Charlie’s Guide to Writing Historical Gay Romance – Part 5: Conclusion

Charlies Guide conclusion

Hello all! Welcome to part 5 of my series on writing historical romance and the final installment. The last four weeks we’ve covered: character, atmosphere, setting, and detail. When you gay put it all together it might seem daunting, but the more you work at it, the easier it gets.

If you want authenticity, it’s very important to do your research. Don’t forget to look up timelines if you’re going to mention a specific brand, event, or style of fashion. Clothing, speech, frame of mind, architecture, music, movies, technology, all lend a hand in creating authenticity. Modern phrases will jolt readers out of the story, so keep a lookout for those. When naming your characters, give them appropriate names of the time. Think about how they dress and if it fits in with their social standing. What about their level of education? Their background? Family history? Think about society and the way it’s had a hand in shaping your character, how it continues to shape them, and what it means for the relationships they have with others.

Use references such as movies, books, and photographs to help you with setting, fashion, and speech patterns. Read books written during that period for a sense of voice. Remember that you can’t hold your characters up to the same standards as today’s modern thinking individual. Where certain situations plausible then? Create atmosphere by describing more than what your character sees. Immerse your readers with a feeling of depth using your other senses.  Like with any well-written book, research is always required. Granted that with historical, it usually involves a great deal more, but if you enjoy getting lost in an era long gone, writing in this genre will feel wonderfully satisfying, not to mention you’ll have fun too! Hope these posts have been of some help to folks. If there’s anything I didn’t cover or you’re uncertain of, feel free to leave me a comment or drop me an email! Happy reading!

Links to previous posts in the series:

Part 1: Character
Part 2: Atmoshpere
Part 3: Setting
Part 4: Detail

Charlie’s Guide to Writing Historical Gay Romance – Part 4: Details

Charlies Guidedetails300Hello all! Welcome to the fifth installment of my writing series on Gay Historical Romance. Today we’re talking a little about details, something which makes a huge difference in a historical. I love to put details in my stories, but I also like for them to be subtle. Sort of like background scenery in a movie. The details are there to add to the story and its authenticity, not to distract.

By now I know a good deal about the periods I write in, so if I have a scene where let’s say the characters are listening to the radio, I’ll know what sort of brands were around at the time, what radio programs were on the air, and have even listened to a few myself or read a transcript or three. The scene isn’t about what they’re listening to unless it’s an important news flash or presidential speech, so I don’t want the focus to be taken away from what’s happening with the characters, I just want to create an image in the reader’s mind. Even if it’s only in passing, naming a specific program or having snippets from an actual transcript will lend authenticity to the scene. It should all blend seamlessly together rather than shout out, “I did research!” Take this scene from When Love Walked In where Bruce finished work for the evening and crosses the street to his favorite cafe.

♥♥♥

coffee_rules

“Hey Joe, what do ya know?” Bruce greeted the handsome blond with a wink as he set himself down at the counter. Apple’n Pies had the best pies in New York City, and Joe was the godsend who made them.

“How’s it going, Bruce?” Joe replied with a bright smile, chuckling when Mittens meowed for his attention.
“I’m sorry, sweetheart. Hello to you too.” He gave her a little scratch before reaching under the counter and placing a large, brown paper bag in front of Bruce.

“One roast beef sandwich with extra roast beef, a side of potato salad, one slice of pie, one coffee—easy on the creme, and a reminder to go to bed before sunup.”

Bruce glowered at him. “Gladys called you, didn’t she?”

“You bet,” Joe laughed. The phone rang, and he gave Bruce a wicked grin. “I’ll bet you five dollars that’s her calling to make sure you’re taking home more than just pie.”

“Five dollars? Who do you think I am, Rockefeller? I ain’t got that kinda bank to lose.” Bruce said his goodbyes and high-tailed it out of there before he got another earful.

♥♥♥

Now this is a very short scene, but it required research nonetheless. What Joe gives Bruce for dinner had to be looked up. I wanted a common, full, but inexpensive meal a fella like Bruce would go for. Being a private investigator, he doesn’t exactly make a mint. He’s not going to go down to a restaurant for dinner and if he did go somewhere it would probably be an automat or cafe. Coffee is essential for any detective, and pie is non-negotiable for him–as brought up by his secretary earlier in the story. I could have just had Joe hand him a paper bag with some food, but having it be a pretty popular meal of the time adds that little bit extra. Also it says something about Bruce and the time he is living in regarding the bet. $5 for Bruce would be $87.63 for us now. Times are tough to be making bets you know you’re going to lose. Dollar Times.com has a handy inflation calculator.

799px-Soda_jerker_flipping_ice_cream_into_malted_milk_shakes._Corpus_Christi,_TexasWhen I’m writing, I’m constantly pausing to look up the term for something, a particular brand, or a visual so I can get the description right. If it’s something I need to come back to later because I don’t want to break my stride, I place a *, which to me stands out and tells me research is to be inserted there. My first drafts are full of these little stars. I also use (these fellas) and then type a quick description of what I need so I don’t forget when I come back to it later.

For details, I tend to refer quite often to particular music, songs, movies, clothing, food, prices, sports, technology, consumer products, reading material, cars, brand names, pop culture, communication, and so on. I also make certain to use the correct term for the item at the time as well.  Lisa’s Nostalgia Cafe offers a great source of every day life items for referencing, including jobs. There were a lot of positions back then that are either uncommon now or no longer around, such as cigarette girls, soda jerks,  and telegram delivery boys. If one of my fellas goes to a drug store, it’s going to be completely different to the drugstores of today, offering flavored soda water, malted milkshakes, juice, and more.

