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Tuesday, May 19, 2015

#Interview: Rite of Summer by @TessBowery

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, twittering, and talking about writing in general and her books specifically over at

Rite of Summer on GoodReads

1.What is your story's heat level? How do you approach the sex scenes?

Rite of Summer is red hot. The book opens partway through an explicit M/M sex scene, and I managed to work ‘prick’ into the first sentence. I’m probably a little bit prouder of that than I should be.

Sex scenes, for me, are a vital part of a relationship story. The way characters approach each other, the experiences and baggage and desires coming in with each person in the scene make a huge difference to the way the acts unfold. Done right, a sex scene can be incredibly revealing of character, because it is this gorgeous moment where a person teeters on the edge of naked vulnerability.

So when it comes to writing approach, I come at them like I do for pretty much anything else. I have notes on what needs to be accomplished in order to move the characters through the scene, both physically and emotionally. Who is open, who is scared? Is someone lying, pretending to be something they’re not, or are the masks about to come off? How is that going to affect their reactions, their desires, and what they need out of each particular encounter?

The worst part is trying to keep track of where everyone’s hands are and what they’re doing, especially in ménage scenes. Pronouns are a mess when you have three men in a bed together and you’re trying to keep all the limbs accounted for.

2.How do you maintain activity as a writer when sitting at a desk all day?

I’m a huge fan of yoga, especially now that there are so many videos up for free on youtube. I try and do a class a day (emphasis on the ‘try’, I promise you), and it’s so easy to roll off my chair, call up a 15-minute video and go. It gets the blood flowing, even if you just take a five-minute break every so often to breathe deeply and roll out your shoulders, and you can wobble and fall over as much as you need to because you’re in the privacy of your own home.

(This all sounds good, but it would be much less impressive if you knew that I actually do a lot of the slow stretching classes rather than the whole-body-hot-yoga-headstand-whatsits. I’m not that bendy.)

It’s the social contact that’s my biggest problem with working from home; the isolation from other human beings gets old after a few days of hibernation. That’s when the coffee shop and the day job become so helpful.

3. What is it that you loved about the main characters in your story?

That they’re able to be emotional, and in some cases, show some vulnerability. We’ve developed this toxic view of masculinity over the past 150 years or so that really requires men to be these stoic walls of strength; that can be so damaging! It’s just as bad as the notion that all women are balls of nerves who cry at the drop of a hat. Real people are so much more complex and varied than that, and not that long ago, men were still encouraged to show it.

If you read some of the personal letters that have been preserved from the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, you can really feel the depth of passion and incredible emotion that these men lived with and accepted as natural. I loved being able to bring some of that historical understanding of masculinity into my boys’ inner lives.

Even within that, of course, they’re all varied in their responses. Joshua’s an introvert and he keeps a lot of things bubbling low beneath the surface, while Stephen is more likely to let it all bleed out. His problem is that he’s too emotional, without enough of a handle on how to control them, rather than letting them control him.

And Evander… he’s a hedonist, but even he has his wounds and scars that surface from time to time. He’s entertaining to write, even if I wouldn’t necessarily want to hang out with him in real life.

4.What do you feel is your strongest type of writing? Humor? Angst? Confrontation scenes? Action? Sex? Sensuality? Sweet Romance? And why?

A beta reader and close friend of mine described my usual best trope as ‘everyone’s smart but no-one has their shit together,’ which sounds about right. I don’t enjoy writing confrontation and angst, for the most part—I keep wanting to bang the characters’ heads together to make them get over themselves and get back to the fluff! –but when I do, those elements seem to be pretty effective.

I find action scenes the easiest to write. They pop into my head almost cinematically, and the words jump from my fingers to the keyboard. Whether that makes them my biggest strength, I’m not sure! Reviews I’ve had on previous works have mentioned my pacing as a plus, along with the way I break angst-tension with humor, so I think I’ll let my readers speak for me there. I certainly trust their judgment on that one better than my own!

5. Are you social media savvy? If so what do you suggest for others? If not, why not?

I don’t think of myself as particularly social media savvy. I use Twitter, I have a sadly neglected blog, and I spend way too much of my online time on Tumblr, but I’m not very good at tapping into zeitgeists or memes, or accumulating follower numbers. I tend to find people who are interesting to chat with, and get derailed off of the supposed goal of self-promotion. So on the one hand, I have made some amazing friends who I hope will be friends of mine for years to come. On the other hand, I have no idea how many of them are going to be interested in buying my books!

