In this Big Gay Fiction Fest panel discussion we talk about historical romances with Annabelle Greene, Merry Farmer and Cat Sebastian. In addition to talking about the latest books from Annabelle, Merry and Cat, we find what brought them to historicals and why they write in the periods they do, the importance of showing queer love and happiness in their stories, why historicals are so popular now, and what Pride means to each of them.
Big Gay Fiction Podcast is part of the Frolic Podcast Network. Find many more outstanding podcasts at frolic.media/podcasts!
Here are the things we talk about in this episode. Please note, these links include affiliate links for which we may make a small commission at no extra cost to you should you make a purchase. These links are current at the time the episode premieres, however links are subject to change.
- Historical Romance Panel
- Merry Farmer website | Merry Farmer Reader’s Facebook Group | Facebook | Twitter | Instagram
- Annabelle Greene Twitter | Instagram
- Cat Sebastian website | Twitter | Instagram
- The Servant and the Gentleman (Society of Beasts Book 3) by Annabelle Greene
- Just a Little Wickedness (The Brotherhood Book 1) by Merry Farmer
- A Touch of Romance (The Slippery Slope Book 1) by Merry Farmer
- Pride and Prejudice on Amazon Prime Video
- Jane Austen on Amazon
- The Lawrence Browne Affair by Cat Sebastian
- Julia Quinn on Amazon
- Agatha Christie on Amazon
- The Phoenix and the Carpet by Edith Nesbit
- Five Children and It by Edith Nesbit
- The Railway Children by Edith Nesbit
- Roald Dahl on Amazon
- Cider with Rosie by Laurie Lee
- Georgette Heyer on Amazon
- A Touch of Devotion (The Slippery Slope Book 3) by Merry Farmer (pre-order until July 15, 2022)
- Downton Abbey on Peacock
- Bridgerton on Netflix
- The Gilded Age on HBO Max
- Our Flag Means Death on HBO Max
- Peter Cabot Gets Lost (The Cabots Book 1) by Cat Sebastian
- Hither, Page (Page & Sommers Book 1) by Cat Sebastian
- The Perfect Crimes of Marian Hayes by Cat Sebastian
- National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) website
- Alyssa Cole on Amazon
- Gay New York by George Chauncey
- A Touch of Class (The Slippery Slope Book 2) by Merry Farmer
- The Epicure’s Almanack: Eating and Drinking in Regency London on Amazon
- A Winter’s Earl by Annabelle Greene
- Peter and The Wolves by Merry Farmer
- The Sinner’s Gamble (The Perdition Club) by Merry Farmer
- Ruby Moone on Amazon
- Eliot Grayson on Amazon
- The Scot’s Wager (The Perdition Club) by Hannah Morse
- Victoria Vale on Amazon
- Fagin’s Boy (Oliver & Jack Book 1) by Jackie North
- Allie Therin on Amazon
- Briarley by Aster Glenn Gray
- Honeytrap by Aster Glenn Gray
- KJ Charles on Amazon
- Clutch (Forbidden Desires Book 1) by Piper Scott & Virginia Kelly
- Big Gay Fiction Podcast Links
This transcript was made possible by our community on Patreon. You can get information on how to join them at patreon.com/biggayfictionpodcast.
Jeff: Coming up on this Big Gay fiction Fest episode, we go back in time as we present a panel on historical romances.
Will: Welcome to episode 383 of the Big Gay Fiction Podcast, the show for avid readers and passionate fans of gay romance fiction. I’m Will, and with me, as always, is my co-host and husband, Jeff.
Jeff: Hello, rainbow romance reader. Welcome back to the Big Gay Fiction Fest.
Historical romance seems like it is everywhere these days. It’s on TV with “Bridgerton.” There’s historical drama like “The Gilded Age.” “Downton Abbey” is back in movie theaters. And while only “The Gilded Age” has given us queer characters on TV, there are plenty of great gay historical romances to pick from. And we’ve got three terrific authors with us to talk about writing about the past, Annabelle Greene, Merry Farmer, and Cat Sebastian each have new books that we’re going to talk about. Plus, we’re going to discuss many aspects of the genre and why they write in it.
Historical Romance Panel Discussion: Annabelle Greene, Merry Farmer and Cat Sebastian
Jeff: Merry, and, Annabelle, and Cat, thank you so much for joining us for the Big Gay Fiction Fest. It’s great to have you here to talk about historicals.
Merry: Thanks for having us.
Cat: It’s great to be here.
Annabelle: Yeah. Thank you. It’s lovely to be here.
Jeff: So, I wanna start off and have you each introduce yourselves and tell us a little bit about the type of historicals that you write. And Annabelle we’ll start off with you.
Annabelle: Oh, will you? Okay. That’s great.
Jeff: Your first name starts with A, it seemed like a good place to start.
Annabelle: Yeah, no, sadly, that does make total sense. So, if you see me looking down, I’ve made worryingly, extensive notes for this casual conversation. So, well see how it goes. I’m Annabelle. I live in Southern Italy in a tiny flat with my boyfriend and a cat that really hates me. And this is my first ever panel. So I’m a little bit nervous. I’ve just finished my first historical series, the “Society of Beasts,” which is three gay romances set in and around a fictional club for gay gentlemen in Regency England. So the third one, “The Servant and the Gentleman” will be coming out on the 17th of May. And then who knows. The world? I don’t yet.
Jeff: And Cat.
Cat: Sure. I am Cat Sebastian, and I write queer historical romance in a variety of settings. And it usually tends to be pretty soft. At this point, I guess that’s the only unifying factor that my books have. I used to be able to say, I write Regency or Regency romance, but now it’s all over the place. But the unifying factors, the characters are always queer, and usually is pretty low angst.
Jeff: And I love how you’ve expanded on the historicalness of it because it did, like you said, all used to be Regency, but now you’re in the ’40s and the ’60s. And I mean, historical these days, I guess is almost anything pre-2000, which makes me feel super old, but.
Jeff: And Merry, tell us about you.
Merry: I’m Merry Farmer. I write mostly Victorian, but every once in a while, somebody drags me into a Regency project, m/m Romance. I just love writing deep love stories of just people falling in love. But also from my background of history, because I have two degrees in history and all this information in my head, and I love to get that out into story form. So I try to base stuff on something interesting I read in a history book and then make a story out of it. I guess that’s my unifying factor there.
Annabelle: Yeah. I’m trying to think of a unifying factor for my book so far because I am nothing compared to you guys in terms of output yet she says, but like, I don’t know, bonkers passion, I guess, probably be a way of fitting in.
Jeff: I like bonkers passion. What more could I want in a book other than bonkers passion where the two guys come together so well.
Merry: You got your tagline now.
Annabelle: Yeah, yeah, actually, yeah. I’ll just go and change some social stuff. Yeah. That’s a good idea.
Jeff: I’m curious to know what kind of drew you into writing in the period, or in Cat’s case periods, that you are writing in? I guess Merry, will just come back to you for that.
Merry: Well, like I said, I have all these degrees in history and I read history books for fun. And I think the reason why the 1890s in particular really appeals to me, my first fully m/m series, the “Brotherhood” was Victorian London in the 1890s. And the current series that I’m doing, the “Slippery Slope” is like a spinoff of that in New York City in the 1890s. And the reason the 1890s just really resonate with me is that they were at the time known as the naughty nineties. And it’s just a lot more forward-thinking and a lot more progressive and liberal than a lot of people nowadays assume that life was back then, but think about how much things were changing back then. The inventions, electricity and homes and running water, and the media and the press was huge, new, exciting, horrible thing. And it just feels a lot like what we’re dealing with now. So I love the similarities of that time period and what we’re doing now. And it’s just educating people about the fact that it was actually way more liberal than you think it was, is so much fun.
Jeff: Is that era when you have your degrees from or are your degrees kind of more far-reaching through history?
Merry: I sort of specialized in the entire 19th century, but the more I studied and the more I read, the more the, what in England, they call the late Victorian period and over in the States, the Gilded Age just started to appeal to me more and more. And post earning my degrees, I’ve actually bought and read more books about that particular time period and up to World War I, because I kind… That first decade of the 20th century kind of fits with the 19th century in a lot of ways, but World War I changed so many things. That’s an understatement of several centuries.
Jeff: Annabelle, what drew you to Regency?
Annabelle: Well, I wish I had greater responses, but it was completely unearned confidence in my knowledge of the period. Like I’m English and period dramas are baked into our pop culture, like in such a huge way. You know, the “Pride and Prejudice” with Colin Firth, there’s Mr. Darcy. Like, I always loved that. I also have a degree in history, but it was early modern. And while I would absolutely love to like, you know, write a romance about a sort of 17th-century ballad seller or something similar, what I found in terms of like keystone romance texts when I was beginning to read romance was Regency, and I adored it. I absolutely loved it. And because my natural writing voice is historical rather than contemporary, I don’t know, it must have been the books I read growing up. I thought, “You know what? I could write a Regency. I actually get…” And then I started writing and I thought, “oh God, I know nothing. ” Like, I am completely unqualified. Like I think I can write, but boy, I underestimated this massively.
And so, then I, you know, I did proper research and I also started thinking again about the things that you love in an uncomplicated way when you’re a teenager like Jane Austen, you think, well, that’s a really stayed, white sort of only one class strata type of, you know, exploration. I would like to see what other people were doing in that period and how other people found love and happiness. And so that was what kind of drove me on to start writing in Regency. And I’m sorry, Cat, this may be embarrassing that it was reading one of your as well. Well, you know, you only know you can do something if you know it exists. And so I I think it was “The Lawrence Browne Affair.” I read it, and I was like, “Oh my God, it exists. I could do this. This is amazing.”
