Monday, April 27, 2015

Leaving the Garden

By Lisabet Sarai

Over the next two weeks here at the Grip, we will be talking about how our writing has changed over time. Initially I was going to focus on craft issues. I planned to compare some passages from my first novel, written fifteen years ago, with text from more recent work, and highlight how much more skilled I’ve become at things like dialogue and sentence structure.

Instead, I’ve decided to talk about a more fundamental issue—my loss of innocence.

My early works were naive translations of my favorite fantasies into prose. I’d had little exposure to erotica as a genre. I wasn’t following any sort of rules. I wrote what aroused me personally, without worrying about whether it would have the same effect on someone else. My heroines were sexually voracious, unapologetically experimental, brave, curious and eager for new experience. I was like that myself in those days. The women (and men) in my books were more so.

As a consequence, my first three novels, especially (Raw Silk, Incognito and Ruby’s Rules—recently re-released as Nasty Business) feature all sorts of activities and couplings. Taken together, they include everything from cross-dressing to enemas—voyeurism and exhibitionism, homosexual and lesbian interactions, group sex, gang bangs, age play, fisting, golden showers, pegging, femdom, pseudo-incest, as well as spanking, flogging, bondage and the like. I wasn’t shy about writing it if it turned me on. And in those early days, before I’d read and written hundreds of thousands of erotic words, almost everything did.

I suspect that many writers of erotica began, like me, by exposing and exploring their own favorite scenarios of desire. The result is often searingly sexy. The author has poured his or her personal libidinous imaginings into the story, with all the accompanying emotions. Readers pick up on the emotional truth, and react to it. These self-disclosive stories are direct and intense. They hit you in the gut, or perhaps more appropriately, in the groin.

Even as I cringe at the quality of the writing, my early stories still have an intensity that melts me to a puddle of lust whenever I reread them.

As I became more familiar with the world of publishing, my work became less spontaneous, more consciously constructed. I began writing short stories to match anthology themes. I contracted with an erotic romance publisher and discovered that readers didn’t necessarily share my preference for pan-sexual diversity. Without realizing it, I acquired the knowledge of good and evil—or rather, marketable versus not.

My writing changed in response to this knowledge. I tamed my id to satisfy editors, reviewers and the public. At the same time, I was learning how to communicate more effectively through my prose, how to grab the reader’s attention and keep it focused where I wanted it. I moved away from writing as confession or self-gratification toward writing for an imagined audience. I acquired the ability to modify my style to match the preferences of that audience.

The market was changing at the same time. The readership for erotic fiction grew but I think the tolerance for extreme or unusual activities shrank. My pre-AIDs-era heroines who’d have unprotected sex with strangers if the mood was right began to seem shocking as well as old-fashioned. My occasional interest in enemas and golden showers would make the bulk of the reading community run away screaming—as well as getting me banned from Amazon.

Perhaps to compensate for the reduced sexual diversity in any one of my tales, I began to experiment with different forms. I wrote M/M, F/F, ménage, paranormal, historical, science fiction, steam punk, in addition to the BDSM that was my first love. As I’ve matured as a writer, I’ve gained the confidence to tackle new sub-genres. Just recently I wrote my first tentacle porn story as well as my first F/F fantasy piece.

My publishing history makes me proud. I may not be as prolific as some of my peers, but I’m a far more skillful and accomplished writer than I was in 1999, when Raw Silk poured out of me in an excited frenzy. Still, I can’t help looking back with a sense of nostalgia to the days when reading my own work would leave me breathless and damp.

I’ve finally given up on the notion of being financially successful with my writing, and so I’ve decided to try suspending the censor and critic, if I can, and writing once more from my loins. I’m not the same woman I was back then, though. My life-changing initiation into dominance and submission is thirty years behind me. Memories grow pale and worn with constant rehearsal. I’m post-menopausal, a state which gives me new appreciation for the power of hormones. And I’m pretty well sated from reading erotica by others. It takes an extraordinary story these days to make an impression.

I’ve been away from the garden for a long time now. The gates are barred by time and experience. I have to accept that I’ll never write my way back into that state of innocence.


Friday, April 24, 2015

They Sang Too

by Jean Roberta



At the risk of taking up more of my fair share of space on this topic, I have something to add about the cultures of the past.

