Interview with Erastes

There are certain things expected of a third son. That one will not put oneself forward, that one will join the army, or the church, or the bar. That one will not, in an attempt to inherit and whatever the provocation, murder one’s elder brothers and that one will, if at all possible in the circumstances of being a third son, marry well. Hard and Fast from Speak Its Name.

Erastes is the author of the gay regency Standish and her novella Hard and Fast appears in the Linden Bay Romance anthology Speak Its Name with Lee Rowan’s Gentleman’s Gentleman (Victorian) and Charlie Cochrane’s Aftermath. Her second novel, Transgressions (English Civil War) has been sold to a mainstream publisher and will be out Spring 09.

To be entered into a drawing to win a copy of Speak Its Name, join in the discussion today.

Welcome to the Riskies! What does your name Erastes mean and why do you write under a pseudonym?

Erastes is a Greek word for a mature man who took on as a pupil/paramour a younger man (eromenos) in ancient Greek society. It was a relationship which was considered noble and moral. The older male was both the lover and the teacher of the younger male. He taught him the principles of physical and mental fitness, as well as soldiery and good citizenship. Sex was seen mainly as a way of cementing an emotional bond between teacher and student, as well as a way of expressing admiration for the youth’s physical beauty.

I picked the name because I felt that – as a writer of gay historical fiction – it would sum up exactly what I was writing about. I picked a penname because I was advised that gay men wouldn’t read gay romance written by a woman. Whilst there are a very few exceptions, I’m very happy to say that this isn’t true and that I get at least 50 percent of fanmail from gay men.

What do you love/hate about the Regency?
It was a time of sweeping change – Britain moved from constant war to peace, mechanisation was coming – it must have been a very exciting place to live (if you had the money to enjoy it and weren’t on the breadline!) I love the fashions, the way that men were still decorative, possibly the last time that they were so encouraged to wear frills and huge exaggerated collars and cuffs, fobs and seals and doing things to their hair that wouldn’t look out of place in today’s gel-mad society.

It was also an era where homosexual men continued to band together; something which had become common in the previous century in Molly Houses. The punishments for sodomy – whilst still lethal with sufficient proof – had become a little more lenient. (If you consider six months in Newgate lenient!) This isn’t something I love, but rather what makes the era fascinating from the perspective of a gay historical author.

There was so much going on, too. The Thames froze over and the last great frost fair was in 1814 (which is what I’m writing about now) – exploration was going on all over the world and England was carving out a mighty Empire for itself. There are so many opportunities for stories, not all confined to White’s and Almack’s.

Why is the Regency a good setting for male-male romance? What research did you do/what sources do you rely on?

It’s a wonderful era because the sexes were still pretty much segregated. Men weren’t expected to spend time at home with their families and were together in clubs, in their estates, lounging on the edge of the dance floor, strolling arm in arm in Bath, or at war together in the company of many other men.

When one writes a heterosexual Regency one has to consider the reputation of one’s heroine. She can’t exactly leap easily into a closeted carriage with him, can’t walk alone with him in the moonlight, and even riding around in his carriage alone might be enough to ruin her, but it’s different for men. It gives a writer much more scope for two men to realise their attraction to each other because they are able to spend time in each other’s company without anyone raising an eyebrow.

However, getting them “together” in a more intimate way takes a bit more effort on behalf of the writer!

Why do you think women are so fascinated by male-male erotic romance?

I think that in the main, it’s perfectly normal. Obviously there are some who will find it not to their taste, but if one appreciates the male form, then two males has to be better. After all, what is most men’s fantasy?

