Monday, September 1, 2008

A Bluffer's Guide to... Gay Historicals

Along the lines of the other Bluffer's Guides I thought I'd do a Gay Historical 1-0-1 today.

Top facts:

* Sadly not yet published by Black Lace. I live in hope as they do have m/m/f plotlines.
* Covers. Usually pretty naff.(with the exception of those below)
* Committed Lusties, Erastes, Madelynne Ellis - hell, just about all of us!

In a nutshell

* There's not enough of it, for a start.
* Some Gay Historicals address the very real problems of being gay in a time when it wasn't just unacceptable, it was reviled and illegal. (Basically after Christianity kicked in) However, there were times when man on man love wasn't just acceptable, it was a normal part of everyday life. (The Greeks had a word for it.)
* Thankfully, due to pronouns they are not called things like "The Mediterranean Tycoon's Depraved Heiress" (With thanks to the Random Romance Title Generator)

The heroes

Not too different from the heroes in other historical romances. They are generally aristocratic (tall and handsome goes without saying - plus they are ALWAYS - always hung like horses, this is the law.) So, create your character: Rich, check. Commanding, check. Handsome, check. Cock of unusual size. Check and double check. OK, you can stop checking now.

The, er, OTHER heroes

Now here you can play around a little. You can either make your other hero a match for your arrogant alpha in every sense of the word (and sit back and watch those sparks fly and those buttons go flying (gotta have flying buttons, more later) OR you can create a sensitive little soul. A downtrodden artist, perhaps, or an impoverished tutor. A kidnapped sex slave or an abused and rescued young man. As long as you get a vast gulf between your alpha and your omega, it doesn't really matter. Any excuse to make that boy cry his little heart out because the rough tough alpha doesn't know how to handle him. Or rather - he doesn't know how to handle his feelings - he knows how to handle him all right. (hur hur) The important thing is the desecration of innocence - but don't worry. No matter how nasty the alpha is, your sensitive soul will fall in love with him as he tops from the bottom.

The best bit about writing gay historicals
* Buttons
. Oh GOD the buttons. I've coined the term breeches ripper before, but for me waistcoat ripping is far more exciting. Also cravats. You can have a LOT of fun with cravats.
* UST. (No, no, not there, Unresolved Sexual Tension. Buckets and buckets of it. "I'm homosexual!++ Argh! God he's pretty. I wonder if he's homosexual too? How can I let him know? What if he's not? All right... so he is - he's sleeping with Lord [Whossit] - how can I get him?"A writer of gay historicals have immense fun torturing her characters - making every glance count, and when one's passing the port (to the left, of course) at dinner, fingertips are just bound to brush against each other.
* It's much easier to get men together on a day-to-day basis. Whereas a hetero historical writer will have to write about dances, and chaperones and perhaps elopements men can simply hang out with each other, ride in each other's carriages (and no, that's not a euphemism!) without anyone fainting or ruining anyone's reputation. Of course it's pretty difficult to get them into sexual situation, but that's another post...

The best bit about reading gay historicals

* Buttons! Ok, Is it just me and the button porn?
* Appreciating that the author knows exactly what the difference is between a sailor's whipping and a double fisherman but that you don't need to know anything as silly as long as the hero gets tied up.
* Sponge baths.
* Cocks! (sorry, but it did have to be said.) Lots of 'em. Members, yards, rods, poles, perches, arbor vitae, gaying instrument. (yes, really.)

Top tip: beige...biscuit...blasé bleeding anachronisms

Check check check. You may think that it's all right to say your hero's breeches are beige but it wasn't so and any eagle eyed reader will Mock You. They will, however realise if you are trying and make a small slip-up, but they won't appreciate sloppy (or no) research, modern day speech patterns and contemporary men in fancy dress.

What not to say

* “Where's the lube?”
* He climaxed, spunk spurting over his fingers.
* "He's got such a cute ass."

What to say

* “Spit, and have done, man.” (other lubricants are available...)
* I'm learning something! Oooo... cocks....

Over to you...

* What gay historicals would you like to see?
* What cliches are you sick of?
* Do you want better covers?
* Anything else?