Before the invention of television, and especially before motion pictures and radio, most people created their own entertainment. This meant that music was once ubiquitous in every culture I have ever heard of. Look up a book on “folk music,” and you will find work chanties that were used to maintain rhythm among teams of men performing repetitive motions. You will find ballads of various kinds: the kind that were passed down within families, and the “broadside” versions that were quickly composed when someone was executed in public. You will find lullabies and love songs and laments and jokes in verse.

There is a reason why remarks about "playing the lute" when that instrument was popular (see the illustration) often included a double-entendre. (Wink wink, nudge nudge.)

Structured poetry and song lyrics are essentially the same thing, so musical cultures produced poetry on the page. Older novels nearly always include poems. (Does anyone remember that Frankenstein, Mary Shelley’s famous horror novel, first published in 1818, includes verses by the author’s husband?) Sir Walter Scott, a novelist who was widely popular in the nineteenth century but rarely read any more, included poetry in his work. Reading his books as a teenager, I could imagine his characters singing.

My teenage years saw the rise of The Hobbit and the Lord of the Rings novels by J.R.R. Tolkien, who had been known (if at all) as a medieval scholar before he was discovered in the 1960s as a fantasy writer. As one reviewer of the time pointed out, nearly all his characters (elves, dwarves, hobbits, magicians) sing, sometimes at length. (The orcs, who are evil to the core, seem to be the exception. Of course, they would be philistines with no rhythm.)

Several years ago, one of my students in a first-year university English class requested that we study the poem from Lord of the Rings that begins: “Earendil was a mariner/Who tarried in Arvernien.” The words almost sing on the page.

When each novel in the Lord of the Rings series was turned into a blockbuster movie, I was impressed. The plots, the characters, the cultures, the dialogue, even the terrain (filmed in New Zealand) all seemed faithful to the novels. But where was the music? It's there in the background, as in all Hollywood movies, but the characters don’t sing. Would their sagas have seemed too anachronistic in the current age? Were singers and musicians too hard to find?

As a reader of fiction written in the past, I am usually aware of the importance of song when I write historical stories. Alice in Wonderland (first published 1865) is largely a series of parodies by “Lewis Carroll” of poems by contemporaries, such as William Wordsworth. In my tribute story, “Becoming Alice,” Alice’s cat Dinah sings the following, a popular song in the fictional world of my story:

“When your bosom’s aflame/With desire beyond shame/To be fondled, embraced and hard-pressed,
When you’re mad as a goat/’Neath a starched petticoat,/And you wish to be wholly undressed,
Then you’re simply alive./You just need a good swive,/And to satisfy others as well.
No need to tut-tut./The whole world is in rut,/And you’d find no such pleasures in Hell.”*

In my ghost story, “Authentic” (set in a local historic building, the official residence of the first Lieutenant-Governor of Saskatchewan and his wife in 1905), the First Lady of a newly-formed Canadian province hints at her past love affair with a girlhood friend when she sings a song of her own composition, accompanying herself on the piano. The modern-day historical consultant who sees and hears her thinks Diana is a tour guide wearing the evening gown that the real Diana wore for her full-length oil portrait. As it turns out, Diana is a ghost who is capable of exchanging emails.

For better or worse, I can’t quote Diana’s song here because I don’t have a copy of it at home. (The story appears in Haunted Hearths and Sapphic Shades: Lesbian Ghost Stories from Lethe Press, 2008.)

For writers of historical fiction who feel that structured verse is either too hard to write or too cheesy to read, here is a scary fact: before the rise of the novel in the 1700s and before traveller’s tales of the 1600s, written narratives not only included poetry, they were poetry. Look up The Canterbury Tales (referred to in my last post), or a faithful version in modern English, and you will find that every story is told in rhymed couplets. Look for The Song of Roland (to learn about “courtly love”) and you will find verse after verse after verse. The same is true of Beowulf, a stirring hero story in Anglo-Saxon or Old English (spoken in England before the Norman Conquest of 1066). In my mother’s time, every university student who majored in English had to study Beowulf as a foundational work.

Does anyone plan to write a book-length historical erotic story in poetry? (Or even a story-length erotic poem?) That would be an interesting project.
------------------------

*”Becoming Alice” can be found in my single-author collection, The Princess and the Outlaw: Tales of the Torrid Past (Lethe) and in The Mammoth Book of Best New Erotica 13, ed. Maxim Jakubowski (Constable & Robinson).

