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…
Welcome to All I Want and More. We’re glad to have you here.
Tell us a little bit about yourself?
I live near the ocean, which sounds lovely, except when it snows. I’m an historian by training, and my day job is in the theatre. It’s the combination of both of those things that led me into writing about performing artists in the 19th century. I’ve loved the regency, like most of us, since reading Austen in high school, and I fell into writing it through an online role playing game that’s set in 1811.
What else is interesting? I read too many comic books. I hate slasher horror but I love ghost stories and haunting ‘documentaries’ – the creepier and more outlandish the claims the better! I’m completely addicted to The Haunted, which is an Animal Planet ghost-hunter show, of all things. Spooky campfire stories and puppies! It’s like the perfect combination of comfort food and adrenaline.
In this book, who was your favorite character to write and why?
Joshua was the easiest and the most fun. He’s got an exasperated mental running commentary on the world around him that was such a joy to slide into, especially on grumpy days. He’s also very sure of himself, and his own worth, unlike Stephen who is perpetually in a kind of insecure flux. When writing Stephen I always had to keep his state of mind forefront in mine, because his moods were mercurial and changed quickly in reaction to plot events, while Joshua is both less overly dramatic, and more consistent.
Stephen drives both of us a little bit insane, to tell you the truth, but Joshua gets by far the better end of the deal. ;)
What 3 words would you use to describe your main characters?
Evander: Charming, sly, narcissistic.
Stephen: Intense, passionate, impulsive.
Joshua: Still waters, deep.
Can you tell us a little bit about this book? Maybe a little snippet?
I would love to! Rite of Summer is the story of two artists, Joshua Beaufort and Stephen Ashbrook, and takes them through the summer and fall of 1810 in England. The art world at the time was, as it is now (and I say this as a theatre professional, and with the utmost love for my peeps), something of a haven for miscreants and those who march to their own beat. The beautiful thing about it is that those who take up music or visual art, do so because they have stories to tell.
In Stephen’s case, he’s a prodigy of a violinist. He and his first love ran away to the city together as young men, they’ve since settled in London. The two of them compose and play music for a wealthy patron, and have become something of a hit among the Ton, which comes with invitations and opportunities to play before the rich and powerful. As the book opens, they receive an invitation – which is really a command – to come to a country house party and stay for a few weeks.
Joshua, on the other hand, is generally content with a quiet life in the countryside. His long-time lover died at sea a few years ago, and he retreated to his cousin’s estates to brood, and to paint. He gets dragged along with the family when they’re invited to the same house party, and his and Stephen’s worlds collide.
It’s never that simple, of course – Stephen already has a lover, although they frequently invite other men into their bed – and Joshua has been lusting after Stephen since he saw him in concert the previous year. The story comes when all those conflicting emotions, desires and passion-plays collide. We start with a couple, move to a triad, and end with a different couple altogether, with happy endings coming to those who deserve them.
I’ll give you a piece from one of my favorite scenes. News has just come from London about a raid on a prominent molly house – a gay bar of the time. Many of Stephen’s friends have been arrested for ‘acts against nature,’ and two of them executed.
Meanwhile, Lady Horlock, Joshua’s cousin and patroness, has become suspicious of the amount of time he’s been spending with the two musicians, and is trying to find proof that he’s morally ‘unsound.’ In this era, that would mean his arrest, and likely his death.
In this snippet, Joshua and Stephen are meeting secretly in the stables, trying to decide what to do next.
“Did you know them?” Joshua asked quietly after hours seemed to have drifted by.
Ashbrook nodded, and there was exhaustion laced through his voice when he replied, “Yes, though Cade knew them better. I don’t understand all this hatred,” he continued, not moving from Joshua’s half embrace. “Unless this is our punishment for sin. Why can we not be left alone to live our lives as we choose?”
The question cut to the core of things, and Joshua closed his eyes. Pain sliced through his heart, knowing the things that were impossible. And a glimmer of hope, for the things that weren’t. “In some places, we could be. England is not the sum total of the world.” A different sort of image of his own future began to build itself behind Joshua’s eyes, wheels already set in motion.
Ashbrook turned his face in to press his lips against Joshua’s throat. “Perhaps,” he sighed, his eyes closed. Joshua buried his face in Ashbrook’s curls and hung on. “But it is the only one I know.”
The door dragged against the dirt. His head jerked up and he looked around, only to see Sophie flying in at top speed. She had been running, her hair in disarray, and she gestured at the two of them with wild hands.
