Five Historical Romances I’m Loving Right Now!!

If you’re like me, end of summer sloth is starting to take over. That time of year when the air is sweet, the sun golden but sets earlier every evening, and nothing beckons louder than your backyard/balcony lounge chair. Maybe you’re on holiday. Maybe holidays are done and you, like me, want to recapture that lazy feeling on your weekends. At this time of year, there’s no luxury like a good book, a fruity drink, and an afternoon to relax through.

In Romancelandia, the sunny season had seen published an unusual amount of LGBTQ+ historical romances, and I, for one, am not complaining. Five of the most talented authors around have put out incredible books, and so it’s time to give my fellow historical writers some love in one of my favorite features, Five Things I’m Loving Right Now (Historical Romance Edition).

So take advantage of the last days of summer to soak in a few rays and travel back to far more adventurous (and repressed, it must be said) times. After you’ve read Stoker & Bash: The Fangs of Scavo, of course. 😉

Aqua Follies by Liv Rancourt

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Sometimes you can judge a book by its cover. And this cover is not only gorgeous, but a perfect reflection of the story inside. I’d read paranormals by the wonderful Liv Rancourt, but her historicals were new to me. Boy, am I glad I dove into this one! A rare historical set in the 1950s, Mrs. Rancourt brings the era we think we know through movies and TV brilliantly to life. You will fall as hard for Russell and Skip as they do for each other, and be bedazzled by the dialogue and period detail. A must-read for any historical romance fans.

A Gathering Storm by Joanna Chambers

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The author of the astounding Enlightenment series journeys to Porthkennack, a Cornish seaside town with a moody beauty and a stormy atmosphere. Especially when it comes to its newest and most inscrutable resident, Ward, a disgraced scientist chasing the ghost of his dead brother. Salt of the earth Nicholas is blackmailed into helping him with his experiments into weather and spirits, and gets more than he bargained for when sparks fly between them. Need I say more? A master of the genre at the top of her game.

Spectred Isle by KJ Charles

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The shadow world encroaching on 1920s London was never so beguiling as in the hands of Mrs. Charles, who expands her world of occultists and invisible entities established in The Secret Casebook of Simon Feximal, but a generation later. As always, the period detail and the level of research into folklore is gold-standard–you will learn ridiculous amounts of the most fun kind of information reading this book. But the deep emotion with which she imbues her characters, wounded Saul and sardonic Randolph, are what makes this so glommable.

The Ruin of a Rake by Cat Sebastian

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Mrs. Sebastian is my favorite new discovery this year, earning one-click status with her first book A Soldier’s Scoundrel and my undying devotion with her second, The Lawrence Browne Affair. This gem concludes her trilogy, but is hopefully not the last historical we get from her golden pen (or, er, keyboard). Courtenay, who has the reputation of a Cassanova thanks to someone publishing a book of his exploits, is the titular rake. He finds his foil in Julian, an ultra-proper man with dark secrets. Together, they try, and fail, to resist their best instincts and the lust that burns between them. Much to the reader’s delight.

The Bones of our Fathers by Elin Gregory

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Okay, so I’m cheating a bit with this one. It’s a contemporary, but it involves a museum curator and the discovery of an ancient burial cist, so I hope I’m forgiven. It’s also bloody fantastic. The lovely Mrs. Gregory doesn’t get enough love or attention, despite being an incredible author, so do yourself a favor and pick up this treasure about… well, the power struggles over some ancient treasure in the form of two intertwined male Bronze Age skeletons. Mal, the curator, and Rob, a local boy with an unfortunate nickname and hidden depths, also find their lives intertwined, in the best and sometimes most difficult ways possible. Wit, warmth, and welcome are the hallmarks of this book–don’t miss it.

Happy reading!

Selina

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We’re All Still Queer As Folk – With Some New, Tasty Fruits

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The year I spent studying abroad in the UK was a series of firsts. First time on my own, away from the house I’d lived in for 23 years. First time visiting England, still the place I consider to be my spiritual home (needless to say, I wasn’t disappointed). First exposure to people who hadn’t just grown up differently than I did, but who came from a globe-spanning cross-section of countries and nationalities, some of whom I lived in very close quarters with as housemates in one of the international residences on campus. First gay flatmate, in the form of T., a teddy bear of a man from Taiwan who came out to us in halting tones that first night in our cottage. First time living through a mini-cultural revolution.