Bishop MuseumMaybe he’s got a nasty headache and he decides to buy some Anacin. So he walks down to the nearest drug store. Let’s say that drug store is similar to the one pictured here. While my fella walks in to do whatever he’s going to do, I would integrate a brief description of the place. Size, the black and white tiled counter, the chrome and red leather stools, how airy and bright it is, maybe how new, clean, or modern it is compared to his usual drug store down on 12th, the people sitting enjoying a meal, the person who serves my fella. The ten cents he pays for a glass of orange juice, and what the hell, he’ll have a slice of pie, too. Maybe as he walks in while the song, “You’ve Got What Get’s Me” floats up from the radio behind the counter, and just then the soda jerk looks up, holding our hero’s gaze slightly longer than he should. I’m a fan of placing a line from a song or two in my books. The songs are always relevant to the year and the story. I always look up the lyrics of the song to see if it fits with what’s happening with the character(s).

Research the architecture of the time as it would influence a lot of the interiors. In the 1920’s Egyptian themes were popular, in the 1930’s Art Deco was everywhere, consisting of specific materials. There was a lot of chrome about, certain color schemes, and shapes. Remember not everyone kept up with the times and you’ll have different generations which may mean using brands or songs from much earlier.

Conclusion: Details are important, but remember they’re there to add authenticity to your story, not to distract. Things such as brands, architecture, pop culture should be blended seamlessly throughout your story depending on what your characters are doing, rather than being pointed out. Readers will know how much research went into your book by the way all the elements come together.

Next week is the final installment of the series. Part 5: Conclusion, putting it all together. Thanks for dropping by!

Charlie’s Guide to Writing Historical Gay Romance – Part 3: Setting

Charlies Guide SettingHello all! Welcome to the third installment of my series on writing historical gay romance. Today we’re talking about setting. Setting is more than a time and place, it also encompasses the social milieu–the culture which will help shape your characters and the world around them. To fully immerse your character in his time period, you need to research the timeline leading up to your current setting.

Society can change drastically in a few years, and your character will have lived through these changes. For example, in my stories set in the thirties, my characters would have grown up in the early 1900’s and spent their young adult lives in the 1920’s. There were huge changes for them to deal with on their way to adulthood. Much the same way some of us look back at our own childhood or teenage years and what was happening around us at the time.

Times Square NYC 1908

Some of my fellas, like Bruce and Hawk would have been children during the early 1900’s, their parents undoubtedly of a certain mindset, one that was challenged after the Great War, of which by then, these fellas would have most likely fought in. Then came the Roaring Twenties, which might not have affected them had they lived in a small rural town somewhere out west, but as they were both born and raised in New York City, this new, fast-paced, ‘anything goes’ attitude would have swept up these now twenty-something year old young men. They survived a war, they’re young, they’re going to say ‘the hell with it’, and get their kicks while they can. Come the stock market crash, things change. Society no longer tolerates them. It’s now illegal for them to be served a beer down at their local bar should anyone question their sexuality. Of course if someone found out, being refused a beer would be the least of their worries. They’d lose their jobs, face imprisonment, or considering their careers in law enforcement, probably face worse. The country is in despair, millions unemployed, soup kitchens at full capacity, the breadlines never ending. To fully understand the 1930’s and the fellas who resided there, I had to research the years leading up to it.

Times Square NYC 1927

Let’s discuss location. The further back in history you go, depending on place, the more difficult it may be to come up with research material. But in order to have believability, you need to research your locations, find out what was and wasn’t around at the time. For my stories, I often refer to the WPA Guide to New York City, which is a guide to 1930’s New York City. It has in-depth coverage of all five boroughs, including photographs and detailed maps. It’s an amazing book, but I always have to double check my facts, because the book was published in 1939, and my stories tend to be set in the early 1930’s or in the 1920’s. Obviously a book published in 1939 will be closer to how things were at the time than a modern day guide of NYC, but I need to make sure if I mention a certain building or landmark, that it actually existed at the time. I can’t have Julius and Edward in awe of the Empire State Building when it hadn’t been constructed yet.

I use a lot of photo references of locations, people, and maps. It’s always far easier to describe something when you’ve seen it. Even if you don’t use a specific photo for your location, it gives you an idea of the area. With larger cities, it’s usually easier to find books on that city’s history, and at times you can even narrow it down to specific boroughs or towns. Small details like architecture, design, stone color, building facades, shops, cleanliness of the streets or lack thereof, all help toward a more believable image. You’re not just writing in a backdrop, you’re breathing life back into this long gone era. This is the world your characters live in, where they work, interact, fall in love. What’s it like for them there?

Once you have enough reference material for your setting, you can then add your atmosphere.   Combining the two will go a long way in creating a believable world. You have your location, then you add your mood. When we watch a film, why do we feel as though we’re there? What do you see, hear, feel? Don’t forget colors. They also help set moods. The other day I watched Cinderella Man, and aside being a very enjoyable film, I really liked the look of it. I noticed there were a lot of browns and muted colors, which added to it’s historical feel and went well with the depictions of the Great Depression, whereas The Gangster Squad which was more of a homage to the gangster films of yore, was filled with bright neon signs, popping colors, and sharp Art Deco architecture. It was all about glamour.