On a more serious note, though, I think many people are drawn to it because a male/male relationship is a fascinating thing and outside most females’ experience. There’s a definite powerplay which is (in is my opinion) so much fun to play with. No slight female form which can be easily overpowered, no forcing of the man on the woman. Two males who can be equal in rank and stature and neither of them are willing to back down to the other. It’s fun to play with this too. In Hard and Fast Geoffrey is tall and broad, has been in the military for most of his life but – other than his eloquence of the first person narration – he’s almost incapable of voicing his thoughts and opinions, not to his father, his intended wife – or the man who he gradually falls in love with, Adam. Adam on the other hand is physically handicapped with a clubfoot, but this doesn’t make him weak. He’s acerbic and runs verbal rings round poor Geoffrey who, for a large portion of the book, wants to do nothing more than thump him. I don’t think you can show this aggression with heterosexual romance, not without people complaining.

One man unable to express his feelings is fine, but to have two of them? It is a writer’s dream and the opportunity for misunderstandings, sleight of hand and a painful progress to a happy ending (which is a difficulty all of its own) is all grist to a gay Regency writer’s mill!

When you have two men in a rigid society who want to express their feelings for each other the UST (unresolved sexual tension) goes through the roof. It’s the equivalent of the heroine’s hand being pressed by her suitor and that’s enough to sustain her until the next time she sees him. With male/male romance you can crank up the UST to the nth level with straining breeches, interrupted and dangerous liaisons and then finally when you let it rip you have all that delicious male anatomy to describe. Because no self-respecting Regency hero will be unattractive!

Sex too can be a lot more aggressive with two men. It doesn’t have to be, but some of the most romantic scenes in gay historicals that I’ve read have actually been written by men.

Whose writing has influenced you?

Austen without a doubt, and that’s a very boring answer I know but I immerse myself in the contemporarily written novels to get a feeling for the language and the manners. As soon as I read Northanger Abbey I knew that I had to track down Otranto, Udolpho and the others. (Some of them are frankly awful) but they really help to immerse one in the time. I want to try and transport my reader if I can, not to be reading a book about a time, but rather to be reading a book written in the era. Not going to be possible I know, but I try.

Dickens, Tolstoy, Saki… I’m afraid I’m a bit of a fossil all around, and one young wag whilst looking at my bookshelves once said “have you anything from, you know – even last century?” A calumny, as I do have many modern books, but they do tend to be historical fiction! Modern influences without a doubt are Mary Renault whose The Charioteer remains a beacon and an unattainable perfection that I could never reach, and the amazingly brilliant At Swim Two Boys by Jamie O’Neill which is everything a gay romance should be. Funny, tragic, social commentary, wrapped together with some of the best characterisations I’ve ever read.

Usually we ask guests what makes their work risky (our standard question)–what do you see in your writing that pushes the envelope?

I’ve probably covered this a little but just writing gay historical fiction in itself is doing that; there are so very few of us writing it in this day and age that it’s scary. (Take a look at the finite resource of gay historical fiction here on my website.) I don’t just want to write gay erotica – there are many other people doing that from every sexual persuasion – or modern men in fancy dress – I want to try and imagine how it really might have been for gay men, from the Regency, from the English Civil War, from Shakespeare’s time and attempt to extrapolate how their lives were and what hoops they had to jump through to find love and sex in times when it was dangerous and often lethal to do so.

I don’t want to preach or teach history – but readers have said “Hey! I didn’t know X fact” or whatever else they’d learned from my books and if I can open people’s eyes to the past, it’s got to help in the present, I hope.

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30 Responses to Interview with Erastes

  1. Welcome, Erastes! I’m so glad you’ve written about the English Civil War–it’s such a wonderful period, all that lace and velvet and flowing hair and guys fighting–and I know there was at least one siege led by a woman.

  2. Thanks for joining us, Erastes. For your clubfoot character, were you basing him on Byron? I have to imagine so; what other historical personages are you interested in exploring?

  3. jessewave says:

    Hi Erastes

    Terrific interview. I learned a lot about the Regency period just from this interview. As usual you put a great spin on a period that, regrettably, most of us know very little about. I wonder what it was like to be a woman in those times when an absentee husband was the norm? Must have been awfully lonely

  4. Elena Greene says:

    Welcome, Erastes.