Cat: For me, building off what Annabelle said, like I had read so much Regency Romance. Like starting in like 2009 when my younger kids were born, I was just like in a bad place, and all I could do was read romance novels. Like that was it. Okay, so I just, like, I went through it. I didn’t even have an e-reader, so I just like went through every single like historical romance on my library shelf. And they were basically all Regency. Like I went through like all of a Julia Quinn’s, like all of everybody, you know, there was nothing left when I was done. And then I had to buy an e-reader and read everything else. And like, honestly, like after three years of this, like that’s about when it occurred to me, like after like 300 romance levels, I was like, “Wait a minute, now, wait a minute, like these all straight people.” Like, it’s actually pretty weird for me, for like me as me to be like, reading about all of these straight people. And then like, once that idea got into my head, I was like, “Okay, like, there’s gotta be. Like, I’m not the first person to have thought of this.” But like at the time, there absolutely were queer historical romances, but it was like, there were enough to keep you busy for two weeks, right? And at this point I’m still mad, right? I’m like, “Where are my gay books?” And I so was the solution clearly, right. The solution clearly is that I have to write one, you know? And I had never written a book. I had never written anything more complicated than like a legal brief or an email. Okay. And so…
Annabelle: So sorry, those famously uncomplicated legal briefs.
Jeff: I know. I was thinking the same thing.
Annabelle: Like shopping list. Jesus Christ.
Cat: I mean, they’re not really sexy though, okay. They’re not.
Merry: I guess it depends on the case. Yeah, true guess.
Cat: They’re not fun to read. And so I had no reason to believe that I could actually write something and I was like, I just did it. And it worked out, and so I kept doing it. And it was like, it really was just wanting to see like these books that I enjoyed so much, like the setting that I enjoyed so much. Like I wanted to see it filled up with people like me. That was like enough to propel me through 10 books.
And then I was like, “Wait, there are other settings that are like absolutely devoid.” Like my mind is working like in a 10-year lag at this point, right? Like it occurs to me like in 2020 that there aren’t…that like, wait a minute, we haven’t done…like there aren’t any like good, decent, happy, queer people in Agatha Christie. You know, have to get on that, you know? But that’s pretty much, like, that’s how I got here.
Jeff: Is that not seeing queer people in Agatha Christie-type mysteries and through the other things, kind of what led you into taking on other timeframes after doing so much in Regency?
Cat: Yeah. I mean, that’s totally it. Like, a part of it is I had…I mean like, okay. Like all the love and respect for people who can write 50 books in one period. But like, my brain is like too squiggly to stick with one thing for…it’s a miracle I wrote 10 books in one period. It’s a miracle I wrote 10 books at all, okay. So after like, I really started to chase at it. And then I pitched a book that wasn’t Regency and was basically told like, “No, it’s kind of gotta be Regency.” And then of course I’m like, now I’m in a place where I can’t write a Regency novel, right? You know, like I’ve been told I have to, and now I’m in a dark place. And so I managed to talk my editor back as far back as like 1750, you know, and now…That’s sufficiently different from Regency. And that is like, everything is much looser, you know. So I got that far back, and then I was like, you know what, like, I’m personally annoyed by the lack of like happy queer texts in the 20th century. And again, like okay, I guess I’m the person for the job, you know. Which is so embarrassing to admit, because like I can usually maintain that level of confidence for like a minute, you know, but like, to be able to sustain it for, you know, a hundred thousand words, it’s like embarrassing, but…
Annabelle: This is the writer’s disease, isn’t it? The kind of the belief that you are essentially unqualified for everything apart from this one thing where you are the best person on the planet, you just have to sustain that for a book and then for another book.
Cat: Right. That’s right.
Merry: Can I ask like an embarrassing question? Like, did you self-publish the ones from the ’60s and the ’40s?
Cat: Yeah, I did. I…
Merry: This is like, I’ve only been indie. I’ve gone with a publisher for these last couple of books, but like, I’m an indie at heart because I have found that we have the ability to do more and explore more and look at all of these subjects that like traditional publishing doesn’t like to take risks. I totally get that, you know, do what you know is gonna work. But we have so much more freedom when we can publish it ourselves. That’s kind of why I started publishing just period, in the first place. I tried going to traditional route and I was like, hmmmm. And then I learned about indie publishing, like that. That gives me the freedom that I want to tell the stories that nobody else is telling.
Cat: Yes. And you have one set in, like, is it your most recent book that’s set in like the Bowery in New York?
Merry: Yes. Oh, my God.
Cat: Yeah. I love that. I mean, that’s such a great setting.
Merry: Well, and the thing is, and, okay, I’m getting up on my soapbox now, but I’ve done a lot of research about the gay club scene of the 1890s. And when I put up my first ad on Facebook, I had somebody right away go quote, like, “The gay club scene in the 1890s? Really?” And I’m like, it’s a thing. It actually existed and it’s fascinating, the history. And my author’s notes are as fun to write as the books themselves, because I’m just, basically, this is like following what actually happened in New York. But again…
Cat: It’s on The Slide, right? Are you basing it on The Slide?
Merry: Well, The Slide is actually, I’ve got two rival clubs in this book, The Slide and The Slippery Slope. which is made up one. But I’m at the point historically where The Slide was raided and shut down. Spoiler alert, that happens in the third book in the series, which is a Romeo and Juliet story between the bartender of the one and the bartender of the other. But, yeah.
Merry: I know. But just bringing the actual history again, I don’t think if I pitched this idea to an editor, I’m not sure if they would’ve gone for it, but there’s so much material there and there’s so much that can be done with it. And then I already have an idea for a spinoff of the spinoff that takes what gay life in New York was like, even further because the source material is just there.
Annabelle: I have a similar weird fixation of about the 1930s right now. Because everyone thinks about the Second World War and I get it, you know, the big era, but oh, the 30s was interesting. It was full of this stuff. And like, yeah, the London gay scene was amazing and then people act like it didn’t exist. And just like, it did, but you know, you can’t converse for hours about that.
Merry: Well, and that’s the thing that made me like gasp so loud. You probably heard me gasp over in Italy when I discovered it that because there was a deliberate effort on the part of mid-20th century historians to bury all of gay history, and they succeeded. They succeeded to the point where a lot of my gay readers don’t know what their own history is because it was so successful. And it’s just like, I’m so glad that historians are actually correcting these errors now, but that’s, I think why I’m so passionate about writing this right now because it’s there. It happened.
Annabelle: I remember a similar experience with my degree actually. I did, the history of gender was one of my modules, and I remember there was a whole section in the library, like queering history and I looked at it and I was like, “Oh, my God, oh my God. Oh my God. People are actually doing it.” That’s amazing.
Merry: That’s funny because the most interesting class I took in getting my history degrees was historiography, which is a study of how history has been recorded and the biases that historians have had throughout time. Fascinating, fascinating stuff.
Annabelle: Sounds it.
Jeff: I wanna come back to something that you said at Annabelle, you said that your writing voice was more Regency than contemporary.
Jeff: Tell me what that means because I’m fascinated by that idea.
Annabelle: Well, I think it’s because…Well, again, like we say more Regency than contemporary, we could just say not contemporary to be more exact. Because I grew up and I read everything. I was an obsessive reader. And my parents, you know, rather than sort of spend thousands on, you know, whatever book was out there, I read a lot of like things like, “The Phoenix and the Carpet” or “Five Children And It” or “The Railway Children” and like a lot of children’s classics, which then sort of, I kept reading those and kept reading those. And a lot of Roald Dahl as well, who was sort of a complicated man, definitely. But you know, but an interesting writer for children. And then I moved to Italy on my own and I just wanted to spend all my spare time reading and I had a Kindle and I just got all the free historical books there were.
So I read a lot of ’30s books, a lot of ’40s books, a lot Agatha Christie, Cat, like just amazing. And I think my writing voice when I sort of get onto the page, it just comes out as, not quite of the day. And I think maybe my speech might be the same, but that’s just, I don’t how your writing voice is exactly developed. But for me, I think it’s an accumulation of all of the books that I’ve read and all of the books that were important to me as well, which I think, for example, “Cider with Rosie” by Laurie Lee, like if you guys have read that like the writing style is really weird, but oh my God, it sticks in your brain like massively and it’s very flowery and it’s full of adverbs and like interesting metaphors and similes. So like I’m not a clear sparse writer. I don’t know. That’s just how it’s come out for me. I don’t about you guys. Like I’d love to know what you guys think about your voice?
Cat: I would’ve said, I definitely, like until recently I would’ve said I only had a historical voice, and it’s probably for the same…I hadn’t really thought about why, but it has to be for what you’re saying, but I was steeped in historical fiction growing up and I was an English major and my concentration was like the long 18th century. And so like, there you go, right. And like the adverb situation and all of that, you know, but like for my most recent…For my ’60s books, I do reign it in, you know what I mean? Like I do. But it’s like a conscious thing. Like, you know what I mean? Like, it’s, you can’t, you’re not gonna, I mean, like you can’t do like florid prose in the 60s, that’s like, that’s ridiculous, you know. I would say I’m probably aiming for a contemporary voice and I think it works, but I don’t think I could have done it 10 years ago, you know. Like it’s taken much me… I think I had to get more comfortable with like what I’m capable of, and more confident in what I’m capable of, and I don’t have, and like voice can be a fluid thing.