“There you are!” she proclaimed, and gave them both disgusted looks. “I’ve been looking for you everywhere,” she addressed Joshua alone. “I told you to be careful, but do you listen? The old bat has her wind up, now that you three vanished together, and one of the scullery girls said she saw you coming down this way.”
Cade was already gone, but the two of them alone together, the paper in his hand— No, it would not do at all to be found here.
“We need to run,” Ashbrook said, coming to the same conclusion.
“There’s no time!” Joshua could see movement and people out the window, coming down the path. “If we leave by the door they’ll see us.”
Ashbrook looked around, then lit up. “Then we’ll have to find another way.” He bolted up the ladder into the hayloft like he were a circus performer or a sailor’s monkey, too rapidly for Joshua to copy.
“Here.” He handed the paper to Sophie, about to try his best regardless, but the door at the far end creaked as someone pushed it open.
Sophie jammed her hands through his hair to rough it up, grabbed pieces of straw and shoved them down her bodice.
“Sophie!” he hissed, and she stomped on his foot.
Shuffling and rustling came from the hayloft, and a flash of boot gleamed in the light as Ashbrook squirreled himself away.
Sophie pressed the paper to her suddenly heaving bosom and set her eyes wide, as Downe and Lady Horlock entered the stables together.
“Of course I’ll…” she began breathlessly, pressing close to his body and—
What in God’s name was she playing at?
“Mr. Beaufort!” Downe called out.
Sophie squeaked and jumped away from him as though she had not just been pressing herself up against his thigh like a cat in heat, “…take this message up right away, sir,” she said in the breathiest, worst attempt at faking a conversation he had ever heard, glancing sidelong at Downe and Lady Horlock, and managing to blush crimson across the tops of her cheeks.
He needed to revise whatever he might have thought about her acting abilities. The girl should be on the stage full time, instead of mending Lady Horlock’s linens. “Yes, thank you.” He was red himself now, though not from the falseness of the scene they were apparently now committed to playing out.
“Ah, Lady Horlock, Lord Downe…” he turned his attention toward the others and Sophie, managing to look both demure and debauched simultaneously, scurried out the door under Lady Horlock’s heavy glare, “…what a surprise to see you. Here.”
A noise came from the hayloft that sounded suspiciously like a strangled cough.
How do you go about picking character names? Do you have to get them just right and make sure they fit with the character’s personality?
I do, to a certain degree. My first goal is always to make sure that the names are right for the context, more than the personality, as characters tend to change during my first draft and by the time I really have a handle on who they are, I’d far too used to their names to change them.
The Academy of Saint Gabriel is a phenomenal web resource for names separated out by culture, going up to the mid-seventeenth century. Thankfully there are also a set of fantastic sites with information on later naming trends, and the regency is well-covered. Once I have a list of names that could be used, I go down and see which ones sound right when I turn them over in my mind. Then it’s a matter of making sure that I don’t have too many characters with names that sound alike! Evander was ‘James’ very briefly, and if I remember correctly, Stephen was ‘Edward’ for about six hours. I think the current names fit them much better.
Surnames for incidental characters are always much more fun! I like finding proper surnames that are plausible, but give a sense of a character who will only be ‘on-screen’ for a short span.
We’re cover hussies. What was your first impression of this cover?
Oh gosh. Gillian was just amazing to work with. I gave her a couple of notes and some suggestions for photos, and she just made it a work of art. I think my first reaction was ‘aww – there are my boys! Hallo Stephen!’ That first look is such a fun moment, and makes everything seem suddenly very real.
I really like the way we ended up dividing the cover. This is intended to be a series, though in the sense that the books will all take place in the same universe, not that one leads directly on from another. They’ll all be readable as stand-alones, touching on another aspect of the performing arts community in regency London. With that in mind, the cover design is set up so that we can flip out the bottom image on a thematic basis, as well as switching up the characters on top. It’ll add this lovely sense of continuity across the series that I’m really looking forward to seeing.
What does writing mean to you?
It’s an escape. It’s a chance to sit down and just be in my own head for a while, telling the stories that bubble underneath my skin. I’ll admit that there’s a bit of my usual activism in my writing, at least in this particular series. There are so many stories from history that never get told, whether they’re about women, or racial or sexual minorities, and I want to bring some of those possibilities into the light. It feels very good to bring forth some of those voices.
