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From the ravens circling its spires to the gargoyles adorning its roof, Blackberry Manor looms ominously over its rambling grounds. And behind its doors, amid the flickering shadows and secret passageways, danger lies in wait.

Evangeline Pemberton has been invited to a party at the sprawling estate of reclusive Gavin Lioncroft, who is rumored to have murdered his parents. Initially, Gavin’s towering presence and brusque manner instill fear in Evangeline…until his rakish features and seductive attentions profoundly arouse her. But when a guest is murdered, Evangeline is torn. Could the man to whom she is so powerfully drawn also be a ruthless killer?


A big welcome to the Riskies, Erica. Tell us how you made your sale.

As luck would have it, I got The Call while I was in Costa Rica for a month. More accurately, I missed the call while I was in Costa Rica, because the last time I’d traveled, I’d managed to rack up a $600 bill in roaming charges, and had decided not to use my cell phone. One day, I’m checking my email in an internet cafe, and I open one from my agent that says, “What do I have to do to get you to call me back??? I’ve been leaving you messages for days. We have an offer for your book!!!” (After I picked myself up off the floor, I decided that this phone call would have been worth the long distance roaming!)
What was the inspiration for your book?

I was sitting in a conference workshop where the speaker explained the term “High Concept” as the juxtaposition of two disparate things, such as a cross between Movie A and Movie B, or two things that don’t normally go together, such as “killer dinosaurs in Disney World” (Jurassic Park). I immediately began daydreaming unusual elements to bring into the world of Regency-set historicals, and ran with a “Dead Zone” style heroine caught up in a house party murder. The first draft was okay, but when I blank-page rewrote it in a more Gothic voice, I fell in love.

What do you love about the Regency–and what do you dislike about the period?

What I love about the Regency could fill pages! I love the fashion, the attitudes, the parties, the various coping mechanisms used to deal with the political instability in England and the reality (and aftermath) of the Napoleonic wars. I love the attention to detail, from the letters discussing sandwiches with ham sliced whisper-thin to the fashion plates with every button and flounce done just so. Above all, I love the many, many rules–from the unwritten societal norms to the laws regarding rights and inheritances–and I love characters who try and bend them. The only thing I dislike about the period is the unfortunate lack of methods to record more details. How I would love to see video footage of a ball, or listen to a taped conversation between unsavories using true canting slang!

What do you like to read and who has influenced your writing?

The very first romance I ever read was a historical (Johanna Lindsey) and from that moment, I was hooked. I inhaled Julie Garwood, Jude Devereaux, Judith McNaught (er… apparently only people whose first name begins with J. I knew I should’ve taken a pen name!) From there, it was an addiction, and I read every Regency author I could get my hands on. Before I discovered romance, however, my shelves were mostly filled with thrillers, mysteries, and paranormal horror novels by authors like Stephen King and Dean Koontz. Those roots are definitely where I get my love of a strong suspense element, but now that I found my home in Regency England, I cannot imagine life without an emotional love story and an HEA!

What’s risky about your book? (The Standard Risky Question!)

Some of my favorite Regencies take place in the world of the ton, where the heroine falls in love with the titled hero as they dance and swirl about a London ballroom (or seek a clandestine corner in which to steal a kiss or two.) Too Wicked To Kiss, however, features a rich but untitled hero who lives apart from Society in his remote, forbidding mansion. He’s dark, dangerous, and likes it that way–the perfect antihero for the very Gothic tone and feel of the novel. The heroine, Evangeline Pemberton, has her own risky element–she’s cursed with psychic visions that come with skin-to-skin contact. And then there’s that murder…

What’s next for you?

A connected book tentatively titled Too Sinful To Deny will be released in 2011, featuring one of the main characters from Too Wicked To Kiss. (There’s even a sneak peek chapter in the back of 2W2K!) This heroine definitely does not have her best foot forward in Too Wicked To Kiss, and will have to deal with some hard truths about herself before she can live happily ever after with the sexy (pirate!) hero of Too Sinful To Deny.

TOO WICKED TO KISS has been selected as a March book club pick for Barnes and Noble! Erica will be at the book club forum all month long, so please stop by to say hi or to talk about the book!

Get extra content and bonus features for Too Wicked To Kiss on the Unauthorized Scandal Sheet. For contest, blogs, embarrassing photos, and other fun stuff, check out Erica’s author web site . Please join Erica for lots of games and prizes on Facebook. And if you have Twitter, please come tweet with Erica.

But before you rush off all over the Blogosphere, make your comment here and enter the drawing for a signed copy of Too Wicked To Kiss.

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This Wednesday, we welcome guest blogger Elizabeth K. Mahon, who writes the Scandalous Women blog, covering women of repute throughout the ages. In addition to that, Elizabeth is the past President of RWA-NYC, a former actress, the consummate New Yorker, and a woman who wears the most incredible shoes.

Welcome, Elizabeth!

I’m thrilled and excited to be here at the Risky Regencies today. I write about Scandalous Women, and one of my favorites is Emma Hamilton and her love affair with Horatio Nelson. The film That Hamilton Woman, starring real life lovers Laurence Olivier and Vivien Leigh at the height of their beauty and fame, was my first introduction to their story (How crushed was I when I realized that the real Lord Nelson looked nothing like Olivier). Nelson and Emma’s rise to fame neatly coincided with the rise of the tabloid press in Britain. Their affair was not just the talk of Britain, but France and Italy as well. England’s Hero and England’s Mistress coming together seemed designed to sell newspapers and magazines. Not since Antony and Cleopatra had the world seen anything like it. Their romance was a publicist’s dream come true.

