#RomBkLove Dommes Day

[Edited to add: This whole post became somewhat irrelevant when the Day 30 changed from Dommes to Hidden Gems—which is another great topic, of course. I’ve been sorta busy with end of term stuff, so I missed the announcement on Twitter. But I am leaving this post up because why not? I hope you enjoy it, even if it is no longer tied to #RomBkLove.]

#RomBkLove-2018-prompts-Ana-Coqui

The #RomBkLove prompts in 2018 have been delicious, thanks to the creator and moderator Ana Coqui, and thanks to all those who suggested the theme ideas. I noticed a little pattern in this list, one I happen to love. Look at #2 and #30. A nice pairing, perhaps? I for one am having fun writing a male-submissive, hero-in-peril who falls under the sway of an emerging domme. Meet Ben and Allegra in the upcoming Sugar Moon.

Sugar-Moon-domme-Allegra-under-the-saya

I began writing Sugar Moon in August 2013, and it is still not out yet. Honestly, there is a lot about this book that makes it complicated—not least of which is the fact that Ben Potter has been a thoroughly unlikeable character so far in the series. No one wanted to see him redeemed, and yet I have spent five years trying to do exactly that. Yes, I may have some masochistic tendencies. There are also complications surrounding Ben’s history as an American soldier in Balangiga, Philippines. He tries to stop events from unfolding in a particularly disastrous way, but spoiler alert: he fails. Shit happens. And it turns him inside out. Enter Allegra.

Sugar Moon teaser for Sugar Sun steamy historical romance series by author Jennifer Hallock. Serious history. Serious sex. Happily ever after.

Trauma does not cause Ben to seek domination by a woman. He needed it before. Maybe he was born this way. The way his story twists and turns does have a point, though: it leads him to Allegra Alazas. She is sophisticated, erudite, and petite—and you should know that none of those things matter. She wants you to see the giant within.

Sugar Moon latest in Sugar Sun steamy historical romance series by author Jennifer Hallock. Serious history. Serious sex. Happily ever after.

Adding to the complications of this book is the fact that it is a historical, and my domme is a virgin who has been sheltered in a convent school, for goodness sake. Ben is barely more experienced than she is, and he has no idea what he needs or how to ask for it. These two are friends-to-lovers, and they must figure things out as they go—without a vocabulary and without anyone to direct them. In this way, it is really a subtle power exchange, with no full-fledged scenes. Elements of domination, maybe. Domination lite.

Sugar-Moon-teaser-Allegra-men-listen

Why write Ben this way? If he’s some virile soldier type, shouldn’t he be alpha? If you read Tamsen Parker’s Compass series—and I highly recommend you do!—you will see that sometimes the people who kick ass in daily life need to give up control in the bedroom. However, I should point out that Ben is not really alpha-in-the-streets and beta-in-the-sheets. He is a hodge-podge of both. He is complicated. But he seeks Allegra’s strength from the get-go. He loves her certainty, her intelligence, and her sass. He loves that only Allie would get sex advice from a human anatomy textbook:

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Look for Sugar Moon this fall 2018. I hope you love these two together as much as I do.

Ben Potter of the Ninth

A week ago, I re-introduced you to Allegra Alazas, the heroine of the upcoming Sugar Moon. She already has a fan club because she stole every scene she could in Under the Sugar Sun.

Her hero (or anti-hero?) is a different kettle of fish. Ben Potter is not someone you were supposed to like in the past book—and yet I always intended to give you his story because it needs to be told.

Almanzo-Wilder-as-Ben-Potter
Imagine Ben Potter as a little rougher-around-the-edges version of this photo of Almanzo Wilder.

Ben is loosely based on the real men who served in Company C of the Ninth U.S. Infantry. These men fought at San Juan Hill in Cuba during the Spanish-American War. Just as soon as they returned to their home barracks in upstate New York, they were shipped out again to the Philippines.