The historic vote in Ireland, the prominence of Aiden Gillen’s Littlefinger on Game of Thrones, and the viewing of Russell T. Davies’ two new series, Cucumber and Banana, have all intersected in my mind like a synaptic Venn diagram, charting my path from naïve Pollyanna graduate student to proud author of M/M romances. A time-travelling direct line can be plotted from present day to that distant, if dearly held, transformative year to being on the front line of the first LGBTQ-related controversies in the UK, i.e. the premiere of RTD’s Queer As Folk.

A broadcasting miracle on par with the advent of HBO and that classic episode of Maude, the airwaves were full of condemnation and threats in the weeks before the show’s premiere, which pretty much guaranteed that everyone would watch it. The usual accusations of perversion and moral degradation were lobbed at the producers, the actors, and Channel Four in the weeks that followed, as the series became more and more popular. It helped that nothing like it had ever been seen on television before, a boisterous, groovy, and sexually frank depiction of the life and loves of a trio of gay men in Manchester, anchored by the close friendship between voracious Stuart and adorkable Vince. (If you haven’t seen it yet… well, what are you waiting for?)

Every week, T. and I would curl up on my springy cot in front of my crappy little 10-inch, twitching like meth addicts as we waited for our weekly dose of cool. Like Vince, I was mad about Stuart. I loved his aloofness, his bravado; we used to mimic his signature slinky strut as we walked down the street. T., on the other hand, fell hard for the virginal but bold Nathan, and would later become embroiled in an ill-fated and unrequited romance with his own lithe blonde boy-nymph. But the thrill of it wasn’t just watching a great show—though there was that—but the sense that you were watching something unprecedented, revolutionary. It was the televised epitome of Cool Britannia.

I hesitate to call RTD’s return to Manchester and the LGBTQ scene a bookend to his career, because I hope he continues to write great shows for a very long time, but there definitely is a sense of coming home and a return to form with Cucumber and Banana. For a while, RTD was threatening to emigrate to America, but allegedly his efforts there amounted to nothing but frustration. No surprise, if this is the kind of daring, provocative, and addictive show he wants to make. RTD is still breaking new ground in terms of LGBTQ visibility on television, and it has been a treat to watch.

CLIFF (Con O'Neill), DANIEL (James Murray), LANCE (Cyril Nri), HENRY (Vincent Franklin). FREDDIE (Freddie Fox), DEAN (Fisayo Akinade), ADAM (Cel Spellman), CLEO (Julie Hesmondhalgh)

CLIFF (Con O’Neill), DANIEL (James Murray), LANCE (Cyril Nri), HENRY (Vincent Franklin). FREDDIE (Freddie Fox), DEAN (Fisayo Akinade), ADAM (Cel Spellman), CLEO (Julie Hesmondhalgh)

RTD, like many a good M/M author, excels at basing his narrative around an impromptu family of interconnected people, some of whom have known each other for years and some of whom have ended up together through a series of unfortunate events. After breaking up with Lance, his partner of nine years, middle-aged Henry moves in with two much younger co-workers, Freddie and Dean. Recurring characters include Henry’s sister Cleo, a single mum, her son Adam, and a blokey co-worker of Lance’s who he very awkwardly tries to court. Henry is your classic anti-hero; he comes off as a deeply reprehensible human being in the first episode, but as the layers of the onion slowly peel off, you sympathize with him, while never forgetting his inescapable flaws. Lance is more genial and likeable, but is saddled with his own issues, and it’s hard to completely fall under his spell when he breaks it off with Henry for reasons I find very closed-minded (and sort of cruel). Freddie, meanwhile, is both Henry’s object of lust and a classic RTD aloof bisexual dynamo in the Stuart mode, though he, too, is humanized as the drama unfolds. Dean is a young flibbertigibbet who doesn’t stop long enough to take in what’s happening to him, or indulge in some much-needed self-examination. Oh, and he’s something of a pathological liar. But the genius of RTD is that you have great fun in their company, and you can’t wait to see what crazy things happen next.

RTD productions always zoom from scene to scene at a breakneck pace, quips and quails coming at you in expertly edited montages set to propulsive dance tracks. Who can forget Queer As Folk’s use of the song “Sexy Boy” by Air at the beginning of the second episode? I certainly will take the images of Nathan stomping down the school hallway and Stuart’s playful smoulder across the table at a co-worker to my grave. But RTD’s usual chaos and melisma never drowns out the character moments, and he never, ever blurs the uglier sides of his characters. These are flawed, complicated humans who regularly give in to their baser urges and exercise spectacularly poor judgment. And we as viewers are the better for it.

