Anita Cox: Welcome Tess! So you write romance. Tell us why romance?
Tess Bowery: An unbreakable addiction to happy endings.
There’s something remarkable about the human capacity to search for love, and to find it in even the most seemingly hopeless of circumstances. And reading a story where you can invest in the characters and their struggles, knowing all the while that they will triumph in the end, and not just triumph, but be loved, wholly and completely… it makes for an intoxicating kind of escapism.
I love the intimacy of smaller-scale stories, where the main driving force is the feelings of the men and women caught up in it all. You can connect with them deeply, and fearlessly, both as a writer and as a reader, because we have that close access to the characters’ innermost hearts and minds.
More specifically, I write LBGT romance, because of a driving need to get more of my community’s stories out there. As a queer kid growing up in the 1980s and 1990s, our media was so limited, and our love stories overshadowed by the reality of AIDS, and the ‘kill your gays’ tropes. Love stories with happy endings were few and far between, and because there were so few of them, the main characters ended up iconic rather than real. They had to represent entire communities between them.
We’re incredibly lucky now to have genres of our own, and popular ones at that, where we can explore all the different facets of what it means to be a gender and/or sexual minority, without being relegated to the emasculated funny gay best friend, or the man-hating stone butch predator. I write queer historical romances because we existed, in a thousand different forms, and our stories – our happy-ever-after, sexy, funny, love stories – deserve to be told.
Anita Cox: Do you write in any subgenre?
Tess Bowery: I do! At the moment I’m writing entirely historical for publication; Regency era specifically. I like balancing out the careful tidy etiquette of the period with the messiness of their private lives. And when you move, as I’m doing, into the queer communities of London in the early 19th century, it gets messier and riskier again. Raids on known gay bars (known as ‘molly houses’) became relatively frequent events, and hangings for sodomy were a common occurrence. Executions and imprisonment become a very real risk for my LBGT heroes and heroines.
Rite of Summer is about a M/M relationship specifically, and some of the violence of the decade does intrude on the heroes’ lives. The next book in the series, She Whom I Love, is about a bisexual triad (F/F/M), and they run into problems of a different, but no less dangerous, sort.
AC: What is the heat level of your books?
I’m being quite serious. The first page of Rite of Summer opens in the middle of an explicit sexual encounter between one of the heroes and his current lover, and it gets hotter from there. By chapter four we’ve got fucking in semi-public places, voyeurism, the use of a Prince Albert piercing during self-pleasure, and by chapter eight there are three men in bed together having rather an exciting time of it.
I love using sex as a storytelling mechanism; my characters and their relationships evolve and change through their sexual encounters, and lovemaking is a vital part of their existence. I can’t bring myself to fade to black.
AC: I understand you have another passion, one outside of writing. Care to share?
TB: Oh, definitely. I’m a huge fan of dance especially, and we’re incredibly lucky to have some amazing local and semi-local dance companies in my area. Having the opportunity to work backstage with some of the best performers in the region, and be with a show from concept to opening night is such an unbelievable thrill. It’s a group act of creation, giving a kind of birth to something wild and free.
On a more prosaic note, I do a lot of gardening. We have vegetable and herb beds out back, as well as a couple of berry patches, and being able to grow some of our own food, nurturing plants from seed or root to table is such a pleasure. Digging in the earth and bringing forth life is a visceral, physical pleasure that’s a lovely counterpoint to the number of hours I spend squinting at a computer screen. I have two of the most beautiful clematis vines that I’ve been training up over a garden arbor, and when they bloom overhead, all purples and white in a sea of green leaves, it goes soul-deep.
What else? Oh yes – history. I’m an historian by training, and I never get tired of the chase for new understanding of the people and events that make up our collective pasts. You can stumble across some of the most incredibly human stories in some of these documents and diaries.
I once ran across a baptismal record for naturally-born triplets in a parish register from the early sixteen hundreds. Can you imagine what it must have been like for those poor parents to juggle? And how much of a miracle it would have been that everyone — including the mother – survived? Or then there’s a story about Queen Mary I of England, and how a courtier watched her kicking a portrait of Prince Philip of Spain down the hallway outside the Privy Council Chamber. (That information came out in testimony for a totally unrelated court case against a supposed French spy.) I love these little human details that end up shining through.