What do you hope readers take away after reading one of your books?
That happy endings are always possible. My characters always seem to end up a little bit dented by life, and in situations where true happiness seems improbable. They’re not dukes, or ladies with large dowries, just ordinary artists trying to balance their artistic passions with their private lives, and make some kind of living at the same time. It’s a different sort of escapist fantasy than billionaire kink, and one that I really hope resonates with readers who have their own dents, dings and private passions.
No matter what, every one of us is deserving of a chance at love.
If you had a technology free day, what would you do?
Putter in my garden. I have a little kitchen garden out back, where we grow vegetables, berries and herbs, and I never seem to have enough time to do the weeding and all the maintenance and rebuilding that I’d like to. There’s something soothing and soul-satisfying about digging in the rich, dark earth.
What are you currently working on?
That Potent Alchemy, which will hopefully be the third book in Treading the Boards. Grace and Isaac are both theater professionals this time around – she’s a dancer and an actor who is aging out of the ingénue roles, and he’s a stage technician who dreams of restoring some of the Restoration-style theatre spectaculars. They circle each other during the run-up to a new production, but a third party may have quite a bit to say about the notion of a happily ever after…
It’s been so much fun researching the various London theatres of the time, and how the backstage all worked. My favorite effect at the moment is the thunder run, which was a way to make sound effects for storms on stage. There was a metal gutter running from the catwalk down to the floor backstage, and stagehands would roll cannonballs down the gutter on cue to create peals of thunder. Effects back then were just as complex as today’s sound and lighting boards, but with a lot more running around.
Sexiest feature on a man?
Boxers, Briefs or Commando?
Boxer briefs! Snug and with lift, ideally.
What is on your night stand/dresser?
Way too many books that I haven’t read yet, my glasses, alarm clock and a Black Widow bobblehead doll.
Hairy chests or smooth?
Hairy! But more fuzzy, or just enough to highlight the pecs, not wolf-man Tom Selleck kind of hairy. I also love a well-trimmed beard. (It’s all about texture.)
Cowboy or businessman?
Businessman. A well-tailored suit is my catnip.
Tattoos or piercings?
Piercings, especially sexy ones. The contrast of metal-in-skin is mind-blowing.
I used to play the trombone in high school band, and I can still blow a raspberry that lasts over a minute. It’s all in the breath control.
What’s your guilty pleasure?
Ketchup-flavoured chips. I can’t help it. They’re awful, but so addictive.
Gillian Anderson. This woman was responsible for my sexual awakening.
Night owl or early bird?
Night owl. I need coffee to get out of bed in the morning.
Twitter or Facebook?
Pinterest or Instagram?
Neither? Now that Livejournal’s dead, I’m a Tumblr girl, through and through. (tessbowery.tumblr.com!)
ebooks or paperbacks?
Paperbacks; it’s easier to make notes in the margins that way. (I’m so sorry! I only do it in ones that I own!)
Is there anything else you like to add?
Thank you so much for having me! I’m having such a good time with this whole process, and getting to meet everyone has been a wonderful adventure.
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.
“That bad, was it?” Sophie asked from the chair opposite, her legs curled under her. She closed the book in her hands, tucking it into her lap. It said something that he wasn’t the least bit surprised by her presence, though by all rights he should have been appropriately scandalized. He could always tell her to leave, as though that would do any good. The girl was like a cat; she went where she pleased and did what she liked, and woe betide anyone but her employer who tried to force her otherwise.
“I had no idea,” Joshua said, checking first to be sure the door was most securely closed, “that her ladyship had such strong opinions about the idea of gas lighting.”
“Ooh, yes, did she get on about that again?” Sophie replied with a pleased grin. “’Those gas lines will be a blight on the city,’” she imitated bitingly. “’They’re an invitation to treachery and a first stage toward a new Gunpowder Plot,’ to hear her go on. And did you know,” she asked rhetorically, the light of mischief in her eyes, “that they’re sinful as well? Apparently Our Lord and Savior would prefer candlelight.”
“Lord save us from the march of progress,” Joshua sighed, and rubbed his forehead. Exhaustion nipped around the edges of his eyes, his shoulders aching. “You were quite right, by the way.” He glanced up at Sophie, not too tired to add to her amusement. “Lady Chalcroft’s got her eye set on Coventry for her eldest. The two of them would set on her rivals like a pair of wild dogs if they thought it would get her a hand-span closer to a coronet.”
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
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