Banana is a companion piece to Cucumber, featuring some of the same characters in minor roles and fleshing out side characters from the mothership. It’s a far more poignant series exploring emotional topics not covered on the main show. Each episode is a vignette, a peek into the romantic life of a side player, more often that not with the aim of tugging on the heart strings. One thing that I find exceptionally appealing about an RTD production is that he always tries to assemble the most diverse cast possible. Though Cucumber revolves mainly around a cast of racially diverse gay/bisexual men, Banana tells stories about people of all sorts of sexual orientations. In both series, there is not a topic or aspect of modern sexual mores that isn’t covered, some more superficially than others. But like Dean, the series doesn’t often stop long enough to say something profound, possibly because, like Freddie, it’s too cynical to assume those kinds of questions have answers.

Sixteen years after the debut of Queer As Folk, Russell T. Davies has brought me back to that special time in my life, once again offering a slice of Manchester life with universal themes, and pushing the boundaries of what aspects of LGBTQ life can be discussed on television. We’re both more seasoned and—ostensibly—mature, but aren’t above getting off on a little slap and tickle.

So check out Cucumber and Banana. They’ll change the way you go grocery shopping forever.

The Twelve Smutty, Geeky Treasures of Xmas!! Happy Holidays!!

Friends,

Thank you one and all for making this one of the most intense and interesting years of my life. I hope it was an equally eventful one for all of you! I hope this holiday season is whatever you wish for it to be, whether cozy and relaxing, or exhilarating and full of adventure, or a flurry of social activity with family or friends. However you choose to celebrate, make your own list of all the good things in your life. We are luckier than we think, and to me, remembering that is the real spirit of the season.

But that doesn’t mean we can’t have a little decadence to go along with it. So along with a very Happy Holidays, I wish you…

Twelve sexy gingers from the Red Hot 100 calendar to indulge your every whim!

The Eleventh and best Time Lord to whoosh you off to the far reaches of the galaxy/time period of your choice!

Ten episodes of Fargo, an ice-hearted, atmospheric delight, to binge on!

Nine (okay, a lot more, but just go with it) amazing LGBTQ-related charities that could definitely use a bit of help in this season of indulgence!

A box of Eight grand cru chocolate sticks from Valrhona, the best chocolatier in the world!

The Seven movies in cinemas now actually worth your valuable dollars and time: Selma, Birdman, Nightcrawler, Whiplash, Gone Girl, The Theory of Everything, and Inherent Vice! (People, it’s Christmas. Google them!)

Six exceptional holiday shorts, some free, some not, from the best M/M authors out there: Joanna Chambers, Harper Fox, L.B. Gregg, Josh Lanyon, Jordan L. Hawk, KJ Charles.

Five new Christmas codas from the exceptionally generous Josh Lanyon!

Four incredible restaurants that will revolutionize your taste buds if you ever visit Montreal, Quebec: Au Pied de Cochon, Joe Beef, Hostaria, Satay Brothers.

A riveting Three-book series that plunges you into an indelible world and shows the moral and personal consequences of magic, by Lev Grossman!

Two interconnected superhero shows, Arrow and The Flash, that you won’t regret watching for a second!

One very grateful author and blogger who can’t wait to see what the new year brings, and is so thankful to have all your scintillating insights and disparate opinions to read and react to. Keep it coming in 2015!!

Much love,

Selina

 

Spotlight on Homeless LGBTQ Youth

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While casually perusing my GoodReads mail, I came across this startling statistic. It stopped me short. I’ve read quite a few M/M books where one of the protagonists is or was homeless and had to prostitute himself for a time, but I never really thought about the reality. They were, after all, romance novels, and a host of horrible things happen to protagonists in order to create dramatic tension. I bet the 40% in that poster wouldn’t mind if some of their hardship was merely dramatic tension, easily resolved by the story’s end.

Instead, here are a few sobering statistics I learned after a cursory search:

-LGBTQ youth are twice as likely to experience sexual abuse before the age of 12.
-LGBTQ youth, once homeless, are at higher risk for victimization, mental health problems, and unsafe sexual practices.
-58.7% of LGBTQ homeless youth have been sexually victimized compared to 33.4% of heterosexual homeless youth.
-LGBTQ youth are roughly 7.4 times more likely to experience acts of sexual violence than heterosexual homeless youth.
-LGBTQ homeless youth commit suicide at higher rates (62%) than heterosexual homeless youth (29%).

