Jeff reviews Criminal Past by Gregory Ashe and It Takes Two to Tumble by Cat Sebastian.
Anne Hawley talks to the guys about her regency romance Restraint and what sparked her love of historicals and writing. Anne also talks about the Masterwork Experiment she’s worked on to analyze Brokeback Mountain and take those story beats to create a new story.
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.
- Criminal Past by Gregory Ashe on Amazon
- It Takes Two to Tumble by Cat Sebastian on Amazon
- Anne Hawley Interview
- Anne Hawley: website | Twitter
- Restraint by Anne Hawley on Amazon
- Georgette Heyer on Amazon
- Jane Austen on Amazon
- Stroy Grid Podcast #167: Launching the Masterwork Experiment on StoryGrid.com (The Masterwork Experiment runs from episodes 167-176)
- The Story Grid: What Good Editors Know by Shawn Coyne on Amazon
- Silence of the Lambs by Thomas Harris on Amazon
- Brokeback Mountain by Annie Proulx on Amazon
- Anne Hawley’s in-progress draft of Danebury Hill draft on AnneHawley.net
- Chonicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis on Amazon
- Story Grid Editor Roundtable Podcast on StoryGrid.com
- Big Gay Author Podcast #8: Brokeback Mountain, Regency England & Story Beats with Anne Hawley on BGAP website
- Big Gay Fiction Podcast on Patreon.com
- Big Gay Fiction Podcast patrons on BGFP website
Interview Transcript – Anne Hawley
This transcript was made possible by our community on Patreon. You can get information on how to join them at patreon.com/biggayfictionpodcast.
Jeff: Welcome Anne to the podcast it is so great to have you here.
Anne: Well, thank you for having me. It’s really an honor to be here.
Jeff: So we wanted to get you on the show for a couple of reasons and we’ll kick that off with talking about your historical regency romance called “Restraint.” Tell everybody what this book is about.
Anne: “Restraint” is about a young artist in regency London, his name is John Waterfield and he is inconveniently handsome. Now, I say inconveniently because he has a secret that he doesn’t want High Society to find out about him which is that he is gay – because if they find out he will be shunned and he will no longer have the business of the High Society people who commissioned people like him for fancy portraits.
He’s the son of a clergyman what’s more and he’s very, very uptight about his sexuality. Well. Enter the Viscount Penrith. His first name is Tristan, and he is a young aristocrat who has a terribly scandalous past that he is trying to live down, but he sees a portrait that John has painted of a lady in society and he decides he wants a portrait too – little bit on the naughty side, not naked or anything, but a little on the scandalous side – so he commissions the portrait and as they begin working together, they start sort of hanging out together as well and their attraction to each other is pretty undeniable and society starts to notice that there’s a little bit of spark there. And of course they gossip and there’s a lot of talk. So because John has this religious background with this very, very judgmental fathe r , he is reluctant to do anything about his attraction to Lord Penrith.
And because Lord Penrith really believes that his own nature is corrupt, he’s not pushing himself on on John. He’s keeping it kind of cool. And so they manage to restrain themselves. Hence the title of the novel – until the portrait is finished and out in the world and then they finally managed to escape to one of Lord Penrith’s country houses where they begin this summer love affair.
They consummate their love and it’s very romantic and they have this Blissful time for about three weeks before an ex-lover of Tristan’s appears on the scene – terribly jealous – and decides that blackmail would be a great way to get back at him. So the lovers are forced into this terribly painful choice of whether they will just give each other up and hide out so that Society doesn’t find out about them and the blackmailer can’t bleed Tristan dry, or are they going to defy the world and have their love? So it winds up being this big dramatic/romantic story of forbidden love that lasts a lifetime.
Jeff: They get that HEA that everybody needs in a romance just as it should be. What inspired this book?
Anne: Well, here’s a confession, it began life in the fanfiction space. That’s not widely known – now it is. I started just noodling on the idea of taking two favorite actors of mine – handsome young guys – and putting them in the Regency in the costumes, kind of like, you know paper dolls, and making them in the characters in a sort of a Georgette Heyer style frivolous Regency romance. Now, which fandom is not something that I discuss but if readers are curious and they go looking they can probably figure it out. Anyway, as I started to research this story, I found that you know, the frivolity really wasn’t in it when you’re talking about two gay men in that period. So what I wound up with was much more dramatic and ran quite a bit deeper than a typical Regency.
