“Rebels at Heart” Now Available!

I’ve released my short story, “Rebels at Heart” as a standalone. This revolutionary war romance was originally part of the For Love and Liberty anthology, which will be going out of print shortly. The standalone story has been revised and slightly expanded.

Description:
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.

Please note, this is a 15,000 word story, not a full novel.

You can buy it from any of these fine retailers:
Amazon
B&N
Kobo
iTunes

You can also add it on Goodreads!

Progress Is Not Straight Lines: On Happy Endings in Diverse Historical Romance

At RT, I was on a panel about historical romance set in America. One thing that came up from the authors who write romances with characters who aren’t white is that readers often react with, “I don’t believe these people could have a happy ending.” As someone who has written LGBT characters in historical romance, I’ve gotten this quite a bit, too.

I think we as Americans struggle with our own history, because we know the bad stuff (or think we do). I think that’s one of the reasons there are so few American-set romances right now. And while I do agree that one can’t set a book during the Civil War, say, and not address slavery, I don’t agree that it would be impossible for two African American people to find a happy ending during this era.

I think this idea that POC or LGBT people couldn’t have had happy endings comes from two misperceptions. The first is that, unless you were straight and white, everything has always been terrible. This contributes to the other misperception: that progress only ever moves forward, in straight lines.

The reality is that progress is circular, or it’s two steps forward and one step back. For example, African Americans made tremendous strides in the immediate wake of the Civil War that were undone by the abrupt end to Reconstruction and the creation of Jim Crow laws. But even before that, free men and women were activists and writers, held jobs from which they drew salaries, owned businesses.

Or, in the 1920s, women gained the right to vote. The invention of the bra meant they took off their corsets, which literally allowed more freedom of movement. They were allowed to patronize bars for the first time, to drink and smoke in public. Women got jobs they’d never had before. And a lot of that progress was undone by World War II and a return to traditional gender roles in the 1950s. The women’s movement didn’t begin in the 1960s, or even with Susan B. Anthony in the 1870s. Sojourner Truth, herself born a slave, gave her landmark “Ain’t I a Woman?” speech in 1851. Mary Wollstonecraft wrote “A Vindication of the Rights of Women” in England 1792, and she drew from the same philosophical writings that Jefferson did when writing the Declaration of Independence.

Every time a group makes progress, there is always pushback. And how we think about history is colored by how we’re taught it and who wrote it. (American history was written by white men, mostly, and the textbooks we all read in school are manipulated to tell a certain narrative. See also Howard Zinn’s A People’s History of the United States or James W. Loewen’s Lies My Teacher Told Me.)

Our idea of romance is relatively modern; marriage for love rather than as a business or practical transaction is fairly new, although love as an emotion has existed for centuries, obviously. But I think if we can be moved by a story of love between, I dunno, a rakish veteran of the Napoleonic Wars and a shy bluestocking, in an era when most women married for financial security, we can also believe in a love story between two men or a man and a woman who aren’t white. And people have always defied the odds to find happiness. As humans, we thrive on hope, on the idea that everything will work out. Rebellions and political movements are built on the hope that we can change the world, are they not?

Newlywed couple, ca. 1900

So when a reader says, “I don’t believe two African Americans could have had a happy ending in antebellum America,” I find that problematic. For one thing, some states abolished slavery well before the Civil War. (Slavery was gradually emancipated in New York beginning in the 1790s and ultimately ended in 1827, for example.) This doesn’t mean African Americans didn’t face racism and adversity—they definitely did and still do—but there were places they could settle, make good marriages, have children. (“We’re all here, aren’t we?” is how Beverly Jenkins responded to this question on my RT panel.)

Or, take LGBT people. I had someone tell me once that LGBT people didn’t exist before the mid-20th century, which is of course completely false. LGBT people have existed as long as people have. To give a small example, performing in drag is hardly a new phenomenon. Female impersonators have been dancing on stages in New York City since at least the early 19th century, if not earlier. While it is true, even, that LGBT identities as we now think of them are relatively new—”homosexuality” was coined as a term in the 1880s around the same time scientists became interested in same-sex attraction—homosexual relationships are recorded in history going back millennia.

Walt Whitman and Peter Doyle

I’ve had readers tell me, “I don’t like gay historicals because I don’t believe a gay couple could have had a happy ending in the past.” We assume that life for gay people was terrible and oppressive for all time. And, sure, it was not always easy. In London in the 1830s, for example, more men were hanged on sodomy charges than murder charges. Laws in New York City made it illegal to be gay and drink at a bar until the Stonewall riots. Sodomy laws remained on the books throughout the country into my lifetime.

