Prism Book Alliance® would like to thank Tess Bowery for stopping by today.
Title: Rite of Summer
Author: Tess Bowery
Cover Artist: Gabrielle Prendergast
Genre: Historical, M/M Romance, Menage/Poly, Regency
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…
We are here today to talk about Rite of Summer. What can you tell us about it?
Rite of Summer is my first published romance novel, but definitely not my last. It’s the first book in ‘Treading the Boards,’ a series of standalone LBGT romances centred around the fine art and performing art communities of Regency-era London. Rite of Summer in particular is a M/M (/M) romance between virile young artists, mostly set on a beautiful English country estate. And there is a lot of sex, in varying combinations.
I’m going to digress, for a second, but I promise the mini-history will make sense afterward!
There’s a kind of misconception about the nineteenth century, propagated by the Victorians and their endless rewriting of history (boo, hiss!). We get this idea that previous centuries were prudish and dull, with white-dressed virgins engaging in stately waltzes with stiff-upper-lipped young men in black suits. And more importantly, that rampant extra- and pre-marital sexuality is something that came about with the 1960s.
Those of us who go on to devour historical romances know that’s not true, of course!
What I hadn’t realized was the sheer extent of the queer community that existed at the time in England as well. There were gay couples living all but openly, if they had the political or financial clout to get away with it, and even more of those arrangements that were wink-wink-nudge open secrets. A number of men married and kept boyfriends on the side, and women who were widowed and remained single could live with other single female ‘companions’ and no-one would bat an eye. A later term for that same-sex live-in arrangement was a ‘Boston Marriage,’ which implied some sort of general social acceptance of the situation.
(The eighteenth century saw the first legally-recognized gender correction, by the way! In 1777, at the age of 49, the Chevalier d’Eon was recognized as a woman by the French court system. She was one of the greatest fencers of the age, and died in England in 1810. She was survived by Mrs. Cole, her live-in partner of fourteen years. We’ve unfortunately gone backwards over the last two hundred years, and still have some ground to regain.)
Given all of that, and the research I’d been doing into gay clubs and bars in nineteenth century London, I wanted to try to write a gay historical romance that was just that – a romance, rather than a story where the primary conflict revolves around identity struggles or coming out. We’ve got so many of those already! It’s a story about finding love, and it’s not about being gay; that’s just one small part of who these characters are. So in Rite of Summer, the heroes are unabashedly gleeful and secure in their sexualities. There are problems with exposure, to be sure, as sodomy was extremely illegal, but the problems are external, and not due to any kind of guilt or religious self- loathing. The heroes live with the threat of exposure every day, they’re not conflicted about what they prefer.
(I’m sorry; I’m very earnest. I have a hard time being anything else, which I know is desperately uncool.)
Should I say more about the story itself? Sure – why not? So we start with Stephen, who is a talented young violinist. He works, lives, eats and sleeps with his composer boyfriend, Evander. Unfortunately, for reasons which eventually become clearer, Evander is a giant bag of dicks.
The guys get an invitation from their patron, a wealthy earl, to come spend a month and a half in the country with him, at a house party. Stephen drags his heels, but Evander emotionally blackmails him into going; something he’ll regret later on. It’s not just them at the party, of course, and enter a motley crew of characters, stage right.
We’ve got a handful of single ladies, a pack of single men, some chaperones, more titles and curtseying than a night at Almacks’… and a painter named Joshua, who’s had a killer crush on Stephen for, like, ever. Thank goodness Stephen and Evander seem to be into being watched, and into threesomes. So while the ladies and lords jockey for power, positions and proposals, an entirely different drama is unfolding right underneath their noses.
There are dashing young bucks, danger, misunderstandings, a desperate grasping for love when all seems lost, and a goodly amount of double-penetration. A little something for everyone!
Tell us more about Stephen and Joshua?
How obnoxious can I be about my own creations? Oh man. Stephen is something of an amalgamation of a lot of artists that I know. I work in the performing arts, on the technical side, which means that when I’m not writing, I’m surrounded by highly artistic personalities. Many of them have this amazing knack for turning even the most benign situations into life-or-death drama. Maybe it comes from having to channel so much emotional energy through themselves on a daily basis, or maybe that’s the sort of personality most drawn to the stage, I don’t know…
It’s that larger-than-life emotional core, that ability to commit to something so ardently and so passionately that you’d gladly do nothing but that for hours, every day of your life, that’s what inspired Stephen’s character for me. He wears his heart entirely too much on his sleeve.