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I also learned that there are precious few shelters that cater to LGBTQ youth. I found a few in the United States, one in the UK and a related charity in Canada. The Toronto city council was recently petitioned to create more options for homeless LGBTQ youth, because of “normalized oppression” in the general shelter system. To quote Alex Abramovich, a research coordinator with the Centre for Research on Inner City Health at St. Michael’s Hospital in Toronto (and this CBC news story):

“It’s come to be expected that the shelter system is homophobic and transphobic so LGBTQ youth will frequently avoid the shelter systems and find themselves in situations such as sleeping on a park bench or in alleyways.”

Rejected by their families and their communities. Subjected to sexual abuse, homophobia from all corners. Deprived of the fundamentals, such as food, shelter, education, love, respect, all because of outmoded social conventions and bigotry. We can tell them it gets better all we want, but that isn’t going to put a roof over their heads, get a meal in their bellies, give them somewhere to feel safe and accepted.

Donations can. Volunteering can. Public pressure can. In the US, you can donate to Lost-N-Found Youth in Atlanta or ALSO Youth in Florida or the Ali Forney Center in New York City. In the UK, there’s the Albert Kennedy Trust. If you or someone you know runs a shelter, and they are interested in learning more about how to cater to LGBTQ youth, loads more information can be found here. Here in Canada, there’s Egale.

Canadian Thanksgiving is in a little over a month. Wouldn’t it be great if some of these kids could be spending it in a shelter, enjoying a hot meal, with others like them, watched over by sympathetic staff and volunteers? I hope one day kids whose only crime is to love who they love, or be who they are, are relegated to the world of fiction.

(Much thanks to Moderatrix Lori from the GoodReads M/M Group for shining a light on this issue.)

-Selina

Author Interview – Eresse

Today, I’d like to help shine the spotlight on a longtime friend and fellow writer, the indelible Eressë!

As enthralled by her writing style as by the gracious way she has always navigated both fandom and author-dom, I have been a fan hers since I read the first chapter of her classic fanfic, Greenleaf and Imladris. She was the first of my writer friends to parlay her fandom success into original novels, which are among the most inventive and engrossing that I have read.

Her series, The Chronicles of Ylandre, is set in a fantasy world where everyone is dual-gendered (albeit very masculine hermaphrodites. I would classify the books as fantasy M/M). You would think this would eliminate the need for a strict caste system, devious politicking, and prejudice. You would be wrong. Part coming-of-age tales, part dramadies of manners, part family saga, all heart-rending romances, The Chronicles of Ylandre books cast a spell that you are more than happy to be under. The characters are flawed but compelling. The world she has created is beyond unique. Best of all, the books have heart without skimping on drama and—my favorite—angst.

It is a thrill and an absolute privilege to help Eressë celebrate the release of the sixth book of the series, In Fine Form. I invited her to submit to an interview, so, without further ado, I’d like to introduce you to the lovely Eressë!

1. Tell us a little bit about yourself and how you got into writing.

I’m from Southeast Asia, married with three sons and one beloved pooch. I chose to use a pen name because I want to separate my writing identity from my personal one. Since I started writing publicly through Lord of the Rings fan fiction, I picked a name from the elvish language J.R.R. Tolkien created for his magnum opus. And the reason I was drawn to Eressë is because it happens to have the same meaning as my nickname and I like the way it rolls off my tongue.

I’ve always loved spinning tales. But it didn’t occur to me to set them down in writing until I got to high school. I started to experiment then, jotting down plot bunnies as they came to me or writing short stories. The latter was often in response to the lack of themes or plots I wanted to read but couldn’t find in the local bookstores. In those days, variety and diversity in fiction wasn’t the rule in this neck of the woods.

Anyway, once I got started, I just kept on writing. But these early pieces never saw the light of day. Then I discovered online fan fiction and decided to put my writing out there and see how it would be received. Everything took off from there.

2. Ah, the good old days! Can you talk a bit about your writing process? How long does it take you to write a book? What kind of schedule do you keep?

It takes me at least six to eight months to write a book depending on how involved the plot is and the amount of research required. I always start out with a detailed outline and, in the case of Chronicles of Ylandre, with its almost concurrent storylines, a very comprehensive timeline, which includes events from previous books. For me, it’s the best way to ensure continuity. Once I have all the basics in place, I start writing in earnest.

When I write fan fiction, I produce the chapters in linear fashion because of the serial nature of posting fanfic. But when I write original work, I don’t necessarily write chapters in order. I sometimes do the last chapters and epilogue first or start in the middle, then go back to the beginning. Or I might write different scenes and later figure out which ones belong to what chapter. I find it depends on my mood at the moment or whether I’m in the proper frame of mind to write about something I’m uncomfortable with, such as violence and infidelity or scenes I’m not that knowledgeable about, like warfare and military life.

