Tag Archives: men

Status Update – Victoria: Episode 4

Feb 08, 2017

Victoria’s actual wedding dress, photographed when I was at Kensington Palace last summer. Dude, the woman was SHORT!

Well what d’ya know? Sunday night’s episode of Victoria did really well in terms of historical accuracy! I mean, aside from this continuing silliness about a romantic attachment between Victoria and Melbourne, and the fact that none of the servants’ stories are real.

Oh, one more note about the Victoria & Melbourne thing. I kept waiting for her to ask Melbourne if he had a mistress, since she seemed so obsessed with men and their mistresses in the middle of the episode. I would have loved to see Rufus Sewel’s Melbourne try to worm his way out of that one. Because yes. Yes, Melbourne did have a mistress, at that point in history and many before her.

But really, the episode was about Albert, and once again, they did a really good job of portraying him. (Other than my continued complaints about that actor’s vanishing German accent) Historically speaking, the allowance and the title was a super huge deal that had Albert’s knickers in a knot. He was exactly right to think that he was in serious danger of being the German stud, with no point and no power. He didn’t even have the usual power and authority that 19th century men had over their wives. In essence, Albert was the 19th century woman in that relationship (at first) and he knew it.

Albert’s actual wedding outfit

The allowance was also a big deal because it represented independence, like he said in the show. And Parliament really did screw him over on that one. But one thing the show didn’t portray very well (so far) was that the allowance thing, and a lot of other stuff Albert endured, was pure anti-German bigotry. The British people really didn’t like the fact that the queen married a German (not that she had much choice). For decades, up until he died, horrible things were written about him in the papers, and much later, in the 1850s, he was falsely implicated in a plot to…oh, take over the government or assassinate someone or something. I can’t remember what at the moment.

Anyhow, the bit where Ernst took Albert to a brothel? I’m calling shenanigans on that one. Ernst was probably historically right at home in a place like that, but from everything I’ve read about Albert, I can’t see him even beginning to consent to getting into a situation like that. BUT, if he had, he totally would have asked for a lecture and taken notes instead of engaging in the practice, like he did in the show.

One other minor detail that I’m eager to see unfold is the introduction of the character of George Anson. They’ve started out getting him right. Anson really was Melbourne’s man, and Albert totally resented him at first. (And he was ticked off at not being able to choose any of his own staff) HOWEVER, Albert and Anson became incredibly good friends. Like, Anson became one of the best friends that Albert ever had. I’m interested to see where they go with that.

And finally, Albert actually did like Melbourne. And Albert was also responsible for the reconciliation between Victoria and her mother, but I don’t think we’ve gotten there yet.

Status Update – Victoria: Episode 3

Jan 31, 2017

For those of you who have been watching PBS’s new Masterpiece Theater series, Victoria, since I majored in the History of the 19th Century in college and spent my summer reading several books about Victoria & Albert and their household, I’ve been doing a little commentary about each episode after it airs to say whether it’s historically accurate or not.

So here we are at episode three…and, well, they’re not even entirely getting the names right now. Ha!

They’ve continued with this sort of romance between Victoria and Melbourne, but as I pointed out last week, that’s not even a little bit accurate, and it actually grossly misrepresents both the law of the time—which stated that a member of the royal family could not marry a British subject—and the sentiments of both Victoria and Melbourne. They were close, yes, and she probably had a little crush on him, but she wasn’t the sort to get serious ideas about a man unless he was going to be her husband, and Melbourne had a mistress with whom he was very happy.

So that bit of this week’s episode is fabrication once again.

I’m having a slightly harder time deciding how I feel about the portrayal of Prince Albert. On the one hand, Albert was about the furthest thing from a romantic that existed. That scene where he cuts his shirt to put Victoria’s flower near his heart? Yeah, from everything I’ve read about Albert and his personality, there’s no way he would do that. Sorry ladies!

Personally, I think the real Albert was way handsomer than the actor they’ve got playing him.

