Today I am so pleased to welcome Christina E. Pilz to Joyfully Jay. Christina has come as part of the GRL Blog Tour to talk to us about her release, Oliver & Jack: At Lodgings In Lyme. She has also brought along three copies to give away! Please join me in giving Christina a big welcome!
My writer friend Wendy and I have been known to discuss how our writing falls within the scope of fiction. She writes sci-fi and fantasy and I write historical fiction set in the Victorian era, both of which are considered genre fiction. What we have in common is the fact that we write m/m romance, which is not only its own little subgenre, but will also never be considered for the Man Booker Prize.
But that’s okay, because while reaching for the Man Booker Prize would be a laudable goal, I like to write what I like to read and what I like to read is stories about two guys falling in love. Well, two guys kissing, to be exact. And why? It’s not that I don’t appreciate a good heteronormative romance, after all, I cut my teeth on classic Jane Austen, Kathleen E. Woodwiss and LaVyrle Spencer stories, and there’s a lot of satisfaction to know that boy gets girl, every single time.
It’s just that, well, give me a he-man character, all muscled and sweaty from working in the yard or hunting for food or roping cattle or whatever, and having him something sweet and tender, and my knees go weak. Having him admit his vulnerabilities and share an open-mouthed kiss with another guy? Well, consider my sufficiency suffonsified.
I’m not the only one who enjoys this juxtaposition between the tough guy and the sweet man, just look at Three Men and a Baby,– which got a great deal of mileage from three confirmed bachelors taking care of a tiny, helpless little baby girl. Or how about the homoerotic not-so-subtext of the TV show Starsky & Hutch, which the actors were heard to admit was a story about two men who were in love who happened to be cops. (Thank you, David Soul!) And let’s not forget the very lovely tale of the Roman Centurion and his ex-slave companion Esca, as told in the 2011 movie, The Eagle. (You can also read Rosemary Sutcliff’s excellent historical novel The Eagle of the Ninth, upon which the movie is based.)
So I’m not alone, and while it’s true that I have never been alone, it sometimes feels that way. Because in my regular life, it’s very hard to explain why this guy-on-guy kissing thing does it for me. Even more difficult to explain is my love for a particular flavor of it, that of historical guy-on-guy kissing, which only another person who also likes it can understand.
Added to that is the complex issue that I don’t feel as though I’m writing gay romance, historical or otherwise. I consider my audience not to be gay men, but to be those females who are turned on by what is now considered “gay romance.” Back when this all started for me, “gay romance” was referred to as the “gay for you,” a trope in which Guy A is straight but he falls in love with Guy B anyway, because his love is powerful enough to overcome all those stereotypes. This is currently considered old fashioned and backwards by those authors and readers newly come to this genre, and that’s fine, because things change.
But. Since I write about the good-and-bad-old-days, I get to keep working with the “gay for you” trope, and all the fun insecurities and uncertainty that goes with it. Plus, back in 1846, which is when my Oliver & Jack series is set, if you were a Nancy Boy, and you got caught, you were subject to the laws of the day, which might include such dire consequences as deportation, castration, and/or hanging. It wasn’t like it is now, where Love Wins, and will hopefully keep winning. Instead it was a land-mine of secret gestures, Molly Houses (which were tolerated until they weren’t), and a general “don’t ask, an’ don’t never, ever tell” behavior, which definitely kept any homosexual encounters hidden not just behind closed doors, but behind locked-and-bolted closed doors.
To me, this sense of secrecy and danger, the complex signals and hiding in plain sight, is what makes writing m/m romance in the Victorian era so interesting, so charged with angst and uncertainty, because if you got caught? There was almost no defense that you could give that would save you.
Add to the fact that the risk a man took when kissing another man took it to a whole ‘nother level, as well as the elegant style of dress back then, and I’m in heaven. I like to dress up my gay boys in buff colored trousers and a blue-black jacket and a white shirt with a red cravat. I like my gay boys strutting around in top hats, that they tip to any passing gentlemen, but take off and boy when they encounter a lady, and only doff when they are in the sanctum sanctorum of their own flat.