Merry: Oh, yeah. Well, I’ve noticed that when I’m writing Regency books versus when I’m writing the Victorian era ones, they actually have a slightly different voice. And then as I’ve been writing the one set in New York City, I’m actually noticing that my voice is changing slightly again because I spent an entire day looking up slang terms of New York City in the 1890s. And there are a lot of them, and then trying to incorporate those, they just have a different rhythm to them. So it changes based on the location of where I’m writing,
Annabelle: Weirdly that connects into one of the, I think we’ve got a research question coming later, but one of the small, but really annoying things for me with writing Regency is like what slang terms were technically correct, but sound weird in a modern book. Like, oh, well he would say that, but I can’t make him say that. It’s just not gonna work.
Merry: Or, slang terms that were completely historically accurate for the time period, but people think are modern and they will ding them if you try to put it in there.
Cat: Yeah. I’m always tempted to include like an author’s note about that kind of thing, but it would literally be just like a list of synonyms for boner. That can’t be your author’s note.
Annabelle: No, I think my author’s note would just be like, “Just look it up guys, okay. I did a lot research. I promise.”
Cat: Professional here.
Jeff: I looked it up so you could look it up, too.
Merry: That was gonna be my answer to one of the other questions later on about things that are difficult about writing historicals is that there’s a constant battle that goes on between being historically accurate and then writing things that readers assume are historically accurate. I had a very interesting conversation with some of the m/f historical romance author friends that I have about how the current m/f historical Romance Regency genre is actually Jane Austen and Georgette Heyer fan fiction. Not historically accurate. So if you’re not writing canon to the fan fiction world, readers will be upset. So it’s a fine line to walk. And then you just…because my background is in m/f historical romance, I’ve had readers that were like, “Yeah, but two men could never have had romance back then because it’s not historically accurate.” I’m like, “You are wrong, but it’s a very fine line to walk, to prove to you that you are wrong.”
Annabelle: This is my biggest peeve, like, I end up getting angry with like, because you shouldn’t get angry about it because it’s ignorance. It’s not malice, you know, 99% of the time. But I’m still just like, it’s such a lack of imagination to feel like, oh, well these people would never have been happy. They never would’ve sought love and managed to live and enjoy themselves. You’re like, you know, they never would’ve formed lasting relationships or even just had a great time having sex with who they wanted. Never would’ve happened. It’s like, that’s such small thinking like, come on.
Jeff: Yeah. I think it’s…
Merry: It just makes me wanna bring up all those actual historical people who very much got away with. My current favorite is General Von Steuben from the American Revolution who walked around America like Valley Forge with his teenage lovers that he ended up bequeathing his entire fortune to. The man was hysterical. And everyone wanted to invite him to all the revolutionary parties.
Cat: And there were more than one. There were like three or four generals, like in the Revolutionary War that were like openly…I mean like they were about as out as you can get, like, I mean, walking around with your boyfriends, plural, is like, you know, like…
Merry: Well, and I live in the Philadelphia area, and nearby to me is the town of King of Prussia, which is named after Frederick the Great who was very, very openly gay.
Merry: Yeah, but no, it didn’t exist after…
Annabelle: No, everyone suffered all the time. That was it. No joy.
Cat: Because people are famously good at not having sex they’re not supposed to have.
Annabelle: Definitely. Yes.
Jeff: I think it was you, Merry, who mentioned, of course, that, you know, history’s changed so much. And for all of the marginalized communities, the history can be very difficult to find because it was kind of just put away whether it’s queer history or history for persons of color or indigenous people, it’s just all like, but there was something I heard, and I wish I could who remember who said it, but it was in like a historical panel or somewhere that it’s like, “Even when oppressed, people find ways to be happy. People find their love, people find ways to be happy.” And that’s one of the things I love seeing. I know this history existed for sure, but I like seeing the ways that it comes and the ways that you could see in the stories where people are appropriately careful where they need to be, or, you know, appropriately taking caution, but also finding the love.
And it was “Lawrence Browne Affair.” I mean, I’d read many of your books Cat ahead of that, but that you brought a little bit of class difference in that, but also, you know, mixed-race relationship to it. And it’s like, all of that could have happened. And the way you structured it made me feel like it was also accurate to the way that it could have happened. All this comes back to where my question actually said, is that finding that balance of historical accuracy and, you know, the story that people expect to read, the most challenging part of historical, or would you lay that kind of challenging part somewhere else?
Cat: For me, that was really challenging at first because I expected a lot of resistance. Okay, I was like really, really conscious of the fact that I had an audience that wasn’t used to reading this, right. And because again, this is like my first book came out in 2016. It really was a different landscape. And so I was really like, I paid a lot of attention to like making it plausible. And in one of my books, I did include an author’s note, like, you know, proving that it was plausible or whatever. And since then I don’t, okay. Like I write the story and if someone doesn’t like the story, they can not like the story, right? Part of that is just that I’m confident that like I have a reader base that is educated and aware and, like, I’m super fortunate about that. But part of it is also that I’m pissed off, right? Like it’s, I don’t wanna have to justify it. Like I know this and I don’t wanna be in the position of being like, actually we were always here constantly, every single book, every interaction, right. Like you guys know that’s exhausting. And yeah, that’s all.
Merry: I know what you said exactly, but I’ve gotten to the point now where I think that readership has changed a lot in the last 5, 10 years because I was really concerned about those exact same things at first and got defensive about things. And now I’m just like, you know what, if you’re gonna read it, you’re gonna read it. If you’re not, you’re not. And if you’re gonna believe it, that’s great. If not, it’s not my problem.
Cat: Yep. I always get…
Merry: But I’ve had like, because, again, I come from this background of m/f, like when I had this woman who is in her ’60s, email me to say, “Reading your books, I was really nervous about doing it at first because it’s not what I usually read, but I understand, and it has helped improve my relationship with my gay grandson.” I was like, oh. She’s like, “I understand him much better now.” And I’m like, “Okay.”
Annabelle: That’s like a beautiful golden email to receive. That’s…
Merry: I think I printed it out.
Annabelle: I’m not sure. Am I the newest writing in this space? Something that I found interesting and also challenging as like a new author and writing in this sphere is that people…I mean, fortunately, the readership now is much more knowledgeable and much more informed. And it’s like not expecting a certain type of narrative of queer suffering, it’s that they’re expecting like certain truths that you need to hit and certain beats. And I was like, oh my God, like the fan base is incredible. And, you know, you’re never gonna get it all, but it’s still amazing to just see a readership grow. That’s like, no, no, these are the things we want. I say, okay.
Merry: The fine line that I’m walking is there are two buckets of readers. There’s readers who read historical romance and are willing to read a gay romance. And there are readers who read gay romance who are willing to take a chance on historical, and they’re very different and they have massively different expectations. And trying to bridge those has been a challenge that’s…
Cat: Yeah, no, that is like, I always say like that’s been…I’ve been wondering about that since the get-go because the readers for my m/f books tend to be the exact same readers for my m/m books. Like I hadn’t expected that at all, right. I was expecting like traditional, like Regency Romance readers to go in for the m/f books, and it wasn’t them at all. And also, those are the books I’ve gotten like the weirder elements of pushback about from readers. Usually, people just keep their weird, bad opinions to themselves or reviews. And like, that’s great, more power to you, but like, those are the ones where the readers reach out. You know, like, and you get the email about how like women didn’t act like that. And you just wanna be like, I don’t, like, delete, like, I’m definitely not responding to you because like that’s gonna wind up on Reddit, you know? But like, that’s like, I didn’t expect that. Like, that is the biggest shock that I’ve had is that when I write an m/f book, those were the ones where people like also be like really weird, like really weird like criticism of the female main character, you know, like yeah. And that always makes me feel like, just filthy about it, you know.
Annabelle: There is a small, strange subset of the readership that I’m not particularly comfortable with. Like in sort of that kind of weird, bad opinion that you were talking about. I mean, again, like, you know, as a new author and as a new author writing queer historicals, like pushback, in general, is weird like to learn how to deal with. And also half of the time, you know, it’s correct. Like, you know, the ones that actually give you proper criticism of your book and you read it, you’re like, “Nope, you are completely correct. Thank you for buying it. Please love the imperfect thing I made.”
Cat: I love those emails where it’s like, actually I totally agree. You know, like the denouement is pretty bad here.
Annabelle: Like, oh, pacing all over the place, like you’re completely correct.
Cat: …in common, we should be friends, you know.
Annabelle: Do you wanna be my beta reader? That’s very much that kinda vibe.
Merry: But have you guys noticed that readers have gotten, shall we say, much more bold about reaching out when they dislike something? Because I’ve had a couple of doozies lately where they went out of to find my email address to send me a long email. And one of them, the title of email is “FYI, Why I Will Never Read Your Books,” from somebody who hasn’t never read my books but took the time to find my email address and send me this big, long thing about the fact that, wait for it, my cover models look too young. Therefore she will never read my books. But it’s just this…Well, this is probably not the forum for it, but have you guys noticed that readers have gotten very expressive?