I try to write something every day even if it’s just a page worth of stuff—keep the momentum going, so to speak. Of course, the occasional bout of writer’s block can disrupt that. When that happens, I reread every book to re-immerse myself in the Ylandre universe and hopefully get back in writing mode.

3. So you may actually have read your books more times than your devoted readers? Cool!

The world that you’ve created, Ylandre, is so unique and so vividly rendered in your books. How did you come up with it? Was there something specific that inspired you or that you wanted to get across?

Thank you. I honestly don’t know how I came up with it beyond my love for historical and fantasy romance. I suspect it was there all along and probably influenced my fan fiction stories. In a sense, LotR fanfic became the means by which I explored themes and storylines I was intrigued by. But I had to fit those ideas as plausibly as I could into the existing canon. Of course, that wasn’t always possible and the unexplored ideas could only find a home in an original work.

I did incorporate my own socio/political background into the series—the rigid class divisions, my Roman Catholicism, the colonial history of my country and the political upheavals I’ve lived through. And come to think of it, this is also my way of presenting a different sexual orientation as “normal.”

Heterosexuals far outnumber the LGBTQ population, but I don’t believe being in the majority gives anyone the right to marginalize those in the minority. I can’t abide the prejudice against gay people any more than I’ve understood bigotry based on gender, the color of one’s skin, or religious beliefs. It’s ridiculous to stand by something just because the majority believes in it or practices it. Majority isn’t synonymous with right—Christ’s crucifixion was demanded by a majority.

Okay, getting off the soapbox now.

4. Nah, stay up there! Nothing wrong with a good rant. Can you give us some examples of real-life events and how you transformed them to fit into your books?

Well, the social and economic divisions hereabouts are the basis for conflict in a number of books. People very rarely stray outside their respective circles in society. If there’s a crossing of class lines, it’s usually between people from not too divergent backgrounds. A slum dweller isn’t going to come into considerable contact with a rich family’s scion, much less marry one. So that’s one influence on my writing. The major difference is that the way my characters are written, it is possible to cross the social divide in Ylandre. Not so much in real life.

Coups d’état and government destabilizations have occurred frequently enough in my part of the world. So I worked this theme into several books albeit in different guises. It also plays a major role in the external conflict of In Fine Form.

The colonialist history of the world of Aisen is a nod to my region’s colonial past, while the monotheistic faith practiced by the Aiseni is loosely based on Judeo-Christianity and more specifically the Roman Catholic Church. On a personal note, Book Four’s medical setting is something of a tribute to my father.

You’ve probably noticed that I’ve made having concubines or paramours an accepted practice among the upper crust. Again, that’s a reflection of the patriarchal society I grew up in. But the concept is also prevalent throughout European and Asian history from which I drew much inspiration with regard to world building.

In a nutshell, the stories in Chronicles of Ylandre may be the result of pure imagination, but most of the settings and cultures are founded on actual history and/or personal experience.

5. What’s especially smart about the hermaphroditic aspect to the people of Ylandre is that you have an endless supply of couples to write about and you don’t really ever have to explain why there are so many male-male couples in your books, unlike some contemporary series where it seems like the entire population of some small towns is gay. But were you worried in the beginning about that aspect, since it is atypical of most M/M fare and more in keeping with the sci-fi and fantasy genre?

It’s funny, but back in high school I related a long and elaborate multi-couple romance to my sister (she’s the only one who knows I was already dreaming up romance stories way back when) wherein one couple wasn’t heterosexual but gay. However, I took it a step further because I made one of the gay characters a hermaphrodite. To this day, I don’t know why I did it; I just remember having such fun with that storyline and being satisfied with it the most when I finished it. And my sister must have enjoyed it the most too because it’s the only pairing she could recall in detail years after. Anyway, it’s obvious I was fascinated by the concept even then.

I love romance fiction, both M/F and M/M. My first attempt at original fiction was a M/F historical romance, specifically the Regency era in England—I’m a bit of an anglophile, something I share with my eldest son. Well, that didn’t work out due to the abundance of Regency romances and historical M/F romances in general. Anyway, I now realize I didn’t write the heroine with quite the same enthusiasm as I did the hero, not to mention the hero had more chemistry with the other male characters in situations of mere camaraderie than he did with the heroine even in the middle of a torrid love scene.

LOL, I’ve been there.