And if you are interested in finding out more: (and in a more sensible fashion)

Speak Its Name has The Definitive List of Gay Historical fiction.
The Macaronis: Fiction out of the Closet

++homosexual is also anachronistic until the early 20th century, too.


Janine Ashbless said...


Button-porn, eh? Disgusting...

The link to the anachronistic language page is fascinating and enducational - though I really don't think that I'll be writing about small children having orgasms (instead of throwing tantrums) anytime. There are limits to historical accuracy!!

I've written some historical short stories (Colonial England, Victorian Balkans) but the research scares the hell out of me. I don't think I could keep it up for a whole novel.

My current WIP is an Arabian Nights fantasy - pseudo-historical C9th setting but I knowingly use anachronisms from later Arabic culture when it suits the story. Coffee and scimitars for example. And there is no bloody way I'm going to try and reproduce the speech-patterns of medieval Arabia for my conversations. People talk a mix of formalised and idiomatic English (BRITISH English I might add) and that's that!

Janine Ashbless said...

That was "Colonial New England", by the way.

And I did avoid using the word Autumn.

Erastes said...

Janine, I restrained myself. There's also gold frogging, jabots and tight green uniform trousers *leers at Richard Sharpe*

That "You can't say that" is great isnt it? You can really trick people using judicious words from there. Hee hee.

The research is terribly daunting, but I think it's ideal for hermits. I'd never dare write contemporary gay fiction as I don't think gay men have managed to make it to Great Yarmouth yet. :) My next project is about lighthouses, and I thought that was going to be easy. *hollow laugh* How wrong I was.

The nice thing about fantasy is that you can do that and get away with it because it's your world - and people have pushed this further with steampunk. No-one's going to say "you can't have machine guns in 1700 because you just say, "ner! steampunk!"

Marquesate said...

I'd like to see the Germanic period ad see it done WELL. No chance, though, not that I have any hopes whatsoever. Where are the Migration period Angles, Saxons and Jutes? Where are the 8th century Norsmanna? Where are the 7th century Franks?


Guess I have to write it myself, then. But I can't, because being an Anglo-Saxonist by original trade, I'd get SO hung up in the accuracy that I'd never get to the sex.

Ho-hum. ;-)

Erastes said...

Hi Marquesate, great to see you over here!

Not Germanic, I know but I know someone who's done a wonderful short on a silk road story, only for the bloody life of me I can't remember who - I had a read over of it recently. And RW Day is doing a story around Acre in the Holy Land but that's not primarily gay as she's dropped away from the m/m market, sadly. One of my flist is doing Ivan the Terrible too, but that will take years, I fear.

I agree with you, though, and that's what is so wonderful about this small growing genre, is that so far people have been mainly dipping into the safe areas: Regency, Victoriana, Roman, Greek - but there's 1000's of years out there and people will start to write every period eventually, I'm sure of it.

And yes, research and the era makes it quite difficult to get men into bed. Easy enough to have a quick fumble in secret here and there, but often tricky to build a relationship.

Marquesate said...

You see, the wonderful thing with Germanic is - depending on the period (1st century Continental would be ace) - that it's no problem at all to get them to shag. Certainly not when they are young and without families yet, warband retainers, all happily snoozing together in their lord's great hall. And the whole ethos of male friendships and male (heroic) love? No problem. As you said in your post, anything pre-Christian is a doddle. ;-)

But ... I know too much. This feeling that when you start to write even just a sentence you must get everything just RIGHT, including the comb , for example(and I don't just mean a comb, but the exact pattern of the exact period in the exact location with the exact peoples) because I spent so many years researching it, and while that's not my subject anymore (trust me, you couldn't get anything to shag anything else in what I am teaching these days *snerk*) I couldn't possible not go insanely pedantic. And that kills any creativity!

It's really a shame, because for a couple of years I have been seeing this character with my inner eye, standing at the helm of a longboat, in the dark, wind whipping his long blond hair, wrapped in a cloak and staring out into the cloudy but moonlight night on the North Sea, sailing towards Englalond.

And if I try to pin him down he gets drowned in the historical details.