Annabelle: Well, I haven’t had an expressive reader problem because, again, I’m just bad at existing in public. I don’t even have a website or mailing list at this point. I mean, I’m sure, you know, once I’m better tooled up, I will have this, but I mean like my mental health is fragile on the best of days. You know, I don’t go on Goodreads. Like that invites polarizing terrible reviews of your book. And I went on there for my first one, and it wasn’t the one-star reviews that really, really got me. It was the three-star reviews because I said were correct. And you read that, you’re like, “Oh, boy. Yep. Okay. I guess that is B plus book for you, and maybe that’s what it is.” But in terms of expressive readers, no, I avoid the forums where readers express themselves. Because again, it’s not my place. Like if you wanna lavishly hate on my book, have at it, but don’t write me an email. What?
Cat: I get one weird email, a book, it’s pretty much. At this point, it’s one weird email a book. I know it’s gonna happen. And I almost like, it’s such a rhythm by now that I know what exactly what I’m gonna do about it. Like I will, you know like I screenshot the whole thing. I send it to my beta reader, you know, and then we laugh and laugh and laugh. I’m like, it’s over. You know what I mean, because like I’ve gotten it off my chest. But at the beginning, like my first book or two, again, 2016 weird times, I know there was a lot on Facebook, and I wound up with like a Pavlovian-like panic, whenever I logged into Facebook, and that’s why I’m not there anymore, you know. But Avon actually was awesome about it. Like Avon people went in and wherever bad things were happening, like, you know, outright homophobic, gross things were happening, they went and they were able to like delete things and shut it down. And like, there was no way that I had the spoons to deal with that at all. I would’ve been like, I retire, like we’re out, you know, no more book.
Annabelle: That’s that’s really good. Like, that’s just a really good response on their part, I think.
Merry: That’s also why it’s important to have your author as friends, so you can screenshot it and send them, and like, “Hello, this person.”
Annabelle: What the hell is this?
Cat: And it’s such the minority view. You know what, even like overwhelmingly, the only stuff I’m ever gonna hear of my books is like super positive and I’m so grateful about that. You, you know, so when someone takes the extra effort to make me sad, you know, that’s, I think what gets me right, is that you went out of your way to make me sad. Like who am I to you? And you didn’t even know me, you know. Like you could have just not done that for $0. You could have just chosen not to do that. Like, what are you even talking?
Annabelle: At, at that point, I don’t know, I am maybe too good at just looking at that and being like, that seems like a you-problem. That seems like a whole load of you-problems that you’re trying to make my problem, but it really were remains a you-problem in the end. Like what can I do?
Merry: And the flip side of that is, that’s why the really supportive, super fan readers are just…
Cat: Oh my God.
Merry: So wonderful.
Annabelle: Like I don’t think readers understand how much, like a positive comment on Twitter or a little message saying, “I love your…” Like, it makes your day.
Cat: Oh, totally.
Annabelle: Like, if anyone ever ends up being like, oh, but you know, they probably have loads of people it’s much less than you think. I think. It’s really, really good when people reach out.
Merry: Well, that’s why I have started putting them in my books. So again, when you get to the third book in the “Slippery Slope” series, Ricky, the bartender at The Slide is one of my fans. I’m making him one of the heroes of my books because he started out on Twitter, he started like just interacting with me, and then he just got…so I love Ricky. He lives in New York. I need to go up and visit him. But like I just flat out, made him one of the heroes of this coming up book. So he changed his profile name to the character because he’s already been a secondary character in a book. You know, he changed his place of employment to The Slide, so.
Annabelle: That’s so amazing.
Jeff: I wanna ask, since we looked at a little bit of the challenging side of writing historicals, what do you each find the funnest part to be? And, Cat, will come over to you to start that one.
Cat: One thing I like, especially about writing, like, you know, 1700s and 1800s historical fiction is that you can like lean into a kind of like vanity and silliness and archness, that doesn’t really feel the same as if you were to set it in the present day, right. You could have a character who spends three hours in front of his mirror, you know, and like really thinks about like the state of his nails, and it’s I don’t know if this waistcoat is the right shade of blue, you know what I mean? And that you can do that in a way that so silly and that I don’t think it would have a very…you can do it in the present day, like obviously, but it’s gonna have a very different effect. And I really like that. And there’s a certain kind of just wry humor that I think you can get away with in the historical voice. Like Annabelle was saying that I don’t think…it just doesn’t hit the same in a contemporary. Those are my favorite.
Annabelle: Sorry. The tiny point is like, it is weird how fun it is writing about clothes or just cloth. Like, I don’t think people realize how much, like you get a kick out of like describing someone’s shirt or something like that. Like, it’s a real like, oh, everything’s just so nice, like.
Cat: I have to reign it in so much. You know what I mean? Like, once you hit the half-page mark, you’re like, you know what? Like this might not be character development anymore. Like, I think we’re gonna have to tighten that up. Stop with the lace cuffs, you know.
Annabelle: Well, that’s when I…
Merry: And then I…Go ahead.
Annabelle: No, no. Go.
Merry: Well, to me, like the whole historical setting, it’s almost like world-building for science fiction or fantasy because it’s not a world that we live in. So you get to paint the picture of the whole world that people are in. I love world-building.
Cat: I think parallel. Oh, the parallel with science fiction and fantasy I think is like really apt. And I think that historical romance sort of scratches the same itch as…because it’s, you know, like you can write about, you have this setting, that’s like one step removed from actual reality. And so you can pour more character and theme in a way that, you know, you can do it with a little more freedom than you could in the present day. Because you’re not actually talking about the thing that matters here. You’re talking about it more abstractly.
Annabelle: Yeah, no, it sort of does stray close to fantasy and also like thinking about what you leave out and what you put in and is sort of, it’s interesting the things that we choose to leave out. You know, because everyone talks about like bad teeth and syphilis and stuff like that. You know, obviously yes, it’s not in the romance novel. There’s just fun parallels. Like, you know, sort of 18th century, 19th-century books, a thing that always made me laugh in sort of a wild tangent. You never know someone’s pregnant until they have the baby. Like, there’s never any reference to like being with childlike the physical, like it’s just not put in. So in your fantasy, historical playground, you’re sort of putting in the posh curtains and the lovely dresses, possibly leaving out how those dresses were made and the immense human suffering that was like a part of the textile industry, that kind of stuff.
Cat: Oh, yeah.
Jeff: Historical’s always been around in pop culture a little bit. I mean, certainly anytime there’s a new, you know, Jane Austen miniseries, courtesy of the BBC, maybe a new movie happens, but I think trying to trace this back, at least in my little bit of research, you know, “Downton Abbey” seemed to really kick off a new wave of this that has certainly gotten even more with “Bridgeton” and the “Gilded Age”. What is it about historical, whether it’s, you know, Regency where some of that set or moving forward to like the Gilded Age that we see, you know, in the late 19th-century? Why does this hit such a moment now, and over the last couple of years, what do you think that is?
Annabelle: I, actually sort of adding to that question, is it historicals or is it, historical posh people? Because like…
Cat: It’s the fanciness.
Annabelle: It is fancy posh people. And it must be connected in some way to current events because it always is. You know, there’s a big kickoff reaction in culture to something that’s happening in the world, but it exactly kind of, it’s fancy posh people. And I mean, yeah, “Downton Abbey,” like yes, you know, the servants have their storylines, but everyone’s talking about Lady Mary, it’s the kind of, you know, the dying aristocracy.
Merry: Well, you know, the dying part, I think you just hit on it because it’s a nostalgia for a time period that, oh, back in the golden age, when things were pretty and clean and wonderful. And it wasn’t actually like that, but people want to believe that there was a time…you know, there was a dream that was Rome. And it’s funny because, so again, from my m/f background, I’m actually by the end of this year, I’m leaving m/f behind for a while and only doing m/m because I’ve grown, frustrated with a lot of people who want to recapture a history that never existed. And it has just become frustrating of like, okay, but you’re portraying something out of a sense of nostalgia and angst in wishing that we could return to a golden age, but it was never really like that. Which then for me begs the question, so why is queer historical becoming so popular when it doesn’t hit that same, ah, there was a time when everything was fine and perfect and we didn’t have to worry about the people of color and everybody was straight and it was, you know. To me, there’s a whole other question in that question.
Cat: Yes. Yes. I think can we talk about…
Jeff: We can talk about that other question, too, because that’s almost far more interesting than the one that I asked.
Annabelle: Well, I mean, I think queer pop culture, I could be wrong, but queer pop culture, in general, is exploding. Like, you know, and it does make me laugh when, you know, people with, as Cat said, weird, bad opinions are like, oh, well, it’s everywhere now. Yes. Almost like real life.
Merry: Almost like? It’s always like this.
Annabelle: Yes. It’s almost as if it has always been this way. And well, I think the reason all three of us write in queer historicals is because I just think it’s amazing to discover joy, historical joy, historical queer joy and love, you wanna everything about that. Like we’ve had all of these stories of pain and suffering and they absolutely have their place in the wider canon, but come on, like, we need some happiness, like, you know, a reminder that happiness existed alongside these terrible things. I don’t know… for me…
Jeff: Yeah. I think…
Cat: I think really, I think that it’s instructive to look at “Our Flag Means Death,” alongside like “Bridgeton” and “Gilded Age” and all of that age because you have this, not only is it, not only is it a rom-com, but it’s like explicitly like brown and like it’s about…You know what I mean? Like you have like people of color, it’s by people of color, right. Like, you know, and it’s, so you have this worldview that is notably absent from what we typically think of as a period piece, you know? And like, yeah, like I…And it is not fancy, right? Like, it’s also not rooted in like reality right. So there’s something else happening there that’s like that I can’t really like that does set it apart from like the like “Bridgeton” and “Gilded Age.” But like, they aren’t rooted in reality either. It’s just a different kind of not being rooted in reality. You know, and I feel like when people are talking about like, what is like…Do people enjoy watching and like reading about like historical romance or whatever? I want people to look at “Our Flag Means Death,” you know because I feel like that’s a model for like, going ahead, right? It’s like you take, like, you start with like…Yeah. Anyway, I actually wasn’t planning on bringing any conversation today back to “Our Flag Means Death.” But like, it’s all I’ve been talking about almost like for like a month. And so sorry guys.