    Are there additional difficulties in coming up with a happy ending for your characters given their historical setting? (Not that it’s easy now either. I know a gay couple who decided to move away from my area to one that is more welcoming. Many were sorry to see them go but it was a very understandable decision.)

  5. Interesting interview, Erastes. I wonder how many marriages in the Regency were more than marriages of convenience – rather, marriages of subterfuge – to keep a man’s sexual preference hidden from a society that ranged from less than accepting to downright lethal on the subject?

    Then again, I tend to think Regency society was the author of the theory “Don’t ask. Don’t tell!”

  6. Erastes says:

    Hi Janet: Thanks! Well, my Civil war is a little more … grubby. *laughs* It’s about more ordinary people – some of them didn’t even know there was a war on! But yes, there is flowing hair (for which I got told off about in Standish…) and a few battles.

    Hello Megan – Thank you! You know – I’m embarrassed to say that I didn’t even know that Byron was clubfooted – perhaps my sub-conscious mind did? I’m afraid I’m a bit of a “bastard” historical writer – I’m not happy writing pure Romance, but I’m not really interested in writing novels about real characters either. There are so many people doing it much better than I ever could. That being said…I have one real character in Standish – Captain Gronow – but he only makes a couple of brief appearances and writes a few letters.

    And I’m sufficiently smutty minded and infantile to put “Gronow” in a smutty context. πŸ˜€

    Thanks Jessewave (I’m so relieved people are commenting)

    That was the norm for very many women, most of them, I’d imagine. Even if your husband wasn’t at the war he’d not be cluttering up the house – he’d be at his club or estates or wherever. And if you were unfortunate enough to be poor (no-one ever writes about poor people in the Regency – but I’m doing so at the mo) then he’d be at work for about ten-twelve hours a day – and so would the children!

  7. Erastes says:

    Hi Elena – thanks for popping in!

    That’s a good question and as far as I’m concerned it’s a resounding OMG YES. The thing I like about the stuff that’s being written now is to see the different ways that the different authors handle it, the ones that are dedicated to trying to get it right. As I said in the interview, it was easier (if you weren’t suspected of “bein’ unnatural” (“Dash the man, come to think of it, I never remember him having a gel at school…”) to be close friends with men and even have one live with you.

    Look at Darcy and Bingley. Nothing improper going on there, but there certainly could have been!

    I don’t plump for the happy ever after ending, in general because I would like the reader to think about the future of the characters and the problems they’d have to face one way or the other

    As you say – we still aren’t there, even today!

  8. Erastes says:

    Thanks Louisa!

    Quite a few, I would imagine. And I wonder how many were purely show/beard marriages and how many were actively bisexual, the man fathering children and yet having relationships with men. There are certainly a few characters like that dotted around in history. (Oscar Wilde and Lord Hervey being two that come to mind, although neither of them are Regency)

    Very difficult for a young man whose family wanted him to continue the line – they might suspect and offer him one of several bleak choices. That’s what makes it interesting for me – so many stories about women forced into marriages, but not many about men!

    Then again, I tend to think Regency society was the author of the theory “Don’t ask. Don’t tell!”

    I thoroughly agree with you, and it’s that that drives me mad with some people who write the genre now – too many people know – one book I read the other day – EVERYONE knew, all his friends, all his family, half the ton – and it was discussed freely. I nearly had an apoplexy.

    *sniffs smelling salts… *

  9. jessewave says:

    Hi Erastes
    I meant to include this comment in my earlier post but forgot. I don’t know if you read My Fair Captain by J.R. Langley which is about a Regency romance in the far distant future (in the year 4829 to be exact). The pomp and circumstance of the Regency period is all there but there is one difference, in this society men only marry other men and the young men are expected to remain pure until 25 or marriage! What a concept. I quite enjoyed it and if you haven’t read it you might want to give it a whirl.