As I mentioned before, you can refer to Hollywood movies, but don’t forget these films have a way of being over-dramatized and exaggerated where the history is concerned, so if you are going to turn to films for inspiration on setting, make sure to double check your facts. They have a habit of sneaking in things because it looks good even if it technically doesn’t belong in that period. Here are a few links with some pretty amazing photographs from various periods of history.

http://www.old-picture.com/
http://www.old-picture.com/american-life-1920s-index-001.htm
http://www.old-picture.com/american-history-1900-1930s-index-001.htm
http://www.paris-in-photos.com/paris-world-fair-1900.htm
http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/charles-dickens/9018185/Dickenss-London-in-pictures.html
http://www.talktalk.co.uk/lifestyle/galleries/view/lifestyle/victorianlondon1888/browse/127007
http://www.historicalstockphotos.com/

Conclusion to Part 3: Setting is more than just location, it includes the culture and social mindset of the time, all things which would have an impact on your characters and the men they grow up to be. How does the world view them? What are society’s laws? The government’s laws? What occurred in the years your character was growing up? Was there great change? Very little change?

I hope you enjoyed this week’s post! Stay tuned next week for Part 4: Details.

Charlie’s Guide to Writing Historical Gay Romance – Part 2: Atmosphere

Charlies Guideatmosphere300

Hello all, and welcome to part 2 of my series on writing historical gay romance. Last week’s post (which you can find here) covered some key elements of creating character. This week we’re talking about atmosphere, something I strive to improve with my own writing every day. Writing historical isn’t just about getting the details right. You need your readers to feel and see the world you created, this era long gone. When I write one of my stories, I see it as a movie in my head, and if I don’t feel as if I’m there, how am I going to get readers there?

The most intimidating part for some folks is getting the details right, but you don’t need to write out every tiny detail, only enough to create a clear image and set the tone. You know why? Because most folks have seen enough TV, movies, artwork, photography, to get an idea of what certain things look like for certain eras that a good deal of the foundation is already there for you to build on. But you don’t want to just throw out any old clichéd description.

Let’s say I’m writing a noir-ish style story. Why do I say noir-ish style and not noir? Because noir is very specific. It’s a very stylized type of crime drama with certain elements needed to make it that genre, and my stories don’t really fall into that category. When I get around to writing Bruce’s story, it’ll probably cover a lot of those elements, as he’s the only character of mine modeled after a Hollywood film noir type detective. The focus of my stories tend to be the romance, not the crime–if any, hence noir-ish. Anyway, so what do we know about noir? I use a lot of film analogies and examples because I’m a big film buff and as an artist, prefer to have visuals to draw from. You don’t have to be an expert to get an idea. Film noir is french for “black film”. (Note: The term wasn’t applied to these films until the mid to late 1940’s by a French critic, and wasn’t widely adopted until much later. Your fella isn’t going to know what the hell film noir is. He’ll understand characters being hardboiled, but not noir.) Okay, so we’re writing this noir scene. What’s the one thing that comes into your head first? You guessed it: lots of shadows and darkness.

Big ComboType film noir into Google images and what do you see?  A wall of black and white images. And not just black and white, but look at those shadows. The smoke, the fog, the intensity. If we’re writing our scene, it’s not enough for our character to just be walking down a darkened New York or L.A. street. We need to describe these shadows, the fathomless darkness, the veil of fog, the sounds he hears around him but can’t see. Is it raining? How heavy? What’s he wearing? Is the rain and wind getting through his overcoat, whipping at his skin through his upturned collar? What can he smell? Rotting garbage? Is there steam coming up from the sewers? Is there any lighting at all? Where’s it coming from? How’s he feel walking down this street?

If it’s Bruce, he would be in his element. He’s not afraid of the shadows or the world they’re a part. He’s seen worse, done things he’s not proud of, but what the hell, we’re all damned anyway, right? He’s not afraid to die and any mug who wants to go a few rounds can bring it on. He’s a booze guzzling, cigarette smoking, hardboiled detective who always carries a gun, a sap, and his smarts. He fought in the war, sinking into the rotting yellow mud of the trenches while young fellas fell dead at his feet. This street ain’t nothing, and if he gets home at the end of the day with only a few bruised ribs and a nice new shiner, he’d write it off as a good day. This is your movie. You’re the director. Add texture to your scenes, sounds and taste. Then let the imagination of the reader do the rest.

Let’s talk interior. If I’m describing a scene in a character’s bedroom, I want enough detail for readers to get an image of the room. Am I going to use the official name of every piece of furniture he comes across? Let’s say your readers are getting all swept up in the sexual tension between these fellas. One is on the brink of losing it. He can’t deny himself any longer, standing by watching Joe every day, working beside him, being his friend and pretending he feels nothing more, putting up with Joe’s teasing–and all of a sudden, Joe slams his fist on the Chiffonier. What? What the hell is a Chiffonier? It might seem obvious to some, but is there really a reason why I have to call it a Chiffonier and not a chest of drawers–which is technically what it is, just higher and more narrow. Am I writing a story about furniture or guys in love? I’m not saying don’t use any terms of the time, because that sort of defeats the purpose of writing a historical, I’m just saying to use them sparingly. It’s an intense scene where something is about to happen, something big. Emotional drama! Do I really want readers to be thrown out of the moment because of furniture? Which brings me to a very important question: Who are you writing your story for?