Annabelle: We almost believe you.
Merry: No, you’re obviously passionate about it and that’s just gone on my DVR…
Cat: Oh no, you really have to. Like really, really. Like it’s so whatever, I don’t know what, I really have no idea what I paid for the HBO Max subscription, but it doesn’t matter because it was worth it, and I would do it again.
Jeff: And coming back to something that Annabelle said, you keep throwing out these little things that I just lock onto about.
Annabelle: What? Who?
Jeff: I love that all of your stories deal with queer joy and love. The world’s on fire enough now, I don’t need to read about, you know, difficulties in the past. There’s enough of those here. And I mean, that’s one of the things I love about gay romance in general, is that I love seeing people like me, whether they’re younger or older or whatever, all finding their HEA and that it’s not wrapped up, at least out in the books that I read, because I’ll avoid those if there is, you know, know any kind of like difficulty or overt homophobia or whatever that is like, I don’t really need that. I want that joy, and that we see it in the historical setting, I think makes it all the better.
Merry: Well, the fact that you said that, that kind of… So I have several of my m/f historical romance friends who’ve been like, I should write a gay historical romance because they’re really popular right now. And I’m always like, “Before you do that, come talk to me because tell me the plot for your book because if you write this book about, oh, woe, with us, we can’t be together, our love is forbidden, you’re gonna run into problems with readers and…”
Annabelle: Yeah. Like I mean, I don’t know, speaking from my perspective, like secrecy can be sexy, but shame for me is not. Like I am just not interested. And obviously, these things vanish in the historical record.
Merry, Cat, you know better than me, but I refuse to believe that there wasn’t like a gay guy in 1815 who catches the eye of someone across a sort of crowded pub or in the field or after a festival. And there’s that little spark and he thinks, “Oh, well maybe, maybe not. We can sound this out. There will be ways of working out like, you know.” And then they chat and they spark. But, you know, that journey is just so lovely and so important. And I mean, I have a secondary character in my third book, “The Servant of the Gentlemen” who has a brief brush with the law, right. But you know, I really tried, I mean, maybe I failed, but I really tried my best to make it very clear throughout that couple of scenes that he is not ashamed of who he is. Like, people think he should be, people have told him, you know, since forever that he should be ashamed, but he is absolutely not. And as long as I’ve done that, as long as I’ve got characters that are like, “You know what? I like being who I am and loving who I love.” Then you can kind of work out the rest. I don’t know, what’s it like for you two?
Cat: Oh, exactly what you said. Like I would just co-sign that entire thing. Like, I mean, undoubtedly, some people, I mean, like when you’re told by society that you ought to be ashamed for who you are, right? Like obviously some people are growing to internalize that, right? But that doesn’t need to be…that doesn’t need to be what I write about, right. Like I wanna write about stories that are, you know, uplifting and warm and optimistic for the people who are reading them today. And so those are the stories that I’m going to choose. You know, and also like often that, like being ashamed of yourself thing often is like, that’s not a permanent condition. Right? Like often you’re there and you move on. So like, you can write about people who at the moment the story is taking place, like, you know, who don’t feel that way, who are proud of who they are, right. And that can be a big deal for them. Right?
Annabelle: Yeah. Absolutely.
Jeff: I wanna ask one more question about…Oh, sorry, Merry.
Jeff: So, I wanna dig into some of the books, and, Cat, we’re gonna kick this off with you because you have been moving around those historical periods like we talked about. You’ve got “The Cabots” who are in the like late ’50s or late 60s. You’ve got “Page & Sommers” that are in the middle 1940s. Now you’ve got “The Perfect Crimes of Marian Hayes,” which is Georgian London. Tell us a little bit about all this time-hopping you’ve been doing and about these books and these series that you’ve got that are kind of all over the place.
Cat: Yeah. I mean, part of it is just like magpie brain. Like, you know, as soon as I had, like, honestly, as soon as I had the confidence to know that people would follow me out of the Regency, I ran for it. Like with my first book that was not Regency, I self-published it with like, very like very little, I mean, there was no marketing. I was just like, here, I wrote a book, you know, and it did well. And so like that was a lesson, right. Where people will follow me outside of the Regency, I’m gonna do that. And so I thought, okay, like, I can keep doing Regency with Avon. And then I can self-publish others, like whatever random idea like crosses my mind. Right. And that actually has worked super well because like, I don’t get bored with a voice. I don’t get bored with a setting. I don’t get bored with any of it. And then last November, NaNoWriMo, like I just happened to be in a place where I didn’t have anything to do for November. Okay. And so I just wrote a book that was set in 1959 in New York in a newspaper. Okay. And I knew it wasn’t gonna be one of my “Cabot” books, but I also knew that if Avon didn’t want it, I could make it a “Cabot” book. Okay, and so I just wrote the book, you know, like after being told, I don’t know if this is a good idea by like several people whose job it is to tell me that it’s not a good idea, I wrote it…
Annabelle: I think we share an agent, Cat. I think that’s her. Like, she’s very good at that. Like she knows her stuff.
Cat: It was so polite, too. She was like, “You really wanna do it.” And I was just like, I’ll do whatever you’re telling. Like, meanwhile, I’m like, I’m chapter 25 of this book, you know.” And then I just, I sort of just like presented it to her as like, so here’s this book I wrote. And she didn’t say a thing. She just, you know, even like, she was great at it. And Avon wanted it. Okay. So that’s like, and I was really surprised and really delighted because I feel like it it’s great for me, but I think it’s also good for like historical romance broadly. I think it’s super fun for readers and writers and everybody when we are looking beyond Regency England, you know. I think that like, especially since Regency England has become synonymous for like a large part of the audience with like a certain level of like fancy white people. And I think that opening up settings also opens it up to different voices. And I think that like especially with there’s like a sad lack of queer historical romance written by people of color. And if like I would…because I was looking through like, I update my like recommendation list, every couple of months that way I’m not just like always recommending this. And that is a notably, like sad column. Like you know on that spreadsheet. And so…
Annabelle: Like, I want to know where is Alyssa Cole’s Netflix series. Like where is that?
Cat: Literally any of her series actually. Like, and she just knows…
Annabelle: Like do I write her a creepy letter? Do I write Netflix a creepy letter? Like, what do I need to do?
Cat: Yeah. Yeah. I guess like the short answer, long answer…that was a long answer. Okay. So, like my coda to the long answer is just like I am interested in a whole lot of things and right now I feel like if I’m interested in something, I am confident I can make it interesting to enough readers for it to be worthwhile as a book. And so that’s what I’m doing. And like the trick is just to stay interested for long enough to write more than one book. Like, you know, it’s not just like one random book and then, you know, that way, like at least a duology, you know, so.
Merry: Isn’t that just the story of how it goes? Can we stay interested long enough to finish the project?
Jeff: Now, Merry, you’ve mentioned “Slippery Slope” a couple of times, and the first two books are already out, you know, as we sit here in June. Tell us a little bit about this series more than you already have, and what’s coming up later in the series.
Merry: Well, you know, again, I just, I wanted to go for something a little bit different that people might not have seen, which is setting a historical series in New York City, because I’ve always been told, “Oh, it has to be set in England or else nobody’s going to read it.” And I’m like, “Oh, really, you’ve told me I can’t do something. Watch me.” So, and as I’ve done research, particularly this amazing book by George Chauncey, “Gay New York,” which is, that book has so much amazing information. I was just like this needs to be brought into a series. And just exploring a different aspect of queer history that people might not know about. Not that they know much about it at all, anyhow. And then, like I say, this is funny though, because I’m trying to, can I keep, sustain my interest in this idea because “The Brotherhood” was 10 books and that actually got a little bit long for me.
So there’s like four books planned for the “Slippery Slope,” but then this idea hit me, and I’m almost embarrassed to talk about it because it’ll take place in the same place, still in the Bowery, in New York in the same time with the “Slippery Slope” in the background. But I had this idea for five guys who come from various different aspects of life in New York City who decide to put together a business, making over gentlemen who wish to raise themselves up in the social scene of New York City. And one of them is going into fashion, and one of them is into culture, and one of them is into home decorating and I thought…
Annabelle: Take my money.
Merry: So after I write the four books of the “Slippery Slope,” it’s going to be the “Slippery Slope” spinoff series about the fantabulous five. So, because really seriously, that’s how my brain works. The light bulb went off, “Oh my gosh, “Queer Eye” in the 1890s.”
Cat: That’s so funny.