But I do think that the actor portraying Albert—even though he keeps falling out of his German accent—did do a good job of portraying Albert’s personality. He was, apparently, rather gruff and dour. He did contradict Victoria a lot, to the point where later in their marriage they would get into rip-roaring fights. And he was a notorious party-pooper. He didn’t like cards, as the episode portrayed, where Victoria did. He liked to be in bed by 9:00 (sort of like me) while Victoria liked to stay up all hours. And he was generally a man’s man and distrusted most women, probably because of the way his mother was forced to leave the family. They did a good, if brief, job of explaining that in this episode, but they should have gone into more detail, because it profoundly affected Albert’s life.

Anyhow, once again, everything with the servants of the house is completely made up. Except that they did steal from Victoria a lot. But she didn’t mind so much and would defend them, to the frustration of her ladies in waiting and others, because at the end of the day, for both Victoria and Albert, their true friends were their servants. They didn’t associate much or have friends amongst the rest of the British aristocracy.

So let’s see how they do with next week’s episode!

C is for Crush

May 18, 2015

Ready? I’m going to admit something really embarrassing here.

I get crushes on guys SUPER easily.

Petyr Baelish/Aiden Gillen? Yep, serious crush

Petyr Baelish/Aiden Gillen? Yep, serious crush

Yep. I always have, and likely I always will. But in my defense, now that I’m older and wiser, I think that my crushes are a brilliant and satisfying way to roll around ideas about character, attraction, and desirability in my mind. A way to pre-form engaging and likable heroes for my novels, if you will. Really concentrating on the things that attracts me to these guys hones my writer’s sense for what makes a great hero.

At least that’s how things are now. It wasn’t always that way, though.

Yeah, I’ll confess. I’ve been a total goober about the way I approach men in the past. I have had crushes, and they haven’t been pretty at all. I remember way, WAY back in third grade—right about the time I started writing, actually—when I had a mega-crush on a boy in my class, Michael G. I tell you, I had stars in my eyes for this boy. Believe it or not, he was my first kiss—at the ripe old age of eight. And it didn’t matter that he kissed me with closed, puckered lips for about a millisecond on a dare, I was hooked. So hooked, in fact, that I wrote a story for a creative writing assignment about a girl who befriended and fell in love with a wasp named Michael G. Okay, now, let’s just set aside the glaring psychological confusion about falling in love with a WASP, especially when I was and am more afraid of wasps than any other creature that walks the earth. The important thing to note here was that that was, in essence, my first romance novel.

The crushes continued all the way through elementary school and into high school and beyond. Of course they did. But I have had the world’s worst luck with men throughout my life. No, you don’t understand, it’s BAD. Real men either leave me or never give me the time of day in the first place. (Or take gross advantage of me, but let’s not go there) Yeah, it’s back to that wasp again, I’m afraid. But celebrity crushes? Ah! They’re perfect in every way.

Real life crush, Mark Coker, founder of Smashwords, who I admire the heck out of for his vision, drive, and all-around nice guy-ness

Real life crush, Mark Coker, founder of Smashwords, who I admire the heck out of for his vision, drive, and all-around nice guy-ness. And, like Petyr Baelish, he might just be pulling all the strings behind the scenes to take over the world!

Here’s the thing about Hollywood boyfriends. They’re perfect. They’re the ideal men. They’re usually handsome and charismatic, and since the odds of actually meeting them are less than the odds of being struck by lightning while being eaten by a shark, they’re safe. I can’t tell you how many celebrities I’ve had taped to my walls or clipped out of magazines to serve as bookmarks. Actually, I almost can, because several years ago, my friend-now-sister-in-law made “Merry’s Book of Men” for me as a Christmas gift. It’s a complete chronicle of all the men I had adored up until that point.

It’s also the seedbed for where I’ve come up with some of my most delicious and compelling characters. Because I don’t generally fall for the typical A-list Hollywood flavor of the day. Oh no. No Chris Hemsworth or Brad Pitt or Bradley Cooper for me (although I do think they’re all attractive). No, I fall hard for Aiden Gillen and Michael Emerson. I love the nerdy guys, the brilliant but shifty characters, the guys who have been wounded and choose to take that pain and do something about it. Vengeance, usually, but not always.