The sad truth about historical fiction is that many folks find themselves intimidated,not just with writing it, but reading it as well. It’s not the sole reason some don’t read historical, but it’s one of them. When I decided to write in the 1920’s and 30’s, I had to decide what kind of stories I wanted to tell and who my audience was going to be. There was so much going on during these periods, the possibilities were endless. The fact is, I wanted to entertain. I’ve never been one for tough drama. I’ll never win a Pulitzer with my hard hitting depiction of humanity during these eras, and I’m okay with that. If this were the movie business, I’d never win an Oscar because I’d be making films like Gangster Squad and Sherlock Holmes, not Downfall or Thin Red Line. I love the latter two films, but I haven’t re-watched them since the first time I saw them. Same with films like Schindler’s List. I’ve lost count with how any times I’ve seen The Untouchables or L.A. Confidential.

I’m an entertainer, and to some, that’s a bad word. Critics are always searching for hard-hitting and meaning. Yes, I want my stories to have meaning, to evoke emotion, and yes, they’ll have drama and angst, heartbreaking moments, and a message or two. But I write to entertain. I write so anyone–even those who don’t normally pick up historical can easily read one of my books and enjoy it. I write with the slight exaggeration of a Hollywood motion picture, looking to whisk readers away for a while, to add a little glamour and decadence. The characters will still be very real, with very real traumas, troubles, and heartache, but it will be balanced with humor and fun, because personally, who couldn’t use a little laughter in their lives? The point is, I know the purpose I’m trying to serve. I know the reasons I write what I write, I know who I write for, and I’m happy with it.

Conclusion to Part 2: Atmosphere is about immersing your readers into the world you’re creating not only through accurate detail, but with sights, sounds, and texture. To have readers “see” and “feel” the setting. Use visuals to help you. Movies stills, photography, anything visual that evokes emotion, draw from it. Picture what you want in your mind, how it makes you feel, and slowly translate that to words. Determine who your audience is. Who are you writing for? What do you want to achieve? What kind of story do you want to tell?

Well, I hope you enjoyed Part 2! Stay tuned next week for Part 3: Setting.

Charlie’s Guide to Writing Historical Gay Romance – Part 1: Character

Charlies GuideHello and welcome to Part 1 of my guide to writing historical gay romance. As I stated during the introduction, this isn’t a definitive guide, just merely how this author goes about writing m/m historicals. Getting your characters right is vital, because no matter how amazing and accurate a world you build for them, if your character doesn’t fit in with that world, your believability will suffer, and your readers will have trouble staying immersed.

When creating a historical character, there are many things I take into consideration before I start piecing him together. Before you can start giving him quirks and personality traits, a job or secret crush, there are some very important details you have to work out first.

1. Manner of speech – Where a character was born, where he grew up, and where he ends up will have a profound effect on what he sounds like. If your book is set in Europe, especially Great Britain, your character’s speech will be determined by what region and social class he grew up in, unless he moves from one class into another or is self-taught. It is possible a character born and raised in a certain area can teach himself to speak with a posh accent. I know a few folks who’ve done this. In Britain, there has always been a very profound separation of class, and depending on what part your character is from, there’s dialect to consider.

downton_abbey3

Each region carries its own accent, and believe me, each one is very distinct. The slang is different, the phrases they use, names for things, swear words, even the speed at which they talk. If your character is from Manchester, he’s not going to talk the same way as a fella from London’s East End. And I know it may seem silly, especially to my lovely Brit friends, but not a lot of American folks know that England and Great Britain are not interchangeable. Great Britain (The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland) includes Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland, and many smaller islands, whereas England is part of the United Kingdom, bordering Scotland and Wales. Then there’s the British Empire. It wasn’t that far back that the British Empire held sway over a huge chunk of the world’s population, with colonies and territories from Fiji to Canada. You don’t have to research every country and who was under whose administration, but at least be aware, especially so if your character is going to move about.

If your book is set in America, again, there are still social classes to consider, back then even more so than now, and this, along with the region will influence how your character talks. In The Auspicious Troubles of Chance, both Chance and Jacky were raised in New York, though Chance being an orphan and growing up on the streets has a much rougher way of talking than Jacky. He uses a lot of slang, talks faster, swears a hell of a lot more (though that’s more part of his charm than anything), and his accent is stronger, whereas Jacky is the opposite. Also because of the time Jacky spent in England, his accent isn’t fully American. English phrases, slang, and words occasionally slip into his speech. In A Rose By Any Other Name, the erotes: Julius, Lawry, and Terry, speak properly, but it’s something they were taught. Before they began work at The Pantheon, they were prostitutes in the Bowery. They’re orphans and grew up on the streets in the worst parts of town. Underneath the high-society primness, there’s a completely different layer of speech, which can slip out during certain circumstances. Hawk, from The Amethyst Cat Caper is self-taught. He came from a humble family, but studied for a while at Harvard. To fit in, he taught himself to speak properly. Despite his time working as a Pinkerton, he maintained his manner of speaking though he mixes it up with some street slang. When he gets in a lather, or drunk, he reverts to his old way of talking. Back then, not all children and adults received a school education, so keep that in mind as well.

public enemy cagneyOnce you’ve decided how you want your character to talk, find a video or sound file of someone from whatever region you’ve chosen so you get an idea of the accent. If your book is set during a time that has documentaries available, even better. Granted, some of my characters, like P.I. Bruce Shannon, have a somewhat exaggerated way of talking. I doubt most fellas really talked like James Cagney, but my goal was to emulate that slightly over the top, Classic Hollywood movie feel. Depending on the effect I want, I’ll watch old movies, documentaries, read books by authors of that time, or memoirs in order to get an idea how folks talked. The point is, research real people. Don’t just refer to something you saw in a movie, because let’s face it, history through the eyes of Hollywood isn’t the most reliable source.