Merry: But you know, but it’s still, it all is based off of doing this research. Okay. So what was going on it? This is because I have one scene in the second “Slippery Slope” book, “A Touch of Class” where they’re at the opera. I literally spent an entire day researching what operas did the met opera perform in the fall of, you know, 1890. And I learned some fascinating things. They did “Carmen” in Italian, not French. And so, I started reading about opera in the 1890s and what was going on with the museums and what was…because this was right before the list of The 400 went out from Mrs. Astor. Like, and it’s just each of these different aspects. So, what would somebody do to get on Mrs. Astor’s list? And that’s kind of, and I was watching a lot of “Queer Eye” at the time, and then the two things just like, it was like, you know, atoms splitting. But this is where the ideas come from and just taking them and running because it’s like, oh, what if you did this and that? So.
Annabelle: But the research rabbit holes are amazing.
Merry: Oh, my God.
Annabelle: I love it when that happens. Like, but also because you have a brain that doesn’t stop like you’re writing, you’re like, okay, so in the fields there are corn, but how would that no, it’s wheat. How would that wheat be harvested? What are they using at this point? Did they have a machine? I should look this up. And you look it up and you’re like, wow, there was a lot of unrest connected to the introduction of this series. There’s probably a hero in that. I’ll just spend three hours having a look. Like it’s great.
Merry: And this is why my writing and publishing schedule is actually packed almost of the way through 2023. And because just there’s more ideas whenever anyone was like, “How do you come up with your story ideas?” I’m like, “They won’t stop. They just keep coming.”
Annabelle: That is not the problem.
Annabelle: Not having enough is not the problem.
Jeff: Let’s talk about “Society of Beasts” a little bit Annabelle. That last book has come out with “The Servant and the Gentleman.” For those who haven’t picked up the series, tell us a little bit about the series and what readers are finding in that last book.
Annabelle: Okay. So “The Society of Beasts,” it’s a series set in Regency England, and it focuses on sort of the lives and romantic journeys of the three founding members of The Society of Beasts, which is a fictional club for gay men. And the members enjoy a certain degree of protection from the law and they also just get to spend time in the company of people that kind of understand where they’re coming from, as it were, you know. And the third book, “The Servant and the Gentleman,” it’s a very snobby, but ultimately quite lovable gentleman called William Hartley. Who’s one of the founding members whose kind of secret name is the Sabel because he’s very sort of slinky and sarcastic. And it’s with a very overworked secretary who works at the society named Josiah Balfour. And I’ve talked a lot about queer choice, but this is, this series is about people dealing with trauma, basically. Like everyone is just working through their shit. Like, can I swear? Like because that’s…
Jeff: You certainly can.
Annabelle: Brilliant. Because they’ve got so much fucking stuff going on. And like William Hartley, thanks to the events in the previous two books, realizes he’s suffering from this very severe of claustrophobia. Like he can’t be in confined spaces. And it’s becoming a problem, you know, because people are starting to notice and this very… You know, and Josiah comes across him one day in the grip of this, you know, agony basically. And he manages to calm Hartely down. And partly sort of, you know, oh no, oh, God, right, he could actually be really helpful to me, but also I’m really bad at talking to people. And also he’s a servant. And they start talking, and Josiah has his own problems because a rival gay club has just sort of started encroaching on the society of these space in London. Rival clubs, Merry, you see, aha But this club is for working. it’s specifically not for gentlemen, not for aristocratic people.
And so Josiah has to fight his, you know, growing attraction for Hartley with the very sort of painful realization that the society he’s devoted his life and work to does have flaws. And those flaws, you know, may make it impossible for him to live with integrity, doing the job that he does. Because, you know, I really like taking the idea that I had in my first book and thinking there are lots of problems with that. I should explore that. That’s weird. Why did I only make a club for posh people? There’s all these poor people that like weren’t getting the help and protection that they needed. So there’s that. But also they just love the hell out of each other in the end. Like they really do need each other. And there’s lovely, like really long descriptions of cake because I fell down a little rabbit hole researching like the dessert shops and ices and all…Like I got this Almanac of all the restaurants in Regency London and what they served.
Cat: That’s such a useful book.
Annabelle: Isn’t it? It’s amazing. So it’s mostly, you know, I wanted to send in a 200-page book, just talking about all the different types of ice cream that they ate, but I managed to stitch together a passionate, slightly mad love history around it. And I really like it. Like the book I wrote before, “A Winter’s Earl.” You know how sometimes you realize stuff about books after you finish writing them? Like it was a really hard pandemic here in Italy. Like total, you were confined to your home, you couldn’t exercise, you know, outdoors for the first period, you were just inside. And I was sort of tapping, tapping away thinking, yeah, this is great. Now I’m processing, it’s fine. I’m working. It’s all good. And the entire book is about people being trapped in a place that they cannot escape and isolation. And I think in this one, I definitely tried to make it a little bit lighter, a little bit sweeter. Like just let them, you know, share a dinner and oh, and it’s a fake relationship as well because to infiltrate the rival club, Hartley’s like, “Well, it would make sense if we pose as a couple.” And Josiah’s like, “Yeah, it’s not like there are loads of logistical problems with that. Sure. Let’s go for it.” And you know, they’re talking about making up stories about how they met. It was great. It was so fun to write. Like I…that’s it.
Merry: Well, to me that sounds like a fantastic blending of all of the tropes that queer romance readers love and all the things that historical romance readers love. You nailed it.
Annabelle: Oh, thank you so much. Can I put that? Just, “You nailed it, Merry Farmer.” Like that would be great.
Merry: Go for it.
Jeff: It’s the perfect cover blurb.
Merry: It’s also a double entendre, so.
Annabelle: Yeah. Oh there you. Oh, fantastic.
Jeff: I’m curious to know how you think you’ve evolved as a writer through the writing of whether it’s like Annabelle, who’s got the single series or for Merry and Cat, you know, you’ve got several series, several books and how things have evolved. And, Cat, I think you’ve been in this the longest so far in historicals if I’m not mistaken. So I’ll start with you on that one.
Cat: I think like it’s, to circle back to something I said a few minutes ago, it’s like having the confidence to like believe that if I’m interested in something, I can make it interesting. You know, and then that’s the like for… and that may like maybe that’s…And I don’t have to hit the widest segment of the market. Like this is something I should probably write on a little piece of paper and put it on my bulletin board because sometimes I’ll look at like, what is selling the best, right? With the limited amount of data that we all have, right. You know, and I’ll be like, oh my God, like, this is so different from what I’m writing, like oh no doomed, you know? And then I remember that actually, I’m doing fine. And you know, if you do something well, that a small part of the audience likes and you consistently do it or like semi consistently do it right, then like people will keep coming back for more. That I don’t need to aim for the widest part of the market. Like that I can just sort of with my enthusiasm, sell the thing that’s interesting to me like, and yeah. I really should write that down because like at least once a month I have like a small crisis about that and need to be like talked sense into, so yeah.
Merry: When you write that down, send it to me because the exact same thing, I cannot tell you, I have two writer friends in particular and they hear this from me about once every 10 days, like, “Oh my gosh, everybody’s doing this better than I am. I don’t know what I’m doing wrong. What can I do better?” And they’re like, “Merry, you’re doing really well. Just stop.” But it’s hard. Isn’t it? It’s hard to have that confidence in yourself…
Cat: Especially when, like what you’re seeing like right now, like obviously contemporary romcom is having like a huge moment, right? And so when you’re writing something that isn’t that, you’re like, “Oh God, like, am I on the wrong boat? Like, have I done something totally wrong?” You know? And that can be like, really, that can like warm its way into your brain in like a really unhelpful way because I’m not gonna write contemporary rom-com. Like it’s not gonna happen. So even if I wring my hands about it all day long, I’m not gonna get anywhere. Right? You know.
Merry: Or like me all the time. I was like, “Oh my gosh, that Cat’s Sebastian chick has another book out. And I’m sure it’s so much better than mine. And like, I gotta check her rankings. Like every three.” No, I got over that.
Annabelle: Yeah, mine is, I’m objectively worse than Cat Sebastian right now. But like, of course, I am. She’s been doing it for a decade. Like why would you be better? No. Seriously speaking, the growing and altering as an author to me, it’s the combining like becoming better at your craft with learning how the hell publishing works and trying to keep your confidence when faced with the brute fact that like, you’re doing fine, but you’re not doing great. Like your book could totally be turned down. Like, you know, you’re not at the top of the heap. And so you think, “Well, should I pivot? Should I do something completely different? I don’t know. Should I keep doing? What if no one, what if everyone hates it?” But like, it does worm into your brain. I’m glad it still worms into your brain, legend of the genre because it’s quite firmly rooted in the market.
Cat: I’m just going like, wow. Thanks, Jeff, for putting this together.
Merry: It’s like again, so I’ve actually been publishing m/f historical since 2009, but I’ve always been indie, always because I love it. And I’ve turned down three contracts with publishers. Don’t tell them.
Merry: But I only started doing m/m seriously, like two years ago, three years ago. And again, there’s that whole, well, I can do whatever I want and nobody’s going to turn this down and nobody’s going to say, “Well, thank you. We’ve had enough books from you. We wish you well in your future endeavors.” But then like you guys were talking about your agents saying maybe you shouldn’t publish that. I have nobody telling me that I’m like, you know, those “Calvin and Hobbes” comics were Calvin is like running around naked. Like just going crazy. That’s what I do. And sometimes I publish things and I’m like, “Is that the best idea?” Then, yeah, I’ve learned how…My big thing in the last year, especially is learning the m/m, queer, LGBT, all those different, that readership, because there’s different little buckets out there. And I’ve realized, “Ah, when I first started doing this, I was writing for the wrong people.” If that makes sense. It’s like, “Ah, I think I understand a little bit more what I need to do and.” Because there’s that balance between, do I write what I want to read or do I write for my audience? And…
Annabelle: Yeah, if we could exchange emails, Merry, that would be great because like that whole finding your audience thing, because I don’t think I found mine yet. Like some people pick it up and they love it. Others really deeply do not. And I don’t where they are.