And yes, these are the guys who form the fabric of the heroes I love to write. I love me some flawed heroes who are capable of great darkness but are brought around by great light. Maybe it’s those wasps transformed into eagles by the power of love. Those are the men I love, the characters I write, and the end result of my crushes.

Sure, I’ve been crushed by crushes as much as the next girl (don’t get me started about Dan or Brent, and I could write a LOT about a certain Bill), but at the end of the day, each crush has produced far more good than harm. That’s what crushes are all about, after all. They’re fantasies, larks, daydreams. They are the stuff that dreams are made of.

My Hero is a 12-Year Old Boy

Aug 28, 2014
Image courtesy of Christopher Stadler via Flickr

Image courtesy of Christopher Stadler via Flickr

People talk a lot about role models. “Who is your role model?” is one of the most common questions I’m asked in interviews. I love the question because I believe it’s important for everyone to have someone to look up to, to model your behavior after, and to aspire to be like. So who is my role model? He’s a 12 year-old kid from my church. For the purposes of this post, I’m calling him “Max”, which isn’t anywhere close to his real name, but it happens to be one of my favorite boys names and he’s one of my favorite boys, sooo….

Max is my role model. He doesn’t have any special handicap that makes his life a struggle. He hasn’t exactly overcome long odds, no more than the next person trying to get by in the modern world. Outside observers wouldn’t necessarily consider him special at all, although they would notice right away that there’s something different about him. Max is ridiculously intelligent. No, I mean he’s gifted like great minds of science have been gifted. He was recently telling me all about a book he read recently on paradoxes, and then went on to explain Schrodinger’s Cat…and it made sense. This boy is going to cure cancer and stop global warming and bring world peace, yo.

But that’s not why he’s my role model. Sure, I admire intelligence, but Max has something that goes beyond intelligence. I am always tempted to be worried for him because his social skills are completely different from kids his own age. He talks to adults with perfect ease…blended with childlike enthusiasm. A lot of adults have made the mistake of talking to him like a kid at first, but he always surprises them in a hurry with the scope of his comprehension. He clearly doesn’t fit in perfectly with his peers. Sometimes they look at him a little funny. But when I see him interact with the other kids there isn’t the same sort of dynamic of bullying and ostracism that you would expect to see.

I’m friends with Max’s mom, and I recently expressed my worry that such a unique, old soul would be picked on or made miserable by his peers, especially as teenagerdom looms. You know what she said? Kids don’t bother bullying him. You know why? Because they can’t get a rise out of him. She told me a story about how he accidentally went to school with two entirely different socks last year. One kid tried to tease him by pointing out that he was wearing two different socks. Max’s response? A calm shrug and “And your point is?”

Max is my hero because, at age 12, he is comfortable with who he is and doesn’t let the opinions of others get under his skin. He is fascinated with the world and eager to reach beyond what he’s taught in school to discover things for himself. He engages with everyone as if he is their equal and isn’t afraid to meet you on your own turf or to explain his turf to you.

Wow.

Girl-writing-brightThere are a lot of things I think we can all learn from Max, especially writers. I was a total basket case at that age and I cared from the tips of my toes to the highest hair on my head what people thought about me. I imagined a thousand horrors that would (and frankly did) happen if my peers didn’t like me. I ate my heart out trying to fit in by pushing aside who I knew I was. I think we all do. But Max, for me, is living, breathing, punning, weird sock-wearing proof that even in middle school, if you are who you are and if you wear that person with pride and focus your energies on the things you love, you’re un-bully-able.

Every time we write a book, I can guarantee that somewhere in the backs of our minds is the worry about what people will think of us. We tie ourselves up in knots obsessing over whether we’re writing the right genre, if our characters are engaging, if our prose will appeal to readers. When the reviews come in, we tear our hair if someone didn’t like our writing and get super overexcited when they did. We care what people think. And not in the useful, constructive way.

These days, I’m all about approaching my writing career the way Max approaches life. I know what I write. I’m confident in my abilities, but I’m also always searching for new and better ways to do things. I try to talk as confidently with people who write my genre as I do with those who write other genres. And when those reviews come in, if someone didn’t like the choices my hero or heroine made, well, your point is? Everyone is entitled to their opinions, but I don’t have to let them get under my skin. All I have to do is write.