Jeff: There’s a lot going on for these lovers. You’ve got the regency period itself which wasn’t necessarily kind to gay folks. And then John’s major religious upbringing. There had to be challenges getting them to their HEA.
Anne: There were definitely. There are traces in the historical record, as you guys are probably aware, that some queer people throughout history were able to get to that
place of actual commitment and living together in some sort of married like arrangement, against all odds, right, but they were very rare. I do have a secondary couple in my story, an older pair of gentleman who have been able to achieve that because they’re just so rich and so private that they can get away with anything but
what I was so interested in in this story was how society had the power to control non-conforming people even those at the pinnacle of privilege. You take a character like by Viscount Penrith. He’s like at the top. World history pyramid of privilege right? He’s just like the highest of the high and even he was subject to these social restrictions and I really got interested in this sort of capital R romantic idea of a love that would endure for a lifetime, despite those restrictions, some of which these two guys do have to observe.
Will: What is it about the Regency period that interests you?
Anne: First of all, I grew up reading Georgette Heyer regency romances. My first one came my way when I was probably about 12 and the thing about her books is that her research is absolutely impeccable. She presents a story on the surface
that’s kind of a fantasy version of the period where she focuses on the fancy clothes, and the hair styles, and the you know, beautiful horses and carriages and ballroom scenes and all that sort of thing. The characters are these rich people with very few obstacles standing in the way of their love except inner, you know prejudices or something kind of like Pride and Prejudice.
On every page, if you look, she understands the whole socio-economic background of the time. She’s writing in the war that was going on at the time, all the class disparities, the poverty, the dangers of life in London. It’s all there if you look for it and that’s what I got really interested in.
So you take a character like Lord Penrith and ask, “You know, what if somebody like that was gay and he was prohibited, not only by custom, but by law, from loving who he would naturally love now?” that was really interesting to me. And once I started digging into the research, upper class men in that time typically weren’t prosecuted for the crime of sodomy.
I put that in air quotes, but, you got to be aware. It was an actually a capital crime in that time and lower class men were executed for it, not always, but sometimes. It was not uncommon to have an execution for sodomy right up until the 1820s, which was when they finally stopped doing that. They were still imprisoned for years after that, many years, probably more than a century after that.
But the criminal justice system would let these rich men go because they were so privileged. And so, you know sort of sacrosanct society would step in and society would try and control what it thought was deviant sexual behavior using this wonderful tool called blackmail and blackmail practically was invented on the basis of, you know, ratting out guys who were gay. Some of the greatest men of the age were ruined by the mere accusation of homosexuality, or ruined financially by blackmailers draining their resources on paying of, you know, letting the world know that they were gay. The stakes in the regency were really high and yet you have this juxtaposition with this incredibly privileged class of men who were sexually non-conforming and I love that juxtaposition that creates the ‘forbidden love story’ in the Regency. Its just a perfect place to set that kind of story.
Will: Yeah, I think listeners of the show will know that I’ve only recently dived into historical and I found that idea of forbidden love and going against society really illustrates the the strength of the romance of the two main protagonists. I’m interested in what your opinion about why the regency specifically has been such a mainstay of historical romance for so long?
I mean does it specifically just boil down to Jane Austen or is there something else going on for for readers of the genre?
Anne: You know, it’s hard to say. I don’t really have like a scholarly theory about it. I think it does boil down to a Jane Austen and Georgette Heyer. Georgette Heyer wrote 35 novels or something, a large body of work, much of it set in the Regency and she really originated the Regency romance in her day. She was looking back a hundred years, now we’re looking back 200 years. But still fascinating. There’s something about the time. They were right on the verge – they were still writing with quills, and they didn’t have matches yet, and the railroad hadn’t quite come along yet.
It was about to. So we’re just prior to the sort of Industrial Revolution and yet it’s still civilized enough that it’s not just all mud and dirt and gross and I think that’s what I really do.
Will: It’s the clothes and the balls. It’s all about the balls.
Anne: Eaxctly, one way or another it’s all about the balls.