Also, don’t forget that slang words and phrases have dates of origin and expiration, and they can also take on different meanings over the years. For instance the word ‘queer’ in reference to homosexuality wasn’t used until the 1920’s. Before then, it meant odd. Online Etymology Dictionary is a great place to start if you’re unsure whether a certain word was used during a specific period and if it meant the same thing.

2. Mindset – Now this is extremely important. This can make or break your character. Say you’ve done loads of research. You’ve gone cross-eyed from the amount of articles and books you’ve read through to create the perfect setting, and suddenly it all falls apart because your character thinks and acts like today’s modern man. Obviously, if you’re writing a sort of costume drama, and you want your fellas to hold hands while walking down the street, that’s up to you and there’s nothing wrong with that. There’s room in the genre for all types of historical romances, but if you want a story with historical accuracy, even if there’s elements of paranormal, fantasy or sci-fi in it, you MUST research homosexuality in that period AND in that region.

How society viewed homosexuality will have a profound effect on your characters, how they see themselves, how they behave, think, and interact with other characters. It’s surprising how drastically things change in the span of a few years. You don’t have to know every detail of every era, but you need to research your era and probably the eras surrounding it. I write in the 20’s and 30’s, mainly in New York. In that one city, in a span of ten years, there was a drastic change in society and how folks viewed homosexuality. Although homophobia and danger was rife in 1920’s New York, the 1930’s brought new laws and new levels of intolerance. During the 1920’s, in Paris and Berlin, gay culture was even more visual and prominent than in places like New York City. The closer we get to WWII, the more frightening things become.

Geroge Chauncey

If you plan on writing a gay historical, I highly recommend you read George Chauncey’s Gay New York, Gender, Urban Culture, and the Making of the Gay Male World, 1890-1940.  I know it says New York, but it’s a great place to start, because you’re aware of how certain things did or didn’t happen, which you can then research to find out whether the same went for whatever city you’re writing about. Don’t make it the only book you read, but certainly pick it up. It’s written in an engaging way, lists a great many sources, and refers to actual letters written by gay men of that time. Most importantly, it helps you understand where and when the concept and labeling of ‘homosexuality’ and ‘heterosexuality’ came from, and it’ll surprise most folks to find that these terms, this division of men is a relatively new one. Depending on when your story takes place, is the label society uses for gay men. Behavior that would be deemed ‘queer’ in the 1930’s, may not have been deemed as such in the 1800’s.

Even if you have characters who have come to accept their homosexuality, they’re still very aware of what that means to the outside world, and it will reflect in what they do. Depending on the period of history, how they view themselves and their homosexuality will differ. So the first thing you have to ask yourself is, does your character accept what he is? If he does, it’s not something that happens overnight. No matter his age, he can’t just realize suddenly he’s gay and then go out to find true love. The truth is, many gay men throughout history led double lives. At home with their families, at their jobs, with their friends, they were heterosexual, and it was all kept separate from their life in ‘gay society’. Many gay men couldn’t accept it. They loathed themselves, some believed they were mentally ill, because there was a time when it was considered a mental illness. Some sought to ‘cure’ themselves, others were sent to be ‘cured’ by family. Who is your character and how does he feel about being gay? How long did it take him to understand? What did he go through in order to accept it if he did?

Winyan Soo HooThe complexity of gay men throughout history is something you’ll have to read up on, because even if I only covered the 1920’s and 30’s, I’d need several posts just for those ten years, and as I mentioned, it will depend on the era you’re writing. No matter how ‘open-minded’ your character may be, he can’t kiss another man out in the open. He can’t hold hands with another fella, can’t have eye sex, brazenly flirt, and the list goes on. Not without consequences, or if your guy is in a specific environment, like a gay club, and even then it may have to be discreet. In A Rose By Any Other Name, The Pantheon is a secret cabaret for gay men from high-society. Each member has something to lose if they expose another, and as they’re all men of wealth with high social standing, they’ll do what’s necessary to maintain their secret. Inside The Pantheon, men kiss, grope, and do all sorts of naughty things out in the open and in darkened booth because it’s a safe environment. There’s no danger of being raided, and members are considered through recommendation only, with members being accepted only by the hostess herself. What they do in there, none of them would ever so much as hint to out in the open.

Again, depending on the era, you also have to consider how these gay men view other gay men, because yes, it does differ throughout history. I know this is an overwhelming amount of information, but once you choose your time frame, it narrows things down a lot and makes research so much easier. I chose specifically to write in 1920’s and 30’s America– because they’re the eras I’m most passionate about, so I only had to go as far back as the late 1800’s and as forward as the 1940’s to get a clear understanding of things. Sure, I didn’t have to, but I wanted to know what led to folks thinking the way they did in the periods I write in, what came before and after. You might ask what the point of all this is. Why go through such lengths? Because aside accuracy, you know what else this does? Minimizes info dump. If your characters think, act, talk, and breath an era long gone, you don’t have to write out pages and pages of historical facts. This is where ‘show, don’t tell’ can make a big difference.