Maid, wardrobe mistress, celestial goddess, courtesan, artist’s model, fashion icon, and ambassadress, Emma Hamilton had lived more lives by the time she met Nelson than most women do in a lifetime. Born to a dirt poor family, she started life as plain Amy Lyon on April 26, 1765 in Ness, a small village twelve miles from Liverpool. By the time she was twelve, young Amy was on her way to London to find work as a maid.

By the age of seventeen, Emma had found her first protector–Sir Harry Fetherstonhaugh, a spoiled young squire. The relationship lasted until Emma found herself pregnant with his child whom she named Emma. Sir Harry refused to acknowledge the child as his, kicking Emma to the curb. But she had already met her next protector, Charles Greville. Now calling herself Emma Hart, she began to pose for the great artists of the day including George Romney and Sir Joshua Reynolds. Soon prints of her portraits were available everywhere, making her an 18th century sex symbol. Emma had the type of beauty that transcends time and fashion. Looking at her portraits, one sees a young woman who radiates on the surface an innocent sensuality but with a slightly knowing look in her eye. When Greville began to tire of her, he passed her on to his uncle Sir William Hamilton who had long been the ambassador to the Kingdom of Naples.

At first upset to learn that she was being treated like a hand-me down sweater, Emma soon realized the opportunity she had been given. Always anxious to please, she made herself indispensable to Sir William, fussing over him when he was sick, learning to speak French and Italian, and taking singing and dancing lessons. Entertaining English visitors and foreign guests with her ‘Attitudes,’ Emma soon found herself the toast of Naples. She became a confidante of the Queen, Maria Carolina, and cultivated the friendship of celebrities like the Duchess of Devonshire. After several years as his mistress, Sir William and Emma were secretly married, probably around 1791.

In late 1798 Emma and Nelson met again. They had met briefly in 1793 when he was plain Captain Nelson. Now he was the hero of the Battle of the Nile and Emma was determined that Nelson would fall in love with her. Not only would it be her crowning achievement but it would catapult her onto the world stage. Before he’d even arrived, she’d primed him by writing a passionate fan letter to him. ‘How shall I begin? It is impossible to write….I am delirious with joy and assure I have a fervour caused by agitation and pleasure.’ When he arrived at the docks to a hero’s welcome, Emma threw herself into his one arm, weeping. She flattered him; threw huge parties in his honor, and went out of her way to make friends with his step-son Josiah. Not exactly a dreamboat, Nelson was less than five foot six, scrawny, weather-beaten, with one good eye and arm. It was a dream come true that this beautiful woman found him exciting.

In Emma, it seemed he’d found his ideal woman. Like her, Nelson was a self-made man, ambitious, headstrong, longing for fame and riches. Born to a country rector, he joined the navy at the age of 12 as a midshipman. Married to a widow with a young son, the marriage floundered when it became apparent that there would be no children and that she wasn’t the great heiress he’d assumed she was. Before Emma and Nelson were lovers in truth, everyone was gossiping about the two. Nelson was so in love that he was soon neglecting his duties, reluctant to leave his mistress. Sir William turned a blind eye to the relationship between Nelson and his wife. He was fond of him, and was probably happy to have someone else entertain his energetic young wife. All of London was buzzing about the scandalous affair; caricatures soon appeared in the print shops depicting the relationship.

Emma determined to give Nelson the one thing that his wife couldn’t give him, a child, preferably a son. During her pregnancy, she started a fashion craze for what was essentially a maternity dress. In January 1801, she was granted her wish, when she gave birth to Nelson’s daughter whom she named Horatia. The idyll ended with Nelson’s death in 1805 at the Battle of Trafalgar. Emma had already lost Sir William in 1803, but Nelson’s death sent her into despair.

She was also deeply in debt. Emma had always lived beyond her means, and now with limited funds from Sir William’s estate, she was hard pressed. Despite Nelson’s dying wish that the nation should take care of his mistress, no money was ever forthcoming. For the next several years Emma tried to keep up appearances, giving lavish parties for her friends. She was also supporting several of Nelson’s relatives as well as her own poor relations. Three years after his death, she owed thousands of pounds to a host of creditors. Soon she was forced to sell Merton, the home she had shared with Nelson and many other mementoes of their life together.

A wiser woman would have quickly tried to find another husband or at least a protector. But when one has been the beloved of one of the greatest heroes England had ever known, how could any mortal man compete? Emma finally fled to Calais in 1814 to escape her creditors. By now her health was ruined from too much rich wine and food, and she also might have caught a parasite. Racked with pain, and tended by her teenage daughter Horatia, Emma died on January 15, 1815. She is buried in Calais, far from her lover Nelson. Their daughter Horatia married a clergyman and had eight children. Although she was happy to claim Lord Nelson as her father, until her death, Horatia refused to believe that Emma was her mother.

Emma’s story continues to fascinate because it is a story about ambition and heartbreak, love and pain. She rose from the depths of poverty to the heights of fame and fortune, only to end up back where she started. Her childhood had left her ambitious, and hungry for the limelight, but it was a hunger that could never be appeased. Emma always wanted more. Like Icarus in the Greek myth, perhaps she flew too high.

Thanks, Elizabeth! Please visit Elizabeth’s blog Scandalous Women to read more about other fascinating ladies.

What’s your favorite historical true-life romances? What movie or book got you first intrigued about the period, like That Hamilton Woman did for Elizabeth?

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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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