Illusions by Candlelight

By Jean Roberta

There is so much to say on this topic that I hardly know where to start.

At one time, I didn’t think it was possible to write explicit sex scenes in the style of some past era. I probably believed that sex hadn’t been discovered before the time of my parents’ courtship (WW2, hubba-hubba). Then I read The Mammoth Book of Historical Erotica, edited by Maxim Yakubowski (circa 1999). Those stories were both hot and realistic, and some were set in times and places before the Christian Era.

I wanted to write that stuff, but I wasn’t sure I could.

A lot of popular historical art that has been produced since 1980, approximately, manages to produce the flavor of a past era, but with full use of current technology and the relative freedom of a culture that isn’t dominated by a Church or an all-powerful Emperor. Historical movies that fit that description include the painterly films The French Lieutenant’s Woman (with a kind of Victorian palette) and Goya in Bourdeaux (which looks like the kind of film the Spanish painter Francisco Goya would have produced if video cameras had existed in the 1700s). Then there is Schindler’s List, set in the 1940s and shot in black-and-white, but with a crisper, clearer chiaroscuro than you can see in any movie actually made in that time.

The literary version of that kind of thing avoids the kind of euphemisms that were generally used in “literary fiction” (as distinct from “porn”) right up to recent times. (Try reading Hemingway’s famous line that “the earth moved,” or the intense abstractions in D.H. Lawrence’s sex scenes, or Radclyffe Hall’s version of lesbian sex: “And that night, they were not divided.” See if you can keep a straight face.)

Like Lisabet, I love the Victorian era (1830s-1900), though the Enlightenment and Romantic eras seem fun too (mid-1700s-1830s). I like the combination of a culture that is now far enough in the past to seem exotic, yet close enough to our time that the literature actually written in those days is still comprehensible. The language doesn’t need to be translated.

Shakespeare’s era (approximately 1590-1616) is a little more remote, but as Sacchi demonstrated, it’s still possible to write a story with a Shakespearean feel that doesn’t require pages of footnotes to be understood. (And on that note, William Shakespeare was born AND died on April 23. We can still drink to his memory a day late.)

Then there is the Renaissance and before that, the Middle Ages. Linguistically, 1100-1450 (more or less) was the era of Middle English, which definitely does not look or sound like modern English. Here is a famous passage (part of the Prologue of the Canterbury Tales, circa 1380s), which I can still recite from memory:

WHAN that Aprille with his shoures soote
The droghte of Marche hath perced to the roote,
And bathed every veyne in swich licour,
Of which vertu engendred is the flour;
Whan Zephirus eek with his swete breeth
Inspired hath in every holt and heeth
The tendre croppes, and the yonge sonne
Hath in the Ram his halfe cours y-ronne,
And smale fowles maken melodye,
That slepen al the night with open ye,
(So priketh hem nature in hir corages):
Than longen folk to goon on pilgrimages.

(There are many more lines, but these are the ones I remember.)

Anyone who wants to set a plot in an English-speaking environment before the mid-fifteenth century, and lure a non-scholarly 21st-century audience to read it, has to improvise a lot.



In order to write a story set in the universe of King Arthur (though technically, it’s about his conception), I reread my old copy of The Morte d’Arthur by Sir Thomas Mallory (mid-1400s).

Here is the beginning of my story:

My lord, the Duke of Cornwall, has accepted Christ Jesus as his savior for a score of years. As his lady, I have a duty to pray as he does before our people, whatever I believe in my heart. My lord’s honor deserves no less.

How different things were when the Maiden, the Mother and the Crone commanded us to follow our hearts. No man took offense if his lady held a paramour in her arms before the Beltane fires, nor would a good woman try to keep her wedded lord on a short tether throughout life. I remember a time when love was not confined, but I was a little maid who barely understood it. I was simply Igraine then, and I was too merry to be wise.

Now I wait alone behind the thick stone walls of Castle Tintagel for news of my lord Cornwall, and of the King that I love beyond measure. They plan each other’s destruction, and I fear for them both.


