For me, it’s very much about getting and keeping my focus. I always have three or four things going on at once, be it research, fiction or non-fiction writing, and a limited amount of time in my day, so being able to drop right in to where I left off is absolutely key to staying on track.
My trick for that is a common one, I think. I live and die by my writing playlists. I have at least one for each story I’ve worked on, fanfic or original, and often separate playlists for different kinds of scenes. I use the Queer As Folk soundtracks for sex scenes, for instance, and Rite of Summer was written almost entirely to a Chamber Classical channel on Songza.
Once I’ve used a playlist a few times, and identified a ‘keystone song’ for it, then playing that song is an easy cue to get me into writing mode and back into that specific story.
Fantasy writing space if money was no object?
I love my current writing space, but if money were no object, I would move it to an entirely different climate. I live on the east coast and got so, so sick of snow this winter! If I could pick up my little townhouse with my little tree-filled backyard, and move it to California where I could sit outside under a pagoda with my laptop all year round, I would be an extremely happy camper.
There’s nothing better than sitting outside in the fresh late spring air, the shadows of the leaves playing over the green grass, with the butterflies and bees puttering about in the roses and clematis. It soothes the soul.
How do you research for historical settings?
Always go back to the primary sources. The diaries, letters and histories written by people who were living at the time are the most amazing source of information, not just about the bare facts, but the feeling of living in a particular time period. How people read, what they ate, how they dished gossip about their neighbors, the things they felt were important to write down – each one of those things is another window into the mentality of an era.
I have a bit of an advantage here in that I have access to a lot of resources through the university library system, but there are a number of publicly available resources out there.
British History Online (http://www.british-history.ac.uk/) is fantastic, as is EuroDocs (http://eudocs.lib.byu.edu/).
In print, I highly recommend the Camden Series, formerly printed by the Camden Society, which is now the Royal Historical Society in England. This was a series of publications, started by a bunch of bored aristocrats in 1830s England, who made a hobby out of transcribing old medieval and early modern documents, and printing them in modern book form. Some of them are book-length, but some are collections of things like sixteenth-century wardrobe inventories and letters, and all kinds of amazing little treasures.
Archive.org is one of my favorite sites. They have free pdfs of documents from the eighteenth- twentieth centuries, often scanned from the original books. Having scans rather than the plain text means that we get to see things like the underlining and the margin notes that previous readers have left, and some of those annotations are worth their weight in gold.
Public archives are also amazing, if you can get to the local one for your story’s setting. They’ll have lots of original documents, including photographs with names, dates, and sometimes fun notes on the back, diaries and event programs that can tell you a huge amount not just about the people involved, but about the social structures and interactions. Sometimes, in these collections of letters, you run across the most amazing things.
I stumbled over this fantastic anecdote about Mary I while I was reading through trial records, once. The day she found out that her husband, Prince Philip of Spain, had abandoned her and gone back to Spain, leaving her alone, sick, and dying without a Catholic heir, she had a temper tantrum in the palace. According to this witness, she ripped Philip’s portrait off the wall of the Privy Council Chamber, and drop-kicked it across the hall. It’s little moments like that which humanize history for me.
If you could go back to any one time, what time would it be? Why?
It depends; do I get to keep the internet, and is it a permanent move?
If it was for a short-term visit and I had some time to prepare, I would dearly love to go back to the late eleventh century, continental Europe. There have been a couple of books out recently which have discussed the presence of same-sex church-blessed partnerships in that time, in early Crusades Europe, and there’s been just as much controversy as to what those were really symbolizing. So I want to find out about that, specifically.
On a more general note, we don’t have a huge number of textual sources detailing everyday women’s lives from that time frame. Being able to spend a few months living in a mid-sized town and just immersing myself in their day-to-day existence would be a mind-blowing experience.
Which of your characters is the most like you?
