12 April 2009

Book Party: Erastes

It's Sunday on Unusual Historicals, which means it's time to meet another author and win a book! This week our author is Erastes and her new release is TRANSGRESSIONS, an M/M romance set in the English Civil War. She's giddy about the release of the book which, together with Alex Beecroft's FALSE COLORS, are the first gay romances to be released in the mainstream. Both novels can be found in the romance section of bookshops across the US.


David Caverly's strict father has brought home the quiet, puritanical Jonathan Graie to help his dreamer of a son work the family forge. With war brewing in Parliament, the demand for metal work increases as armies are raised.

The indolent and deceitful David Caverly is bored by his father's farm and longs to escape, maybe to join the King's Army, mustering at Nottingham. David finds himself drawn to Jonathan, and after a passing cavalry trooper seduces the beautiful David and reveals his true nature, he determines to teach Jonathan what he's learned.

When David is forced to leave the farm, and the boys are separated by mistrust and war, they learn the meaning of love and truth as they fight their way across a war-torn country, never thinking they'll ever see each other again.

Tell us a bit about TRANSGRESSIONS.

It's the story of two very ordinary young men who just happen to live in Kineton, Warwickshire, England.

The story begins in the summer of 1642, David Caverly is bored of living in a place where nothing exciting happens. War seems inevitable and--as there hasn't been a major war in Britain since the Wars of the Roses 200 years previous--people were MUCH interested in it. Unbelievably, people actually went along as sightseers to watch the battle of Kineton, treating it as a day out. I deal with this in the book, although it's not quite the jolly day out that my characters expect, but rather carnage.

The story deals with David and his new friend Jonathan, who has been brought to the forge has an apprentice, their burgeoning friendship (which turns to love) and the consequences of that. Needless to say it doesn't all take place on a farm in Warwickshire, but spreads out across England, as does the war.

How do you deal with the fact that homosexual love was illegal at this time?

Obviously in 17th century England, a homosexual love affair was never going to be tolerated. Buggery was made a felony by the Buggery Act in 1533, during the reign of Henry VIII. The punishment for those convicted was the death penalty right up until 1861. Not only was it prohibited by law but by the church too--an abomination. The title "Transgressions" applies to this, and everything else that is going on in this fascinating, bloody time.

What is the main theme of the book?

It started out as David's story, as David was the character who came to me first--but after a while it really warped into Jonathan's story, as I think he has the longest journey to take. He's such an innocent in many ways, and while David finds his father's ways and the church's restrictions easy to side-step, Jonathan battles against every misdemeanour and truly suffers for it. When he finds himself falling in love with another man, it almost breaks him--and his journey becomes harder for it. What he seeks is the truth, and after a while he thinks he's found it in Matthew Hopkins' Witchfinders, but he eventually finds out that he's been looking in the wrong places.

Where do you look for inspiration?

I don't really look for inspiration. Writing is generally on my mind all the time, like an undermining sickness. And it can strike at any time--seeing a lighthouse on the horizon, hearing an author talk about her own book on the radio and where she got her inspiration from, or in conversations with people, or overheard from people. A painting, a song...I'll suddenly think--Oh, that's an idea...

The inspiration for TRANSGRESSIONS was simply the title and the concept. My mother, having read and loved STANDISH, said, "For your next one, how about the English Civil War?" That sort of set sparks off in my head, I could immediately see a summer, blissful, warm and safe, all about to be turn to pieces by a war that would tear families to pieces. The idea of two young men ending up on different sides of the war isn't an original one, of course, but it hasn't been done in gay romance before. I do highly recommend Maria McCann's "As Meat Loves Salt" though, if anyone wants to know more about the era. It's a wonderful book about this era, and again, another gay love story. I can't say that it's a "romance" though, but a stunning read.

Why do you like to write gay historical?

I don't think I'd be interested in general historical. The reasons why I am fascinated with gay historical is that it's generally wide open. When you look at the list on Speak Its Name, there's a tiny amount of books available in the genre. I'd like to see anyone try and list all the heterosexual historical fiction there is out there! Every period is ripe for writing about. There might be a top-heaviness of Regency for example, but there's so many stories yet to be told. It's an exciting time to be in the genre--a genre that no-one even acknowledged as existing a few years ago. Now it's going mainstream.

Unusual Historicals...right up your street. Do you think you could ever write a usual historical?

No, definitely no. Although I hope that gay historical will soon become non-unusual!

What's been the single most difficult thing to research?

Gah. Not the war itself in fact, because there are hundreds and hundreds of sites and books about the war. You can find out who all the main players were, what everyone was wearing, flags, munitions, how to load a musket, how to fight with a pike, how to do wheeling and counterwheeling in formation, but there's very, very little about the everyday life of a man keeping his family fed. In the end I had to approach living history groups who were hugely helpful. They helped with food and clothing and all the little things needed for this kind of book.

What was the closest you came to committing a 'great historical clanger'?

I've yet to hear what I've done wrong in TRANSGRESSIONS, but I'm sure I've made historical errors. The worst one I know of is in STANDISH. Ambrose is reading a book that wasn't published at the time. The annoying thing is that I researched it when I was writing, realised it was anachronistic and took it out--or at least I thought I'd removed all mention of it, because if you read on later in Standish, he refers to Polidori's Vampyre, which was published at the time. but I missed one reference to Dracula...Oh, the shame! The readers soon let me know! I hope to goodness that I haven't done something similar in TRANSGRESSIONS, but I'm sure that if I have, the re-enactors will let me know!

How do you research the fighting?

That was pretty easy, actually. There are so many resources about that. There must have been battle geeks even back in the 17th century because there are painstainking illustrations of the battles and descriptions of what happened during each battle.

Something inevitably seemed to go wrong, though, which struck me as very human. In the battle of Edgehill, for example, which was the first official pitched battle of the ECW, the entire cavalry charged after a retreating brigade and to loot the Parliament's baggage train. This blunder left the infantry unprotected and could have caused an inconclusive result, which in turn caused the war not to be decided on that one day.

Here's a previous post I did on the subject, which shows some of the munitions and fighting research I had to do.

How do you deal with endings? It's not like your characters can get married.

No, and that's the quandary that the gay romance author faces. I hope that this is a more satisfying ending for the reader than STANDISH, which was open ended in the same way Gone with the Wind is. But I haven't "cheated." There's the obligatory HEA, but I think that the ending will still make the reader think and that's the point. One has to worry about how any gay romance will work, especially in this bloody century.

There are further snippets on her website, together with free bookmarks and lots more. Here's the book trailer:


Thanks so much, Erastes, for joining us today, and good luck launching this new subgenre of historical romance!

Readers, if you'd like to win a copy, simply leave a comment or question. Have you read any M/M romances? Are you curious? I'll draw a name at random next Sunday. (Some patience may be required as Erastes has not received her author copies yet!) Good luck!