which i’ll only use to keep people up to date.
Thanks in advance – please spread the word if you can and here’s looking forward to a lovely holiday celebration!

Comfy Chair Interview with Elliott Mackle


My guest in the Comfy Chair today is Elliott Mackle, author of “Captain Harding’s Six-Day War” [Speak Its Name's 2011 Best Book of the Year and voted Best Romance in TLA’s Gaybies competition], the sequel “Captain Harding and His Men,” “It Takes Two” and “Only Make Believe.” Thank you so much, Elliott, for agreeing to answer my questions.

~

Elin: All your available stories are set in the past. What is the big draw that has led you to write historical rather than contemporary novels?

Elliott: For people like me, descendants of the American Southern gentry class, the past is always with us. My maternal great grandmother was born in slavery times. Her father served in the Army of Tennessee and she remembered and wrote about our Civil War. When she died in Nashville in 1950, I was in the house, the ten-year-old doorkeeper. I was told later that in her dying hours she mourned not two dead husbands (one by his own hand), not friends and family but the five Confederate generals killed in the Battle of Franklin in 1864. Her mother’s oil portrait hangs over the fireplace in my living room; I inherited and use some of their furniture and china; they’re with me a dozen times a day.

I was given fairly classy children’s lit––A. A. Milne, Doctor Doolittle, the Oz books, Walter Farley’s Black Stallion series plus non-fiction like V. M. Hillyer’s “A Child’s History of the World” and a very sexy illustrated classics coverall from National Geographic entitled “Everyday Life in Ancient Times.” My mother and grandmother also fed me innocently racist, song-of-the-South children’s books set during the “Reconstruction” years that followed the Civil War. I soon moved up to bigger game, “Gone with the Wind” in particular. By the time I was thirteen I’d read “GWTW,” “The Egyptian” and “Desirée” – all sprawling historical novels – twice each. Since then I’ve read “Moby-Dick” five or six times, “Brideshead Revisited” at least three times. Same for Isherwood’s “Berlin Stories” (which were historical by the time I found them) and Ensan Case’s World War II m/m classic “Wingmen,” published in 1979 and reissued this year (see my appreciation-review here on SIN). I’ve just finished “Bring Up the Bodies,” Hilary Mantel’s follow-on to the Man Booker prize winner, “Wolf Hall.” Both are stunning historical novels set at the court of Henry VIII. Mantel takes enormous risks in these books and is teaching me quite a bit about narrative voice and POV.
I’ve also read and lined my bookshelves with wartime histories, biographies and serious studies of naval intelligence, starting with the romantic propaganda memoir “Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo” by Ted W. Lawson when I was still in short pants and continuing to the present. William Manchester’s “Goodbye, Darkness,” an account of fighting and almost dying as an enlisted Marine in the Pacific, was enormously helpful in envisioning the backstories of several characters in the Dan-and-Bud books, “It Takes Two” and “Only Make Believe.”
That said, it was my good luck to have become a heavy reader before television came to Miami, in 1949 or 1950. I watched it, of course, but was seldom as moved by any of it as I was by books or film. The huge exceptions would be the much later Australian and British series productions of “A Town Like Alice” and “The Jewel in the Crown.” Continue reading

Review: Brook Street: Rogues by Ava March

London, 1822

Two of London’s most notorious rakehells, Linus Radcliffe and Robert Anderson, are the best of friends. They share almost everything–clothes, servants, their homes, and even each other’s bed on occasion. The one thing they don’t share: lovers. For while Linus prefers men, Robert prefers women…except when it comes to Linus.

As another Season nears its end, Robert can’t ignore his growing jealousy. He hates watching Linus disappear from balls to dally with other men. Women are lovely, but Linus rouses feelings he’s never felt with another. Unwilling to share his gorgeous friend another night, Robert has a proposition for Linus.

A proposition Linus flatly refuses–but not for the reasons Robert thinks. Still, Robert won’t take no for an answer. He sets out to prove a thing or two to his best friend–yet will learn something about the heart himself.

ebook only: 28,000 words

Review by Erastes

As my reviews have shown in the past, I’ve enjoyed Ava March  very much – she’s come to me to represent for me the “woman who specialises in gay regencies” but perhaps it’s time she took a holiday and tried another time era, because with this and the last one (Brook Street Thief) I feel that somewhere she’s lost the spark that made me find her so enjoyable. I’m hoping it’s a minor glitch, and perhaps it’s because she rattled out these three books (Thief, Fortune Hunter, Rogues) too quickly to develop, but her previous books had much more depth and distinct personalities and these three, particularly this one seems rather homogenised. In fact, once I’d started the review I had to reopen the book to re-read as I went because the protagonists are quite forgettable and I couldn’t remember what had happened from my reading it a week before.

However, perhaps I’ve missed the irony of the titles, but the protagonists in “Thief” wasn’t a thief and these guys weren’t exactly rogues. Rakes, yes, sleeping around like billio, wham bam thank you ma’am (and Sam) but that’s not how I’d term rogue in a Regency. I was expecting, I have to admit, highwaymen or generally Bad Eggs. But they are gentlemanly gentlemen, rakes, yes, both in love with each other and too daft to admit it. Not my idea of rogues, to be honest.

And that’s the crux of the plot, really. That’s not a bad thing, it’s a perfectly acceptable trope, but with March I’d become used to expecting a little more, and she has done that particular trope herself before.

There’s none of March’s previous trademark BDSM in this, perhaps to appeal to a wider audience, so if you are expecting that, it’s not there.March’s writing is good, there’s no doubt about that, and she’s easy to read while still keeping a good flavour of the historical. She doesn’t do Ken-doll historicals where modern men strut their stuff on the Regency stage. She’s a safe pair of hands in Regency England, the balls (you know what I mean) are well described, the dialogue is close enough to be realistic without boring the reader by being too flowery, and the details here are there are enough to anchor the reader in time.

But…this didn’t do it for me. I couldn’t care less what happened with the protagonists and it was obvious to me what would happen. Perhaps it’s because March did these books as a series and did them too quickly, or perhaps her real heart is more with her BDSM stuff, I don’t know. Out of the 3 of the books in the series, I’d rate “Thief” as the best and perhaps this one as the weakest. That’s not to say it’s not a decent read and probably will be enjoyed by a good many people, but I was disappointed.

As an aside to Carina Press, I wish they would put their “coming soon” blurb at the back of the book, because I for one hate having to skip through seven or eight pages to find the beginning of the story, and of course, in no time at all the newsletter is out of date anyway, as this refers to the month of May and I read this in August. In a year or so, that would be even sillier.

Author’s website

Buy at Carina Press

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