Anita Cox: I know that you have one/more very unique hobbies. Please tell us about it.
TB: My favorite thing to do, when the weather permits, is to go Geocaching. For those not familiar with it, Geocaching is a world-wide treasure hunt, using a GPS. Or as I’ve heard it described, “using a multi-billion-dollar satellite system to look for Tupperware in the woods.”
Very essentially, geocachers will hide caches, sometimes very small and sometimes quite large, upload clues and GPS coordinates to a central website, and the race is on for other cachers to find and log that cache. Many caches are filled with small items, like toys for the kids or gift cards, and many are simply there for bragging rights. They’re usually hidden on public land or land owned by cachers, camouflaged in some way, or findable only in certain environmental conditions. Figuring out where they are and how to get to them is a good piece of the fun.
We’re in the middle of a cache challenge right now, trying to find and log caches of every difficulty level, on every terrain level, and there are a handful we have yet to try for. We’ll have to take scuba lessons in order to get to a couple of the caches that we want to hit, so those will have to wait until we have a little more free time, and the kids are older.
I love caching for a number of reasons, the greatest of which, of course, is the thrill of the find. The more carefully the cache is hidden the greater the victory rush on discovery! It gets us outside together, problem solving and exploring, and thanks to caching we’ve come across some absolutely beautiful wilderness sites and hiking trails that we likely wouldn’t have explored on our own. I’ve picked up a handful of scars along the way, mind you, because bushwhacking and rock climbing do end up becoming a regular part of our summers.
Anita Cox: There was a place from your past that you’ll always remember. How do the memories of it influence your life/writing?
TB: I grew up in a major city, but every summer, our family would decamp and head up north to the cabin. It was more of a hunting and fishing camp than your usual horror-movie cabin in the woods, on the shores of Georgian Bay. There was a smell about the air up there, something fresh and warm, and the camp was so close to the water that you could fall asleep listening to the sounds of the gentle waves on the rocks.
The main road has been paved over now – we went up about ten years ago for a reunion and so much has changed – but when I was a kid, we would go walking along the long, winding gravel road, picking raspberries and blackberries from the bushes that grew along both sides. We’d fill our buckets maybe halfway, eating the rest, our fingers and lips stained red and purple from the juice. The beaches along that shore of the lake are made of rocks rather than sand – it’s all part of the Canadian Shield – and the water was shallow and warm out a long way into the bay. We used to go night swimming, my cousins and I; we’d leave our flashlights on the dock and jump into the water until we were shivering and cold.
My grandfather would start up the sauna in the evenings; back then they were sheds sitting on blocks over the water, with a wood fire that heated the barrel full of rocks. Water would drain through holes in the floor right into the lake; ours had a mink living underneath who would eat crayfish out of my grandfather’s traps. We would run in, blue-lipped and laughing, right into the steam and sit there until we warmed up, down to the bones, and then go back out again to splash into the lake.
Those summers were magical in so many ways; there’s no place in the world where I feel more grounded and centered in myself than in the north country. Everything stressful about the workday world just dissolves when you can hand-feed chipmunks and watch herons fishing from your back deck.
I can capture a little of that feeling in my current writing setup, where I look out into a large green space and gardens, but it’s not quite the same without the lake right there!
That love has definitely influenced where we bought our house and put down roots. We live in the middle of a large enough city to have access to all the essentials of life, including good bookstores and 24-hour coffee shops, but we only have to drive for fifteen or twenty minutes before we’re out into the trees again. There’s a great campsite less than half an hour from here where we take the kids tent-camping overnight; I’m hoping to take them on some longer trips as they get a bit older and more capable.
Are most of your works available or do you have what a drawer or closet of “not quite there” work? Do you think any of those old projects will see the light of day?
TB: I don’t, to be honest. Rite of Summer was the first original fiction I’d written in years, and I was lucky enough to find honest-enough beta readers to turn it into something worth submitting, and an editor willing to take the chance! I also don’t tend to give up on things. If I have an idea that’s worth starting, it’s one worth finishing.
