Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Erastes Day 3 - My DIK Books (cont'd)

Hello again. Ah you've caught me in the waterfall pool with... well, a few of the cabana boys, I'm afraid. I was just explaining to them some of the principles behind my penname...Seems some of them are fans of the Greek already! Who knew?

While we watch the pretty men cavorting together in the water, let me talk a little about the difficulties that the gay historical author has in attempting to write an historical scene in times when hygiene wasn't at the top of anyone's agenda. In some earlier times, water was not only thought to be bad for you, but it could actually make you ill. Some people considered that it was positively evil, and that by getting naked and

letting the water touch you—particularly in intimate areas, such as Guido and Jesus are doing over there…er hem, I'm still speaking…thank you…was to let the Devil enter your body. Whereas in Guido's case it seems that he's lucky – it's just Jesus.

So how to create a sex scene—set in an era where people might, if they were lucky, have a bath once a year—which will titillate and not nauseate? Where there's more lust than lice?

Well, I tend to make my boys be a little fastidious, even pernickety about cleanliness. Ambrose (In Standish)is considered by Fleury to be a little eccentric about his faddiness for keeping clean, but Fleury works hard to keep his lover in soap. This was particularly important because at the time they are making love in Newgate Prison, which, unless you had money (in which case anything was available) you were likely to wallow in your own filth. Create love scenes in Newgate weren't easy and I probably, having read Bernard Cornwell's versionof the prison in The Gallow's Thief, underplayed the noxious aspects of the place.

Baths are always good,
showerbaths existed even in Regency times, and a sponge bath is doable at any time.

Of course it's easier to keep clean if you are rich, which is why, I suppose, many m/m historicals include the nobility. Filling a bath is much easier when you have a handful of staff doing your bidding!Of course there are always times when hygiene was as important as politics, such as the Ancient Roman civilisation and the Greek, so keeping clean for sex is easy there!

In Transgressions I use swimming as a prelude to sex, when I know both young men are nice and clean, and I resort to the dear old sponge bath when my heroes are covered in sweat and mud. "I have no idea how you got mud there" says Tobias as he sweeps his sponge over David's intimate areas. I can assure you that David probably put it there on purpose!

Anyway, let me finish with the remaining Essential Reads that I started yesterday. I hope that you enjoyed my time here and I'd like to offer a signed first edition of Transgressions to one commenter, which I'll pick and announce by Good Friday 10th April.

5. The Back Passage by James Lear
The reason this makes my list is that it's huge fun. It shows that gay historicals don't have to take
themselves at all seriously, and it does not pretend to be more than it is, a funny, hot sex romp. However it DOES achieve more than that – the main character is brilliant, and there's a proper mystery in there to be solved, even if Mitch bends over backwards (*snorts *) in order to solve it.

6. The Boy I Love by Marion Husband

This is a beautiful, quiet and quite underrated and under read piece of work. Set just after the First World War it's a character piece, in an A J Cronin style, of a man returning home, after a ghastly time in the trenches. Can one come home after something like that? Can one really pick up where one left off? What about the lovers you left behind? I was wrapped up in this, and I recommend it to anyone.

7. Swordspoint by Ellen Kushner

I don't suppose there's anyone here who hasn't read this, but if you haven't – you must. Don't be put off with the "fantasy" label, because it isn't really, not at all. It's a story of a rising swordsman, Richard and the way he lives his life in the intricate and convoluted court life in the city where he lives. Beautifully plotted, immaculately described and although the sex is, like Renault's, pretty much off stage it's incredibly erotic and the love between Alec and Richard will break you into pieces.

Well – thank you once again to the ladies of the Island for letting me play, it's been fun being here, and meeting you all. If you are interested in gay historical fiction at all, check out the excerpts on my website and The List on Speak Its Name


jessewave said...

I think the "boys" look very nice by the bathing pool! Perhaps I should join them if it wouldn't frighten them away. :)

vashtan said...

I *knew* there was a reason I was more attracted to the Middle Ages (when hygiene standards were still fairly high!) rather than later. Just all the veneral diseases, syphillis and all the rest...

But then, I guess you *can* overdo historical accurcy, so well done for handling the matter of cleanliness the way you do. :)

Amanda said...

