I’m interviewing the wonderful historical writer Erastes today. She is a member of the Historical Novel Society, Director of The Erotic Authors’ Association and the creator of Speak Its Name, the only site that concentrates on reviews and news of Gay Historical Fiction.
Erastes is also a guest columnist on this site and I’m so appreciative of her contribution.
Hi Erastes. Thank you for agreeing to be interviewed once again.
You are very welcome.
Since we went through the “getting to know you” stage in your first interview a lot has happened in the intervening 12 months. Before I start with the questions, is there anything you would like to say first? (Remember, you can’t say anything here that you couldn’t talk about in Sunday School because this site is for general audiences.) 😀
Not really – I’m hopeless I know…I suppose the major thing that’s happened is joining your blog and having an informal reciprocal agreement regarding historical reviews. Now I’ve got into a rhythm I find it rather liberating. Rather than review a book on both sites, I let another reviewer pick it up on Speak its Name and review it myself on here. It’s been interesting to see how views differ in that respect. Doing weekly posts here has been a lot of fun too, as the readers here are enthusiastic and encouraging in the main.
The last time you were interviewed here was on December 3rd, 2008 and at that time when I asked you to describe Erastes. Here’s what you said
“Lazy and procrastinating. She has a lot of great intentions, but her path to hell will be layered ten deep with them”
How would you describe Erastes now? You have achieved fortune and considerable fame [some would say infamy] 🙂 since then, and have certainly made your mark on the publishing scene with your books, the most remarkable one being Transgressions.
I wish I’d achieved either fame or fortune! LOL. As for describing me, I don’t think I’ve changed at all. I know I should write more, and I know I CAN write more, but each day ends and I find I’ve done eight hours of nothing very much. I’m horribly lazy, and am distracted by the smallest of things, online games, youtube, discussions on m/m – FRIDAY MEN….
It was great to see Transgressions out this year, as I started it such a long time ago I wondered if I’d ever see it in print, but finally, it was. And talking of fortune – the great thing about both Transgressions and False Colors is that they both earned their advance back (False Colors almost exactly so, and Transgressions missed out by a couple of dollars) in just a few months, so perhaps next royalty day I might actually see some money! A year is a long time to wait for payment for a book that took several years to write. Gettin’ rich ain’t what one gets into writing to do…
You have published many books since our last interview and I wonder what has been your experience now that you have made the big time with Running Press. Is working with a major New York publishing house similar to small epubs? For those authors who long to make it in the big time, what can you tell us about your experience with Running Press, in your usual politically correct way?
I’ve been hugely lucky with my publishers, and that’s not me being nice. I don’t tend to do nice when it’s not merited.
I wouldn’t say there was much difference between the time and effort that PD Publishing put into editing of Standish that Running Press put into the editing of Transgressions.
Technically there were differences: you could tell that Running Press had a LOT more money to burn for example. I received the editing copy by POST, on A3 paper from America to the UK which must have cost a bomb, and I got 40 author copies whereas with most publishers I get a mere handful. Running Press put a full-page advert into Romantic Times (causing a few people to have the vapours, I’m sure!) whereas any kind of one-book concentrated advertising is usually out of the question with the small publishers. But when it came to editing, blood sweat and tears as to helping get a better book out there than the one I’d written, I’d say the level of professionalism is similar with everyone I’ve encountered, which is a Good Thing. With novels, at least. Publishers editing short stories is a different matter, and often hit and miss…
You have a significant web presence and I’m sure that this marketing helps book sales. Do you find that this interferes with your writing? How do you prioritize between your marketing efforts and writing?
It does interfere, yes. But.. points to comment about procrastination… I seem to spend at least half a day doing reviews, updating SIN’s facebook, Twitter, and replying to comments and posts around the net. But the books don’t sell themselves, they aren’t that good. I try to promote in the morning and then get some lunch and write in the afternoon. Doesn’t always work like that though. Good intentions. Mumble mumble
Other than your novels, one of your stories that I really enjoyed was Hard and Fast in Speak Its Name.
Do you have any plans to write another story about Geoffrey and Adam now that Speak Its Name has been reissued?