Will: One of the reasons that we wanted to ask you to come on the show is that you are part of another podcast, Shawn Coyne’s “Story Grid Podcast” and you were recently asked to come on and become part of his miniseries called the Masterwork Experiment. Can you explain what that experiment was all about?
Anne: Yeah. I can try. It was all new to me and I’m a student of Shawn Coyne’s. He developed the Story Grid method and wrote the book “The Story Grid,” big fan and a student of his, and he has lately come up with this new methodology to help writers write stories better.
He’s always advocated that writers need to read a lot, and not just read, but deeply study master works in the genre that they want to write in. So he gives the example, in his book, of ‘Silence of the Lambs’, really tearing it down and really looking at what makes it tick.
So he’s taking this a step further and this Masterwork experiment is a new, even higher precision, tool for doing that break down. So what we did, over 10 episodes, is we analyzed Annie Proulx’s novella “Brokeback Mountain,” which is a short novella about 11 thousand words, and we broke it down at what we call the beat level which is a little bit like finding
the skeleton, like scraping away the flesh. Sorry to be gross, finding the skeleton of the story – and my challenge then was to take that skeleton that we discovered and wrap new story flesh around it – set in the regency because that’s my area of expertise.
Just in brief we find in “Brokeback Mountain,” for listeners who don’t know, it’s set in 1963 in Wyoming, a couple of cowboys, probably everyone’s seen the movie. The movie is very true to the novella. Anyways, so in the Mastersork we find some familiar beats, like the lovers meet at a job interview. And when you think about that, you’ve probably read stories where
you’ve seen lovers meeting on the job or at an interview, and we have getting to know you over drinks at a bar, how many scenes like that have you seen or read? It’s a very common scene type. We have a drunk scene, we have inclement weather forces them to share a bed. That’s like one of my favorite kinds of scenes, it’s very common in fan fiction.
So if you take away the specifics, like the sheep and the mountains and Wyoming and cowboys and the sensibility of 1963 Western America, and you transpose it to England in 1812 – you get a completely different story. But it’s made of familiar things, right? So my job was to find the beats in “Brokeback Mountain.”
We discovered 83 of them and then those beats become my outline for the story that I’m now working on which is my regency “Brokeback Mountain” if you will, and it makes it so that I’m no longer dependent on waiting for that bolt of inspirational lightning to strike me. I can just roll up my sleeves and get to work with the tools that I have.
So it’s been surprisingly liberating. It’s a great technique.
Will: When I started listening to these specific episodes of the Story Grid podcast, I was really fascinated – and it spurred me to actually go read Annie Proulx’s story, and I talked about this a couple of episodes back and first I was taken aback that “Brokeback Mountain” is in fact quite good. I think people know I have a bit of a distaste for literature with a capital L, but I thought “Brokeback Mountain” itself was exceptional. So when you and Shawn went through the story beat by beat and examined some of the story choices that Annie Proulx made I thought that was, you know, fascinating – but then I thought the experiment part of the show was also really intriguing, taking the skeleton and creating your own story. Can you give us a sense of what your story ended up being about?
Anne: Well, it hasn’t ended up yet because it’s still in progress. The draft is I think I’m about 3/4 of the way at this point. I have decided on my two protagonists. They are Matthew who is a footman – that’s an indoor servant – a guy who as the name suggests, runs around and does errands for the master and the master’s family in the great house, and Matthew is kind of proper and he’s a little bit ambitious.
He sees himself rising in the ranks of the servant class. And then the other lover is Josiah and he’s in the lower order of the servant class. He’s a groom and that means he’d never even come in the house. He lives in the Stables, but he’s kind of almost like a horse whisperer. He’s an animal lover.
He’s a really natural man. He’s also a foundling, which means he was an orphan left on the church steps as a baby, right? He has no education, but he’s got this great sense of humor and this warm loving heart. I just love Josiah. The biggest problem for him is that he’s even more susceptible than Matthew is to the whims of his upper-class overlords. The reason for that is that the horses that he’s in charge of, each one of them probably cost the master more then this guy is ever going to make in his entire life. The disparity is just incredible, right? So he’s disposable compared to the actual horses. And so he’s got to be really, really careful and kind of tiptoe and he’s at risk a lot of the time.
