Here’s what happened: Alyssa Cole and I are in the same book club, and last summer, we read a couple of Revolutionary War romances. What we liked about both books was the “not Regency England” setting; we’re both historical romance fans, and it was fun to read books set in a different historical era. (And, I mean, don’t get me wrong, I still love Regencies, but you gotta switch it up sometimes.) Still, the books had flaws, so we started talking about what we would have done differently. And, literally, as we were walking out of the library that night, Alyssa said, “We should write Revolutionary War romances. Hey, what if we did an anthology?” And thus the For Love and Liberty project was born.
The other thing to know about us is that Alyssa writes multicultural romance and I write gay romance, and pretty early in our thought process, it occurred to us that we could write stories featuring, let’s say, underrepresented characters. So that became our anthology theme. We’re calling them “untold stories,” which means these are stories from the sorts of characters you don’t hear from very often in historical romances, or in historical narratives generally.
We asked our friends if they wanted to contribute and eventually put four stories together. Mine is The Gay One. I’ll talk about it more below. Alyssa’s features former slaves and the British army’s promise to emancipate any men who signed on to fight for the Crown. Lena Hart has written about a woman who is half-African, half-Native American who falls in love with a white British officer. And Stacey Agdern has written about the Jewish community in New York and how they were affected by the war.
So here’s the deal with my story, “Rebels at Heart”:
Charles Foxworth is a dandy. I wanted to write about someone fashion obsessed. I spent some time looking at gorgeous period clothing in a number of different books on the history of fashion. In the nineteenth century, there were dandies and then there were their even more flamboyant cousins, the macaronis. Macaronis were known for their elaborate fashions with lots of stripes and rosettes and embroidery as well as their tall wigs. They wore fashions in peacock colors and added feathers to everything. The best thing I learned while researching is that this is the origin of the line, “stuck a feather in his cap and called it macaroni,” in the song “Yankee Doodle Dandy.”
At the time, fashion did not have a gay connotation per se. In the opening scene of the story, Charles puts on a pink frock coat. The coat is based on gorgeous one I found in a book on the history of fashion, a British design from the 1770s, and there’s nothing feminine about the coat. The macaronis were parodied in drawings and comedy of the era, and while there are some gendered considerations, the fashionable men of this era wouldn’t have read “gay” to the society at large as fashionable, flamboyant men do today (stereotypically speaking).
The eighteenth century did have a culture of mollies, male prostitutes who serviced male clients. Sodomy was a hanging offense and was considered a “crime against nature.” But there was no real vocabulary, no concept of homosexuality the way we think of it now. A man like Charles could parade around Colonial New York City in his finest clothing and his powdered wigs and he wouldn’t have projected his sexuality, and I glean that most people wouldn’t have read much into it (beyond “Wow, that dude’s ridiculous”).
Isaac Ward is a freedman, an emancipated slave who came to New York after being granted his freedom. He worked as a blacksmith’s apprentice until an accident cost him his job, and an intrigued Charles offered him a position. The job is really a pretense, though; as Charles and Isaac carry on a sexual liaison, to the world they are master and servant. But it’s only when the war arrives in New York that they have to evaluate what their relationship really means.
Here’s the official (for now) blurb:
Charles Foxworth is among New York City’s most fashionable men, though he is only pretending to be a dashing British aristocrat. Still, he is content with his role and has little interest in the war. His companion, Isaac Ward, has more invested in the coming conflict; Isaac was born a slave, and though he is now free, that freedom could be guaranteed if he chose to pick up arms. Then war arrives on the shores of the city and Charles’s idyll is over. He quickly realizes that the war could take from him the very thing he holds most dear: Isaac.
And the anthology blurb:
In BE NOT AFRAID by Alyssa Cole, a black Patriot captured by the British falls in love with a headstrong runaway determined to leave the colonies… while a wounded British soldier discovers the healing power of love in the arms of a gentle native woman in A SWEET SURRENDER by Lena Hart… yet in REBELS AT HEART by Kate McMurray, two men must make hard choices if they are to stay together when war arrives on the shores of their home in New York City… at last, in HOME by Stacey Agdern, a young Jewish couple must decide what can hold them together before war and geography tear them apart.
We’re self-publishing and aiming to have the book up in mid-June from various ebook retailers (and also in print, if all goes to plan). You can add the book on Goodreads.
Also, BONUS: You can see all four of us yak about our research at the upcoming Romance Festival that is to be held at the historic Morris-Jumel Mansion in New York City on June 14th!