No Way Out by
an MM historical romance
It’s April of 1816 in Another England.
And Jeremy—a whore from the Dock—is living in a guest bedroom at the London home of the (in)famous Iron Marquess, with over fifteen days missing from his life.
For someone who remembers everything from his third birthday on, it’s unnerving not to know. Fine, fourteen days for the coma and the infection delirium. But those first thirty-six hours. Do they explain how he got hurt, how he got to Ireton House, and why his lordship’s mountain-sized valet is taking care of him? Or why his ironness looks at him with nothing iron at all in his eyes?
Jeremy and the Iron Marquess both have dark secrets. Forced engagements, an inheritance, a scheme to clap Jeremy in Bedlam, the revelation of the missing hours, a problem with plumage, some numbered accounts, and a long sea voyage, all seem to mean there’s no way out of the snares surrounding them. Or is the old saying true: where there’s a waltz, there’s a way?
All royalties will go to a local LGBT organization.
Eric is giving away two backlist eBooks (ePub or mobi) to one luck winner.
6 April 1816
Ireton House, London
The voice was back.
Inside my head.
Still I swiveled, twisting to look behind, knowing I would see what I always see when the words are said—nothing. The unpainted, scuffed wooden floor was empty. The door to second story elegance had not creaked since we passed through, shutting it behind us, moments ago. The stairs to lesser third-story elegance and fourth story no elegance at all were both bare of bodies who might whisper words only I could hear.
I turned forward again, teetered, and reaching out, slapped my palms flat against the walls of the narrow servants’ stairs. Pressing hard, I tilted back, but my socked foot slipped on the slick wooden edge. When I landed, the floor made known its displeasure with a sharp splinter through the rope-belted loose trousers, ill-fitting smalls, and into my bum. I yelped.
The cold voice of Thomas, the senior footman, rose up the stairwell from the landing below. “His lordship is waiting.”
I shifted my weight to my left hip, and rolled to my knees, giving him a fine view of my bottom if he was watching, which was by now instinctive. I made a point of lifting my left leg with great care, and with equal care placing my foot on the floor, again in case he was watching. A right foot repeat and then some clearly awkward struggling to get myself as upright on the landing as I could—although a boy with a twisted spine and a twisted leg can never be truly upright—followed by a shuffle-step away from the edge. I suppressed the temptation to rub my right arse cheek. Without turning around I called down, “Well, bugger ‘is bleedin’ lordship! Me feet ‘urt ‘n me arse ‘as been ‘urt, too.”
My feet didn’t hurt much any more. Though bandaged still, and covered with the thick wool stockings sagging around my ankles, they had almost healed. But the pretense might keep me here, with a comfortable bed, and good food, for just a while longer. I grinned a small, wicked grin to myself, and wiped it away as I turned to face the stairs. “Right, then. Shall I drop me britches, turn ‘n bend and you can see what’s stickin’ in me bum, ‘n maybe come up ‘n pull it out?”
It was amazing how much disdain could be contained in stare and stance. Thomas even managed to look down his nose while looking up the stairs.
“Orright, orright. Jus’ wait a bleedin’ minute. ‘n you might want to close yer eyes so’s y’don’t see somethin’ what might ‘orrify you, just in case me grip slips, ‘cause I ain’t goin’ nowhere with somethin’ stickin’ in me arse.”
My hands were on the knot in the rope, and I grinned broadly when the footman closed his eyes, with a stern “Be quick about it then, boy.”
I untied the knot, loosening the waistband since whoever supplied the trousers was much thicker around the middle than me, using my left hand to hold the pants up. I reached behind, and working my right hand into my smalls and found the painful little bugger. With thumb and forefinger I wiggled it free, brought my hand round to the front, and looked at the bloody, bloody thing. I shouldn’t have, but I did. I lifted the three-quarter-inch sliver before my face. “Oi! Is this a dagger wot I see before me?”
Bloody hell. Bloody, bloody, bloodyhell. Maybe Thomas wouldn’t.... Well, bloodyhell all over again, he did. The footman was looking at me now, his eyes wide, his mouth open to say something, and then he slowly shut it.
It would only make it worse if I tried to cobble together an explanation of why, or how a sixteen-year-old street boy (the age I gave) could paraphrase The Scottish Play. I shut my own mouth, dropped the splinter, retied the knot, and began descending the stairs with care, one thumping step at a time. I braced one hand against the wall—his lordship did not believe in hand rails for his servants—in case of another slip. The footman waited until I was almost at the landing before turning away. Watching my downward struggle, he was unconcerned about the possibility of another fall, his expression informing me if I fell I was on my own. I followed in silence as we went through the halls of the first floor to the front of the house.
Ah, his lordship’s library. I stared at the door.
I’d been in there, just the once, when I shouldn’t have been. But then, I shouldn’t have been in the house in the first place, but I was, though I didn’t know why. Or how I came to be here. Both were part of what was missing. I could remember every...bloody...thingin my life up to the night before...whatever...happened. Remember the Dock on the 12th, the clock in my head saying it was ten thirty at night when I finished the last man. I remember the glint of the shilling as it spun through the air, making me get off my knees, bend and stretch to reach it in the muck. The feel of the metal between my fingertips as I picked it up. Then the twist and roll away, my back taking the brunt of the kick meant for my belly. The man was one of those who, once done, and eager to be tucked and buttoned away, feels guilty and lashes out at the one responsible for his sin. I remember his silhouette as I got to my feet, his realizing how much taller I was, and how the silhouette turned and hurried away.
Then nothing more until I woke up too damned many days later in a bloody nobleman’s house, in sobbing agony, weak, my feet, head and thigh throbbing with pain.