The same thing happened when I wrote my seminal fan fiction piece Greenleaf and Imladris. There were two heterosexual romances featured alongside the main M/M storyline. While I enjoyed writing those, I didn’t imbue either with as much detail or passion as I did the M/M story. I don’t know why this happens and I’ve stopped trying to figure it out and just concentrate my efforts on writing.

I do agree it’s startling to read stories wherein whole communities seem to be composed of only gay people. That’s incredibly unrealistic. I wind up abandoning series because the sense of disbelief overcomes my enjoyment of the stories. So, yes, writing about a masculine, hermaphroditic race certainly solves the problem of having a host of M/M couples and trying to explain their improbable numbers. But it also introduces other problems because one has to come up with a plausible explanation for the existence of a race of androgynes. That means pretty extensive world building. It’s a good thing I enjoy that aspect of writing.

Was I worried? Well, I think every first time submission to a publisher induces some anxiety. And had I not got involved in fandom and fan fiction first, I would indeed have been very worried. But fanfic has introduced some of the most outlandish concepts and plotlines and continued to thrive. So I knew there was an audience out there for something like this. Maybe not a huge one—straight romance will always dominate the genre for obvious reasons and gay contemporaries will probably top (no pun intended) LGBTQ romance for the foreseeable future. But since I just wanted to see if I had what it takes to get published, the existing audience was big enough for me.

6. Even more interesting than the dual-gender aspect is the fact that the society you’ve created is actually a very medieval-Renaissance-ish one, with rank and social status of premium importance. Your books are almost romantic dramedies of manners, in a way. Was that deliberate?

It wasn’t deliberate if you mean did I consciously set out to write them that way. I never really do. I start out with a basic plot and characterizations but from thereon whatever currently intrigues me takes hold and informs my writing. Since I’ve always been fascinated by the way culture and society influence or dictate behavior and especially in history, that fascination wove itself into the fabric of my stories by way of, as you put it, “dramedies of manners.” However, the medieval-Renaissance setting was a conscious choice because I felt it best suited the stories I wanted to tell and, as mentioned earlier, because of my love of historical fiction.

7. Do you do a bit of research for each book, especially as regards particular aspects of the setting, or just rely on your prior reading/knowledge?

Oh, yes, I always do research whenever I’m writing about something I’m not very knowledgeable about. For instance, I don’t know how battles or treaty negotiations play out, so I read as much as I can about the pertinent facts. On the other hand, my father was a doctor and my family was very much involved in politics at one time, so I have a smattering of knowledge regarding both fields. Nevertheless, I still do research because the last thing I want is to receive feedback accusing me of ignorance or laziness or worse, misleading readers into believing what I wrote is true.

I know I won’t get everything right, but I try for plausibility at least if not authenticity. And I think that’s possible only if most of the basics are correct.

8. So the MCs in Book 6 are Jareth and Yandro. What made you want to tell their story, as opposed to that of some of the other secondary characters in your previous books? And also tell us a bit about In Fine Form.

My passion for any given pairing dictates whose book I’m going to write next. I have to sustain a certain level of enthusiasm for a story for several months. Otherwise, the lack of it will show in my writing. I don’t ever want to “phone in” a story that I’ll be embarrassed to acknowledge later on. I want to be satisfied with the effort I put into every book and proud that I did my best each time. It so happened Jareth and Yandro’s particular story called to me very strongly when I was figuring out which book to tackle next.

In Fine Form
is my take on the world of diplomacy as it is practiced in Aisen, the world in which Ylandre exists. It’s also another look at the traditions and social prejudices that permeate Ylandrin society. This story is mostly seen through the eyes of Yandro, a Half Blood and a bastard of unknown parentage and indeterminate racial origins. Providence allows him entry into the company of the higher ranks of Ylandrin society, but he still must put up with the intolerance of those who think him beneath their notice.

To complicate matters, he is appointed the aide of Jareth, who isn’t just a True Blood of noble birth and a high-ranking Ambassador, but also a scion of the Royal House. So the extremes of their respective backgrounds come into play here and influence how they interact with each other. It doesn’t help (at least from Yandro’s standpoint) that Jareth is an incorrigible flirt and has no qualms about turning their professional relationship into a personal one as well.

There’s romance, humor, and diplomatic intrigue, barriers that need to be torn down, and secrets that have to be unraveled. And there are substantial glimpses of protagonists from previous books as well as appearances by characters who will take center stage in later stories.

You know, I enjoyed writing all the books in the series, but I have to say this is the one I really had a lot of fun doing.

And we look forward to hours of fun reading it! Thank you, Eressë, for giving us an in-depth glimpse into your process and for agreeing to be the first author interview on this blog!