Remi suit

3. Fashion – Who your character is, his age, and what social class he’s from will reflect in his outward appearance. Hats were a staple pretty much up until the 1950’s and early 60’s, and gentlemen rarely left the house without one. If your fella is from a humble background, he isn’t going to walk around wearing tailored three-piece suits and silk shirts, unless he’s getting his money from somewhere else. How much detail you go into is up to you. Personally, I don’t go into a great amount of detail unless it’s pertinent to the story. In The Amethyst Cat Caper, I pretty much describe everything Remi is wearing because it says a lot about his character and his style. For him, I sought out a signature suit, because of all my fellas, Remi is the most conscious of his appearance. He’s the owner of a high-society tea house with swanky patrons, so he must always look his best, whereas with Hawk, it’s a black overcoat, black three-piece suit, white shirt, black tie, black shoes, and dark gray felt hat with black ribbon around the crown.

If there isn’t a cause for it, like with Remi, I tend to loosely describe a fellas attire. If he’s wearing a suit, I tend to mention color, any notable pattern such as pinstripe, color of his tie, and shirt. I might mention various states of undress, if he’s sans his suit jacket, maybe just in a vest, sleeves rolled up, depending on what’s going on. I assume folks know when I mention a hat–what with a story being in the 1920’s or 30’s, that I don’t mean a baseball cap. If I describe a hat, it’ll be either as a felt hat–maybe the color and ribbon color, or flat cap. The point is, you don’t need to mention by name every single cross-stitch or item of clothing, especially when you go way back in history and have numerous layers to deal with–unless it’s important to the scene or the character. Shoes: brogues, leather, maybe spats or boots. It is, however, important to know what was worn and what wasn’t. If you’re going to go through a great deal of trouble describing the cut of a character’s waistcoat, make sure that cut was actually worn at the time. Gangsters in the 1920’s dressed far more flamboyantly than regular folks. Take hairstyles into consideration. Fashion changed drastically after WWI, bringing about the birth of the teenager. It gave us flappers and dapper daddies. Society faced a different kind of war, old world traditions versus new.

Conclusion to Part 1: After you know the type of story you want to tell, what era it takes place in, and your setting, start developing how your character thinks, talks, and behaves. In order to do that, you must be aware of the world around him, what society thinks of him, and what he thinks of himself. Remember society has come a long way, and you can’t judge your fellas by today’s standards. There have always been bigots, but what is politically incorrect today, may not have been then, what words are taboo today may not have offended then. Words take on different meanings, slang changes. You shouldn’t sacrifice authenticity, but certain situations can be handled with care, if you’re worried about political correctness.

I hope you enjoyed Part 1. Stay tuned next week for Part 2: Atmosphere. If there’s anything I didn’t address here that you would like me to discuss, feel free to leave a comment or drop me an email. If you want to read about how I develop my characters’ personalities, love interests, pasts and such, you can check out this series of posts here.

Charlie’s Guide to Writing Historical Gay Romance – Introduction

WIP WedsmallHello everyone! Last year I started a series of posts on writing, and now that a new year is upon us, I thought it might be nice to continue it. As I was thinking about what topic to start with, I realized the one thing I haven’t covered is a key part of my writing and the source of so many wonderful comments from folks: writing historical romance.

Now this guide isn’t the ultimate guide or anything. This is just how I go about writing my historical gay romances. Heaven knows there are amazing authors out there who have been doing this far longer than I have, but if you’re interested in how I do it, then hopefully you’ll enjoy it.

I know the very idea of writing a historical seems daunting to some folks. Many wonderful authors I know would love to write one, but fear getting it wrong. I won’t lie, it’s A LOT of hard work, but once you lay the foundation of your research, it gets much easier. Granted, if I was hopping all over the timeline of history, I might drive myself barmy, but as I tend to stick mostly to the 20’s and 30’s, it does get a little easier for me research-wise.

So this series will consist of 5 parts. They are the following:

Part 1: Character (Creating your character’s mindset, fashion, speech patterns)
Part 2: Atmosphere (Feel of your historical)
Part 3: Setting (Society’s mindset, timeline, locations, maps, photos, references)
Part 4: Details (Creating believability, reference material, music, furniture)
Part 5: Conclusion (Putting it all together)

In this series I’ll go over everything from creating character, how they dress, talk, interact with those around them, their speech patterns, handling slang, to creating a world for them in a specific time, how they function within that society and the little details which add believability before summarizing it all up. The above are just some of the topics I’ll be covering but there will be plenty more in each post.

Here’s the schedule: (Wednesdays)

Part 1: Jan 16th
Part 2: Jan 23rd
Part 3: Jan 30th
Part 4: Feb 6th
Part 5: Feb 13th

♥ I’m happy to take questions or requests. If you have something you’d like me to address specifically, please feel free to leave your question or comment here on the blog, on Goodreads, or feel free to email me.

x Charlie

The Road So Far and Giving Thanks

leyendecker_1928_thanksgivingsmallHello all! 2012 is nearly gone, and what a year it’s been! As most folks do, I put a lot of pressure on myself. My motto is, if you’re going to do something, do it to the best of your ability. In my case, I’m always pushing myself to do better than what I can, and quite frankly, it can be exhausting, and harsh. It’s the reason I take so damned long to write, but I’m working on that. Of course this way of thinking is a part of me. I can’t change it, and quite frankly I don’t think I want to.