I’m not generally the best person to follow for advice on this sort of thing. I keep reading these lists of how to improve your SEO, and how to promote yourself on Goodreads without looking like you’re self-promoting and so forth… and as far as I can tell, that does work well for some authors. But then I end up getting sidetracked by a discussion of Chris Evans’ shoulder-to-waist ratio, or whether aliens would have a concept of capitalism, and all my career-oriented intentions go out the window.

All that to say, social media can work incredibly well, for those who have the tenacity and the skill to use it. I don’t think I can promote any one network over another, since the landscape and target markets are always shifting. I do know that a huge number of romance writers and editors hang out on Twitter, so that’s probably a good place to start. Readers should follow me there or on Tumblr, and we can chat about Victorian era nipple piercings, or whether Captain America could beat Batman in the Hunger Games.

(Honestly, it’s a miracle I ever finish a manuscript.) or @tessbowery on Twitter!

6. What are some things from your life or things you have observed that you've infused into your stories?

One of my secondary characters, Lady Horlock, was originally based on a member of my thesis committee. (She changed somewhat as I revised my drafts. She’s more of a senior Jamie Lee Curtis in my head now.) Is that the sort of thing you mean?

On a less specific note, I suppose my own age and orientation. Being LBGT and growing up in the 80s and 90s was a very different universe; things certainly weren’t as accepting as they are now. And that’s saying quite a lot, considering how many problems we still have to fight. I came of age in the middle of the AIDS epidemic, when friends were dying, no-one in the queer community had any kind of legal protections, and sex education was essentially ‘if you have sex, you will die.’

There’s a kind of fear that comes with that, along with the pressures to stay in the closet, that also generates a kind of desperation and a need to cling to happiness whenever you can find it.
I think that has some resonance with the time period and relationships I choose to write about. The stakes are incredibly high, and emotions run high in response. It’s that sex/risk/passion/seize the moment sort of thing that I find so compelling.

7. If you had an unlimited budget, where would you like to visit for story-related research?

Northern Italy, hands down. The Lombard League (13th century) is the setting for a manuscript that I’ve been poking at on and off, and I would love to get a real feel for the region; what the air smells like, what the land looks like, and all those things that make a scene really come to life. Not to mention being able to get my hands on some of the archival materials from the right era and region!

It took me something like five months of emails back and forth with the Vatican library and various city archives in Italy until I finally managed to get my hands on a single charter that I needed for that book; imagine how much more I could find if I could get there in person! There’s so much in little regional museums and archives that haven’t yet been scanned or documented, and knowing that the information is out there and I don’t have it yet is killing me slowly.

8. Any fun facts about the research for your book?

Joshua, one of my heroes, has the piercing that we call a Prince Albert today – sometimes called a ‘dressing ring’. (A male genital piercing that goes in through the urethra and out just behind the glans.) I’d come across a handful of oblique references to erotic piercings in the Victorian era, and some speculation about the Georgian, so I threw it in there as a fun character item for a man who presents at first as very straight-laced and maybe even a little prim. My editor asked me whether it was an anachronism or not, and that sent me right down the rabbit hole!

It turns out that Prince Albert himself probably didn’t have any kind of genital piercings; that apocryphal story was most likely created out of whole cloth by Doug Malloy, one of the founders of modern body piercing. He went through a lot of what have now become the standard modern body piercings and gave them names and backstories that would make them seem more legitimately rooted in older traditions. He was involved with Jim Ward in the creation of Gauntlet, the world’s first body piercing studio, back in the 1970s.

When I found that, of course, I started digging and came across references to Victorian women with nipple piercings. Now the Victorians had an amazing interest in kink, as we can see from some of the surviving erotica from the era (the magazine The Pearl has been fully digitized and is available online, for the curious, but there is a lot of heavy bondage and rape fantasy in there. So be warned!). Whether the nipple rings were fantasy or something that was actually performed is less certain, but they certainly enjoyed the thought.