There’s a little bit of me in each of them, I think; at least just enough for me to empathize with their choices. I wish I had Stephen’s exuberance or Evander’s easy charm, but that’s not happening any time soon.
If I had to choose, I’d say it would be Joshua. He’s not a glib charmer, and he’s happiest without the trappings of nobility – just a room of his own, his art, and someone to love him until the end of his days. (Not that a wealthy patron wouldn’t be lovely!)
At the same time, though, he’s struggling between his urges to save and help, and his need to protect himself from being hurt again. He and I both have that same unfortunate tendency towards being ‘fixers’ in our private lives, which can turn into co-dependence so easily. I do think Joshua’s a lot stronger and more stubborn than I am, however, and more self-defeatist. Not to mention I couldn’t draw a straight line without a ruler!
Are any of your characters based on people you know?
I live in the hope that she’ll never see this, but Lady Horlock was originally based, at least in the physical sense, on a member of my thesis committee. There’s nothing about her life that made it into Lady Horlock, but her inability to suffer fools, her pursed lips of suspicious disapproval, and her perfect social poise all made it in there and stayed. She intimidated me as much as Lady Horlock cows the house, but every once in a while you’d see her warmth, humanity and dedication come shining through.
Lady Horlock looks an awful lot more like a period-dressed Jamie Lee Curtis in my head now, mind you; characters always morph a bit over time and rewrites.
Do you have a favorite artist?
For classical art, I am absolutely in love with the work of Élisabeth Vigée Le Brun. She was an incredible portrait artist, and was the official portraitist for Marie Antoinette for six years. Her life story is amazing as well, ranging across the continent after she and her daughter escaped the Revolution.
There’s one portrait she did of herself with two of her students, both young women, that’s just dying for a novel to be written around it. One of these days!
In fanart, an artist who goes by the handle of Cris-art is the absolute bomb. Nothing I’ve seen comes close to the kind of sensuality and emotion she puts into her artwork. I’m lucky enough to call her a friend, and to have her illustrate a couple of my stories, and I count my blessings there every time I look at them.
What is upcoming for you?
I have a draft of the next book in Treading the Boards working its way through the system, and I have my fingers tightly crossed that it will be picked up. She Whom I Love follows Sophie’s story after Rite of Summer, and her subsequent romantic entanglements. She’s such a fun character in Rite that I couldn’t let her go, and I’ve had a great time sitting in her head for a while. Sophie ends up being courted by a young man of money and prospects. The trouble is, he’s also courting another girl, who happens to be Sophie’s best friend, and lover.
I’ve got book three in the works right now, with the current working title That Potent Alchemy, and it follows Grace, an actress and a dancer who appears for the first time in She Whom I Love. Grace is a bit different from my previous heroes and heroines, probably the closest to Joshua in that she’s an introvert with a rich inner life. But she’s a darling, and I hope I can bring readers to fall for her, and her lover, Isaac, the way I have.
I’m also poking away at a purely historical novel at the same time, set in medieval Italy (or what will eventually become Northern Italy). I’ve had it in the works for more than a year, and I keep going back and shuffling the structure around. It’ll take a while to get that manuscript to the place where I want it, so in the meantime, I’m hanging out with my hot Regency-era men and women. It’s not a bad way to spend my time!
Come by www.tessbowery.com on June 2nd, 7 pm Eastern Time, to join me in the chatroom for the release party! I’ll have giveaways and prizes as well as interviews and a social hour. I look forward to seeing everyone!
Tess Bowery is an east coast writer of historical LBGT erotic romance (can it get more niche?) She’s an academic with a masters in history, which she is abusing relentlessly in pursuit of happy endings. Rite of Summer is her debut novel. This highly-charged erotic romance is available now for pre-order — https://www.samhainpublishing.com/book/5451/rite-of-summer — and releases officially on June 2nd.
Get updates and book information at http://www.tessbowery.com, or hang out with Tess at http://tessbowery.tumblr.com, or @tessbowery on Twitter.