So kudos to you, Max! I look forward to watching you grow into a teenager. I have a feeling you’re going to be just fine. And I’ll continue to look to you for the way I should be behaving in my career and my life.

.

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2014 Book #5 – Strangers: Homosexual Love in the Nineteenth Century, by Graham Robb

May 06, 2014

Okay, I’ve wanted to post more about this book for a long time and to recount some of the history lessons I’ve learned from it, but I’ve just been so busy lately! So what better way to talk about the history behind my inspiration for Somebody to Love than to do a book report on Strangers. And yes, you’ll notice it’s book #5, even though I’m currently reading book #23 of 2014 right now. I started this way back in January and only recently had time to finish it.

Strangers

The thing that struck me the most about Strangers is how different the landscape looked to 19th century gays and lesbians than we would think that it looked. Judging by today’s standards, I’m sure the first reaction one might have is to assume that life was haunted, fragile, and tense for 19th century homosexuals and that they were badly persecuted. Ah, but the very first lesson people should learn about history of any kind is that you can never view it with the standards and commonalities of modern life.

In today’s world, homosexuality is a hot topic. No matter which side of the debate you fall on, everyone knows what it is and has an opinion about it. It’s in the news, in pop culture, and a solid part of life in 2014. Not so in the 19th century! In fact, there was a great deal of ambiguity in the minds of your average 18th and 19th century person as to how to define someone who was outside of the norm. The 19th century was all about classifying and naming things scientifically, and it wasn’t really until this time that homosexuality was even defined. In fact, the term “homosexual” was coined in 1868.

Think about that for a second. 1868. There were other words in use in various languages to describe men who had a passion for other men—Uranian, invert, sodomite (which was a pejorative, whereas the other two were merely descriptive)—but the label came much later. Sure, sodomy was considered a crime, and (if I’m remembering this correctly) from The Buggery Act of 1533 until the first half of the 19th century it was a crime punishable by death, but that was the act, not the state of being homosexual.

Robb does an incredible job of piecing together the story of a state of being that was barely classified and certainly never spoken of openly through what historians call primary source material. He studied diaries, letters, journals, and other private communications to piece together the lives of men and women who didn’t fit into the traditional 19th century definition of masculine and feminine. It’s fascinating stuff! Even he admits that it’s incredibly difficult to state anything definitively, because the record of all of these lives isn’t necessarily there.

What was there, once you dig beneath the surface of genuine lack of knowledge on the part of most people and angst on the part of the men and women who knew they were different, was a rich tapestry of relationships existing without the umbrella of a label. There are cases that were hugely public, like Oscar Wilde, Walt Whitman, and James Pratt and John Smith (the last two men hung for sodomy in England in 1835), but far, far more common were men and women living their unusual lives under the hush of obscurity and the fear of being caught out.

Now that’s not to say that their lives were a big secret. Some people, like Emily Dickenson, for example, were known to have “extremely close” relationships with a member of the same sex, but in this time before people had a firm handle on what exactly that meant and entailed, these known relationships sailed right over people’s heads. I got the feeling that Robb was saying if people in the 19th century knew more about what was going on, they would have disapproved. This was not an age of acceptance and tolerance by any stretch of the imagination. But a lot of things could be swept under the carpet and kept behind closed doors in the name of Victorian morality (no one talked about ANY kind of sexuality in public) or in the spirit of a deeper masculine camaraderie than we generally have today.

Anyhow, I could go on and on about this subject, and I would really like to learn more about it. The gist of Strangers is that there was, in fact, a thriving LGBT subculture in the 19th century that looked far different than we would imagine it to look. People lived happy lives outside of the scrutiny of “normal” folks simply because their passions weren’t on the radar of your average 19th century citizen. Which makes me all the more adamant about my character Phin’s solid place as one of Cold Springs, Montana’s finest citizens, in spite of everyone knowing he’s a little “off”.

I would love to take what I learned from Strangers and write more m/m romances with it.

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