  10. Lauralyn says:

    Hi Erastes,

    As always very enjoyable to read an interview with you. I am thrilled to see more gay historical r
    omance and love that people are taking the history as seriously as the romance.

    Thank you for inspiring all the other would-be gay historical romance writers who will come along as well…

  11. Erastes says:

    Hi again Jessewave,

    I have heard of that book, but – well, being a history buff it probably wouldn’t do it for me – when I’ve broken the back of the historicals I have to read, perhaps I’ll try some science fiction. I’m assuming there’s male pregnancy, that staple of fanficcers, and that really turns me off!!

    πŸ™‚

  12. Erastes says:

    Thank you Lauralynn,

    I agree with you – there’s not enough of it, and there’s not enough people writing it and there’s certainly not enough people attempting to get it professionally published. When I think of all the people who must be out there, writing Sharpe fanfic, and Age of Sail, and Sherlock Holmes and all sorts of thing like that, I really want them to try something original.

    But then, I’m just over enthusiastic, as you can see!

  13. Lee Rowan says:

    Hi! Astute interviewer here–no need to ask what’s ‘risky’ about Standish! I never caught the Byron parallel with Adam, either. He’s such a snarky little bastard.. er… striking character that I never really compared him to anyone. Poor large, heroic Geoffrey–he hasn’t got a chance.

  14. Erastes says:

    Aw thanks Lee – but if you think you are getting a copy – tough luck.

    It was Alex Beecroft who suddenly made me see Geoffrey with the eyes of a stranger, I’d been up to close to him and hadn’t seen him for the big, vocally challenged romantic he really was. Adam saw that right from the beginning. Isn’t it great when readers see things that you miss – in your own characters?

  15. “, I really want them to try something original.

    But then, I’m just over enthusiastic, as you can see!”

    LOL! I agree, Erastes. πŸ™‚ And I have to say I love the idea of more stories set in the Civil War/Restoration period, it has such scope for wonderful stories.

  16. Erastes says:

    Thanks Amanda.

    Have you read “As Meat Loves Salt”?

  17. Diane Gaston says:

    Hi, Erastes! I’m on the road destined to visit relatives, but there is wi-fi here.
    You said” I want to try and imagine how it really might have been for gay men, from the Regency, from the English Civil War, from Shakespeare’s time and attempt to extrapolate how their lives were and what hoops they had to jump through to find love and sex in times when it was dangerous and often lethal to do so.

    Now that made me say “ooooh. Yeah. That would be interesting!”

    Thanks for being our guest!

  18. I think the search for love and understanding is universal and timeless and if we really think about it we have far more in common with the gay community than many people think. One of my very dearest friends on the planet is gay, black and Catholic and he is from, of all places – Mobile, Alabama! I often joke with him saying “Couldn’t you have just gone with ONE?” He is teaching opera in Seoul, Korea now and it is always interesting to hear the problems he encounters being gay in a culture so different from his own!

    Can I assume, Erastes, than in addition to your historical research you have some resources in today’s world? How do they feel about the genre in which you write?

  19. Terrific interview!! I am so thrilled to see writers delving into a part of real history that is for the most part untouched because of taboo. Bravo!

  20. Kate Pearce says:

    Just dropping by to say I love reading these edgy books, and I love the way Erastes explains everything so beautifully πŸ™‚

  21. Great interview, Erastes.

    I loved your point about the sexes being segregated, in the Regency as in most of the past. It’s something we don’t think about much today, and it changes the whole dynamic of male friendships. So many friendships between men could have been sexual–or not–and both kinds of friendhip would look the same to outsiders.

    You really seem to have a “feel” *grin* for m/m relationships (can’t find a way to say it that isn’t double-entendre). I can attest that the sex scenes in Standish were the most “authentic” I have read written by a woman.

  22. Erastes says:

    Hi Diane – and thanks for taking the time to comment on the road how posh! I don’t even have wi-fi in my house!