How long does it take you to write the first draft?
What “first” draft?
I am the only writer I’ve heard of, who doesn’t write multiple versions of a book before finalizing one, and publishing it. I belong to a “writers of gay fiction” group (so phrased as to not suggest the writers are all themselves gay) and other authors discuss their first and second and third drafts, feedback from beta readers which lead to sometimes minor, sometimes major revisions, copy editing, line editing, and then...it’s done.
I don’t put “FIN” at the end of a book until I’m ready to send it off to AMZ and elsewhere...um, assuming the cover is done at that point, and I’m now trying to get covers done waaaaay in advance of book completion.
I edit, revise, rewrite, as I go. I don’t write linearly. For example, no way out has 42 chapters. The last four chapters to be done were 14, 26, 31 and 32, and not in that order. The two done immediately before those were 30 and 18.
Suppose I decide I’m going to work on chapter 14. As I write I realize something I just said is probably inconsistent with X. So I go find X, and either rewrite X to fit with 14 because the latter is better, or return to 14 and make it consistent.
Or before I get started on 14, I scroll through the table of contents with all those links in place and decide to re-read 27 first. (I enjoy re-reading what I’ve written and what I’m proud of. So sue me. *s*) And I find things to tweak, whether words and phrases, sentences, paragraphs, typos, or most of all: “Out, damned Oxford, out I say!” Or upon occasion, “In, damned Oxford, in.”
When all the chapters are done I go through for technical stuff, like getting rid of excess use of some words (“that” and “just” spring to mind) and hunting for typos. Then a final slow read-through, correcting as I go, and...enough is enough. FIN gets typed.
As for the length of time, I work on multiple projects contemporaneously, so between other projects and the vagaries of real life it could be a year, and often enough, much longer, between first typing and FIN.
What cultural value do you see in storytelling?
No teaching, no lessons, no learning, just getting away.
Yes, there are works of fiction which can, intentionally or not, teach you something about...whatever. Of course you can learn from books, expand your proverbial horizons, soothe your soul (if you believe in them), and experience many other things of value besides the sheer joy of reading.
I read for escape. I have for seventy years. If any of the above things happened by chance, then so be it. But I mostly read to get away from the real world, immerse myself in a temporary reality I can believe in, and finish with a happy ending, and a warm heart and a silly smile.
Thanks to all the many writers over all those years who did just that for me.
What is your next project?
When asked this about a month ago, in a blog tour interview for Of Princes False and True, I responded with what was true at the time, mentioning this book, and the two fairy tale novels on track for 2019: 3 Boars & A Wolf Walk Into a Bar and The Truth About Them Damn Goats. Both of the latter two are well under way. I didn’t expect, then, to get sidetracked into ideas about how to “MM-ize” other fairy tales.
The dadblamed folks at QueerSciFi (dot com) recently asked what fairy tales folks would like to see in a gay version. Then the dadblamed writers and readers dadblamed responded. The next day, when I was supposed to be working on finalizing no way out, I wound up writing the first thousand words for the MM version of The Tinderbox.
Plus some notes about retelling East of the Sun, West of the Moon, The King of the Golden River, Roswall and Lillian, The Goose Girl, The Lord of Lorn and the False Steward, and The Story of Gray-Steel. The themes of Roswall, Goose and Lorn are very similar, so maybe it can only be one of them.
I’ve sort of told myself these are much shorter projects and they could just be worked in while focusing on the next two novels. On the other hand, as a friend so accurately said, “A Post-It note from Eric is 8.5 x 11.” *sigh* The Tinderbox now stands at 13K(ish), starring Charlie, our hero soldier, and Prince Caspian the Charming, who needs to be rescued from a copper cauldron.
What’s your wake-up routine?
At precisely five a.m., perhaps six if they’re feeling gracious and having some temporary regard for how late I stayed up before going to bed, the twenty-two pound Peke will crawl on my chest and lick my nose. With amazing synchronicity, the seventy-five pound Australian shepherd mix will come to the side of my very low bed and stick his cold nose in my face, with an occasional lick as well. The hundred-pound Rottweiler mix will get up next to me and give me the kind of stare you can just feel, eyes closed and all.
Sometimes a sort-of-firm, “No. Everybody lay down,” will act as a doggie snooze alarm, but it fails more often than not. We then troop downstairs and out the back door (okay, I’m not part of the latter trooping), and when they come back in they all get their morning meds, and treats. (Peke and Aussie are elderly, Rottweiler is younger, all foundlings, all with health issues.)
Once I’m out of the bed I’m fully awake, so dog-minding ended, I go to my office, fire up the computer, start checking Gmail for writing, and regular email for life and Typing For Dollars, and a quick look at the news on MSN to get the depressing realities out of the way early. Then TFD, or if there’s nothing urgent, I sneak in an hour or so of writing.
Eric is a Midwesterner, and as Lady Glenhaven might say, “His first sea voyage was with Noah.” He started reading at five with one of the Andrew Lang books (he thinks it was The Blue Fairy Book) and has been a science fiction/fantasy addict ever since. Most of his writing is in those (MM) genres.
The exceptions are his Another England (alternate history) series: The Rake, The Rogue and the Roué(Regency novel), Mr. Felcher’s Grand Emporium, or, The Adventures of a Pair of Spares in the Fine Art of Gentlemanly Portraiture(Victorian), with no way out(Regency) coming out a month after Of Princes.
Two more fairy tales are in progress: 3 Boars & A Wolf Walk Into A Bar(Eric is sure you can figure this one out), and The Truth About Them Damn Goats(of the gruff variety).
Now all he has to do is find the time to write the incomplete stuff! (The real world can be a real pain!)
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