What had been meant as a sideshow the war against Spain became the first American imperial war overseas. In March 1899, only one month after tensions between Filipinos and Americans erupted in open combat, the Ninth was sent to reinforce the area around Manila. But they did not stay there long, either. After fighting in several battles that year, they were shipped to China to rescue to the American legation in Beijing (known back then as “Pekin”) during the Boxer War. They scaled the walls of the Forbidden City and camped in the palace grounds.

Ninth-Infantry-Forbidden-City-Boxer-War-China
The Ninth U.S. Infantry in the court of the Forbidden City. Image accessed from the Library of Congress.

One might question what the heck America was doing. A war against Spain fought in Cuba had blossomed into a new war in the Philippines that lent soldiers to fight yet another campaign in China. Talk about mission creep. Yikes. Progressives in the Republican Club of Massachusetts claimed in a 1900 leaflet that the end justified the means: “Isn’t Every American proud of the part that American soldiers bore in the relief of Pekin? But that would have been impossible if our flag had not been in the Philippines.”

Once the foreign powers—Europe, Japan, and America—consolidated their hold on mainland China, the Ninth was sent back to the Philippine-American War. Their vacation was the steamer trip to Manila. There, the battle-weary group was given the privilege (and bother) of serving as honor guard for newly-named civilian governor (and future president of the United States), William Howard Taft.

Two years into their overseas rotation, this company of grizzly veterans was sent to one of the roughest outposts in the islands: Balangiga, Samar. Tasked with closing the port to trade—thereby preventing weapon smuggling to the Philippine revolutionaries—Company C settled down to village garrison life.

These men may have been the worst possible choice for this task. By this point, they were unlikely to trust anyone. In addition, some soldiers were likely suffering from what we would now call Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. Finally, they were cut off from the rest of the world, without even mail call since they were not on the main steamer line. Private Patrick J. Dobbins wrote to his family:

One man in my company went crazy a week ago and escaped to the hills, probably to be killed and eaten by the natives. Another, who was sick unto death, committed suicide this morning at 6 o’clock.  His name is Schechterle and he enlisted at the same time I did in Boston. . . . A grave has been dug near our quarters, and a guard of eight men are over the grave. The body is being lowered into the earth. The flag is at half mast. Three volleys are fired, taps is sounded. It is his last call, ‘absent, but accounted for.’ He is better off. Many of us watch him as he is gently lowered with envious eyes.

Though the commanding officer of Company C, Captain Thomas Connell, was a West Point graduate (1894), he did not manage his garrison well. At first too permissive, he became stringent when he realized that his next promotion was on the line. He felt that the villagers were not obeying his commands to “clean up” the streets, so he ordered Company C to round up all the men and keep them prisoner in two tents on the square.

Yes, my character Ben will try to stop all of this from happening, but history is history. He will not be successful. A week later, the town—with help from guerrillas in the jungle—would ambush the company, killing 48 out of 74 Americans. This was real war with real consequences.

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The 1st Reserve Hospital in Manila (1900), similar to the field hospital in Basey, Samar, where Company C survivors would have been tended. Photo courtesy of the Philippine-American War Facebook group.

Obviously, my imaginary Ben Potter lived—or did he? For families like his in America, it would have been hard to know. Names in the real reports were spelled wrong. Numbers changed. It felt like even the Army did not know who had survived. When I found a real article in the Manila Times about a sister writing to a missing brother, I rewrote it in my mind to fit fiction:

Georgina search Ben Potter in Sugar Sun steamy historical romance series by author Jennifer Hallock. Serious history. Serious sex. Happily ever after.

This is a lot of backstory, to be sure. And it is only backstory, not the plot of my book. But I think it is critical history that Americans have forgotten and been doomed to repeat: the Philippines was the Vietnam or Iraq (or Syria?) of the Gilded Age.

Ben lives through these events as a very young man, and they will haunt him for years. Love may not be a cure for combat trauma, but it can encourage Ben to face his past—especially when that past threatens his future with an amazing woman. (Want to read some teasers? There are some here. Enjoy!)