I’ve written elsewhere about the challenges of writing this story. The editor to whom I sent it liked the style, but didn’t find the story sexy enough, even after I had revised it to give Igraine more, shall I say, physical ecstasy. Her emotional ambivalence (the King and the Duke are threatening to tear the kingdom apart over her – oh, for the love of all the saints!) seemed inherent in the original story. Whether this story will ever find a home remains to be seen. I might have to rewrite it as straight historical fiction, with much of the sex kept out of sight.

Since Annabeth was so flattering about The Flight of the Black Swan (set during the American Civil War, 1861-1865, and slightly beyond), I’ll introduce the narrator, Emily (represented in the audio version by a British actor, Catherine Carter). Here are her opening lines:

Almost the worst thing that can happen to a young lady is to be loved by her parents.

Consider it: attentive mothers and fathers do all in their power to protect their daughters from risk and notoriety—in short, from every experience which gives savor to life. Fortunately, I approached the age of majority with my most exciting memories of childhood intact.




The book is available in several formats from Amazon and from the publisher, Lethe.

I would love to read a sexually-explicit version of the gothic novel Wuthering Heights (written in the 1840s, but with much backstory set in the late 1700s). Since a certain British publisher has been soliciting raunchy versions of the “classics” for several years, I suspect that someone more qualified than I will write it before I could finish the necessary research. But then, there are quite a few intense female-female relationships in the fiction of that era that would benefit from a clearly lesbian interpretation. :)

Thursday, April 23, 2015

More Into This Than I Thought

by Annabeth Leong

I never seek out historical fiction. In fact, I confess to an inner sigh at the thought. There is something about the phrase "historical fiction" that seems like too much work to me.

Then I think about my favorite things, and the historical pieces start stacking up.

I'm not sure if Jean Roberta will be too modest to talk about her own work, but I love The Flight of the Black Swan madly. Not only is it hot and wonderfully shameless, it has one of my very favorite historical elements: boats. Women running off on boats has always been an instant sell to me, since way, way back, when I first read Avi's The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle. If Amazon ever makes a bestseller list highlighting those titles, I will go bankrupt.

When I consider more deeply, I think part of it is that I'm not endlessly interested in every little detail. The clothes alone don't get me, nor do the events or the particular places. There are, however, things I really like. I'm interested in manners and protocols and the conflicts they create. Because of that, I've gradually had to admit a great weakness for regencies or anything Jane Austen-y.



While I'm plugging other people's books, here's another: Sense and Sensuality: Erotic Fantasies in the World of Jane Austen, edited by the excellent J. Blackmore.



A great deal of last week was dominated by a frantic and obsessive reading of Penelope Friday's Petticoats and Promises. This is, wonder of wonders, a lesbian regency romance. I am no expert, but it felt accurate to me, and did engage with issues of the scandal that would result if the romantic connection between the two main characters was discovered. It has some erotic scenes, but I'd say it's on the romance side of the line.

Anyway, as I was reading I kept thinking I would read the hell out of this genre if it was more of a genre. I even spent a couple days googling "lesbian regency romance" and various combinations thereof to see if I could find a list (and I'll gladly take recommendations in the comments!).

I think a lot of what I'm interested in is rebellion, no matter when or where it happens. It's particularly fascinating in a restrictive historical context. As people have pointed out, there are pitfalls to this. It's easy to understate the challenges characters are facing, or to overlook the way a character would likely think as a product of his or her time. When it's done right, it can make me ache and thrill.

My own historical writing is usually on that theme. I'm thinking about stories like The Miracles of Dorothea of Andrine, which I researched for extensively. It's deep in church politics, about a bishop investigating a woman who's been put forward as a candidate for beatification. What he finds, however, is that the woman in question has been heading a matriarchal Virgin Mary-worshipping sex cult.

I normally avoid advertising my own work here, but today is sort of fortuitous—it's the cover reveal day for Liquid Longing, which is a collection of many of my erotic speculative fiction stories and novellas. A lot of the pieces are set in fantasy versions of historical locations. In addition to the religious novella I already mentioned, there's also a piece set in ancient Tokyo, several stories set in ancient Greece, and one inspired by Mongolian legend. The cover artist put a lot of incredible research into creating the cover I'm posting here. Since I've already crossed the line, I'll also mention that I'm looking for people interested in reading advance copies of this book as well. Feel free to shoot me an email or ask me about it in the comments. I will warn that these stories are erotic, not romantic, and many of them are dark or taboo.