AAARRGGHHHH! (sorry, I shut up now, but really, how do you lot do it?)

Erastes said...

I feel your pain Marquesate, as I'm having difficulty getting past the words "chapter one" in my new work. Once they've got their clothes off, it's plain sailing, but you've got to dress them right, put them in correct boats, know who the king and political situation is (even if your characters are completely clueless) etc etc etc...

I have a feeling that your brain is hatching your Germanic story, and when the time is right, you'll be inspired to do it - that's what happens with me. Personally I think what you write is scary as hell, and just as hard to get right as any Age of Sail novel.

Margaret Leigh said...

Good God, woman! Remove your hands from that swains butt-ons

This was soo funny, and mainly because I have made some of the gaffes mentioned herein.

Marquesate said...

Let's hope my Germanic chap (do I even know the period for sure? Do I heck! But it seems to be Migration period) will come out of his shell one day.

And with scary, did you mean the contemporary military? That's easy as pie when it comes to the British Forces between the 1980s and now, because of Mr Marquesate. ;-) But boy did I get the undressing of a contemporary soldier wrong before I met him. Trying to open those darned brass belt buckles from the "outside" is nigh impossible! :-D

But at least with historicals one shan't meet anyone who'd know what it's really like. (buttons, did you mention buttons?)

Erastes said...

Nothing at ALL personal Margaret, I hope you realise that, I pulled a whole load of examples!

Thanks for liking!

Anonymous said...

So that's where I'm going wrong! My boys have 'normal-sized' cocks! I must edit immediately! :P

Erastes said...

Shame on you, Crawling Angel!

Janine Ashbless said...

I did a story about 7th-Century Lombards for my upcoming story collection, Marquesate, so do I get points for trying? It's Femdom rather than m/m I'm afraid.

I've lived a life surrounded by history/wargaming geeks and pedants. I love the fact we try to get it right, that we need to get it right. It shows love and respect for our subject matter. The dark side of perfectionism is that some readers can ONLY see the errors.

Marquesate said...

Oh yes, big points indeed!

Erastes said...

That's so true, Janine. For a long while after going through my first major edit of a novel, all my reading turned sour because I couldn't turn my editing head off and simply enjoy the story. Now (I hope) I can - and when I review I try and see the difference when an author has done a shed-load of research - and still made small mistakes - because hell - we all do! And someone whose idea of "research" has been reading M&B historicals all her life and considers their regencies to be realistic...

Madeline Moore said...

Very interesting post, Erastes, as usual. I always learn from your posts, but - what to do with what I've learned? At the very least, store it away in my writerly brain where I keep all sorts of information for possible metaphor making and leit motif maneuvering.

Oh God it's early here. OK I like the buttons, the flying buttons, and I appreciate the amount of research that must go into the writing. It boggles my caffeine-denied sleepy head. I know! I'll go back to bed (it is a holiday here) and see if I can dream of bad boys in period clothing groping each other and fumbling with buttons while I watch from...from a peephole in the...y'know the place women hid in to spy on men back then...

Erastes said...

Good morning Madeline, happy Labor Day!

Glad you enjoyed the post! Since I wrote it, someone has pointed me to this post, which takes the mickey out of the infamous homosexual scene in Fanny Hill (which I hadn't managed to read before as my version is edited)

The heroine is peering through some kind of hole - glory hole I guess?

Alex Beecroft said...

Hey Marquesate, I'm an Anglo-Saxonist too. I've been wondering if I could set a story in that era myself, but failing to get inspiration. If I did, I think I'd want it to have dragons in, for that proper Beowulf feel, but that would rule it out of historical.

Your hero reminds me of The Wanderer. I think he must have been exiled by his Lord. (And the lord/retainer bond begs to be slashed.)

Marquesate said...

Mmmmmmmm nice thought. Exiled ... exiled is always good. The Wanderer has been one of my favs anyway. There is still a 7th century Frankish scop begging to be written. There's a grave in Cologne (one of the churches in the outskirts, we went there), of a man with harp and glove (two different ones), cloak and neck length hair and wrapped in a shroud but within the shroud there are flowers scattered. From the clothing he doesn't appear to be local, the cloak pin could be from the Isles. sadly, all the finds were destroyed during WWII in the bombing, when they took the artefacts out for safe keeping. Not very safe *sigh*.