Introducing Allegra Alazas

Do you ever make imaginary friends with a character from a book? I do all the time. These are often characters I have made up in my own mind—and yet I still need to get to get acquainted with them from scratch like they’re strangers. If I have done my job right, by the time the book is ready to print, the hero and heroine are my family. I love them.

Sometimes a character does not wait for her own book. She steals the show from the first moment she is introduced. Such a character is Allegra Alazas, the fiercely loyal cousin of Javier Altarejos, and the woman who plays his matchmaker in Under the Sugar Sun.

Escolta Manila Philippines Sugar Sun steamy historical romance series Jennifer Hallock author. Serious history. Serious sex. Happily ever after.

Sugar Sun‘s heroine Georgina Potter first meets Allegra in a store on the Escolta, in Manila. As she tells it:

Señorita Allegra was perfectly happy to keep the conversation going all on her own, just as she had done for the past half hour. They had met by chance at a dry goods store, and Georgie had not been able to shake the woman since. Allegra could not believe that any American would walk the Escolta without shopping, so Georgie now found herself unfolding a delicate slip of lace, pretending to consider it despite its prohibitive price. Even though Georgie was supposed to be getting married soon, she did not feel sentimental enough about the occasion to plunge into debt over it. This treasure was not for her.

Allegra kept talking. “I have to sew my flowers on dresses now, though Hermana Teresa will jump off the Puente de España before she believes it. Yesterday she says I will fail domestic labors class. Fail! So I say it is okay—one day I will hire her as my costurera. Do you hear nuns curse before? Very quiet, but they do.”

No doubt nuns cursed around this young woman a lot, Georgie thought. Allegra looked demure but was really quite untamed. Black, roguish eyes set off her fair, delicate skin. Her pink lips were small but curvy, as exaggerated as the outlandish words that came from them.

Allegra inspiration for Sugar Moon by Jennifer Hallock author of Sugar Sun steamy historical romance series. History ever after.

She sounds like fun, doesn’t she? Allegra—or Allie, as she will soon be known—was inspired by the lantern slide photo above. True story. It was the look on this woman’s face that won me over. I thought her story had to be written.

Sugar Moon teaser for Sugar Sun steamy historical romance series by author Jennifer Hallock. Serious history. Serious sex. Happily ever after.
Want more Sugar Moon teasers? I could not keep myself from posting these.

If I had to cast a movie version of Sugar Moon (and I am open to offers), I would love to see Maine Mendoza in the role:

You see the resemblance, don’t you? It is all about the attitude.

Well, I’d better get back to it, or else you will never get to read Allie’s story. I had to do a massive rewrite this past winter, and I’m about 40% through the Big Edit now. There are some complicating factors that make this book tough. The history is real, and I do not want to skim over that fact. (As author Elizabeth Kingston pointed out recently, colonialism needs to be critically examined, even in romance. Actually, especially in romance. I have tried to do this, and I will keep trying—which to me means not ignoring the difficult stuff.) Also, Ben Potter has to be carefully transformed into hero material; he was not likable in the previous book. But he will be, I promise. Barring major problems, I am gunning for a September release. Fingers crossed.

NaNoWriMo to finish Sugar Moon part of the Sugar Sun steamy historical romance series. Serious history. Serious sex. Happily ever after.

Baseball teaser from Sugar Moon

In the Sugar Sun series, I have attempted to combine the authenticism of well-researched historical fiction with the emotional payoff (the feels) of romance. The more tragic the history in the book, the more important it is to lighten the mood when I can. Music cannot be made with only one note, nor even one movement. A really good read should be like hearing a whole symphony.

Ben Potter’s past is pretty dark: opium addiction, combat trauma, and more. So he seeks out the light: the capable but audacious school teacher, Allegra Alazas. And he will have to win her heart in the light—the sunlight, to be exact. It will be out on the baseball field where Ben wins Allie’s hand.