I like them giving pennies to beggars, and saving the last of their apple tart for their better half. I like it that Boy A does not refer to his lover with anything so modern as “boyfriend” or “fiancé” or “better half” but instead uses such coded sobriquets as “my bright bird” (as Oliver does to Jack) or “my beautiful boy” (as Jack does to Oliver), alliteration that helps to hide the fact that they are so far deep in the closet (or, in their case, so deep in the wardrobe), that they sometimes forget they are there, and slip up, and kiss on the street! Oh, the scandal! But nothing to me could be more perfect, and the satisfaction I get from writing historical m/m romance, and the hopefully satisfied reader at the other end is the prize I strive for.
Note: All art kindly provided by Felix D’eon. You can find more of his work on his website: http://www.felixdeon.com
The room before them was laid out with long tables beneath a high, grey ceiling. Men, dressed in brown and grey, much as Jack was, stood in a line with metal bowls in their hands and metal spoons, single-mindedly watching while they waited to be served, or were served. Jack couldn’t see what it was exactly, but it was pale and white and thin as it sloped from the bowlshaped serving ladle into each bowl. The measurement was standard, each man received the same portion. No bread was handed out, so there was nothing else but what was in those bowls.
Jack’s stomach shifted at the thought of it. He couldn’t imagine what Nolly’s stomach was doing, though this, Nolly’s silence, his angry attitude, now made more sense. If a single ladle of white flavored broth were what grown men were served? They would soon starve, all of them. And they looked thin, their faces slack, their eyes deep within their faces, as if being sucked inward by their own hunger.
Jack looked at Nolly, and shook his head, just slightly. He didn’t know that Nolly would understand him; he wasn’t disagreeing with Nolly’s attitude at all. He was simply disbelieving the sight that beheld them both. The line of men, no more than forty in all, shuffling, being served what might not supply a delicate lady’s tea time meal, and accepting it. As if no more was their due, and they wouldn’t ask for it, because—because why? Why didn’t they leave? Just leave?
He wanted to ask Nolly this, to ask him all kinds of questions about his time in the workhouse, when he’d been the wee thing that had run away and struck out on his own, marching all the way to London to meet Jack. That Nolly had survived this was some consolation, though Jack imagined that the Nolly standing next to him now might have some objections to make, if allowed.
“Nolly,” he asked, barely above a whisper, for he noticed that no one in the dining hall was talking, not even a little bit. “Was it like this? For you? When you were small?”
They shuffled forward together in the line while Jack waited for Nolly to speak. He wanted to grab Nolly and shake him to get him to speak, anything but this sharp-eyed silence that still threatened to break into violence.
When he was about to mention that they had no bowls, and what were they to eat in, Nolly opened his mouth at last, and looked at Jack. His eyes tilted downward at the outside corner, and he looked as though he were quite sorry for Jack.
“It was,” Nolly said, slowly. “It was exactly like this.”
After Oliver Twist commits murder to protect Jack Dawkins (The Artful Dodger), both must flee London’s familiar but dangerous environs for safety elsewhere. Together they travel to Lyme Regis in the hopes of finding Oliver’s family. Along the way, Jack becomes gravely ill and Oliver is forced to perform manual labor to pay for the doctor’s bills.
While Oliver struggles to balance his need for respectability with his growing love for Jack, Jack becomes disenchanted with the staid nature of village life and his inability to practice his trade. But in spite of their personal struggles, and in the face of dire circumstances, they discover the depth of their love for each other.
I was born in Waco, Texas in 1962. After living on a variety of air force bases, in 1972 my Dad retired and the family moved to Boulder, Colorado. There amidst the clear, dry air of the high plains, as the moss started to grow beneath my feet, my love for historical fiction began with a classroom reading of Little House on the Prairie by Laura Ingalls Wilder.
I attended a variety of community colleges (Tacoma Community College) and state universities (UNC-Greeley, CU-Boulder, CU-Denver), and finally found my career in technical writing, which, between layoffs, I have been doing for 18 years. During that time, my love for historical fiction and old fashioned objects, ideas, and eras has never waned.
In addition to writing, my interests include road trips around the U.S. and frequent flights to England, where I eat fish and chips, drink hard cider, and listen to the voices in the pub around me. I also love coffee shops, mountain sunsets, prairie storms, and the smell of lavender. I am a staunch supporter of the Oxford
Christina has brought THREE copies of At Lodgings in Lyme to give away to three lucky readers. She will send print versions to US/Canada and ebooks for international folks. Just leave a comment at the end of the post to enter. The contest ends on Tuesday, August 18th at 11:59 pm EST.
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