I feel like I've been incredibly scattered in this post, and I apologize for that (and for my lateness). I hope I'll get it together for a better essay-style thing next time! And I guess I should try to write an erotic story about a woman running off on a boat. :)

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Contagion


By Daddy X

As serendipity would have it, last week on ERWA Storytime, the WOW (word of the week) was ‘fortuitous’. I figured I’d write something that would knock off two birds, so to speak.

If anybody wants to check the history of this little bit of inanity, you’ll find that it’s mostly historically correct, down to Faustina’s infidelity, Cassius Syrian campaign, Commodus’ imbecility, and a mysterious illness that hit Rome during Aurelius’ time. Of course, we take some…ahem…liberties



Contagion

The Pax Romana of Antoninus Pius had been crumbling for years. Parthian wars, fought by Marcus Aurelius’ adoptive brother, Lucius Verus, had been won largely by military skill and the competence of General Cassius, currently at the Syrian helm.

And, in just a few months to the future, a vicious epidemic would strike Rome, devastating a major section of the empire’s population.

However, in Cappadocia, the campaign on the battlefield had not yet been resolved. In his commander’s tent, Marcus called for his scribe.

“Scrivinius!” he cried. “Come, take dictation. I feel inspired to continue my work.”

“Yes, my liege. Have you decided on a title yet?”

“I’m thinking… ‘Deep thoughts in Stoicism’?”

“Not bad. How about ‘Thinking Deep’?”

“No, that’s not right either. We’ll come up with something soon enough. No need to jump to any decisions yet. After all, there’s no submissions deadline; I’m the fucking emperor.”

“Haha, my liege. You’re a real card, you are.”

“One should take serious matters seriously. Titles aren’t important.”

“Ahh,” sighed Scrivinius. “Now that you mention it, there is another, more serious matter.”

“And what would that be, my expendable slave?”

“Sorry to say, sir. It’s your wife.”

“Faustina? My love? The Roman people’s ‘Mother of the Camps’?”  

“That’s the problem, sir. That’s not what the legions call her.”

“And what would they call her, miserable Scrivinius?”

“I’d rather not say, sir.”

“C’mon, lowly scum. You know I won’t get angry.”

“Oh, my master. You’re always so stoic about these things.”

“Never mind. Is it the boor Cassius? I know Faustina once had an infatuation with that insufferable whack job. Our daughter Lucilla may be his.”

“No. For years your bride has been availing herself of that randy legionnaire, Fortuitous Maximus, sir. He’s spearheads the front lines of the rape squad, making new Romans of Cappadocia’s future issue.”

“Yes, I’ve heard of him. Hung like a horse, I hear. He’s known to be Rome’s biggest promoter. Increases citizenship wherever he’s stationed.”

“Well, he just may be making additions to your family as well, sir, the way he’s boffing Faustina.”

“I can’t be bothered with that horny pudenda. Christ—always hanging around, bugging me to fuck her. At least lately she’s been leaving me alone to my meditations. 

“Hey! ‘Meditations’! There’s a good one!”

“Nah. Far too presumptuous. We’ll think up something, my scabrous Scrivinius. What else? Is there anything pending that can’t wait until the book is finished?”

“It’s your son Commodus again. Little prick put garum in the wine, sir.”

“Well, that will never do. Put that twit bastard in his tent and make him study. The fucking dunce could use some sophisticated education. Why is that kid always pulling practical jokes anyway? Doesn’t he have any motivation at all?”

“With all due respect, sir, Commodus doesn’t really have the brains to pull a joke. He likes his wine with fermented fish paste.”

“Damn fool. Where’s his common sense? Okay, what other problems to be addressed? I want to get back to writing?”

“Cassius is getting full of himself again, this time in Syria.”

“What the fuck do we need that desert for? Let him take it. If he’s half the asshole I think he is, his own troops will murder him soon enough and come back to me. Just let things take care of themselves.”

All of it was true. Marcus’ ambivalence to war was an embarrassment to his generals. To them he seemed more interested in learned studies than in maintaining Rome’s territory. Since the rule of Hadrian, Rome’s geographical empire had been shrinking.

