Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Author Interview: ERASTES

Ripped Breeches and Toasted Cats - Interview by AJ Llewellyn

1. Erastes, I am thrilled to have you here in the Divas’ Den since I am a big fan of your Speak Its Name anthologies. I have a question. Well, lots of them actually. But you make no secret of being a woman whose pen name is Erastes. There seems to be a lot of friction in the GLBTQ world about women writing M/M fiction. Have you personally felt any of it?
Yes – sadly. There was a lot of "lively debate" on my Livejournal at one point where a small number of gay men were a little confused and aggressive about it. Even when I (and other female writers of the genre) attempted to state that it shouldn't matter (you don't need to be an astronaut, or a centaur, or a dog, or a Nazi, or black to be able to write from those points of view after all) I don't think we convinced the one or two who were arguing about it.
Now I just get on with writing. I've always been completely upfront to publishers as to my genre. Consequently my short stories have been accepted into anthologies and stood shoulder to shoulder with writers like Simon Sheppard and M Christian; I've sold to MEN magazine too, so I think that I must be doing something right in the erotic market at least!

2. I believe you are the one who penned the term Breeches Ripper – and Elisa Rolle and I are now utterly devoted to it. Do you have any favorite breeches rippers authors yourself?
I actually saw the term coined in 2005, on a review of Earthly Joys by Philippa Gregory and I loved it so much I couldn’t help but use it. That book is one of my favorites, definitely. I'm happy to say that it's becoming difficult to choose a favorite because there are more and more gay historicals being written all the time. But if I have to mention some "keepers" they would be: Captain's Surrender by Alex Beecroft, As Meat Loves Salt by Maria McCann and Gaywyck by Vincent Virga. I don't love Gaywyck, to be honest, but I do think it's an "essential read" for anyone wanting to jump into the genre.

3. I know ‘Erastes’ comes from the Greek language (being of Greek extraction myself) and you are obviously a dedicated historian, covering everything from the Napoleonic wars to Victorian England. What is your favorite era in history and what can we expect to see next?
It's nice of you to say – but I'm purely an amateur, an Elephant's Child. Gay history fascinates me and there are so many stories to be told it's like a huge untapped oilfield. I don't know if I have a particular favorite period in history – yet. I have written more Regency/Georgian era books than any others because I have a good bedrock of knowledge about the era and I can sit down and start a novel without weeks of pre-writing research, but I want to try many other periods of history too.
What's next is another Regency novella Frost Fair. which Linden Bay are publishing around Christmas 2008 and after that a project that I'm quite excited about: an English Civil War novel Transgressions, which is coming out in Spring 2009. Running Press (an imprint of Perseus Books) are doing something that no-one else has dared to do as yet – printing a line of gay historical books. Transgressions and a novel by Alex Beecroft are to be the first two, and Running Press are lining up new authors to follow on. The reason I'm so excited about it is that it could be a great thing for the genre in general.
I have a 1960's novel which I haven't started pimping around yet.

4. A hippie story? I love it…did anybody wear breeches in the 60s? Hang about, did anybody wear anything in the 60s?
No – it's not a hippie story – it's based in 1962 and is loosely based on a true life story of a married man who falls in love for the first time with the teenager next door. It happened when I was a teenager myself and we bought the house of the man to whom it had happened after the family had moved away. I've changed just about every personal detail to protect people of course but it really touched me – and although many people will say "Oh God, didn't we have enough tragic gays already" I think it's important to still remember that people were (and still are) closeted for various reasons. This young man wears clothes bought by his mother. That was another period difficult to research- look up "1960's fashions" and you'll get all the up-to-date, London, Mary Quant fashions. Not the sort of thing that a 17 year old would be wearing if his mother bought his clothes.
It's not a genre "romance" though, so it may be difficult be place.

After that - I'm just starting on novel number four which is a bit of a secret at the moment, but it's a subject and an era I haven't done before. I can tell you it's Victorian, but the time doesn't really matter in the setting that I've chosen. Sorry to be so cryptic, but I write so slowly someone could have nicked my idea and published six books before I've finished. *laughs *

5. You say in your bio: he enjoys walks by the Broads. He likes cats and cheese but has discovered only one of those is any good with toast. I therefore have two questions. What is a Broad? I always thought it was a chick who enjoyed a good laugh (often at her own expense) and liked a drink or two. And what do cats taste like on toast?
Ah – the differences of language. The Norfolk Broads are a series of drainage canals in the east of England They are made up of a multitude of broad, shallow lakes lying along five major rivers. The lakes are the result of peat "harvest" during the Middle Ages. The water level rose, and flooded the peat diggings, creating lakes, canals and rivers. They are extremely beautiful in bleak reedy sort of way.
Cats on toast? Hairy.