But the flowers ... my mind went off on a tangent, I'm afraid.

As for dragons, just look at Tolkien. he managed to weave historical accuracy with fantasy. I wouldn't have a problem with dragons in a historically accurate setting. In fact, rewriting Beowulf could be fun. Unferth needs a good shag, really :-D

Janine Ashbless said...

What did you think of Beowulf and Grendel, dare I ask? They did make some at attempt at a serious historic setting and costume...

Marquesate said...

Which one was that? I didn't see any of them because I knew I'd spit teeth after I saw some set pictures.

So, I'm afraid I don't know, but you'd never satisfy me, because I am one of the worst pedants of historical accuracy. the same goes for the 17th century, my second main period of expertise is 1660-1715, and folks who get it wrong can hear my screams of horror all the way from Scotland. ;-)

Olivia Knight said...

Historical with dragons - more accurate, I think. (But then I'm a great fan of dragons.) The question reminds me of those "historically accurate" films about King Arthur, Troy, ancient Greece generally, where they are so busy being correct that they leave out the entire point of the story. Sometimes the truth of a people and a culture lies more in the dragons than in the number of tines in a comb.

But Marquesate, I think everyone can relate to your dilemma. One trick, as suggested, is a part-fantasy setting. Another is to all your research in advance, and then ban it completely while you're writing. Anything you want to check you just put square brackets around in the text. Or to ban it chapter by chapter. That way, you don't sabotage your flow, and you can't use research as an excuse for writer's block. When I hear writers who say "I researched that book for four years," I think, "Yes, I get writer's block, too."

Fabulous post, Erastes; very funny and enlightening. And I agree about the buttons; the prospect of them pinging off the walls is deeply entingling. And so much nicer than nasty scratchy zips! Definitely need to read more historical m/m.

Janine Ashbless said...

I sympathise, but I can overcome my desire for historic accuracy in order to watch hot men. This one anyway.

Sorry Erastes!

Portia Da Costa said...

I've never written any gay historical, primarily because I'm too bone idle to do all the historical research!

Like reading it occasionally though. Not my regular fayre, I must admit, but delicious as an exotic treat now and again. :)

Mara said...

Wonderful article! I love the buttons, too. And I love all your pictures of the boys together. Those are lovely. Where did you get them?
LOLing on the fragile young men paired with the insensitive alphas. Those stories are the main ones I avoid in m/m. Part of my enjoyment in reading m/m is the inherent equality in the relationship. If I wanted to read what is basically m/f, I would.
But I don't.:)
I would love to see more gay historicals in any time period, because they're all fascinating.

Erastes said...

*waves at Alex*

I love this blog, people are so enthusiastic!

Hello Olivia! And yes - like historical language in a historical novel (Mark R Probst is doing a post on that on the Macaronis on Weds) accuracy is a fine line to tread - I try hard to give enough accurate detail to immerse the reader in the period, without sounding like a catalogue from Gillows. Believe you me, I've read this kind of thing: "Georgiana walked across the scarlet and black 15th century Turkish carpet and then her flared french heels clopped over the highly polished herring-bone parquet. She looked around: the sun shone through the diamond paned windows onto a collection of Sheraton furniture, most particularly on her father's exquisite 17th century bureau brisé, custom made by Alexandre-Jean Oppenordt and engraved by Jean Bérain.

Well, ok - A TAD of an exaggeration, but not that much.

I tend to be a "research as I go" person, but many do months, sometimes years before they write a word. With this latest piece I've had to do a lot (well, for ME - I'm talking 3 weeks...) before I COULD start, mainly because I needed to know what sort of loonies would want to be lighthouse keepers before I could stuff them in a boat and subject them to three months isolation.

The square brackets idea is very useful - I use that a lot - or highlighting (often easier to spot) - especially when I forget character details which I often do! e.g. He turned, "Thank you Mr [What the blithering blink is his surname?]"

Glad you liked the post, Olivia - it's so nice to be silly and serious at the same time.