    I hope it encourages you to give the genre a read, there might be some aspects you wouldn’t like if gay romance doesn’t float your boat, but not all books have actual sex in – in fact I find that some of the men writing it write less explicit romance than the women!

  23. Erastes says:

    Hello Louisa – oh dear – yes, going with one would have been better! He’s obviously a great guy!

    People seem to be fine with it in general. My mother who died 18 months ago (I was so happy that she actually got to see Standish in print just before she did) was my greatest supporter. It took a while for me to tell her, but after a little discussion as to WHY I was doing it e.g. 1. I had to write it and 2. Gay men need romance too she got on board. She never read the sex scenes – I used to have to make the ink “white” for them when I printed out the chapters for her to read. Once she said “There’s seven blank pages. What on EARTH are they doing for SEVEN pages?” “You didn’t want to know.” I answered.

    The place where I used to work were baffled, mainly – I think. Lawyers, they were, and I don’t think any of them read anything and they (with one or two exceptions) didn’t bother about my “scribbles” didn’t even congratulate me when I had a sale – perhaps jealousy as well as bafflement.

    I used to be embarrassed about it, but now I’m really really not.

  24. Erastes says:

    Thank you, Delilah!

    Once upon a time it was only acceptable to put gay characters in your books if they died at the end. I’m just happy that we can give them happy ever afters now!

  25. Erastes says:

    Thanks Kate! Thanks for dropping in.

    I often think that my chats are too plebeian – I wish I was was professorial sometimes, but it’s great to hear that you enjoy them!

    πŸ™‚

  26. Erastes says:

    Hi Ann, nice to see you here!

    Exactly – there are ways around the gay romance if you just think about how the dynamics really were at whatever period in time.

    All those gentlemen congregating together on the opposite side of the ladies at balls!

    Thank you for your kind words about Standish!

  27. Delle Jacobs says:

    I’m late in commenting, thanks to a Sunday with too much to do. But just wanted to say I have Standish and am looking forward to reading it– I hope on my flight to Barcelona in September, which will likely be my next opportunity to read a whole piece of fiction at one time.

    I’ve always thought the cultural climate in England in the Regency to be a natural one for the development of gay relationships, and the legal prohibition is a likely indicator of the depth and scope of the “problem”, as society viewed it. No point in making laws against something if it doesn’t exist. The legal threat adds an element of danger that can’t be duplicated with a heterosexual relationship in any time period outside the Middle Ages.

  28. Erastes says:

    Hi Della – and good to have you here – no hurry, I’ll wait till the end of the week before I draw the prize!

    I hope you like Standish – there are flaws – it’s a first book and frankly I didn’t have a clue what I was doing back then – didn’t know there were any rules, for a start! One nice thing about the book is that you CAN sit and read it in public because the cover is so innocuous!

    And I agree with you, I don’t know if there were “more” homosexuals, but someone pointed out a while back that it was a case of urbanization and that people were getting together more in cities and finding like-minded individuals. There were more executions for Sodomy in the first quarter of the 19th century than at any other year before it, for example.

  29. Cara King says:

    Erastes wrote:

    I wonder how many were purely show/beard marriages and how many were actively bisexual, the man fathering children and yet having relationships with men. There are certainly a few characters like that dotted around in history. (Oscar Wilde and Lord Hervey being two that come to mind, although neither of them are Regency)

    Hi, Erastes!

    If you don’t mind me putting on my “let’s debate history” cap, I’d like to put forth an argument here that Wilde was not, by the modern definition, bisexual. According to Ellmann’s Pulitzer Prize-winning biography, after Wilde first had sex with a man, he never again slept with a woman, even inventing rather difficult lies to convince his wife he could no longer have sex with her. And it wasn’t that he didn’t wish for any more children — he loved his kids.

    Anyway, that’s my esoteric argument for the day! πŸ™‚

    Cara
    (who also has theories about cilantro and staple-pullers)

  30. Erastes says:

    Hi Cara

    I didn’t know that, and I stand corrected!

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