BLURB: There are terrors worse than stage fright. Like falling in love.
Violinist Stephen Ashbrook is passionate about three things—his music, the excitement of life in London, and his lover, Evander Cade. It’s too bad that Evander only loves himself. A house party at their patron’s beautiful country estate seems like a chance for Stephen to remember who he is, when he’s not trying to live up to someone else’s harsh expectations.
Joshua Beaufort, a painter whose works are very much in demand among the right sort of people, has no expectations about this party at all. Until, that is, he finds out who else is on the guest list. Joshua swore off love long ago, but has been infatuated with Stephen since seeing his brilliant performance at Vauxhall. Now he has the chance to meet the object of his lust face to face—and more.
But changing an open relationship to a triad is a lot more complicated than it seems, and while Evander’s trying to climb the social ladder, Stephen’s trying to climb Joshua. When the dust settles, only two will remain standing…
Excerpt : The man in the portrait was not classically handsome. His mouth was too full and his hair too red for that, his jawline perhaps a little too soft. But his eyes crinkled at the corners with secret mirth, as though sharing a very private joke with the viewer, and those lush and generous lips curled up at one corner. He sat in a smock and his shirtsleeves, a palette on the table behind him. His head tilted very slightly to the side, like he was listening to some secret, lively song. His eyes caught and held Stephen, grey as stormclouds over the cliffs, a hint of blue that was the clear sky breaking through, and a knowing look that struck some chord deep within that Stephen could not immediately name.
Well, he wanted a great many things. But never before had a portrait been responsible for a curl of longing or desire twisting its way up from the center of his being, some vague and wistful sense of thwarted desire focused on that arresting stare.
I wonder if he would look at me that way in life.
I wonder who he is.
A faint scuff of feet behind was all that gave Stephen warning before someone spoke, and he managed neither to whip around in surprise, nor jump like a child caught where he shouldn’t be. “He’s not a particularly good-looking fellow, to deserve such lengthy scrutiny.”
The voice was an unfamiliar one, a warm rich tenor that verged on a deeper range, a faint northern accent coloring the tone.
“I suppose not,” Stephen replied, pausing to allow his heart to slow before he introduced himself. “If you value men solely based on looks. But there is more life in his expression than in all the other portraits put together. Either the sitter was a man of uncommon vivacity, or the painter was exceptionally fond of him.”
He turned and looked at the man standing behind him.
His hair was shorter now, and he was dressed for dinner, his cravat impeccably tied and tucked into a cream waistcoat. The man from the portrait stepped in to the gallery, framed by a shaft of light that fell across the floor from the hall. His eyes had not been exaggerated. They had been perhaps underplayed, and that grey-blue gaze regarded Stephen with a peculiar intensity. He was a little taller than Stephen, his frame of very pleasing proportions, and had a controlled energy to his walk that suggested strength lying beneath the layers of wool and linen.
“Or he was his own painter,” the newcomer said, his lip quirking up in that selfsame knowing smile, “and both irredeemably prone to vanity and in desperate need of an honest friend to check him in his fancy.”
Tess has been a fan of historical fiction since learning the Greek and Roman myths at her mother’s knee. Now let loose on a computer, she’s spinning her own tales of romance and passion in a slightly more modern setting. Her work in the performing arts has led to a passion for the theatre and dance in all its forms, and been the inspiration for her current books. Tess lives on the east coast, with her partner of fifteen years and two cats who should have been named ‘Writer’s Block’ and ‘Get Off the Keyboard, Dammit.’
Tess can be found reblogging over on tessbowery.tumblr.com, twittering at @TessBowery, and talking about writing in general and her books specifically over at www.tessbowery.com.
Rite of Summer on GoodReads: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/23766005-rite-of-summer
Tess will be awarding a $20 Amazon or B/N GC to a randomly drawn winner via rafflecopter during the tour, and a $20 Amazon or B/N GC to a randomly drawn host.