(Yes, I am not only taking on historical romance and historical fiction, but I am throwing in some historical sports romance, too. What bang for your reading buck!)

baseball colonial sport by Jennifer Hallock author of the Sugar Sun steamy historical romance series. Serious history. Serious sex. Happily ever after.
Baseball was a perfect metaphor for American colonial rule. Find out more.

The Americans brought baseball to the Philippines as a part of their educational system. The sport caught on. It even found its way into courtship rituals—feats of valor on the baseball field could replace them on the battlefield. Whereas medieval knights used to win jousts to earn the heart of a lady, now you just needed a good hit. According to sportswriter Ernie Harwell, “Americans, acting as muscle-bound cupids, often played simple grounders and easy outs into home runs so their Filipino friends could escape bachelorhood” (quoted in Elias 45).

history baseball Philippines for Jennifer Hallock author of Sugar Sun steamy historical romance series. Serious history. Serious sex. Happily ever after.
A Benguet Igorot boys baseball team, as photographed by Philippine Commissioner Dean C. Worcester.

Plot bunny! Keep in mind that Allie is an exceptional young woman, and she will not sell herself short. She will not require one run, but eight. And Ben won’t accept any help from the defense; he is going to do this the hard way. Hold onto your hats, folks!

Baseball Philippines sports romance steamy historical romance Sugar Sun series by author Jennifer Hallock. History ever after.

Negligées in the Morning: Army Life in 1901

I just revised my Sugar Moon flashback scenes from Balangiga, a horrible incident that Ben Potter barely survived. While I was doing that, I went down a teensy-weensy research rabbit hole. Again.

I wanted to know what a typical morning looked like in the Army in 1901. That’s sort of tough because the Spanish-American War and Philippine-American War were not written about nearly as much as, for example, the Civil War or the Great War. But Google Books and the Rural New Yorker to the rescue! I found out from the (incompletely excerpted) article below that there was an awful lot of bugling:

Army Balangiga Samar Ninth Infantry survivor in war of Philippines and America in Gilded Age by Jennifer Hallock author of Sugar Sun steamy historical romance series. History ever after.

If you have gone to summer camp, you know what reveille sounds like:

Army Balangiga Samar Ninth Infantry survivor in war of Philippines and America in Gilded Age by Jennifer Hallock author of Sugar Sun steamy historical romance series. History ever after.

What about the others? The twenty-first century U.S. Army came to the rescue here. The day of a soldier has not changed much in 120 years, it seems.

Here is the tune to assemble for roll call:

Army Balangiga Samar Ninth Infantry survivor in war of Philippines and America in Gilded Age by Jennifer Hallock author of Sugar Sun steamy historical romance series. History ever after.

After attendance is taken, soldiers were led through basic calisthenics. What did that look like in 1901? Thanks to the Manual of Physical Drill by the U.S. Army (1900), I know it went something like this:

Army Balangiga Samar Ninth Infantry survivor in war of Philippines and America in Gilded Age by Jennifer Hallock author of Sugar Sun steamy historical romance series. History ever after.

I find it fascinating that the manual states to: “Never work the men to the point of exhaustion.” I think my active duty and veteran friends would laugh heartily at that one. And I think we all would find something to be desired in the instructions for how to dress for exercise:

Army Balangiga Samar Ninth Infantry survivor in war of Philippines and America in Gilded Age by Jennifer Hallock author of Sugar Sun steamy historical romance series. History ever after.

Negligée? I have all sorts of images in my head there. All. Sorts.

And I do not think any of us are going to exchange our moisture-wicking nylon for flannel. Egad.

After the exercises were over, the mess call would be blown:

Army Balangiga Samar Ninth Infantry survivor in war of Philippines and America in Gilded Age by Jennifer Hallock author of Sugar Sun steamy historical romance series. History ever after.

What happened after that? Well, you will have to wait for Sugar Moon to find out! (Or head on over to my Balangiga page for some serious spoilers. Hint: It doesn’t go well.)