What I do have is a backlist of fanfiction, which I’d started writing again in 2012 after a seventeen-year fandom hiatus. Prior to that I had been involved in a collaborative fiction project, just for private entertainment, with a very dear friend of mine. Writing with her re-ignited the love I’d had for writing fiction for its own sake, especially as a counterpoint to my career focus on non-fiction and technical writing. The reception I received when I began writing and posting fanfiction, and the amazing kindness of the fandoms, gave me the courage to keep at it. That practice helped me to shake off the rust that had gathered on my narrative skills.
Those stories won’t end up as published works, as they’re very much tied in with the original materials that spawned them. If anyone’s interested, of course, they can always read them at http://archiveofourown.org/users/Ardatli/works I recommend the more recent ones rather than the first few!
(And thank you, Em, for being my spark of inspiration.)
Anita Cox: What is your writing “system” like, and how has it evolved over the course of your career?
TB: I’m very much a planner, though I wasn’t always. When I first started writing, way back when I was a young adolescent, I would start at the beginning of a story with a specific scene in mind, write myself into a corner, and then limp toward an ending that tried to pull all the threads together in something that made sense. The stories I put together back then were fun, at least for me, but not terribly well-constructed.
Since then, I’ve done graduate studies and written a thesis, and out of sheer necessity, my writing strategies have changed dramatically. When I’m first plotting out a story, I start by deciding on a handful of key moments, and jotting them down in a very casual version of a beat sheet. (I’m not so much of a planner that I’m into spreadsheets.)
Once I know what my (1) starting point, (2, 3) pinch points of rising drama, (4) moment of despair, and (5) ending will probably be, I can start to fill in notes to pace them out. I go by feel on that part of the structure, generally speaking; the stakes won’t always be raised at the one-third mark or one-half mark, for example, but generally there will be a crisis somewhere in there.
That’s the part when dialogue and scenes start to play out in my head at the worst possible moments! I’ve written a lot of notes for scenes on my phone, jumped out of the shower with my hair still full of suds, and woken up in the middle of the night reaching for a notepad to jot some of these down. I file them into the growing outline where they seem most appropriate, and open up a second word processor document. Anything that doesn’t fit once I start writing can be moved around, or lifted out entirely and set aside in the ‘notes’ file until I find another place where a particular awesome bit can go.
After that, I tend to write chronologically through. If I have ideas for a future scene or bit of dialogue or description, I can throw it into the outline, or set it aside in ‘notes’ until I get to a spot where it becomes useful.
None of this is to say that I keep to my outline all the way through; my planned ending for Rite of Summer changed about five times as I was writing. I knew the boys were going to have a happy ending, of course, but I flipped back and forth between locations, instigators, and specific circumstances until the moment I sat down knowing that I had two more chapters to write… and somehow had to make up my mind! That’s why I call myself ‘sort of’ a planner; every so often the characters will decide what happens next, and I realize that I’m just along for the ride.
Anita Cox: Do you have beta readers in your family or circle of friends, or do you trust your own instincts before you publish your works?
TB: I absolutely rely on my beta readers, and I have a little group of friends who have become lifelines for me. Generally speaking it’s not the writing itself I’m concerned about; I’m reasonably fond of my prose style. Where I trip myself up, more often than not, is forgetting to expand a scene to include everything that’s taking place in my head. That’s when my betas are worth their weight in Godiva, because they’re not afraid to call me up on it, and tell me when my plots or characterizations aren’t making any sense.
I’ve found that I get the best, most useful set of responses from a combination of four people: my partner, critic, nitpicker, and liveblogger.
My partner thinks that everything I write is brilliant, so that’s the ego boost necessary not to bite my nails to the quick while the book is out for beta-reads.
My Critic hates almost every novel ever written, and romances in particular, and she does a brilliant job at calling me out on any uses of clichés, tropes and other lazy fallbacks.
The Nitpicker is a fact-checker and historian whose wealth of random knowledge rivals my own. She catches any anachronisms, missed forms of address, and non-British regionalisms that may slip by, and her grammar is impeccable.
My Liveblogger is a character reader, and she emails me her ongoing reactions as she goes through the chapters. She’s my reader-proxy, and how I gauge the effectiveness of my attempts at tension-building, as well as giving me the straight-girl perspective on the heat levels of the love scenes.