Meanwhile, in another tent, on the opposite end of camp, Faustina took her morning ablutions:

“What’s happened here?” asked Sculleria, the Empress’ handmaiden.

“Fortuitous again,” replied Faustina. “The man has no self-control, I’m afraid.”

“By the gods! Will it heal? Both your holes appear so…so disrupted”

“It’ll be okay in a few days. Maybe just torn a bit.”

“Should I send for a surgeon?”

“No, it’s to be expected when you’re fortuitous enough to ride the truncheon that swings between Fortuitous’ legs. It’s how he got the moniker ‘Maximus’. Plus, I have plenty of experience with banquet orgies following a battle. Those soldiers get pretty worked up creating all that chaos. Actually, to get the best action, you have to get there before they get drunk and go out on rape patrol. They lose all their endurance with those things, rendering them useless for days.”

“Shall I apply an unguent?”

“Please. Massage it in easy though. It’s tender down there.”

Sculleria stepped to a shelf and selected a swirled green glass unguentarium from a wooden rack, the bottle seated among several others of various hues. She poured a dollop of liquid into her palm. “But what if the Emperor sees your fanny? What would he say if he wants sex with you? You certainly can’t accommodate him, at least not in these two portals.”

“Fat chance. All that nerd is good for these days is philosophizing and jerking off. Marcus isn’t interested in anything but that fucking book of his. Never a moment for me.”

“But the Emperor has fathered so many of your children.”

“Out of nine, I figure at least six are someone else’s. I know for a fact young Commodus is the issue of Fortuitous.”

The maid muttered, “Not surprised.”

“Not surprised at what?”

“Well they are on the same level. Intellectually, I mean.”

“One doesn’t need brains to wield a lance like that man does. Fortuitous could get any puella in the realm.”

“He does,” Sculleria agreed. “He has any of them, whenever he wants. Neither sheep nor shepherd are spared either.”

“Yes, he certainly does rampage. And by the way, I’ve been experiencing an itch down there. It’s getting worse since we’ve been on the road. Maybe Fortuitous has picked something up.”

“My soldier boy, Frenulous, says he’s itching too. He said Fortuitous took him in the rear last week, and now I’m feeling something suspicious down there as well.”

“Maybe you should tell Marcus. Perhaps he’ll send you back to Rome.”

  

BTW- For an example of the glass bottle, see my post “Shelf Life” which happened to be the last post of 2013. If you simply hit 2013 just to your right here, it’ll come right up.








Tuesday, April 21, 2015

The Joy of Historical Erotica by Suz deMello

I love to write historical erotica and romance mostly because of the research. I love history, especially the way people used to live. Don’t get me wrong—I’ve not one of those starry-eyed nostalgia freaks who longs for the “good old days.” I know well that the old days were not good. We live in a wonderful period in history and in a great society, (to rip off LBJ). We have antibiotics, clean air, healthful food and drinkable water. I’m especially grateful because I lived in China, a developing country, for the better part of a year. China’s air pollution is famous but few Americans seem to be aware that the water isn’t drinkable without boiling it.

I wrote the first draft of a Regency, Lord Devere’s Ward, by drawing upon my experiences traveling in England, reading other Regency romances, most notably Georgette Heyer, and studying the manners, mores and art of the time. 

Bad water was also the norm in Regency England, but people weren’t aware of bacteria—the germ theory of disease wasn’t completely formulated until later in the century. But they knew that foul water was bad, which accounted for the popularity of tea as well as gin and ale.

I placed the book in 1820, toward the end of the Regency period, and on the cusp of the Industrial Revolution, so I had a lot of fun researching the clothes and food of the time.

When researching and writing a novel, I like to base plot points on some unique aspect of the era. In Devere’s Ward, the art of the time precipitates a plot twist late in the story. I don’t want to reveal it, because it’s pretty important, but I will say that because few people were literate, the news and events of the day were often communicated via cartoons and broadsides that were pasted to shop windows, walls and pillars.

I invite you to delve more deeply into this fascinating time and place by looking at some of the resources available online. I particularly like Candice Hern’s website, http://candicehern.com/regency.htm, and the Jane Austen’s World blog (http://janeaustensworld.wordpress.com/). 