6. Sounds…yummy…You are the director of the Erotic Authors’ Association. How do you balance this job with your writing?
I do as much as I can, which is no-where near as much as I'd like to do but the Association had been lying fallow for quite some time and I felt that was a great shame. However, it's only me in the main, I have two helpers who run the Blogspot and the MySpace respectively but everything else is a one-woman show.

7. Wait…that wasn’t you who approved me as a friend on MySpace? Ruh-oh…who was I exchanging all those hot and heavy messages with???
No, I don't run the EAA MySpace, James Buchanan handles that, and Jolie du Pre runs the Blogspot side. There's no way I could manage all three.

I make the entry limited to two months a year, which means I don't have to keep adding people all the time – and Google Search deals with looking for erotic submission calls. So it doesn't take more than an hour a day really. I'm hoping to expand the Association soon and make it more of a Romance AND erotica deal, but it will take a while to set up.

8. How much research goes into each book?
It depends on the era. As I said above, with the Regency/Georgian era I've read so many books of and on the era I have a good base of knowledge so I can just scribble away and look up facts as I go but with something like the English Civil War it was a different matter entirely. I thought I knew the basics – Oliver Cromwell, roundheads and cavaliers etc. but when I started to write I suddenly realised that I knew literally nothing about the 17th century at all. The trouble with the war is that there is a ton of information about the war itself – battles, uniforms, munitions, personnel etc etc but when you try and find out what the poor people's houses looked like, or how much a blacksmith made in Warwickshire, it's difficult.

So I have to find textbooks and other sources: I use re-enactment societies, yahoo groups, libraries and history groups in the areas where my action is based – anything and anyone who I think has that bit of knowledge that I need. I know some writers who will research for a year – or more – before writing a word, but I'm very much a "find out as I go along" sort of writer, which can be very stop-and-go, and as I'm the world's worst procrastinator, I'm easily sidetracked and can spend an hour looking up one silly fact.

I find the characters first, I do enough research to know who they are, where they came from, what they sound like, what they write like (if they can!) and then I launch off into writing. I don't generally work with an outline, but let the characters guide me. After that I research as I go along.

9. So, is there anything you can tell me about the woman behind Erastes and dos she enjoy a tipple?
I'm not terribly interesting – which is one of the reasons I invented Erastes – he's far more of a reprobate than I am these days – although I had a fairly wild life up to the last ten years. I did a lot of traveling earlier, round the world with a backpack for a year kind of thing, loved and lost in a lot of countries, too. Nowadays I'm chained to my PC for most of the day.
Tipples… well, yes – It's just about my only vice now. I enjoy alcohol rather a lot – consequently I only allow myself one or two indulgence nights a week. Wine for preference. Well – that's not true – Bollinger Champagne for preference but I can't afford that, so wine has to do!

10. Aww…will if you tell me who was exchanging all those nice and nasty emails with me on MySpace, I’ll send you a case of Bolly…kidding! James Buchanan would never do that. Now, what is your writing routine like? Do you write every day?
I try and write every day; I'm not always successful. I'm too easily distracted. I was made unemployed a few months ago, and I'm attempting to try and write full-time, as I don't fancy being a wage slave again. If I'm not writing then I do a lot of promo, write book reviews, do ranty or writerly posts in my Livejournal, participate on yahoo groups and specialist blogs. When a book is motoring along I can generally write at least 1000 words a day, which isn't huge but it means you get a book done in 3-4 months. When inspired I can write a lot more, but not recently.

11. Does your family know about Erastes and what do they think of his books?
Yes – they do. It took a while before I admitted to my parents what I was doing because they are aren't terribly understanding of gay issues. However they surprised me completely and backed me 100 percent. My Mother died 18 months ago but she was my biggest supporter, helping me out when I was blocked, reading and critiquing my work (apart from the sex scenes, she wouldn't read those) and I will be forever grateful that 3 weeks before she died I was able to put a copy of Standish into her hands and she was as thrilled as I was.

My Dad is a real sweetie – he has early stage Alzheimers – and while he doesn't have the concentration to read my books he's a great supporter, always asks about my progress and listens avidly as I outline my gay historical plots to him. I'm very lucky. I know of several authors of gay fiction who still haven't told their families so I'm pretty proud of my parents.

12. You should be. My father thinks my books are disgusting. I am very sorry for the loss of your mother; she sounds like such a wonderful woman. I love the idea that you discuss plots with your father. Did your parents encourage you to read when you were young? What books did the Boy Erastes enjoy?
She was pretty special. Not a saint, but education/literacy was very important to her. I was hugely fortunate with my mother. She was a head teacher and she let me read just about anything and everything. She had a huge library which I had the full run of and I was reading anything from anatomy to Freud to Tolkein and everything in between.

When it came to children's books she did keep tabs on what I read but not for censorship; she would generally read a sample of what I wanted her to get me beforehand – I remember the only writer she didn't let me have in the house was Enid Blyton. This was nothing to do with the fact that she was accused of bigotry – that scandal happened a few years afterwards- but she considered that Blyton wasn't a very good writer. In later years she said that if Rowling had been around then, she wouldn't have bought them either for the same reasons. Of course this only spurred me into reading Blyton behind her back!