Gentle readers, if you really want to escape to a faraway destination unlike anywhere you’ve been before this summer, consider a trip to Ylandre. A fantasy world of scheming, double-dealing, class struggles, and romance galore! I promise you, it will be worth the trip!

In Fine Form by Eressë will be released on June 23rd from Liquid Silver Books. Pre-order it here. If you want to start from the beginning of the series, her first book is Sacred Fate , which can be found here. On the web, Eressë can be found at Tales by Eressë: http://eresse21.livejournal.com/ and http://eresse21.weebly.com.

Thanks again, and continued luck with all your writing endeavors, my friend!
-Selina

The Normal Heart

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In the tradition of And the Band Played On…, last night HBO aired the film version of the 1985 agit-prop masterpiece by Larry Kramer, The Normal Heart. If you haven’t watched it yet, especially if you are an M/M devotee like I am, it is absolutely worth your time. (Spoiler warning from here on out.)

I’ll confess I had my doubts about the project, mostly due to the involvement of Ryan Murphy. To be blunt, I’ve never liked his work. Too camp, too lightweight, too silly, too trashy. But even Murphy admits that he restrained himself because of the importance of this project, to him and to the gay community at large. The fact that he can say that about his own work should perhaps give him pause, but anyway. He had excellent source material here, and, despite a few quibbles, I think he knocked it out of the park. If you aren’t sobbing by the end of this, I think you should go in for a chest x-ray to make sure you aren’t a robot.

The story centers around the ground zero for AIDS, the NYC gay community circa 1981, in the midst of unprecedented sexual and personal freedom for homosexuals. Ronald Regan publicly acknowledged the existence of the disease in 1985, but during the four years in-between, there was a lack of information, a black hole of support from governmental institutions, and even some resistance/disbelief within the gay community itself. And yet men young and old were dying by the hundreds, from a disease that wasn’t understood and that desiccated them from the inside out.

It might be fair to ask, “Why a movie about the beginnings of AIDS when we are so advanced, both socially and medically, now?” But when you consider how quickly the government reacted to SARS or H1N1, and how slow they were to address this out of prejudice and bigotry (not to mention the fact that 6,000 people get infected with HIV daily), the timeliness of the tale becomes clear. The Normal Heart is really a story about advocacy. What is the best way to make your voice heard? Some would say it’s through diplomacy, negotiation, awareness that doesn’t challenge anyone. But how much does that really get you, in the end? Isn’t it preaching to the converted? When it comes to life or death situations, to hate crimes, to racism, to a sub-culture that has no rights and no visibility, do you barter, or do you roar? And what are the consequences of that roar, even within your own community? The Normal Heart illustrates this conflict beautifully, and gives no easy answers.

It is also, in its heart of hearts, a romance.

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Mark Ruffalo and Matt Bomer play one of the most enchanting onscreen gay couples ever. Their passion and their devotion gave me Brokeback-level chills (and tears!). Anyone who doubts that there should be more gay romances in film and on TV needs to watch these two woo each other. Their relationship anchors the film, underlining the stakes for all the men living in that time, both personally and socially.

Which isn’t to say that the movie is perfect. I would have liked some of the other men who worked at the Gay Men’s Heath Crisis Center to have been a bit more well-rounded. Taylor Kitsch’s Bruce Niles, in particular, sometimes seemed to put up a fight because that’s what the narrative called on him to do rather than because that’s what viewers felt he would do as a person. One of the most stirring monologues is given by a character who is little more than a background player. These moments land, but they could have been that much more powerful with a bit of backstory.

But I’ve not heard a better defense of how anyone who is different should be treated within their own families than the one Mark Ruffalo’s Ned makes here. And the ending is perfect: a defeat for Ned on the personal and career fronts, but he is undaunted. He knows that sometimes a series of little victories can ultimately win the war.

Why Aren’t There Any Gay Superheroes in Film and on TV?

With every film studio trying to get in on the Marvel Cinematic Universe game and a slew of new superhero televisions shows (most also courtesy of Marvel), the question of why there aren’t more gay superheroes in movies and on TV demands to be asked.

While it’s encouraging that we are somewhat beyond the point where we need to ask why there isn’t more LGBTQ representation on television as a whole—shows like Looking, Orange Is The New Black, Grey’s Anatomy, Orphan Black, Modern Family, and others being on the front lines of that particular cultural war—we’re still a long way from universal acceptance. From a world where all forms of sexuality are categorized under the banner of mere sexuality, with no sense of otherness or alternatives to the norm. Still, many shows only have one token gay character, or one gay character plus a revolving door of love interests. This is hardly progress.

