Thursday, April 23, 2009

The Hardest Part of a M/M Historical Romance…

(by Ava March, guest blogger and new official moocher of Shawn's blog)

No, not that! While I prefer my heroes hard in my m/m historical romances, I don’t find it particularly difficult to get them hard. No, what I’m referring to is the HEA (happily ever after) in a m/m historical romance, Regency-set romances to be specific.

For those of you who aren’t familiar with the Regency time period in English history, it technically began in 1811, when the king’s son (George, Prince of Wales) was appointed Regent, and ended in 1820, when King George III died. But since the king’s illness (i.e. madness) started earlier than 1811, an extended or greater Regency time period is commonly used and goes from around 1790 to 1830. I personally prefer to set my books around 1820, give or take a couple years. Why? Because men’s trousers became accepted as eveningwear around 1816. I prefer my men in trousers versus breeches or pantaloons (I mean really, what hero wears pantaloons and stockings with ‘pumps’????). Plus, I’m not a huge Napoleonic war buff. Therefore, I set the time frame for my stories accordingly.

The Regency is bracketed by the Georgian era (think powered wigs and highly stylized clothing – i.e. the movie Dangerous Liaisons) and the Victorian era (think uptight and VERY restrained). The Regency era is very elegant, with a strong emphasis on proper manners and spotless reputations. You get a mix of the extravagance of the Georgian era with the Victorian preoccupation with maintaining appearances. Makes for a very interesting time period to write in…at least I think so. And yes, I just had to throw the picture of Colin Firth from the movie Pride and Prejudice in there – I think Mr. Darcy just epitomized the Regency period. I've said it before and I'll say it again, it really is a shame Mr. Darcy and Mr. Bingley never hooked up. They would have been so great together!!

All right. Enough of the primer on the Regency and of my own fantasies involving Bingley and Darcy. Back to the topic of this post. In the Regency time period homosexuality was not just frowned upon by Society, but it was illegal. If you were convicted of ‘buggery’, you could be sentenced to death. And yes, they did have trials and they did hang men if convicted. In fact, the executions were public affairs and people gathered outside the prison to watch the poor fellow(s) die. Rather gruesome afternoon outing, if you ask me, but I guess there were some back then who found watching an execution a form of entertainment. The newspapers of the day seldom used the term ‘buggery’ in articles about trials and convictions. It was commonly referred to as an ‘unnatural crime’ – just further drives home how they thought of homosexuality.

Therefore when it comes to writing a m/m Regency-set romance, the whole ‘could get hanged if word got out’ thing is something that authors can’t ignore. It’s a constant opposing force acting on the romance. Add to that Society’s expectations that men of good families marry well (not necessarily for love, but to form alliances with other families, increase a family’s wealth or land holdings, etc) and the preoccupation for maintaining a spotless reputation, and it makes crafting a HEA for a gay couple very difficult. If a man held a title or was an heir to a title, then it was expected he marry and produce the required heir and a spare. Duty to one’s family was very important, and ingrained in men at a very young age.

So, given all that, is it possible to have a HEA in a Regency gay romance? Of course. But it is a challenge, and it most certainly had to have been a challenge for gay men in the time period. The constant need for discretion, to keep their love for one another behind closed doors, the fear of being discovered…it must have been a horrible truth to have to live with, and I can just imagine that it tried many a relationship.

Are you wondering yet how a gay couple could realistically have a HEA? I hope so, as I’m going to give you some examples from my own work, and from another author’s work. In Object of His Desire, Arsen’s a titled lord (the Marquis of Somerville) yet he has no desire to marry. Realistically, while most lords married, not every titled lord married. In Arsen’s case, he didn’t wish to marry, and was willing to let the title go to one of his brothers' sons. Conveniently, he had four brothers, one of which already had an heir. So, the title would stay within the immediate family. As for the social pressures, Arsen had had enough of London and wished to remain at his remote Durham estate (in northern England). Henry, the other hero, was the 3rd son of a country gentleman. Since his family wasn’t titled, he didn’t have the huge pressure to produce an heir in the event his elder brothers died without issue (i.e. didn’t have any kids or only had daughters). The book ends with Henry agreeing to remain at Arsen’s country estate, where they would have greater freedom than in London, but would still need to be careful. Arsen had servants, and while they were loyal, one can never predict what employees will do (disgruntled employees and all that). So no heavy make-out sessions for Henry and Arsen at the breakfast table, but at least I tried to craft it so that the constant pressing threat of discovery would be lessened.

Another example would be Bound by Deception. The two heroes, Vincent and Oliver, are both second sons to marquises, and as such are aware of the expectations placed on men of their station. In Vincent’s case, he was also very concerned about appearances. He strove to be the perfect gentleman, so his desires for Oliver were contrary to his own expectations of himself, and something he needed to come to terms with before the two men could have their HEA. Bound by Deception ends with Vincent coming to terms with his desires, and Bound to Him continues their relationship. It picks up six months after Bound by Deception, and in it I tried to give a glimpse for what it could have been like for a committed gay couple in Regency England. Of course, Vincent is still very concerned about appearances, and their relationship is further tested by the social expectations of the time period. Duty to one’s family, and all that. And, of course, you’ll have to get the book when it comes out on April 28th to see if the two men are able to maintain their HEA.