The last couple of months have been pretty tough writing-wise. I’ve had trouble focusing, and getting the words out. Julius’s book should have been finished ages ago. I remind myself I had pretty rough dental surgery in September–when I had wanted to finish his book– which pretty much put me out of commission for the month, but even so, I spent a lot of time being hard on myself. Being surrounded by so many authors who write much quicker, with new releases coming out every week, it made things even tougher. As an author, everything we write comes from inside our heads and hearts, and when your head is fighting you every step of the way, it can kill your mojo. So what do you do? You find a way to get through it. With Thanksgiving this week, I took a moment to have a little think about this year, and what I’ve accomplished.

Keep Calm Carry OnIt’s hard for me to believe how this time last year, I was anxiously waiting to hear back from both Torquere Press and Dreamspinner Press after submitting my very first two stories, The Amethyst Cat Caper and The Auspicious Troubles of Chance. I was a newer than new Newbie. My knowledge on publishing was very limited, despite a good deal of research. There’s only so much you can learn without having experienced it yourself. Then I think about the three or so years previously, the ones that lead me here. I had started writing again because I remembered how much I loved it, and missed it. I also needed an escape. Certain aspects of my life were going from bad to worse. I was miserable at my job. There were closures and redundancies, changes in my personal life which had me confused and scared. After spending eleven years in a city, and country I loved, I knew it was time to come back home, for my own good. I had made up my mind about what I wanted to do with my life by then, finally.

compass smallSome of us are born knowing what we want. We see our path and we follow it. It’s not always smooth sailing, and there are obstacles, but we know we’re heading in the right direction. Then there’s the rest of us. The ones who stand before various paths not knowing which one to take or where it will lead, and where the hell were we when they were passing out the maps and compasses? A lot of times it doesn’t matter where those paths lead, because we don’t know where the hell it is we want to go. So we wander for a while, and after a certain amount of time, we either turn back and start again, or veer off in a totally different direction. I would be of the latter variety.

I was published in February of this year. I forget that a lot. 9 months ago. That’s it. In that time I’ve had every story I submitted published. 1 long novella, 3 novellas,  and 4 short stories, with 1 full length novel near completion, and 3 other stories in various stages of development. I’ve got a slowly growing, and wonderful readership, have made some amazing friends, have been to GRL as an author and met folks who have not only read my stories, but enjoyed them. I’ve had many wonderful reviews from folks who took the time to give me feedback about my work– whether reviewers or readers, of what they liked, what I could do better, all of which I am grateful for. My very first review for my first story was four stars. I started off on a high note. I’m being helped by some pretty amazing folks who at times see more in me than I see in myself, and help pick me up when I’m feeling down. The biggest thing is I’m getting to do what I love, which is what I’ve been striving to do for many years. I have wonderfully supportive family, and friends, who’ve helped me get to where I am. All in all, this Thanksgiving, I have a huge amount to be thankful for. 2012 has been an incredible year, a life-changing year, and I’m looking forward to 2013.

It’s taken me a good while to figure out what I want to accomplish, at least partly, and even if at times I feel like I’m taking three steps back after taking one forward, I’ll keep at it, and try not to forget all the little things I have to be thankful of. And for those of you reading this, thank you. Thank you for taking the time to be here. I know you probably have loads going on in your own life, your own worries, fears, and frustrations. Thank you for all the folks you support by simply being there. Even if you don’t celebrate Thanksgiving, I’m no less thankful for you.

Have a Happy Thursday!

Creating Character Part 2: What’s Your Name, Handsome?

black three piece suit

Hello all! Welcome to this week’s Texty Tuesday, and the next installment of my writing series, this one covering character creation. If you missed part one, you can check it out here.

Congratulations, it’s a boy! Now what do you name him? Coming up with character names can be very tricky, and every author has his or her preferred method, as well as likes and dislikes. Today I’m going to talk about how I go about naming my characters and a few of the sites I use. You can find a few more here.

Here’s a list of my MC’s to date, their nicknames if they have them, and who they are at the beginning of their stories to start off, so you can get an idea of the types of names I tend to go for. Afterward, I’ll explain a little about how I got there.

Stanley Hawk – Pinkerton Detective
Remington Trueblood ‘Remi’ – Tea House proprietor
Chester Trueblood ‘Chess’ – unemployed
Bruce Shannon – Private Investigator
Jace Scarrett – Ex-bank clerk/Bruce’s assistant
Harlan Mackay ‘Harley’ – Prohibition agent
Nathan Reilly ‘Nate’ – Prohibition agent
John Flynn – Police Detective
Danny Brogan – Prohibition agent
Chauncey Irving ‘Chance’ – Legionnaire in the French Foreign Legion
Jacky Valentine – Commandant in the FFL
Jonathan Wolfe ‘Johnnie’ – Legionnaire in the FFL
Bobby Haven – Legionnaire in the FFL
Alexander Reed – Legionnaire in the FFL
Julius Knight – Cabaret performer
Lawrence Reinhart ‘Lawry’ – Cabaret performer
Terry Talbot – Cabaret Perfomer
Edward Clarence – Executive and heir to the Clarence & Co. Dept. Store fortune
Maxfield Clarence – Heir to the Regalis Hotel fortune
Albert Harrison – Heir to the Harrison fortune
Gabriel Chase – Owner of Midnight Radio
Robert Bradley – Mail room Clerk
George Fitzpatrick – Writer
Noah Baxter – Professor

Things I take into consideration when naming my characters:

♥ The era I’m writing in.Sometimes it’s easy to forget that the names we come across today, may not have been around decades ago. I don’t start with the year my story is taking place, but the names that were popular the year my character was born. Example: Stanley Hawk appears in The Amethyst Cat Caper in 1934. He’s 36 years old. Which means he would have been born in 1898. So I bring up my favorite trusty site of 1000 Most Popular Baby Names of the (insert year here), pick 1890s from the drop down menu, and  go down the list. Stanley is #84.