Joshua is the logic centre to Stephen’s emotional id, or at least he likes to think so. He’s the stupid idiot baby that you want to smack around the ears until he gives up trying to force his emotions to be rational and sensible. He’s a visual artist, a portrait painter who would much rather be doing anything but. He’s stifled his own creativity in the name of pleasing everyone but himself, and Stephen is the influence that lets him finally be selfish.
That difference in life approaches both attracts them to each other, and causes some of the major troubles. Because naturally, nothing worth having ever comes easily at first.
What about Rite of Summer makes you the proudest?
I was going to make a joke here about ‘just finishing the thing,’ but then I realized that it’s not such a joke at all. It’s hard work to get a story down on paper the way it spools out in your head, especially to capture those little moments that really embody the characters and their relationships.There’s always a spot about halfway through a project that I think of as the ‘valley of death,’ where I’ve run out of the adrenaline that pushed me through the first half, but I’m not yet on the downward slope with the momentum that will carry me through to the end. Nothing ever quite works right, and just getting words on the page can feel like trying to push cooked spaghetti uphill. It would have been so easy to say ‘eh – never mind’ and walk away, trunk the first half of the manuscript and give up on the idea of original fiction.
That I didn’t give up – that I pushed through, that friends were willing to encourage me, and that I had the rush of courage that I needed to actually send it to a publisher – that’s what I’m most proud of. And the fact that Rite of Summer was picked up on my first query ever, that still makes me grin. Either I accidentally picked the right house, or the stars aligned so that Amy at Samhain saw my query on just the right day, when she was in the right mood…
However it happened, I’m still incredibly flattered and awed by her confidence in me, and in this book.
Do you play any instruments? If so what?
I play a few, but none of them terribly well. I played trombone in high school band, of all things, and I have a passing familiarity with recorder and violin. I never did take piano – we didn’t have one in the house when I was young – but I have about a campfire-level of strumming skill on the acoustic guitar. My goal for 2015 is to build that up to a point where I won’t be embarrassed to play in front of people I’m not related to.
My main musical outlet has always been voice. I’ve been in choirs of varying sorts since I was very young, and actually had the chance to sing at Toronto’s Roy Thompson Hall a few times in the early 1990s with one of those groups. I’m an alto, mind you, so even when we were singing something glorious like Messiah, my part was never the showy end. Nowadays I’m back to singing lullabies and a murdering a few cats at karaoke, but it would be fun to join a classical choir again someday. The best thing that came out of my old voice lessons was the ability to read music, which has been useful for a number of odd things.
If you could give one piece of advice to aspiring writers, what would it be?
I already nagged them to read and deconstruct their reading in another interview on this tour, so I’ll follow that up by saying the best thing to do after that is write: just put pen to page or fingers to keyboard. Like musicians, you’ll never improve without constant practice of your instrument. Block off time every day, if you can, even if it’s only for twenty minutes, and play with words.
Try kink memes, word-a-day prompts, writing haikus or sonnets – as long as you’re using words and exercising your language centres, you’ll be getting better at this thing that you love. It makes a huge difference. When you’re stuck on a story and your mind is blank, write yourself into the scene. Start making notes on what could happen, describe the surroundings, and let your mind go without a filter; sooner or later you’ll slide into actually writing out the scene itself from the point of view of one of the characters involved.
Write diary entries from one of your characters to figure out what’s going on in their heads; this can open up pathways you never imagined. I have a great time writing flash-fic versions of alternate universe settings with my characters, so I can see what stays as part of ‘them,’ and what disappears when I remove them from their original settings. When a scene isn’t working right, don’t cut your writing time short or beat your head against a wall. Try rewriting it from someone else’s point of view, and see if that brings it to life in a new and different way.
What is the nicest thing a reader has said to you in a review, email, in person, or on social media?
One of my early readers of Rite of Summer told me one of the nicest things a writer can hear: that the world felt real, and he forgot he was actually reading a book until he had to put it down. He went on to say that it was because my characters felt like complete people: not fictional characters designed for a plot, but friends he was visiting to find out about their lives.
(On a side note, he’s the straightest, least-interested-in-romance-novels friend that I have. To have him enjoy Rite and connect with the heroes and their world on a personal level is probably one of my greatest personal victories.)
His review left me flabbergasted, and so, so grateful. Being able to write in a way that transports a reader into a new world is one of the greatest privileges for an author. Even if he’s the only one who ever feels that way about something I’ve written, I’ll still be proud.