One last example for you, and it’s different than my own works because it deals with a widower. In Shawn Lane’s Another Chance, both heroes are titled lords. Aubrey, Viscount Rothton, has a title though it’s not much of one anymore. One night during their last year at Oxford, Aubrey and his friend Daniel had a scandalous encounter in a carriage. But before their relationship could go any further, Daniel’s father unexpectedly died and Daniel became the Earl of Greystone. He married and produced the required heir and a daughter. Years later, his wife passes away and he’s left a widower. He and Aubrey reconnect, yet even though Daniel has already satisfied the ‘heir’ requirement, there are still many obstacles in the path to their HEA. Since he has children who will someday move about Society, he needs to keep up appearances and continue to move about the ton. Plus, well, he has children who live with him, so he needs to keep his relationship with Aubrey hidden from them, as well. Both men are left knowing that their relationship will not be an easy one, and that they likely won’t be able to see each other often, but it’s a reality they accept in order to be together.

So you see, a HEA in a Regency-set romance is possible, but it is a challenge to craft one that is realistic to the time period. Personally, I find the HEA the hardest part of a gay historical romance, but also the most satisfying element of the story. If a relationship can survive in the Regency, then it must be very strong and meant to be. A true love match.

All right. So what do you think? Do you like to read Regency m/m romances? And if so, what attracts you to them?

Object of His Desire, Samhain
Bound By Deception, Loose Id
Bound to Him, Loose Id/April 28th 2009


  1. Ava,

    This may surprise some people, but I used to read hetro historical romances for years.
    My mother was addicted to romances.
    One day I was having a particularly bad day, and I picked one of her books up and started reading it. I loved it so much I soon became a closet romance reader. (The closet was mighty crowded in those
    Contemporary romances didn't appeal as much to me.
    I loved reading about another time. I was swept away by their traditions and customs and the romantic ways they communicated with one another. I still am.
    The problem with homoerotic romances is until recently most gay romances either has a HFN ending or not a happy one at all. I for one, and Jack as well, really appreciate reading a book that ends on a positive note. I am glad that there are more HEA endings out there for gay heroes. I am glad to see that I am not alone in thinking this way.
    I loved your post. I loved seeing Colin Firth,too...He was such a sexy Mr. Darcy! I agree with you. Darcy and Bingham should have rode off into the sunset together!

  2. Hi Ava,

    Great post. I loved Bound by Deception and can't wait to see what happens in Bound to Him. Considering what people have to still go through today, I can't imagine how difficult a m/m relationship must have been in the Regency period. But you make it seem possible. Love your work.

    I'll have to pick up Another Chance. I'm always looking for new authors to love.

    Hanna Rhys Barnes

  3. Great blog!

    I now have new brain wrinkles. Having never written Regency, I was unaware of the binding rules one has to adhere to for accuracy. Instead of being limited by it, I've noticed you seem to flourish in the atmosphere. At least you seem to. Honestly, I have to admit you could really be historically inaccurate and I'd never know; too distracted by the hot sex scenes! Le sigh!

    All my best,

  4. Ava, great post!

    One of the things I enjoyed most about "Bound By Deception" was your solution to the HEA problem. I think of the social structure as a bonus--if the HEA is hard to reach, then all the better for the story's tension.

  5. Very cool post, Ava. I approve, :-)

    And Shay, I am not surprised. You have the soul of a romantic, my friend.

    Welcome to the blog, Hanna.

    And thanks for stopping by to view Ava's post, AVS and Victoria. I'm trying to talk her into posting every once in a while. She didn't think she was interesting enough to have her own blog. Silly huh?

  6. I love m/m historical romance (though my favorite era would be around the Revolutionary War, the Civil War and WWI). And even though I love reading it -- I can not write an historical m/m to save my soul! I can't get that detail of "tension" of being found out -- which is so important in historical. Perhaps I am too lazy to address that, and find it easier to write m/m contemporary.

    The problem I have is with so many of the historical that have been written in the past, is that they get too lost in the historical aspect, leaving their characters and/or plot without life. Also, so many DO NOT have the HEA that I crave - hence, I tend to be extremely cautious about buying m/m historicals. Too many times I have taken a chance and have ended up very disappointed.

    I know, the times and everything, it was more accurate that gay love didn't end up well, but from my selfish position, if I am going to spend my money and time reading a m/m historical, -- and to loose myself within a time warp of the authors creation, it damn well better have a happy ending of sorts.

    I have read your books in awe, as you definately have a knack on taking a nearly impossible situation and giving it a HEA -- and making it justifiable for the times. I am guessing your approach to a Regency m/m story would be likened to a jigsaw puzzle -- you do the frame work first, then you logically start matching the pieces until your product is done.

    Your painstakingly approach to accuracy, as well as historical detail is much appreciated, as it helps to totally immerge myself into your world.

    I really think that is what makes or breaks an historical romance, in my world. Accuracy, detail and a HEA.

    Keep up the great work, Ava. There needs to be more m/m historicals that are readable by the average historic lover out there!