I might, people have asked me, and while I don’t like to cave into reader pressure (or I’d be writing about Rafe and Ambrose and Fleury for EVER), Geoffrey is one of my favourite characters so far. I think it would be interesting to skip forward a couple of years and explore how their trio is working. The het sex would at least be out of the way-the twins that Emily has produced would take care of that… I think Geoffrey is almost convinced they are his! 🙂 Ha ha!
I asked Jenre who reviewed Transgressions to come up with a few questions about this book.
1. Rather unusually, Transgressions was set during the English civil war. What attracted you to that particular period in British history?
My mother suggested it–while I was still working on Standish–she said that it was a pretty much established het romance trope to have star-crossed lovers and there were so many books set in the American Civil War it would be good to have one set in the English Civil War: Lover against Lover as it were. I agreed with her, and she came up with the title (God, I miss her!!!) and I just started it. It wasn’t until I was nearly finished with it that I found Maria McAnn’s marvellous book “As Meat Loves Salt” and realised that it had been done before and better. It did surprise me, though – I’d not have thought anyone would have done the subject.
It was SUCH a period of such transition, which I hope I’ve explored a little. The insular life of people in villages and farms–some were not touched by the war at all–the transmutation as the country fought off the control of the King as He Who Must Be Obeyed, (and the way that this, in a personal way, didn’t affect the protagonists at all, who were just men trying to make a living.) Such turmoil in the grand scale of things, but really, when it came down to it, the ordinary people were just carrying on as well as they could.
2. What would you say were the most difficult passages for you to write in Transgressions – I certainly know which parts were difficult to read and I wonder whether they would be the same.
I would imagine that it was Michael and Jonathan’s interraction that you found difficult? It was terribly hard to write. I became very fond of Jonathan whilst writing the book, far fonder of him than I was of David, who didn’t really change all that much, still running away, still unable to face up to things at the end as he was at the beginning. But Jonathan’s trial was necessary and hard to do to him. Such an innocent, and with a belief that was not as strong as he thought it was.
3. If you were to go back and change anything about that book now, what would you change, or are you 100% happy with the final product?
I’m never satisfied with my work, and because of that, once any book is in print, I cannot go back and read it. They get shoved on a shelf and never touched again. Transgressions was started as LONG time ago and I still wrote very purply back then, and my head hopping in the original manuscript was as bad as it is in Standish. My editor helped de-purple to some degree, and I worked on the head hopping, trying to make it one POV per scene as well as I could, but it’s not entirely smooth in those respects and if I had the opportunity I would re-write it. And Standish. 🙂 But that way lies madness. All you can do is say “well, that’s how it was” and move on – hopefully the readers will see the improvement between Standish and Hard and Fast, and even more with the stuff I’m doing now.
4. The theme of religious extremism and witch-hunting plays a strong role in the latter part of the book. How did this theme come about and what would you say to encourage those who usually dislike those themes to take a chance on your book?
The thing about the 17th century is that it’s absolutely impossible to write a book without including religious extremism of one sort or the other. Religion wasn’t optional, like it is today – it was (particularly in a small community where David and Jonathan begin their story) the heart of the village. In fact, I play down the influence of the church in Edgehill, merely describing the fact that they go to church regularly, and it’s not until after the war, when Jonathan (the more pious of the two) is on the verge of losing his faith, that he thinks he finds it again, in the guise of the Witchfinders.
Despite the Hollywood’s interpretation of the Witchfinders, they didn’t murder women, or burn them at the stake, or even drown them in village ponds. I wanted to show this about the Witchfinders, so people didn’t believe the film with Vincent Price . Although Matthew Hopkins was a charlatan (the device mentioned in the book, the dagger – which he uses to prick the “witchs'” arms and show that they don’t bleed was an actual device, and the blade did go into the handle) he brought the women to trial. The fact that the evidence was fake and the prosecution flummery is another matter, but he was SEEN to be being fair, and giving the women every opportunity to save themselves.
I suppose that’s what I’d say to people who think “oh it’s not for me” – because they might find it interesting that the facts I’ve represented were as true as I could make them. The fact that Matthew Collins had such power, and he could – or his representatives, like Michael – walk into a village and arrest any old woman on the flimsiest of evidence is hugely scary. Can you imagine what life would be like if they could do that today?