In the case of Arrow and Revenge, homosexuality is represented by a bisexual character who switches sides depending on narrative convenience. The depiction of bisexuality is a pervasive problem on television, since writers don’t make characters bisexual in order to say something profound, but because that way, they don’t have to add a bunch of other gay characters to the show and they can still have the character in question hook up with the opposite gender. It’s the television equivalent of getting some ass and eating it, too.

In film, unfortunately, the situation is bad. I was chatting with a friend and challenged her to come up with a movie that was about a gay couple—or had gays as the lead characters in situations unrelated to romance—in a mainstream film since Brokeback Mountain. She could not. I could not, either. Everyone thought Brokeback Mountain would open a floodgate of films where gay characters took the lead, but not one film since has dared.

Now comes word that an animated children’s fantasy film, How To Train Your Dragon 2, has a gay character. Enfin, some progress! But is it the lead character? Of course not. An important secondary character? No, not really. The comic relief? Duh. Because if anyone of significance were to be gay, then there would have to be other LGBTQ characters to support that person. They might even have to make a whole, entire film with gay characters. Break out the fainting couches, the executives are looking a little pale!

The state of affairs in non-fantastical film and television, while not exactly dire, is far from ideal. But as an avowed geek, the lack of LGBTQ representation in sci-fi, fantasy, and comic book stories pains me all the more. The very nature of the genre is to explore new worlds and new ideas, to make us feel the humanity in the alien, to underline how people made to feel other are just like everybody else, to think as far outside the box as possible. To boldly go. These writers and creators dream up the most death-defying and time-bending scenarios for their characters, but they can’t manage to squeeze in a few who aren’t heterosexual?

It’s a little bit outrageous, when you think about it. Let’s break it down:
-Marvel (Disney styles) has Iron Man, Thor, Captain America, Guardians of the Galaxy, Incredible Hulk, Agents of Z.Z.Z.Z.Z.Z, Agent Carter, and four—count ’em, four—new TV series set to be streamed on Netflix within the next two years. Total LGBTQ characters: 0 (Joss, I’m calling you out for this. This isn’t like you and it stinks.)

-Fox has the X-Men—a fricking allegory about people being ostracized for being different! Total LGBTQ characters: 0 (I won’t add to your woes, Bryan Singer, but check yourself)

-Sony has the Spider-Man series, old and new school, which they are hoping to spin off into an Evil League of Evil franchise (actual name: Sinister Six). Total LGBTQ characters: 0.

-Warner Brothers/DC has Nolan’s Batman films, Snyder’s Superman film, Batman vs. Superman (with a cast of thousands) leading into an eventual Justice League, not to mention Arrow, The Flash, Gotham, and Constantine on TV. Total LGBTQ characters: 1. (Bisexual, natch. Arrow is otherwise flawless.)

(Note: I may be forgetting someone here. A couple of these shows haven’t premiered yet, so TBD. Please feel free to correct me in the comments and I will update. Still, one or two additions do not a revolution make.)

This list isn’t depressing just because it confirms that the corporate overlords who control these movies and series have succeeded in whitewashing them (people of color being poorly represented to an almost laughable degree as well). It’s depressing because it shows just how much these talented filmmakers and showrunners are lacking in the imagination department. They pay lip service to themes of diversity, self-acceptance, and what being a true hero really means, but do nothing to push those boundaries in their own work.

It’s about past time, isn’t it, that we got a little action between Cap and Bucky? (Maybe women are a thing of the past for both of them.) That Batman takes Robin in because he pushes buttons that the cowled one can no longer ignore? That Rogue figures out the person she would most want to touch her is Kitty Pride, even if she’ll never be able to? That Loki admits once and for all just why he’s so obsessed with Thor?

In the immortal words of no less than Spider-Man himself, Andrew Garfield:

“I was like, ‘What if MJ is a dude?’ Why can’t we discover that Peter is exploring his sexuality? It’s hardly even groundbreaking!…So why can’t he be gay? Why can’t he be into boys?…I’ve been obsessed with Michael B. Jordan since The Wire. He’s so charismatic and talented. It’d be even better—we’d have interracial bisexuality!”

Now that is the kind of courage and imagination I like to see in my superheroes.

Of course, this entire post was written as an excuse to show just how amazing Mr. Garfield really is. Check him out in the new video by Montreal darlings Arcade Fire, for “We Exist”, a song about someone coming out to their parents and one of my current faves:

Cheers,
Selina