Buttons forever! You don't get a naked cock stuck in buttons when you go commando.

No worries, Portia, it's not everyone's cuppa to write, that's for sure - we just love it if people like to read it.

Hello Mara! Thank you, I'm glad you enjoyed my silliness. I got some pictures from The Theban Band (Hornblower and Arthur) - the uniform detail is from the Greenwich Naval Museum and is part of one of Nelson's uniforms, and the others were just found via googling gay sailors or gay history.

LOLing on the fragile young men paired with the insensitive alphas. Those stories are the main ones I avoid in m/m.

I'm guilty of it once, Standish has a little of that, but Ambrose's character development is important for him to start as a weakling - but I'm not mad on it, in exactly the same way I don't like completely passive heroines either.

Part of my enjoyment in reading m/m is the inherent equality in the relationship.

I like that too - you can make them as different as chalk and cheese too, and it's interesting if they are both as strong as each other - fascinating in a military zone too - Alex Beecroft's Captain's Surrender is an excellent example of this, and if you haven't read it, I highly recommend it.

Madelynne Ellis said...

Eek! I go away for a few hours and everyone descends on the blog!

Hmmm... buttons, and you know I like cravats, right. And boots! I always like to see a man in knee-high boots.

I'd like to see more of a range of historical periods covered too, mostly cause then I could stick to the Georgian era without it being too crowded.

Not a book, but I watched Taboo (Gahatto) recently which is about the interpersonal relationships of a group of trainee Samurai. Basically they all have the hots for the pretty boy. It didn't make a lot of sense, but I enjoyed it.

Great post, Erastes.

Madeline Moore said...

Interesting inside info on how other writers indicate - research this!
I use XXX, then search it when I've done the draft and feel up to working out those little details.

Names are a bitch. I will never use the names Monica or Marcia again, because in my mind they seem to be one and the same. I imagine nothing throws a reader off so completely as having the wrong person say something, or having a 'new' character introduced. Maybe it's best that every character have a name that starts with a different letter of the alphabet. I got Roger the dead guy and Rupert the hottie confused in 'Amanda's Young Men' but spotted it in time. Phew.
I used to only use one syllable names, back when I was typing, after having used the name 'Mrs McCaffery' for a character and having to type that thousands of times. Gack. Felix has decided to just put the person's initial in his text and go back afterwards and find and replace. I'm too faint of heart for that, myself.

XXX Madeline

Erastes said...

Well, Madelynne, if you WILL go away!

There's still not that much Regency, you know - when you look at it - Standish, two books by M J Pearson and a couple of novellas by me. Quite a few ebooks but the entire catalogue (not that I think I've found them all, but I look hard) is very very thin when you look at the billions of het historicals there are.

The Samurai age is interesting in itself, because it was (possibly) the most modern age where m/m love was accepted. (amongst that caste, at least)

Lee Rowan said...


Just so long as they're on the clothes, and not someone 'pushing his buttons.' Which could be done, but... eh?

Re bluffing ... I would just say, "he combed out his hair" on the Roddenberry principle that Captain Kirk wouldn't explain the phaser to Mr Sulu before ordering him to fire one any more than Joe Friday would explain a police revolver to his partner.

Pheebles said...

"Nothing at ALL personal Margaret, I hope you realise that..."

Oh no, I didn't take it personally. One of the prerequisites of writing historical fiction in any genre, I think, is the ability to laugh at oneself. :)

Kate Pearce said...

I write the hybrid m/m/f romance novels and get away with writing them for NY, which is great and subversive and for all the reasons Erastes has mentioned.

I'm just licking ym lips over starting book #4 which will feature a very dominant male and another man trying to persuade himself that he really doesn't need hot man love and prefers women-the angst, the sexual tension-sigh...
perfect post for me :)

Erastes said...

Hello Lee!

Yes, overdoing it with things like combs is part of the overdescription that I have encountered from time to time in people's books.

Hi Kate!

I think it's great that some big publishers are accepting m/m/f and m/f/m - I just wish they'd take the plunge and go the whole way. Hopefully after Perseus launch their gay historical line in the spring, more publishers will try it.