5. The end of Transgressions is very much a HFN. Did you write this with the intent that you may go back to Jonathan and David’s story at a later date? Or, if not, would you consider continuing their story?
No, it was deliberate. My mother, and a few readers, and incidentally my editor too, complained that they wanted to know what happened to Jacob and to Elizabeth in particular, but that’s not real life is it? One can’t tie up all the ends. I couldn’t have a reconciliation and THEN them travelling back to Warwickshire in that climate of fear, with David being a deserter and Jonathan being the person he had turned out to be–it would have been sickly sweet and unbelievable. And if I’d had them find the farm in ruins, (quite likely) or taken over by puritans (likely) that would have been horrible too. I want my readers to remember the ending–particularly in this book–and to anticipate what might happen next. How was Jonathan going to explain David, the fact that he’d issued a warrant for his arrest? Would David run again? Would his father have been questioned about his son’s disappearance? All these “what ifs” are what I like to find in fiction myself, so I suppose that’s why I write them. As for a sequel, no – that would be too hard, and not fair on David, Jonathan or the readers!
I know that you’re an avid gamer and you use those skills in your writing. What other fun things do you do in your spare time that you can talk about in public? 😀
I’m hugely boring–gaming is still very much a passion, even though I suck hugely at it. I am slave to one domineering cat and two sweetheart cats (right now there is bellowing in my ear as it’s only half an hour before FEEDING time…) and I have a Dad with Alzheimer’s and that’s about it. If I was richer/thinner I would go back to my true love which is horses. One day, perhaps. Of course I read almost every minute I’m not on the PC or playing games, but that’s not terribly exciting. Maybe I should invent a hobby that I do, like dog sledding… Just to make me seem less like I have no life.
How has life changed for you since the success of Transgressions? Are publishers beating down your door?
In a way – knocking politely, perhaps? I have a contract with Running Press that my future gay historicals must be given to them for first refusal, but they are waiting to see how the sales of the second two books go before they decide whether they are going to continue on with it, so I have permission to sell my novels to others. Hopefully they’ll continue with the line (buy them, people, don’t lose them!) and I won’t have to worry so much.
However I do find that publishers come to me with suggestions for projects or ask me for stories, and bloggers and publications get in touch too–which is amazing to me. I’ve just been asked by Time Out New York to contribute to an article, and Noble Romance approached me last autumn with an idea of me (Exclusive scoop for Jessewave!!) headlining an anthology of four novellas of gay historical fiction and I’ve picked the titles and (subject to Noble Romance’s final OK) the authors are: Charlie Cochrane, Jordan Taylor and it will be introducing a new author Chris Smith. It’s hugely flattering when publishers come to me, and I’m just a gal who can’t say no. But other than that, life hasn’t changed that much!
You have a new book, “Junction X”, that’s a hard sell with publishers because of the subject matter. Could you please tell us a little about this story and why you feel so strongly that it should be published?
It’s a tragedy, and I think that much of the gay fiction world has had enough of tragedy, and I don’t know how being a woman might preclude me selling one. I had a knock back from Kensington who said it sounded good and they liked the writing, but the idea of dead gays was a tired theme, or words to that effect. But it was a story that I’ve wanted to tell for ages as it’s based on a true story, on people that we bought a house from in the 70’s, and the neighbours there. I’ve changed the location, names and even the time era of course, but I feel, in these days when young men are still killing themselves for love it’s an important little story to be told. These days, if a married man fell in love with a younger one, he’d probably just GO, (not that it still won’t upset a lot of people) but back then, not only was the man breaking the law, but he’d lose everything. Job. Wife. Career. House. Kids. Everything.
That being said – despite the fact that it doesn’t end well (how could it?) I think it’s the best love story I’ve written. Not a romance, definitely under the terms of the genre, but definitely a love story.