Here's where you can find Devere's Ward--it's available in both print and ebook:

When I wrote Sherlock's Scandal, I had Sherlock and Irene dine before they got into the sexy stuff, so I had the opportunity to research the food of the time.  I fed them roulades of salmon on braised greens followed by a syllabub, and they drank Champagne. Did I imagine a realistic meal?

The Champagne, certainly. Wine has been made in the Champagne region of
France ever since the country was known as Gaul—i.e., since the Roman era. However, the development of the bubbly drink we now prize came rather later. The monk Dom Perignon, whose name still adorns bottles of the finest Champagne, lived from 1638-1715. But according to Wikipedia, his main focus was ridding the wine of the bubbles, which are the natural result of the fermentation process. The drink we know today was developed in the nineteenth century by the house of Veuve Cliquot, which was joined by  Krug (1843),Pommery (1858) and Bollinger (1829).

The fish, also. The Billingsgate market alone sold 136,000 tons of fish annually (http://www.victorianlondon.org/food/feeding.htm) including salmon. The salmon would likely have come from “the firths and bays of Scotland,” that country having been long famed for its fine salmon. The greens upon which the roulades were served may have come from Covent Garden, “the great vegetable market of the metropolis.”

The dessert, syllabub, had been known in England at least from the sixteenth century. It’s a pudding of various consistencies—I’ve seen it thick enough to eat with a spoon, or a thinner concoction poured over fruit or cake. 


If they had enough money, the average Londoner ate well even though food inspections were intermittent. However, some of the grub they fancied are somewhat foreign to our palates.

A few examples: Bloaters, a street food, was a cold, smoked herring that was eaten whole, gills and eyes included. The painting to the left depicts bloaters as seen by Van Gogh. Calves’ foot jelly—a dish my British mother made until we all rose up in protest—was also popular. Some of the tastier dishes available on the street include meat pies—pasties, which you might want to wash down with ginger beer, a perennial favorite that’s still available.



Here’s where you can buy Sherlock’s Scandal: 

I could go on and on...I've written a lot of historicals and done a lot of thoroughly delightful research... Enjoy!

Monday, April 20, 2015

At Play in the Fields of the Past

Sacchi Green

History has always fascinated me. The past is a different enough world from the present to be as interesting as any fictional story, and sometimes even more so, because the present grows out of the past and can’t be fully understood without knowing what came before. Of course written history can’t be relied on to be factual—it depends on who wrote what from which perspective, and with what agenda, and so many other variables—but that doesn’t prevent it from making an engrossing story, especially when presented in fictional form by really good writers.

As a kid, and on into my teens, I loved to read Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn (which took some further maturity to really understand, but still grabbed my imagination,) and Little Women, and all of Jane Austen’s novels, and the Sherlock Holmes stories (as much for the sense of the period and the atmosphere as for the mystery element) and so many other books that let me feel immersed in the world of the past without having to cope with the discomforts of really living then. Those were books written more or less during the eras they depicted—Mark Twain was already looking back at a past world, but one he’d inhabited—but I also loved books by authors writing of eras long before their own, like Scott’s Ivanhoe and stories about legendary figures such as Robin Hood, and novels about more recent periods like Gone with the Wind.

Maybe my longing for other times that seemed more interesting than my own had something to do with growing up in a small town in the truly boring 50s. When I discovered Kerouac, it was in the 60s or close enough, so by then the Beat Generation was well in the past, but still an active influence on “our” generation that produced hippiedom and sit-ins and rock-and-roll and even feminism. I said in a comment to a previous post here that history is what happened before a time you can remember, but I take that back—the 60s and 70s are history now to me, and so is pretty much everything before the 21st century. History never holds still.

When it comes to my own writing, I especially love to set stories in the ready-made world of the past, and I often enjoy the research more than the writing. Almost always, in fact. Writing is the hardest part. Whenever possible I try to read contemporary accounts of the period, to get a sense of the flow of the language and the perspectives of the people, although the farther back the time period the harder that gets.

I’ve written several erotica stories set during WWII, and found invaluable first-person accounts (although often through interviews by more recent writers) of what it was like to be a woman WASP pilot ferrying warplanes or the Russian “Night Witch” women pilots and bombardiers flying hundreds of missions against invading German troops. I’ve written Vietnam-era stories, too, with memoirs by WACs and nurses serving “in country” augmenting my own memories of what it was like stateside. In those cases, of course, language was no problem. Writing a story set during WWI was more of a stretch, but not much—dozens and dozens of British mystery novels set more or less in that period had been a large part of my youthful reading, and I still love the Lord Peter Wimsey books by Dorothy L. Sayers. Not to mention Wodehouse.