    Sage from GDRWA (I can never get my name in the right comment section - it comes up unknown)

  7. Oh yes I do love me some Regency m/m encounters and I also love getting around the constrictions of the time period, which I think can actually add a lot to the conflict and sexual tension. For some reason my books tend to have one foot stuck firmly in romance land and usually include a very understanding woman-I dunno I just love that set of triangular conflict even more.
    Great blog post :)

  8. I'm with you all - gotta have the HEA, or at least a very satisfying HFN. If a romance doesn't end in some sort of happy fashion, then it's a total let down for me. Just ruins the book.

    Hey Shayne - I used to be a die-hard herto historical romance reader, too. But while I now tend to read more m/m books, I still love a good het historical romance every now and then. Glad you liked the pick of Colin Firth. :D

    Allure - so sorry about the brain wrinkles. LOL.

    You're right on about the jigsaw puzzle approach, Sage. And you got it right this time - no 'who am I?' or unknown :)

    Kate - where would the world be without understanding women? ;) I'm a sucker for conflict/angst in books, and I love how you incorporate the m/m and menage elements in a Regency. And I really liked how Simply Sinful ended - it fit the characters and left everyone happy. :)

    And Shawn, I'm afraid I packed all my 'interesting-ness' into one post. Future posts will likely compare to watching paint dry.

  9. Hi Ava. Though I don't read or write gay romance, I found your post interesting. I liked how you got your characters to their HEA. As a historical author myself, I understand how hard it must have been for gay couples. A man can have sex with all the women he wanted outside his marriage, but keep him away from the footman! Ha! Cheryl

  10. Ava,

    Great post.

    I haven't read many historical m/m romance, but I will definitely be picking up the books you talked about in your post. I love romances where the deck is really stacked against the couple. But like you I want my HEA or at least HFN. I need to feel confident that no matter how difficult the journey, the heroes will get their happy ending.

  11. Ava!! :)

    It's no secret that I am a huge fan of Bound by Deception. It's a very RARE thing for a historically based m/m romance to BOTH be well written and to have a HEA or HFN ending. You have the formula down in spades!
    Loved your blog! :)

  12. Thanks for the great response to Ava's post, everyone. She's a natural

  13. Yes, definitely thanks, everyone!!! ...including the anonymous Kimber. lol. Damn pesky blogger.

  14. Hey Ava,

    I am a little late to the party, but I am here now. I am so pleased you fleshed out the difference between the era's as for me personally this is quite a turn off when author gets it wrong.(like watching a historical movie and the hero and the enemy are on the same type of horse - heresy).

    I haven't read any of your books -YET - but i am impressed with the time you take to understand the factor for and against the assured HEA.

    I have a question however - to write a novel like Bound By Deception - what sort of time frame did you have it done by (from concept to edits)

    And secondly - What sort of break do you take in between books - as Historicals are rather heady subject matter in itself, but with the spin to find HEA - do you give yourself a downtime between book.

    Love the post, welcome addition to Shawn's slice of the pie.

    Shawn --- Love the topic you FORCED Ava to talk about, hope you have a few more for her...



  15. Great post, Ava, and you're right, the HEA in historical m/m is the toughest part, but the social strictures add so much to the conflict. It sounds like you found a way around the challenges though. I love the Regency period and I'll read almost anything set during it. :)

    Lyndi Lamont

  16. Hi E.H.! BBD is a novella, so for pure writing time, it only takes me about 1 1/2 months to write a novella. I started that one a good year ago, and worked on other stuff while I was writing that one, so it took me a few months to finish. I go through multiple rounds of edits with each pub (usually 2 rounds with my editor, then the line editor and then a proofer), and it stretches out over a couple months or so, but it doesn't take long to do them. The concept part takes a while with me - I'll mull over a book for months, figure out exactly how I want it to go, then outline it by chapter, then finally get to writing it. I'm always mulling over new books, even as I write other books. In the case of Bound to Him, I had the concept for that last fall, contracted the book, and finally go serious about writing it after Christmas and finished it in a month and a half.

    As for downtime, I try not to have much downtime between books because there are so many other books I want to write and I don't want to waste time. But I usually do have a few weeks of downtime between books - the muse will insist on a break (i.e. I'll find I can't get anything new written, no matter how hard I try), and I'll get edits from my editor or I'll have promo or other related writing stuff to work on, and that kinda serves as a writing break.

    Thanks, Lyndi! And thanks for stopping by!

  17. Also late to the party, but as a writer of gay historical romance, I had to drop by and comment.
    The two stories I have out now are set a bit later - one during the American Civil War and with a paranormal aspect and the other a solo author anthology set towards the end of the 19th century in Eastern Europe.
    It is very difficult to have those HEA endings. In my first story, the Civil War intervened, but in my second I was able to write one!
    It really seems difficult for some younger readers to realize just how dangerous it was to be out then. Heck, it was really almost impossible!
    Ava's books are so charming because they retain the Regency feel. I've always been a sucker for Austen!

  18. Thanks for stopping by Jeanne, all comments are welcome, even late ones! Ava will be posting another blog post involving historical romances this week.