But! From the late 19th century until about World War II, there were thriving gay communities in New York City, particularly in Greenwich Village, Times Square, and Harlem. (Other cities, too, but I’ve been primarily researching NYC.) The Hotel Astor in Times Square had a gay section of its famous bar during Prohibition, in fact, a little area that was roped off where men seeking men could find each other. (And drink “coffee,” because Prohibition.) There have been gay bars in New York for 200 years, even. By the 1880s, there were dance halls where men were encouraged to play around with gender, and patrons donned makeup and gowns. (And LGBT people were always creating art and new ways to express themselves. The companion book to the Museum of the City of New York’s Gay Gotham exhibit lays this out nicely.)

(I don’t mean to exclude the women, but society generally didn’t consider women to have sex drives, so it wouldn’t have occurred to many people in the 19th century that the two women sharing a house down the road were, in fact, carrying on a sexual relationship. Lesbians have also existed since the beginning of time, but flew under the radar to a certain extent. Men who had sex with men and anyone who was gender non-conforming were more frequently prosecuted.)

(And this is really all tip of the iceberg; I’m not being comprehensive here, just trying to make a point. For example, some Native American tribes had completely different ideas about gender. How amazing would it be to see an Own Voices narrative about that? And other groups have historically faced oppression in the US, everyone from the Irish to the Chinese to Eastern European Jews, and they should have happy endings in romance novels, too.)

But this is what I mean by circular history. George Chauncey, in his fantastic book Gay New York, argues that acceptance for LGBT people was more widespread prior to World War II than after, that what we think we know about how people have been treated historically is short-sighted or incorrect. The progress of LGBT people has not been a straight line, but rather a push-pull of circular progress over the last several centuries. Same for people of color.

The bottom line is that readers who struggle to accept happy endings in historicals for people of color or LGBT people could take a closer look at history, or could reexamine their own assumptions, particularly since so few readers think much of the proliferation of dukes in historical romance (particularly those who end up marrying governesses or maids). More to the point, if romance is the literature of hope, please believe that there was always hope.

(And none of this is to knock British historicals. My love of them is well-documented. But I’d love to see a lot of new American historicals, too, and I think it’s possible to write these well and still incorporate concerns about American history. I am a history buff who loves historical romance, and I’d like to see these integrated!)

But plausibility issues aside, if we can embrace stories about women owning businesses in Regency England or time-traveling Vikings or what have you, why can’t we believe all people could have happy endings in historical fiction? Is there an underlying belief that only some kinds of people could have (or are deserving of) happy endings? At the end of the day, a good story is a good story, so if we can buy werewolves and vampires, why not POC or LGBT people falling in love in the past?

Because I believe Hank and Nicky from Ten Days in August and Eddie and Lane from Such a Dance lived happily ever after—that Charles and Isaac from “Rebels at Heart” retired to their little farm in Pennsylvania to spend the rest of their days together—and I hope you do, too.

For Love & Liberty — 4th of July Sale

Love&Liberty_SMThe For Love & Liberty anthology is on sale through July 4th for 99 cents. Can’t beat that price, can you? So if you’re curious about this anthology of 4 multicultural Revolutionary War romances, now’s your chance. The price goes back up to the normal $3.99 after the 4th.

The sale price is available in these places: Amazon, All Romance eBooks, and Barnes & Noble.

ALSO! The anthology is now available in paperback! You can buy the PB from Amazon.

Now Available: For Love & Liberty

Love&Liberty_SMAs I mentioned back in May, I’ve contributed a story to a self-published anthology of multicultural romance stories that take place during the American Revolution.

This is my first real foray into self-publishing, which has made it an interesting experience. (So many things I didn’t realize I’d have to think about!) Still, I think it’s a worthwhile project, especially since these stories all represent the kinds of characters you pretty much never see in historical romance.

Here’s 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.

And the blurb for my story, “Rebels at Heart”:
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.

We’re putting it up at Amazon, ARe, and some other places (I’ll update this post as it goes live).

upcoming events

I’ll be at two big events in the next few weeks if you want to come say hi:

Book Expo America is this week. I’ll be signing at the Dreamspinner booth (#1421) at 10:30 Saturday morning, so if you’re there, come by and get a copy of The Silence of the Stars! (Then Tere Michaels and Elle Brownlee are signing at 11:00 and Damon Suede is singing at 11:30. In the afternoon, Michael Murphy, Ariel Trachna, and Andrew Grey will be signing, starting at 1pm.)

Then on Saturday, June 14th, there’s going to be a Romance Festival at the Morris-Jumel Mansion in NYC. Admission is free. A bunch of area authors will have tables there where they will be signing and selling books. I’m doing a panel to talk about For Love and Liberty and multicultural Revolutionary War stories. It’ll be a good time and you should come if you’re in the area.

Announcement: For Love and Liberty anthology, June 2014

LLCoverSoon3Here’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!