I still have most of the books I owned as a child and some of my personal favorites are: The Borrowers, The Narnian Chronicles, anything by Dodie Smith, Noel Streatfield, Edith Nesbit, Frances Hodgson Burnett or P L Travers. Oh God – far far too many to list, really.

13. You wrote in a blog about erotic/romance book covers and how ghastly most of them are (your words, not mine). Do they put you off buying the book inside or do they give you an extra moment of merriment between the ‘hot’ scenes?
I'm pretty vociferous about bad covers, it's one of the many things in this business I feel strongly about. I am put off by covers – if I click onto a link and see a dreadful cover then I'm unlikely to even to read the blurb. I nearly didn't buy Ransom by Lee Rowan (she knows about this) because of the ghastly cover – and it wasn't until I spotted that it was being offered to readers of Standish as a "buy these together" offer on Amazon that I got curious about it and read the blurb. I would have missed a great gay historical novel otherwise.

You see, a cover should be its own advert. I know people who can't take their m/m book out of the house, or have to cover it with a spare dust jacket – and what's the point of that? The point of a cover is that you sit on a bus or a train and it is supposed to intrigue others into seeking it out. If you have to hide it, it defeats its own purpose.

Due to my work with Speak Its Name I read gay historicals no matter what their covers are like, but it doesn’t stop me from making my critique on the cover part of the book review itself. I don't see why so many publishers think that m/m=naked men on the cover. Look at hetero romances – particularly historical romances – there is a distinct lack of naked couples on them. I don't think it helps the genre, because it makes people think that all gay fiction is automatically about sex. Would people buy Giovanni's Room or The Charioteer if the covers were all man-titty? I wouldn't.

I know that many publishers don't encourage any input from the author regarding covers but that doesn't mean that the author can't say something, all the same. I've been lucky that I've had a say in all of my covers bar one – and the one I haven't was rather horrible. That book has hardly sold at all. Coincidence? I'll let you do the maths.

To find out more about Erastes, check out these links:
Standish – a gay regency romance
Speak Its Name – an anthology of 3 gay historical novellas by Erastes, Charlie Cochrane and Lee Rowan
Night Moves – an anthology of vampire erotica with stories by Kiernan Kelly, Erastes, Kira Stone and Matt Brooks
Speak Its Name (for reviews and discussion of gay historical fiction) http://www.speakitsname.wordpress.com/
Erotic Authors Association http://www.eroticauthorsassociation.com/


Endless Romance Contest said...

Another fantastic interview. And what an amazing woman. Fascinating. I'll make sure I make a friend request.

Doubt anyone will exchange naughty messages with me, but I'll still make the request. lol

I do want to mention that I too think an author should be able to write anything they desire. Writing male pov, gay or straight, is not exclusive to men--it's exclusive to writers!

Thanks for the interview. I truly enjoyed it!

Endless Romance Contest said...

Oh, btw, AJ. This is Tess posting. I have so many identities these days I forget which one I'm signed in with. Sorry!

Roberta said...

Terrific interview Erastes. As usual AJ you asked some very insightful questions. Great job!

Unknown said...

That's a great interview! Though blogger appears not to want to let me leave a comment. I hope it gets through this time.

It is a shame there's this resistance to women writing m/m fiction, from every side conceivable. It's clearly yet another of those things which women aren't allowed to do. Well stuff that! :)

Thanks so much for the praise! *blush*, but I'll pass on the toasted cats!

Jon Michaelsen said...

Excellent interview, A.J. Thoroughly enjoyed learning more about Erates - no long a myth to me (lol)! Loved it, loved it - please keep these insightful interviews coming!

Unknown said...

Great interview, AJ.
I happen to agree with Erastes on both her main points, about gender and orientation of the author not being as important to a good story as am ability to see into a character's soul and being able to translate that to the page.

Also, she's so spot on about covers. Kind of makes me wonder how many good stories I've passed on because the cover. This is especially true of e-books. I often can't imagine what an author or publisher was thinking when I see some of those poser covers. I would think the parties involved would want more for all that hard work than to have it dismissed out of hand because the cover art is so off-putting.

Good interview, AJ. It's nice to get some insight on so many of the authors I've been admiring from afar!

Eliza Knight said...

Great interview Erastes and AJ!

I love historicals!!! Regencies are a special fav for me. Your books sounds amazing :)I will totally be adding them to my TBR pile!

Thanks for stopping by a sharing a little more about yourself and your writing!

BTW: I LOVE the "breeches ripper" saying! Just makes you go hot all over thinking about it :)

Anonymous said...

Great interview!

AJ Llewellyn said...

Hi everyone,
Thanks for the great comments. I really enjoyed talking to Erastes! There are some amazing authors out there and make or female, we are lucky they can put pen to paper and make great art.