Merry: It’s difficult. Well, and then when I started m/m going, I was, first of all, I was surprised like Cat was saying, how many people followed me from my m/f books into m/m. Deeply surprised at how many. And but I feel like I started all over again. And this fall, when I go to completely m/m it’s because I have this omega verse series that I just cannot get this idea out of my mind. But I know full well, I’m gonna be starting at the very beginning again. but you know, when you’ve been doing this for so long, it’s kind of refreshing to start at the very beginning because the way that publishing works these days because it can happen so fast, particularly if you’re an indie writer like me, you get bored. You gotta go try different things and you know, I need to, but I love that. I love being able to try new things. That’s why I wrote my “Peter and the Wolves” series, which people are probably sick of hearing me talk about because it’s so weird, but I love it so much with my like five readers who are rapidly devoted to it, but.
Annabelle: But that’s the joy of writing. Being able to explore that weird thing that you are really into.
Annabelle: Like I really wanted to write a horror. I really wanted to write like a 1930s horror story. Will there be a market for it? Probably not.
Merry: No, absolutely
Annabelle: Like I get the Christie, but make it really horror. Like ah, oh.
Jeff: So, of course, Big Gay Fiction Fest is taking place in Pride month, and I’d love to know what pride to each of you, and also how you try to manifest that in your stories. Especially since it might have meant something different or you know, show up differently, you know, in the past. And Annabelle, I’ll just come back to you to start that one-off.
Annabelle: Gosh. Well, this is an interesting question. I don’t know really where to start by explaining it. I’ve just, you know, a lot of obsessively written notes. I went to an all-girls school. Okay. Let’s start with the personal. Like I went to an all-girls school. All of my first crushes were on women. And it wasn’t an environment where you couldn’t talk about it. I talked about it a lot with my friends, but it was generally understood that it did not go beyond the circle of friends. Like you could have your crushes and you could talk about them with your best friends, but talking about it as part of the school community, no. Gay people did not exist. We did not talk about it. There was no reference to it in any lessons. Like I don’t recall it ever being talked about. You know, and while my family generally accepting, you know, at the same time, very much of, no. Not gonna talk about that.
And I don’t really define myself as anything in terms of sexuality, but I think that who we choose to love and be attracted to and how we are attracted to and express that love for people, it might be an unfashionable word, I do think that’s sacred. I think it’s a holy part of being human. And I think being able to exist as yourself and in a wider community that honors that doesn’t just accept it, that treats it as an essential and important part of who you are, I think that is what pride means to me, I guess. And going back to what I talked about before, like there are references to shame in my books, but there is none in terms of like, you know, how they now feel about themselves and how they talk themselves with their friends. As you said, Cat, there’s not a lot of like, oh, woe, is me. Well, wasn’t Merry, one of you, but like the whole kind of, this is a terrible way to be. This is a terrible way to live. Like, I don’t have time for that in my own life and I don’t have time for it in my books. So I think honoring the complexity of that is what pride means to me. I don’t know.
Jeff: I love that. Gave me goosebumps.
Jeff: To hear that. So, I love that.
Annabelle: It is how I feel.
Jeff: Merry, how about for you?
Merry: You know, I thought about this from the moment I saw the question and I guess it goes back to the reason why I started writing these books in the first place, which is I’ve had, I don’t wanna say I’ve had a rough life, but I’ve had a lot of exclusion and I’ve had a lot of being ostracized from my peers in my life for reasons that have nothing to do with sexuality in general, just, oh, the community I grew up in, but it was always gay men who made me feel safe, who made me feel accepted from my third-grade teacher, who of course, was not out then. And honestly, I’m not sure if he’s out now, to my best friend in high school, to the fact that I did theater all through school. And like this community has just always made me feel safe and appreciated and valued and visible. And I’m just like this dorky, cis, straight white woman who, I mean, if anything, I would be arrow because like, I’m not doing that. It’s too hard. The whole relationship thing. I write about it, not doing it in real life.
But with this word pride, I am so proud of the people that I have known who have gone through so much and are still such amazing, wonderful people who have been willing to reach out to me. And like a couple years ago, Reuben, my best friend from high school, he and his husband, I was out to lunch with, and I’m like, “Reuben, I really identify with the LGBTQ community, but am I allowed to do that?” And he goes, “Merry, on behalf of the gay community, you’re allowed to identify with us.” So, Reuben says so, but I owe so much gratitude and so much of my soul to people who have made me feel accepted. And this, everything that I do, everything that I write, it’s just to give back. It’s to give back what I was given and to pass it on.
Jeff: And, Cat, coming over to you.
Cat: Sure. So I’m 44. Okay, and I grew up…
Merry: What? Sorry, okay carry on.
Cat: You’re really good for my ego. So I I grew up in like the ’90s with the most supportive family that you could possibly. My godfather was gay. Okay. Like there was never like…So my point is just that, like, queerness has always been like an extremely background part of my identity, right. Like it’s never an issue. I never had a doubt in my mind that my parents would not care at all like what gender of anybody that I brought home. It was just not a thing. And then I lived in New York during my early 20s and like, and during a time when it looked like we, as a community, were like making progress, right. You know, like we had gotten over like the absolute worst of AIDS. Like gay marriage suddenly was on the table, right. Like this was, like, and I can’t even tell you how big a shock that was to me. Like, you know, and like that, it really looked like we were going, we were like, I know progress is like, not linear. Right. But it really was for a while, you know? And now it’s 2022 and I live in Florida, and it is such an ugly time to be queer. Like it is for kids mainly. Right. Like just two days ago, there was, like, my horrible governor, like, put out an order saying that trans kids should be denied transition support. Okay. And like, it’s just like, oh, it’s all this like, group to it is cruelty.
And so I am reminded of the fact that, like, it is like being the first pride was a riot, right. Like, anger, it’s okay for like, anger to be built into like that sense of like identity and community, because I am like utterly furious. And like I said, this is like kind of new to me because I’ve always been deeply, I’m privileged about in every way that like a queer woman can possibly be. And that kind of anger has fueled movements before this. And it’s fueled that, like, incremental progress that I saw when I was young and, like, and I really hope that it can fight back against some of the stuff that’s happening now.
Annabelle: Yeah. Yeah. I mean, ban books, what the fuck is going on?
Merry: Did you see that list? Some of them that were on that one from…Which county was it, in Florida?
Cat: Oh, it’s always in Florida. Yeah. I mean, it’s Texas, too. But, like, yes, there was a list of books in Florida, and like, it’s always unclear whether they’re actually banned or whether it’s like they were challenged.
Annabelle: Yeah. But they don’t need to be, do they? Because if the word gets out and then libraries go, “Oh, well, we better remove them anyway, just to avoid it.”
Cat: Nobody involved in schools has paid enough to like me fighting all day long. You know what I mean? Like their job. Right. And so, like, I honestly can’t even blame teachers and librarians who are just like, “Oh God, just, well, take it off the shelves, whatever. We’ll do “Catcher in the Rye.” You know what I mean? Like or whatever. It’s just really, it’s really grim, you know.
Merry: But I feel like that’s the importance of what we do because there’s different ways to fight this. And one of the, you know, there’s the whole, you fight it by fueling the love and the other side. And you get people to understand like this woman who said that reading my books helped her to understand her grandson. You know, the more we can get that message of love out there, the more that we can change hearts and minds as they say, too, for the future.
Jeff: Obviously, I think all of our listeners and watchers today should be getting your books. But I’m curious from each of you, you know, and not including the authors who are here right now, who’s somebody, you would recommend for historical stories. And Merry will start with you.
Merry: Well, I’m lucky because since it’s June, I am actually doing a multi-author project of a m/m Regency series with four other authors. Some of them are pretty big names that you’ve heard before in LGBTQ romance, like Ruby Moone. And she’s doing this project. And Eliot Grayson is also involved in this project. And Hannah Morse is doing it. And then one of my friends from the m/f world who is also an author of color, who has written some queer romance, Victoria Vale, she’s doing one of these books. So, the four of us, rather, the five of us are doing this series, “The Perdition Club,” which is set around a gaming hall in the Regency. I tried to contact you guys months ago to see if you wanted to do the project with us, but I couldn’t figure out how to get to you.
Annabelle: No. Why don’t I exist?
Merry: But it’s gonna be an ongoing world. So we’ll talk. But yeah, I’ve really gotten to know Ruby Moone really well. She’s fantastic. Eliot is just hysterical, so. And I’m Jackie North is a friend of mine, and this “Jack and Oliver” series, which is this retelling of “Oliver Twist.” Oh my gosh. I love it so much. So those are my recommendation.
Jeff: Fantastic. A whole universe to get to pay attention to. That’s awesome. Cat, how about for you?