♥ What kind of fella is my character. So why Stanley? He’s a big, rough around the edges, kicking butt detective, shouldn’t he have a big, tough guy name? No. Why? Because he wasn’t born a big, tough detective. Stanley is a nice guy who loves his mom, went to Harvard for a period of time, loves Chinese food, bad duck jokes, and can pull a nickel out from behind your ear. Being a detective is a part of who he is, but it’s not who he is. It doesn’t define him. So I go down the list, with a mental image of him and listen to what my gut is telling me. If more than one name seems to fit, I write them down until I have my surname and then start eliminating.

♥ Common vs uncommon names. Since most of my stories take place in either the 1920s or 1930s, the fellas are going to have pretty common names. John, Bruce, Albert, Robert, etc. That allows me to give them uncommon surnames if I so choose. If they have an uncommon first name, then I’ll try and give them a common surname. There are a few exceptions, such as Remington Trueblood. I went to Baby Names and through the advanced search, ran a filter that showed me only English boys’ names. I started looking for the longest names that would fit a fellow who is the epitome of English high-society. Once Remington popped out, I then had to find him a nickname. Why? Because his father is a pretentious bastard who enjoys to lord his wealth and social standing over everyone, so he would have chosen a name for his son that would reflect that. Despite his upbringing, Remington would not see himself the way others see him. He’s sweet, smart, and kind. He would prefer to be called by a nickname. Hence ‘Remi’. It’s short, sweet, and reflects his true personality. Remi uses his full name much like a shield, to keep people at a distance, but to those he cares about, he insists on being called Remi. This is a list of English boys’ names I use quite often when I want a name based on it’s meaning.

♥ First names as last names. I’m not a big fan of names I can’t easily pronounce, but I am a fan of using first names as last names, which is what I did with my characters Robert Bradley, Noah Baxter, Edward Clarence, Maxfield Clarence, and Albert Harrison. I don’t know, but I just like the way they sound. Though you do have to be careful of which names you choose.

♥ Ethnicity. Between 1850 and 1930, about 5 million Germans immigrated to the United States. Between 1820 and 1930, 3.5 million British and 4.5 million Irish entered America. Considering the years these fellas were born in, they would have either migrated with their families as children, or been born in America not long after their families had come over. Bruce Shannon for example, was born in New York City, but his parents were Irish immigrants. Shannon is a diminutive of Gaelic Ó Seanaigh which means “descendent of Seanach”. The given name Seanach means “wise”, and Bruce for all his grumpy ways, is indeed, wise. This is a fantastic site which allows you to look up surnames either by letter or ethnicity.  Search For Ancestors.com is also a great site for surnames. You can look up by letter or by ethnicity.

♥ Inspiration from outside. Back to Stanley Hawk. How did I come up with Hawk? Well, I take my inspiration where I can get it. I was sitting at my desk, and I happened to look over at my DVD collection. My eyes fell on one of my favorite comedies with Bruce Willis:Hudson Hawk. Bruce Willis’ character is called Eddie Hawkins and he’s the world’s most famous cat burglar. He’s also referred to as ‘the Hawk’. He’s sarcastic, a wise guy, and adorable. I didn’t think twice. I’m a movie addict, of course I get inspired by movies! So I had Stanley and then I had Hawk. It just fit. That’s probably as close as I would get to using a name from a character in a movie, because let’s face it, some movie characters are one of a kind, so if you go and name your action character John McClane, you may come across a few problems. Unless your character is somehow related or something. Anyway, I’m just saying be aware of association.

Sometimes I need a name to fit with the story. For example, Bruce is the kind of fella who finds nicknames for people who do something to annoy him. So when Jace ticks him off, the first thing he would do, is call him by a nickname, one that would express his displeasure in true Bruce fashion. So I had to first think of the nickname Bruce would call Jace that would really get under his skin. With Bruce, I figured he would call Jace some kind of girl’s name because let’s face it, Bruce shares a lot of noirish detective traits, which means he can be pretty oafish sometimes. I went through a list of surnames, trying to find one that could easily sound like a girl’s name. I found the perfect one. Scarrett. Bruce’s nickname to infuriate Jace? Scarlet.

♥ What name will he go by? It’s important that you decide which name your character will go by in your story. Depending on who he is, people will either address him by his first name, or by his surname. I use Stanley Hawk’s name in different ways. Hawk goes by the name of Hawk, because as he says, only his momma calls him Stanley. He regards his surname as a nickname, one that gives the right kind of image for his profession. Yes, Remi calls him Hawk, too, but when Remi is upset with him, hurt, or scared, he will always refer to Hawk as Stanley, because being called Stanley triggers an immediate reaction in Hawk, cutting through that tough guy facade right down to his core. It makes him feel vulnerable. Harlan and Nathan are the opposite. When they introduce themselves, they use their full names. Their nicknames are reserved for each other, which fits with their personalities because outside of each other, there are few people they trust.    

Thanks so much for joining me for Part 2, hope you enjoyed it, and maybe even came away with a little something. Next week’s Texty Tuesday is Part 3: Because I Love You. A look into our MC’s love interest. If you have any questions, feel free to leave a comment or drop me a line. I’m happy to help!

x Charlie x