Well these two characters, these two young men, are tasked by their master with transporting a couple of these fancy hunting horses across country. And so they head out on this road trip and it’s on the road trip where they fall in love, they start their affair, they get into trouble. And the story progresses from there.
Jeff: What’s it been like creating this on the skeleton that you developed? We’ve talked on this show – kind of giving our listeners, who are readers, kind of the clue to how the process works. This seems like plotting on a whole different level because you tore something else apart to get the plot that you’re now hanging your story on.
Anne: Yeah, there’s a tendency at least when I first started to feel really unoriginal. Like I’m just stealing, this is not even creative. This is not original at all. But what I’ve learned is that there’s no such thing as originality. There is nothing new under the sun. What each writer brings to the process is their own unique voice and style and experience.
And so you get kind of a thumbprint of your personal DNA on the story, but it takes a while to realize that that’s what you’re doing when you’re just starting out. Okay first, I need a interview scene where the lovers meet and then I need drunk scene where they you know, and. Okay, that doesn’t feel very creative.
But inside those very narrow constraints, that’s where creativity can really start to bloom. It’s wonderful. It’s very exciting.
Jeff: And your draft is public for folks to go see, whether they’ve been following on the Story Grid podcast or not. Where can people find that if they want to see how you’re doing, you know here in Middle September.
Anne: It’s insane, isn’t it, that I would do that.
Jeff: It would terrify me as a writer it. I got tense for you when Sean read part of your draft on the podcast.
Anne: Sorry. Well, I’m working in a Google doc. That’s how I always work. I like Google Docs. So it’s a document that I have made public just for viewing and people can come and look at it.
You may catch me at work in there some days. It’s been known to happen. It’s messy, it’s chaotic, people who are not writers themselves and not accustomed to the first draft process might think, “Oh my God, this is terrible,” but I’m in the process of shaping it this right now. I’m in the process of shoveling sand into the sandbox, or you might say assembling building materials and I haven’t really built anything yet.
I hope by the time we’re live with this episode, there will be more structure there. Anyway, I have created a special link just for listeners of this podcast if they’re interested. It’s a little landing page where they can find a link to my Google doc and that is at annehawley.net/bgfpodcast. I hope people will feel free to drop by and if you catch me working in the document leave a little comment say hello.
Jeff: That’s very cool. Now, what’s the plan for releasing this finished story?
Anne: That’s very exciting because it gets published at the end. We have a date in Shawn’s Story Grid editions publishing calendar for December 2020. So a little over a year from now and it’s going to come out in print, it’ll be a little thin slim print volume, plus an e-book. I also hope that we will get an audiobook and we will if I can find a good British narrator and I’m open to suggestions.
So if anybody knows a good British narrator. Let me know because I’m looking.
Jeff: Both of these stories with “Restraint” and what you’re working on with “Brokeback Mountain” are gay romances. What attracts you to that genre – to tell the to the story of two men falling in love?
Anne: This is a question that I have done quite a bit of soul-searching on over the years because it’s a tough question to answer. Personally, I am asexual. I have never conformed to any of society’s expectations about a normal or proper relationship. So I always have felt somewhat alienated from mainstream love stories involving heterosexual couples, because it’s just not part of my life. Neither of course is a gay love story, but somehow that’s less mainstream and feels less alienating to me.
So it’s odd that my writing is just terribly romantic, but I don’t feel a lot of romantic in myself, in my own life. But as I’ve said, I do love these stories of forbidden love where the barriers to the two lovers getting together are entirely external. They love each other. They’re soul mates. They want to be together and external forces keep them apart.
Can you say Romeo and Juliet? I have found that gay love stories set in the past or, you know, there are certain places and cultures today where you could still set them contemporarily that have that forbidden aspect built in.
Jeff: And pulling back from that even further what got Anne Hawley interested in writing in general?
Anne: Oh, I was a big reader as a little tiny kid and I just said, “You know, there’s not enough of these books that I like,” which at that time was like the Narnia books and Children’s Fantasy. They used to call it that, and I said, “I’m going to write some more,” and so I started my first novel when I was nine and I finished it when I was 33. It’s not worth publishing, but I still have it around. Some day I might pull it back out, dust it off and see if I can fix it using Story Grid principles. You never know.