Cat: Sure. I always wanna recommend Allie Therin. Okay. Because I think that she’s writing in like a period that you don’t see all the time. Like the 1920s. She has like a really interesting, magical world-building. And like her, and it’s super character-driven in a way that like, you really feel like you get to know the characters, which is, for me, that’s always my cat map. Like you feel like, you know them, like, you know, them through and through. And also asked Aster Glenn Gray who never gets like, okay…
Annabelle: Is she like the author’s author? Like, do we all know?
Cat: Like, I mean, “Briarley” was like… Okay, so what happened was, in 2018, I was reading all of this “Captain America” fan fic. And it turns out Aster Glenn Gray had written like my favorite “Captain America” fan fic. And so I finally, and at this point I’m gonna buy anything that she wrote. It doesn’t even matter what it is. Right. But it turns out that this like World War II “Beauty and the Beast” retelling with a dragon. Okay. And like, it’s “Briarley,” okay. And I mean, would’ve read it, even if it was terrible, I would’ve read it. Right. Okay. No, this book was like, I read it in like two hours and then immediately went back to the beginning. I read it again and then yelled about it on Twitter. Like this book is perfect. And it’s Belle’s dad, basically, you know what I mean? Like the dorky vicar or whatever. Okay. And then after that, she goes and writes this like cold war spy thing called “Honeypot” which is so totally different. And it is equally fantastic.
Merry: I think I’ve heard of that.
Cat: Yeah. It’s good. It’s good. And like, yeah, so those are two totally, there’s Allie Therin and Aster Glenn Gray like I think are like writing in a pretty different mood. And yet I would recommend both of them wholeheartedly.
Jeff: Fantastic. And Annabelle, who’s on your list?
Annabelle: KJ Charles. How could I not? Like I have a borderline like parasocial relationship with the…Like, this person does not know who I am, but she is influenced like and not just the books, although please pick all of them up right now. Like literally stop what you are doing, just go and go down, get all of them, and then come back. But her blog post about how to write consent in historicals, like that was just like amazing craft advice. Like you sink into the world and you don’t wanna come up. Like amazing, just fantastic.
Jeff: A fantastic choice. All of you. And you’ve added to my TBR, too, between the universe and, Cat, you know, talked about an author I’m not familiar with. So good stuff to be read there. So as we wrap up, I would love to know what’s coming up next for each of you. Merry, I know you talked a little bit about omega verse coming in your future beyond that universe that you talked about, tell us a little bit more. Tease us, if you will.
Merry: Well, so, you know, I’m the kind of person like, you know, I am never gonna read omegaverse mpreg because that’s just silly. So what do I do? I picked up the “Forbidden Desire” series by Piper Scott, and Virginia Kelly. And that was just like, no game over. I read so much omegaverse, like last summer and last fall, it’s just like so much omegaverse. And then this idea popped into my head for what if there was an emergency support, alpha service to provide single omegas in distress with heat support when they needed it. So I have this series “Bangers and Mash,” which is the name of the support service that like this, so it’s very fluffy lighthearted, funny omega verse of this emergency support, alpha service and the idea, it would not leave me alone. So I’m like, yeah, yes. I guess I have to write that.
Jeff: Is that gonna be in a historical setting or does this bring you more to contemporary?
Merry: No, it’s gonna be contemporary because I just feel like, I don’t know why, but omega verse feels like it works for contemporary, but then I kind of, you know, it could actually be historical, too. And then I had a fellow author who has approached me. He’s like, he has this idea. He watched “Bridgeton.” He’s like, “I got this idea for an alternative world Regency series. What do you think? “And so there’s been some talk of this shared world series and alternative sort of, you know, where it’s all sorts of the sexual spectrum is just all accepted. So, you know, that might happen, but.
Jeff: Okay. Very cool.
Merry: I always get excited when fellow authors are like, “I’ve got an idea, what do you think?” Let’s do it? Which I shouldn’t do, because this is why I’m booked up through the end of 2023.
Annabelle: We didn’t need free time or friends. It’s…
Merry: My full-time job, you know? Yeah. I’m an introvert.
Annabelle: Yeah, we don’t need people.
Jeff: Cat, what’s coming up for you?
Cat: So this month I have my second “Highwaymen” book coming out. That’s “The Perfect Crimes of Marian Hayes.” And that is basically like too semi unhinged bisexuals in like 1750s, London, just making a mess of their personal lives and doing crime. And I’m excited about that. And then after that, I really don’t know what comes. Like a “Cabot” book will come out and a “Page & Sommers” will come out. But in what order, and in what months I have no idea. And that is like one of the advantages of self-publishing is that that can all be a problem for the future Cat, you know.
Jeff: And, Annabelle, now that this series is over, any ideas for what’s coming next.
Annabelle: Right. I’ve got two proposals that I really like. Like, I don’t know if this is talking shop too much, but, you get feedback from your publishers on how books are doing, and you also get feedback from readers. And what I’ve got is like, “Yeah, they’re good. People like them, your plots are a bit weird. You wanna do maybe less plot, like too much plot, too kitchen sinky.” And that threw me into a fucking crisis. Because like, that’s your crutch when you are starting out writing, you’re like, “Oh, just put everything in. Things are always happening. You know, that’s fine. I don’t need to improve.” And now I’m like, yeah, no, that is a legitimate criticism. So my next proposals they’ve gotta be less, plotty old things are happening, like more character-driven. Correct. So I’ve got a Regency, which is about a guy who jilted his bride of the altar because he couldn’t go through with it. It’s horrible to her. It’s horrible to him living a lie. He comes back to his estate and finds out that there is just no money. The house is a huge money sink. His younger sister’s marriage prospects are just through the floor now, thanks to their lack of money and his generally scandalous reputation. And what does he decide to do? He falls in love with the gardener.
Just great wrong time. The gardener is an ex-Bow Street Runner, who’s come off to sort of spend some time in the country because he has a daughter. A woman who he had a relationship with some time back, turned up with a baby. Now he’s gotta take care of this kid. He has no idea how to do it. He’s going on like parenting manuals from the romantic poets, like does not know how to be a dad, really the wrong time for a relationship. And who does he fall in love with? Of course, this man with terrible life circumstances. So you know, nothing really needs to happen for that to be interesting. I think. Like, you know, I’m enjoying writing it. The other one is based on a famous queer club in London called The Cave of the Golden Calf. I think it was. Yeah.
Merry: I think that is ringing some bells.
Annabelle: Good. Okay. Because it’s 1920s, 1930s. And as you said, Merry, the queer scene was big, like in a big, massive public way that we don’t know about. And so I’ve got a very sort of harassed club owner who’s got debts and, you know, just because obviously he has to pay loads in protection money to the rackets run in London at that time, it’s got all this going on. And in walks this young Welsh singer who is a star, you know, magnetic star quality. He’s gonna be the next big thing. Probably shouldn’t get involved in a relationship with this young man. And yet. So these are my proposals. I really hope the publisher likes them. Like, if not as a bit, like Cat’s magpie brain, like, I’ve got a million other things I want to write. I wanna write a Christmas book. My mom loves Hallmark Christmas movies. Can I do a gay one? Probably.
Jeff: Yes. Yes, you can.
Annabelle: Yes. Like, oh, just the idea stage is great. The evolution and reception stage still great, but different. Swimming around in the happy bath of the ideas state.
Merry: And if you ever wanna self-publish any of those, if they turn them down, come to me, I’ve got all the information.
Annabelle: Oh God, please. I have so many boring questions.
Merry: No, no, I’ve always wanted to be like a, like a career coach to be like, okay, you wanna get started?
Annabelle: You can be my mentor? Oh, that would be great.
Merry: I love that. I live for that kinda thing. So we’ll talk.
Annabelle: Oh, that’s great.
Merry: I’ll come to you.
Annabelle: Oh yeah. Again, please do. It’s so great.
Jeff: There you go.
Merry: I’ll bring Cat.
Annabelle: Best decision I ever made. Yes.
Jeff: Merry, and Annabelle, and Cat, this has been so amazing. I’m so happy you joined us for the Big Gay Fiction Fest. Thank you so much for being here.
Cat: Thank you.
Annabelle: Thank you.
Merry: Thank so much.
Will: This episode’s transcript has been brought to you by our community on Patreon. If you’d like to read the conversation for yourself, simply head on over to the show notes page for this episode at biggayfictionpodcast.com. Don’t forget the show notes page also has links to everything that we talked about in this episode.
And if you’d like to keep up to date with the show, as well as recent releases in our genre, check out the Rainbow Romance Reader Report, the weekly dispatch that delivers the latest news right into your inbox every Friday. Go to biggayfictionpodcast.com/report for more info.
Jeff: Thanks again to Annabelle, Merry and Cat for being part of Big Gay Fiction Fest. This was such an incredibly fun discussion and I’m so glad they took the time to sit down and talk with us about this genre, that Will and I really love oh, so much.
Will: All right, I think that’ll do it for now. Coming up on Monday in episode 384, it’s another Big Gay Fiction Fest episode and we welcome J.R. Gray for an author spotlight.
Jeff: I had such a great conversation with Gray, especially hearing how he started at a young age to make up sci-fi stories and how that led into him being a published gay romance author.
Will: On behalf of Jeff and myself, we want to thank you so much for listening, and we hope that you’ll join us again soon for more discussions about the kind of stories we all love, the big gay fiction kind. Until then keep turning those pages and keep reading.
Big Gay Fiction Podcast is part of the Frolic Podcast Network. Find more shows you’ll love at frolic.media/podcasts. Production assistance by Tyson Greenan. Original theme music by Daryl Banner.