I did a post recently on the value of book awards in terms of book sales and the majority of comments from authors seem to indicate that awards were of minimal value in this respect. What is your view as a Lambda nominated author? With Lambda being out of the running in terms of the eligibility of straight writers of Male/Male romances to submit their books for consideration in the different award categories, which awards do you think have equal prestige and prominence to replace Lambda for straight writers?
Well, I tend to agree with your readers that awards—judging by what other writers have told me as I’ve won nuffin’ (sob)—have minimal value. It must be nice to put “XXXX winner” on your website and on future books, but frankly, if no-one’s heard of the award in the first place, you aren’t impressing anyone! LOL! (However, I’m gong to do it, if ever I win one, even if I was the only entrant!
More seriously though, I sort of understand why Lambda did what they did; it’s their award, and their mission statement has now changed. And, of course, the awards really aren’t out of the running for straight authors. There is an award for “allies” I believe, and of course straight authors can still enter, they will just be assumed to be LGBT.
I’m usually the kind of person who jumps into filling a gap like this, but how I’d like to do it—with blind reading and independent judging (as far as that’s possible)—would be almost impossible to set up and hugely time consuming to arrange. Time and energy I don’t have. But there are already many prestigious book awards set up and in place.. Perhaps, in the same way that I advocate that we all should be submitting our books to the mainstream press first, we should all be submitting our books to the mainstream awards like The Betty Trask award. Sarah Waters has already won that particular award for example, so why should we sequester ourselves away rather than compete against other books of the same genre? Shouldn’t we all be Out and Proud about our literature too?
When I asked you to be the guest columnist here I never expected that your blog posts would be so successful.
Bloggers are upset whenever your column does not appear. How do you explain this success? Many authors guest blog on different sites but you have definitely endeared yourself to the regulars on the site as well as newbies.
Cool! I didn’t know people missed my posts – how kind of them! I don’t know how to explain their success, (I’m English after all, we don’t do “reasons why I succeed” very well….) Perhaps it’s because I’m just chatty and often a bit silly. Again, it’s the Englishness, but being self-deprecating and having the ability to take the piss out of just about everything – INCLUDING myself first and foremost – means I have no real malice at anything I may poke fun at. Even snail shifters.
What’s next for Erastes?
Well, I’ve already spilled the beans about the new Noble Romance Anthology (premature ejaculation, me and my heroes both suffer from that..) – and that will be exciting.
I’ve promised Lethe an anthology of historical short stories (by lots of authors, not just me!) which I need to get started on, if I can find enough authors who are interested, and as for what I’m writing next… Hmmm. I’ve been mulling that over in my head for the last several months. I think it will probably be “The Further Adventures of Fleury” (working title) – so many people have asked for a Standish sequel, and while I can’t accede to their request for more of Rafe and Ambrose, I think that Fleury needs to have a final fun frolic. It will be much more sexual than my work to date, a real Regency Romp – but set in America as he shags his way across the continent.
I’m setting myself a target of one full novel, one novella and a short story a month. I’ll assess whether that’s possible for Ms Lazy Knickers at the end of the year. I get the rights back for “Chiaroscuro” (my only vampire novella) in September, sadly saleswise it’s been a disaster, even though people seemed to like it, so I’m planning to revamp it (scuse the pun) perhaps extend it up to 30k and see if Cheyenne would like it, perhaps as a standalone.
I think that’s more than enough for one year!!
What new books do you have scheduled for release within the next 3 – 6 months?
Only the Noble Romance anthology, I’m afraid. The stories are wonderfully varied: from Egypt to Gold Rush to Hong Kong to Italy and a lovely mix of timezones too. I think people will like it.
As well as “Junction X” which is working its way around agents, I’m attempting to sell a Victorian Gothic Romance set in the Norfolk Broads (where I live) – and that’s being considered by a publisher at the moment. Hopefully that might get into print this year, but I don’t know if it will get out that soon. Here’s hoping!
Thank you Erastes.
Thanks, Wave – it’s always fun to be here.
ERASTES’S CONTACT INFORMATION
Speak Its Name (gay historical fiction) www.speakitsname.com
Bosom Friends (lesbian historical fiction) www.bosomfriends.wordpress.com
Director of the Erotic Authors Association. www.eroticauthorsassociation.com