Jeff: That’s great that you took what you started at nine and did finish it. I mean…
Anne: That’s pretty amazing. Really.
Jeff: That’s pretty incredible. So besides finishing up the work you’re doing from the master work experiment, what else is coming up next for you that our listeners might be interested in?
Anne: I’ve started a new novel. It’s going to be set in Portland, which is my hometown and where I currently live, in 1905. So the turn of the last century. It’s going to have a couple of love subplots, one gay, one lesbian, but that’s not the primary story.
The primary story is about an occult society, kind of like the Order of the Golden Dawn, and they practiced ritual magic and I’m examining sort of the question of whether that kind of magic is actually real – so it skirts kind of a line between reality and fantasy. And that’s what I’m working on now.
Jeff: That sounds super cool. And what is the best way for everyone to keep up with you online to get news about that and the Masterwork Experiment as it moves towards publication and everything else?
Anne: Well, I’m on Twitter at annehawley. My website is annehawley.net and people can subscribe to my list there, where if they do they will get a chapter a day of “Restraint” for free in their inbox. It’s beautifully formatted, looks just like the book and you can just keep getting chapters till you get the whole book. Furthermore, I am the host of the “Story Grid Editor Roundtable,” which is a podcast for writers. If there are writers among your audience who are interested in advancing their understanding of the Story Grid Method that’s what we do. We analyze a movie or a novel every week according to story grid principles. It’s a fun little podcast.
Jeff: Indeed it is. I’ve enjoyed some of the movies that you’ve been breaking down there. I think as a non-writer I’d be fascinated just to hear how the movie’s get built on a story level occasionally.
Anne: Yeah. It’s pretty interesting.
Jeff: Thank you so much for coming and talking about “Restraint” and the work you’re doing on the “Brokeback Mountain” Masterwork. We look forward to hearing more about that in 2020.
Anne: Well, thank you very much.
Here’s the text of this week’s podcast and book reviews:
Criminal Past by Gregory Ashe. Reviewed by Jeff.
Before I get into the details on the outstanding, and at times extremely disturbing, Criminal Past by Gregory Ashe, let’s talk about one of the best lines in the entire series: “You broke the hospital with your ass.” Somers often pokes fun at Hazard for being fat, which he isn’t but he pokes fun anyway. I’m not going to give you context on this line but I’ll say that it provided a major tension break toward the end of the book. Well done, Gregory Ashe.
With Criminal Past I am finally up to date with the Hazard and Somerset series, which I first reviewed back in episode 165. For such long books, I blazed through these as they came on audio. I had to know what was going to happen next with not only Hazard and Somers, but with the messed up goings on in Wahredua. Oh, man, does it all blow up in this installment.
This book boils down to Mikey Grames, Hazard’s primary tormentor in his high school days, and Mayor Sherman Newton. Newton’s been a focus of several of the books as it’s long appeared that he’s involved in shady dealings especially around Wahredua real estate. There’s little doubt, on the other hand, that Mikey is mixed up in some super bad stuff. As this book starts out, Hazard and Somers are asked by the police chief to prevent a murder instead of investigating one. They’re assigned to lead a detail to protect Mayor Newton. Of course this is the last thing they want to do since they Mayor is not their favorite person, but do it they must.
As you can imagine things go downhill from there–and they get into hellish territory really fast. The intricate plots Gregory’s been weaving over the past five books all come to roost here. And what a plot it is. So much happens here in the longest book of the series to date (in the audio it’s some 3 1/2 hours longer). What starts out to be a case to save the mayor soon has Hazard and Somers in the middle of a crazy cat and mouse game. They’ve always been targets in the series but the focus is squarely and uncomfortably on them. So much of it dredges up from their past as well. I never imagined how far back the tendrils of this mystery would go. I said in a previous review that Gregory never plants a seed that doesn’t manifest into something and that’s more true here than ever before. Things I thought I knew for sure were turned upside down.