I adore my ladies, and I’m so very lucky to have them all in my life. (Which reminds me; time to go order them all some very nice bottles of wine.)
Anita Cox: Do you think of yourself as a particular type of writer (take this anyway and anywhere you like) and how do you think that influences the decisions you make about your stories/novels?
TB: I think I’m a relatively sparse writer. I’m better at constructing action scenes, in some ways, than florid prose about feelings, and my descriptions tend towards the efficient rather than the literary or beautifully metaphorical. I wish I were more of a literary writer, able to spin glorious scenes out of the rhythm and flow of the spoken word, but when I try that sort of thing it ends up sounding forced or ridiculous to my own ear.
That means that I don’t plan novels that centre completely on the mysteries of the human soul. I’m reliant on moving pieces in my plots to keep things going, and that itself means that there will always be some sort of external force acting on the characters that works with and against their own personal goals. I like adventure, and I get uncomfortable writing long lingering internal monologues, so that’s the way I tend to skew.
Rite of Summer is actually the story with the least amount of external plot action I think I’ve ever written. It’s a deeply character-centric story, spending a lot of time in characters’ heads (and beds), and that made it a wonderful challenge to write to my own satisfaction.
Anita Cox: What is your most recent book/story release? And could you tell us about it?
TB: My current release is also my debut, so I’m absolutely over-the-moon excited. Rite of Summer is a queer Regency erotic romance, and the lead couple are artists working under the patronage of members of the aristocracy. Stephen and Evander begin as a working pair of musicians, who have secretly been lovers for many years. Joshua is a painter who has been invited to the same summer house party, and he’s been harboring a crush on Stephen himself. All three men end up in bed together, but satisfying their mutual lusts is only the beginning of their story.
The country house setting lends itself to all kinds of intrigue, as the main characters try and keep their relationship triangles concealed. There’s midnight hallway-sneaking, accidental voyeurism, jealousy and seduction, and all of it gets blown sky-high when homophobic violence erupts in London.
The core of the story is about growing out of old, safe habits, and breaking free from the ruts that are so easy to fall into. When is it worth the effort, and how far would you go for the chance at true love?
Anita Cox: What led you to tell this particular story?
TB: I think too many times, when we’re constructing antagonists and ‘villain’ characters, it’s so easy to make them really, visibly bad. Even without resorting to mustache-twirling scenery-chewing, it makes a certain amount of sense to top-load the other side with a dozen terrible qualities, so that the heroes have something truly evil to come up against.
My inspiration, my drive to tell this story in particular, was a desire to explore what happens when the villainy and abuse is more subtle than that; when a relationship is filled with the manipulations and little aggressions that, somehow, are easy to brush off one at a time. It felt important to acknowledge the kinds of abuse that aren’t obvious and physical.
I have a decent amount of experience with a close family member with narcissistic personality disorder, sadly, and their charm is intense, and can be all-consuming. And at the same time, they can turn it on and off in an instant when they think their own needs have been thwarted. That narcissistic rage is an insidious kind of cruelty, made worse because so few people on the outside can see it happening. “One can smile and smile, and be a villain.” (Hamlet 1.5)
I drew on some of those experiences as I was writing. Maybe it’s selfish, or too much over-identification, but I felt the need to bring a character through a similar kind of relationship, and come out stronger for it on the other side.
Anita Cox: Which part of your story was the most difficult to write? (character/place/situation). Why?
TB: It’s always the middle. Always. It’s the point where I run out of the initial momentum and glee of introducing the characters and their environments, setting up the tangles and the triangles, and the shenanigans start getting serious. (But I’m not yet at the point where I can start to resolve everything and make my babies happy again!)
There are a couple of scenes of conflict in that sticky middle where the leads are arguing, and those were the most difficult to write out of everything. Because neither of them is wrong, per se; not from his own perspective. And yet neither one can admit that the other one might have a point. It’s a classic butting-heads moment, and all I really wanted to do was smack them both and make them kiss-and-make-up. Alas! I’m not that kind a creator.
Anita Cox: If you had an unlimited advertising budget, how would you “get the word out” about your latest release?