I ended up tracing all kinds of Victorian and Georgian kink from there, including letters between lovers discussing the various merits of anal sex with or without lube (or as Dr. Rictor Norton puts it, “spit and persistence”), through to antique pop-up wooden dildos. I ended up tracing nipple piercings and penis piercings through the Royal Navy and then to the East India Company, and contact with India, Borneo and the Phillippines. My google and google-scholar search histories were kind of amazing for a while.

And Joshua got to keep his ring.

9. Finally, tell us a little about your newest release!

I have to be self-indulgent here and give you the formal rundown. It helps if you think of it in the movie announcer voice.

The year is 1810. Rising stars Stephen Ashbrook (violinist, incurable romantic) and Evander Cade (composer, lothario, social climber) have been invited to a house party in the English countryside. What the other guests don’t know is that Ashbrook and Cade are lovers, and that their passions extend to including others in their erotic games. Joshua Beaufort (painter, introvert) lusts after Ashbrook; when invited to bed, he cannot resist. Once he has a taste, he can only crave more.

Secrets like theirs can’t be kept for long in such close quarters, however, and the threat of exposure and rising tensions in London may threaten everything they once held dear.

I loved working with characters who aren’t your usual Dukes and Marquesses. The artistic community in 19th century England was an incredibly vibrant and diverse group of creatives, many of them based in and around Chelsea. They had this fantastic access to the homes of the wealthy and powerful, without actually being among that upper level of society, and that lends itself to amazing opportunities for intrigue and tension.

Rite of Summer is both my newest release and my first with Samhain, so it’s been an incredibly exciting journey all around!

Come by 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!

Buy Links:


Joshua lowered himself into the armchair in his room, and loosened his cravat with a peevish snap.

“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 will be awarding a $20 Amazon or B/N GC to a randomly drawn winner via rafflecopter during the tour!

a Rafflecopter giveaway


  1. How important are names to you in your books? Do you choose the names based on liking the way it sounds or the meaning? Do you have any name choosing resources you recommend?

    1. They're generally important. I tend to go by sound more often than anything to do with meaning. Though I do take care to make sure that the names are class-appropriate -- my lower-class characters will have surnames like Tanner or Cade, while my aristos will have the fancier names more typical of the upper classes.

      There are a handful of sites I'll go to for names. For anything pre-1650 I lovelovelove the Academy of St. Gabriel, which is a free online resource for pre-industrial world-wide name research:

      They have not only the names, but different forms of name construction, how common the names were, variant spellings and all kinds of amazing research into the history and context.

      For Regency, there are a couple of resources I hit more often than anything else:

      The Top 50 male names in 1800 -

      Jo Beverly's collection of Regency names -

      and for secondary characters or one-shot walk-ons, I live and die by the Regency Name Generator - (though it often takes five to ten tries before I find a combination that I like).

      I have to sit with a name list and roll the ideas around in my head for a while before I find the one that fits the character. There's this 'click' moment when the right one settles into place, sort of a 'oh -- that's who you are!' moment that can then define the rest of the way I write that character.

      For instance, I was trying to figure out a good surname for the heroine for my third book, Grace. I needed to know what surnames were most common to Black families in England in the 1800s -- it ended up being that Welsh names were incredibly common, because of the presence of strongly abolitionist (anti-slavery) Quakers in Wales at the time.

      So now I have a surname for Grace that 'clicked' -- Owens -- one which fits her demographic properly, and she suddenly gained a much richer family background that weaves in Quaker ideology and Welsh connections. I love it when things all dovetail together like that.

  2. And thank you again for reading! <3 (ooh, I like this 'seeing the same names' thing. I feel like we're hanging out.)

  3. I have been enjoying this tour. The interviews and posts are so interesting. Thanks for the discussion on piercings - I had no idea they went that far back. And I loved this line: "...everyone’s smart but no-one has their shit together..." That is so true about real life, too.

    1. Thank you so much! I'm really glad that you're enjoying the interviews and such; I had a great time writing them. The questions were fascinating!

      And yes -- a lot of the modern body piercings we're familiar with (navel, etc, lots of the female erotic ones) came out of the BDSM community in the 1960s and 1970s, but there are some that go quite far back in western culture. And of course, much, much further in other regions of the world! Though I don't think I could ever get away with giving a hero stretched earlobes in the Regency, even if he had somehow ended up in Kenya for a while. ;)