The result was that more than ever I grieved for Hazard and Somers and the crappy lives they had as teens… a past that they can not get away from. And wow, Gregory Ashe what a tale you’ve created with these books. The intricacy of the mystery combined with how Hazard and Somers spark against each other, both as detectives and as relatively new boyfriends, was incredible. This is particularly true of Hazard. His internal monologue and how he views himself has a broken man was vivid, heartbreaking and at times I had to turn the book off because Tristan James’s narration brought it too much to life.
It’s impossible to dig too much into the plot without getting into way more spoilers than I want to reveal. I can say that the opening chapter with Hazard, Somers and Somers’s daughter Evie was a complete delight. Seeing Hazard’s parental side was a wonderful light moment, especially him getting covered in cotton candy. It was a breath of fresh air before the action kicked in. Also, the last line of the book is masterful and poignant. And thank God it was there because I needed that.
Needless to say I loved this book. Throughout the series, Gregory managed to exceed the expectations from the previous book. He’s said there’s a book seven to come. I can’t imagine what he’s going to put Hazard and Somers through next but I know I’ll be there to read it.
If you haven’t picked up Gregory Ashe’s Hazard and Somerset series yet and you’re a fan of mysteries, you need to get this to the top of your TBR right away.
It Takes Two to Tumble by Cat Sebastain. Reviewed by Jeff.
After the intensity of Criminal Past, I needed a sweet romance and Cat Sebastain’s It Takes Two to Tumble, the first book in the Seducing the Sedgwicks series was exactly what I needed. It’s been way too long since I’ve picked up one of Cat’s books and I’m so glad I grabbed this one.
Ben Sedgwick is a country vicar, happy to help his parishioners and lead a simple life. The quiet ends when he asked to look after three children who are running wild after the death of their mother has left them only with the household servants to mind them. No governess or tutor can keep up with them and their naval captain father hasn’t been able to get home yet. Ben slowly succeeds in getting the trio to behave, at least a little, in time for their father’s return.
Captain Philip Dacre has lived on the sea and is uncomfortable at the thought of spending a summer on shore even though he knows his children need him. He’s also still going through the grief of losing not only his wife but a crewman he was quite close to. He’s used to things running in an orderly fashion so he’s quite alarmed that discipline doesn’t seem to work in his household.
Right off one of the elements that delighted me in this book was the Sound of Music-like goings on with the children. While no one is singing in the hills, you’ve got wild children, someone whose come from the church to work with them, and a captain hell bent on having things run his way. Cat’s adaptation of this is simply charming. Ben is as stubborn as Maria when it comes to fighting for the children to be understood rather than simply brushed away. And Philip starts off as a classic Captain Von Trapp, minus the whistle, but soon sees how special children his children are… and that Ben is quite something too.
Of course, complications abound as well. Ben is betrothed to his best friend, Alice, who he cares deeply about and wants to make sure she is cared for as she is not well. A scandal involving his family also surfaces, which devastates Ben and calls into question every aspect of his future. Philip, meanwhile, has a ticking clock. He’s due to return to his ship at the end of summer. The more he’s home with his children, getting back into the routine of the village and forging more of a connection with Ben, he’s left at loose ends trying to decide where his duty lies. Each of these problems are managed so deftly by Cat and she usually manages to bring help from quite unexpected people to remove the barriers for Phillip and Ben to forge a life together that can work given the era they live in.
One of the things I’ve always enjoyed in Cat’s books is front and center here too–the tender way that she writes two guys falling in love. The scenes with Phillip and Ben as they move from arguing over the best way to manage the children to finding common ground that blooms into caring for and loving each other gave me the warm fuzzies. I couldn’t help but root for them as if I might’ve been a dear friend.
And the children… what a delight. Sometimes having one child in a book can be too much. Here there are three and I enjoyed each one of them. In their own way, they guided Ben and Phillip to discovering why they should stay right where they were and be a support system for them. There’s a particularly touching bit of business around a learning disability that fleshed out both father and son that was quite touching.
Joel Leslie gets to showcase his work with accents here. His portrayal of Ben and Philip is wonderful, capturing both the prickly and tender moments perfectly only adding to those warm fuzzies I mentioned earlier. Plus his voicing of the children is top notch along with the rest of the rather large cast of characters.
If you’re in the mood to visit an English village and watch two men have a super sweet romance, Cat Sebastain’s It Takes Two to Tumble is the book for you.