TB: Absolutely unlimited? I would begin with skywriting, just because I could. The next step would be a prominently-placed stand at the entrance to every English-speaking bookstore, whether they normally sold romances or not. Ads in every queer-focused weekly paper in North America, naturally, ideally with some photo shoots with models who look like my heroes.
I’d hire a screenwriter to turn Rite of Summer into a movie script, and buy off whomever necessary in order to get a meeting with someone like Greg Berlanti – he’s the queer-friendly producer who’s been filling the CW with hot shirtless men and their killer abs, so I know he’d have a great eye for casting!
The coup de grace, though, would be co-sponsoring floats in the major North American Pride parades this summer. Bookstores who operate on a slim margin as it is would welcome the infusion of cash or the chance to afford a parade float, and it would open up partnership possibilities and more spots for book tours and signings.
Go big, or go home.
Come by www.tessbowery.com on June 2nd, 7 pm Eastern Time, to join me in the chatroom for the release party! I’ll have giveaways and prizes as well as interviews and a social hour. I look forward to seeing everyone!
Tess Bowery is an east coast writer of historical LBGT erotic romance (can it get more niche?) She’s an academic with a masters in history, which she is abusing relentlessly in pursuit of happy endings. Rite of Summer is her debut novel. This highly-charged erotic romance is available now for pre-order — https://www.samhainpublishing.com/book/5451/rite-of-summer — and releases officially on June 2nd.
There are terrors worse than stage fright. Like falling in love.
Violinist Stephen Ashbrook is passionate about three things—his music, the excitement of life in London, and his lover, Evander Cade. It’s too bad that Evander only loves himself. A house party at their patron’s beautiful country estate seems like a chance for Stephen to remember who he is, when he’s not trying to live up to someone else’s harsh expectations.
Joshua Beaufort, a painter whose works are very much in demand among the right sort of people, has no expectations about this party at all. Until, that is, he finds out who else is on the guest list. Joshua swore off love long ago, but has been infatuated with Stephen since seeing his brilliant performance at Vauxhall. Now he has the chance to meet the object of his lust face to face—and more.
But changing an open relationship to a triad is a lot more complicated than it seems, and while Evander’s trying to climb the social ladder, Stephen’s trying to climb Joshua. When the dust settles, only two will remain standing…
“It is a massive house, you know,” Evander began as though delivering a confidence. “With galleries and gardens that extend for miles. Coventry described it to me once. We will have hours of uninterrupted leisure.”
He dug his foot down further and pressed it, firm and strong, against the front of Stephen’s trousers. “We’ll kiss and we’ll swive,” Evander sang, putting lyrics to the tune he had been humming before, his eyes alight and his smile infectiously lascivious. He was utterly ridiculous, and delightful, and Stephen could not help but laugh as his body began to respond to Evander’s excitement. “Behind we will drive, and we will contrive, new ways for lechery,” Evander finished his bawdy chorus by tangling one hand in Stephen’s hair and using it to pull his head back. Stephen’s breath caught with the spike of desire, his throat exposed to the press of Evander’s lips.
“Alright!” Stephen laughed breathlessly. “I’ve agreed already, I need no bribe to convince me further.”
“Oh, but you do,” Evander said, letting go of his hair and slinking his hand down to replace the press of his foot. “We shall make a game of it, defiling his house in as many ways and places as please us. Think of the thrill!” The man was insane, the suggestion as distractingly tempting as almost all of his ideas were. If one servant saw them, though, in the wrong place at the wrong time- Evander’s social climbing would end rather abruptly. As would their lives.
AUTHOR Bio and Links:
Tess has been a fan of historical fiction since learning the Greek and Roman myths at her mother’s knee. Now let loose on a computer, she’s spinning her own tales of romance and passion in a slightly more modern setting. Her work in the performing arts has led to a passion for the theatre and dance in all its forms, and been the inspiration for her current books. Tess lives on the east coast, with her partner of fifteen years and two cats who should have been named ‘Writer’s Block’ and ‘Get Off the Keyboard, Dammit.’
Tess can be found reblogging over on tessbowery.tumblr.com, twittering at @TessBowery, and talking about writing in general and her books specifically over at http://www.tessbowery.com.
Rite of Summer on GoodReads: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/23766005-rite-of-summer