When I ventured into the Elizabethan period, Shakespeare was my obvious source, both of language and plot. What could inspire a transgender story better than a theatrical tradition of boys playing girls (and sometimes playing girls disguised as boys?) The language had to tread a line between the modern and the Elizabethan, of course, leaning much more toward the modern, and I don’t know how successful I was, but it was a lot of fun. So much so that I’ll indulge myself in an excerpt:
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A Dance of Queens

Midsummer’s Night, the play safely done, dusk sweet as a languorous touch on yearning flesh...and still I could not take my love into the greenwood and lay her on my cloak and be consumed in her fire.

I cursed my own impatience. We should have pressed on without pause, but Quenta had tormented me so, slipping a hand beneath my shirt and then down into my breeches until I could scarce walk, and must stop for a taste of the feast to come.

So the Queen’s messenger had caught us. And truly, by the shimmer in the air at the instant she appeared, I knew there had never been hope of escape. In the Welsh hills and valleys we have tales, more than tales, of such creatures, though I had thought the filth and disbelief of London must repel them. At another time I would have been glad that the green countryside along the Thames still held such folk. Glad or no, we had no choice now but to let the greenwood’s promise fade into shadow.

Frustration pounded in my veins. I jerked away from Quenta’s touch, the mere brush of her hand making me forget that I must not even think of “him” as “her” until we could be blessedly alone.

I focused on the wide skirt sailing just ahead. Though the farthingale was not devised with a lady dwarf in mind, its absurdity was more than countered by the messenger’s bearing and the Queen’s crest broidered on her sleeve. It scarcely needed Quenta’s nudge to put me on guard against those keen, merry eyes, though they looked up at me from about the level of my belt.

Such danger should have chilled my ardor. But surely the Queen would waste little time on us, might have forgotten already her whim. At most there could be a gracious word or two, perhaps a small purse. Why, then, command that we bring our play-garb? A jest among her ladies?

But in the great bedchamber we found Her Majesty alone, a slim, pale figure whose aura crackled through the paneled room like heat-lightning.

Our diminutive guide swept a curtsy. “The player boys, Madam. Quentin O’Connor and Kit Rhys.”

Bright tired eyes assessed us. “Well enough, Gwen. Now keep us private for a bit.” The attendant gave me a wicked sidelong glance as she went to sit between the great oak door and the carven screen before it.

Quenta elbowed me sharply. I joined her in an elegant stage bow, feeling the royal glance caress our snug-hosed calves. Her Majesty was said to have ever an eye for a well-turned leg; if it went farther than a look, or a leg... But I had never heard so much as rumor that it did.

Her voice was cool enough. “So, Titania and Hippolyta. You played the queen’s part well, each in your own way.”

“Never so well as you, Your Highness.” Quenta’s green eyes gleamed wickedly, and I suppressed a groan. This was no time for her sly wit!
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What follows is something of an erotic comedy of genders, with twists and turns, a snippet of history, and a bit of magic.


I’ve wanted for a long time to get a chance to edit an anthology of historical stories. I did, in fact, do an alternate history book a few years ago, Time Well Bent, under my alternate name, Connie Wilkins, for Lethe Press. It wasn’t erotica, per se, although some of the pieces were definitely erotic, including Lisabet’s rif on Gilbert (of Gilbert and Sullivan) being seduced by a handsome young understudy, which I believe she mentioned in her post last week. Excellent stuff. But a gig editing an historical erotica book has eluded me until right now, when I have an actual Call for Submissions out for Thunder of War, Lightning of Desire: Lesbian Historical Literary Erotica, to be published by Lethe Press. The deadline is near, but extensions are possible. And I have another CFS for an historical lesbian romance anthology, Through the Hourglass, with The Liz McMullen Show as publisher. For these guidelines, you can check out my blog, http://sacchi-green.blogspot.com (just scroll down a few posts past my other current CFS, for Best Lesbian Erotica 2016.)

Such good timing! An historical theme for OGG right now, just when I actually have something to say on the subject!