Loving the pictures!*waves* hello boys!!!
I am a little late to your posts sorry! But I have to say that while I have never read anything m/m I think that now I am throughly engaged in the subject I am going to try some of the suggestions that you have given!
Thank you!

Anonymous said...

very interesting. A quick tumble is fine if either party is somewhat grubby but something as intimate as rimming? *shudders* Some form of hygiene is required.

Channel 4's City of Vice featured a wonderful public bath house where one could imagine all sorts of depravities taking place. And one did imagine... a lot. I've seen one of those showers at Calke Abbey in Derbyshire. *goes back to droling over the pretty boys*

anderyn said...

Swimming good. Public baths good. Sweat not so good. :-)

Enjoys your essays and the cabana boys even more every time I read them!

Erastes said...

Jessewave: Go for it. They love rubbing oil into each other. Only I don't think they'll rub it in quite as far with you as they do with each other!

Vashtan: Well, yes, for the rich at least! The rest of them probably looked like Baldrick, bless 'em. Yes, one can go too far, I am sure there are sex scenes with lice, but I really don't want my characters to behave like chimps.

Hello Amanda! Thank you! Oh definitely give it a go, you can't go wrong with any of these, and if you want something not so graphic to ease you in, as it were..., then try Whistling in the Dark by Tamara Allen or anything by Charlie Cochrane.

Hello Lusiology! Yes, most definitely - even in modern times, there seems to be a lot of "let's just do it" in even modern books and I'm often screwing up my face and going ick. City of Vice is wonderful - I treated myself to the DVD and use it a lot for research. I'd love a walk-around map of Georgian London like that.

Hello Anderyn! Nice to see you here! Yes - it doesn't take much ingenuity to get your characters clean, there's always a river around somewhere!! :D

Jambrea said...

I always wondered about being clean in any historical novel. lol It sounds like you went about it in the right way!

Carolyn Crane said...

I'm loving your posts! And I love how thoughtful you are about striking a balance in historicals vis a vis cleanliness. I'd never considered so many challenging little things like that in MM historical. Anyway, more cool books. Wow, I LOVE James Lear.

And I am one who HASN'T read Swordspoint. Consider it on my TBB. Oh, don't enter me though. I just won so much stuff in Dabawaha, give someone else a go.

Anonymous said...

I on the other hand tend to ignore the whole bathing issue and pretend they are clean and that they get a bath somehow the next day... yeah delusional but it keeps down the ick factor for me and I can concentrate on the story.

Erastes said...

Thanks Jambrea. I tend to get a bit hung up about stuff sometimes. I once spent 2 hours researching pews....

Don't ask.

Erastes said...

Thank you, Carolyn Jean! Well done on the haul at SBs!!

I love the little details, I just can't have my men boink without considering stuff like musty straw mattresses and the like!


Erastes said...


I wish I could do that!

Unknown said...

Thanks for the books lists! I'm always looking for good m/m romance, so this helps immenselyl. I wanted to thank you for pointing out the difficulties in accurately portraying historical m/m - and not just for the issues of how homosexuality fits into such restrictive society, but also how cleanliness and germs fit in as well! I think that's an element that's really glossed over with historical romances in general: who wants to talk about squalor and filth when there's loving to be had?

Great post!

Renee said...

I love historical romance and I love m/m, so I can not wait to dip into your backlist, as well as some of the authors you mentioned.

Thank you for the behind-the-scenes look into writing historicals. Those kind of hygiene details will sometimes distract me, so the bath/pond/etc are greatly appreciated!

The pretty pictures are appreciated, as well. ;-)

Erastes said...

Thank you, whateverfor!

Check out the historical list on - there's plenty to choose from there!

When it comes to historical research, I'm probably too worried about it--and much of what I know/learn doesn't even end up in the books, but people are repeatedly saying that they can "feel" they are really there. Basically I like to write as if I'm writing in the time, and not "about" the time, if you get what I mean.. if that makes any kind of sense!

Of course people in those actual times wouldn't think that they WERE smelly, they'd take it all as a matter of course!

Erastes said...

Thank you, Renee!

I'm going to do an m/m historical orkshop on the LJ comm Meta Writers at some point, so I hope people will find that interesting!

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