What are you reading right now and what is next on your to-be-read list?
Right now I’m reading Cary Elwes’ memoir As You Wish, about his time working on the Princess Bride. That’s always been one of my favourite movies, as I’m sure is the case for so many, and the memoir is a light read, but a fun one. It’s an entertaining chance to sneak a peek behind the scenes on a movie from an era long before actors were taping video diaries and DVD extras.
The next book on my to-be-read pile is Isabella: She-Wolf of France, Queen of England, Alison Weir’s biography of the wife of King Edward II. I’ve really enjoyed Weir’s treatments of other English monarchs in previous books – Six Wives of Henry VIII is practically a seminal text for casual sixteenth century history lovers. Her first historical fiction, Innocent Traitor (about Lady Jane Grey) didn’t work for me as well as I’d hoped. I’ve had the book since it came out three years ago, but it’s finally making it to the top of the stack!
Rapid Fire Time
Sushi or pasta?
God, that’s mean. You’ve hit on my two favourite comfort foods! For the sake of my waistline, such as it is, I’m going to say sushi, but I will mourn pasta for the rest of my days.
Beach or Mountains?
Coffee, black or doctored (can you think of a better word for this?)?
Two milks, two sugars. Coffee is purely a warm caffeine vector.
Sex or Chocolate?
Sex. Sex involving chocolate is also nice, but sticky.
Windows or Mac?
Linux, baby! I’m a Tux girl.
Harry or Draco?
… here’s where I hang my head in shame. I’ve never read Harry Potter. In my defence, I was already an adult when it started to release, and I had recently been burned by the Wheel of Time series. (Did you know that was supposed to be a five-book series at the beginning? Oh yeah.) I had friends who were all over this new kid-wizard series, but I made the resolution to wait until all seven books were actually out before I sunk emotional energy into another long-running fantasy series. By the time book seven actually came out, I was sick of the hype, and in the middle of my Masters degree, and never got around to picking up the box set. I’m a bad nerd, I know. I know.
Cry or Scream?
A whisper to a scream.
B-E-E-R. (Coffee?) Beeeeeer. But not American beer. Proper Canadian or UK microbrews and ales. I love a good red or india pale.
Multiple choice questions or essay questions?
Essay. Points for showing your work!
Hugs or Kisses?
Kisses, all sorts of kisses, from the faintest brush of tenderness to hours-long necking sessions on the sofa.
What are you working on? What is next?
I’ve got the second book in Treading the Boards finished and submitted to my editor, but no news about anything other than that. I’ll be sure and announce it on my website and on social media if and when I have a publication date. It’s a standalone book, like Rite of Summer, and a complete romance in a similar style. She Whom I Love is about Sophie Armand, Joshua’s closest friend and a secondary character of some importance in Rite of Summer. Sophie is looking for a marriage that will let her leave her life of domestic service. She has some dangerous secrets of her own that stand in the way, however, not the least of which is a deep and abiding passion for Meg, her closest childhood friend. She Whom I Love is a bisexual (F/F/M) poly romance, and just as hot and explicit as Rite of Summer.
So that one’s in the pipeline! I’ve started working on a first draft for That Potent Alchemy, another book in the series, but that one’s only in the early draft stages. Grace is a character we meet in She Whom I Love, a dancer and actress who works with Meg in London’s minor theatres. The relationship in this one is technically M/F, but with some caveats. There’s also some light bondage, but no pain play. Grace prefers breeches to gowns, and off-stage anonymity to stardom. She sometimes has trouble thinking of herself as a woman, and has talked herself into believing that she’s better off alone. Until, that is, she meets Isaac, a stagehand with a penchant for experiments and explosions of both the chemical and sexual sorts.
I fell utterly in love with Grace while I was writing She Whom I Love, and I hope that I’ll be able to give readers that same sort of experience.
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.”
About the Author
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.
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.
a Rafflecopter giveaway
I have a number of paperbacks, most of which are signed, to giveaway. Over the between now (11 Mar 2017) and 31 Mar 2017, every comment on the blog (this post and all other new posts), will be entered to win 1 of these paperbacks. There are also some misc swag items, so there will be a few packs of these to give away as well.
Thank you so much for your support over the last 4 years. Prism will be closing its doors on 1 April 2017. All content will remain available, but no new content will appear after 31 Mar 2017. As such all request forms have been turned off. Again Thank you,
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