Please help us welcome author Kim Fielding to TNA today, on the anthology tour Once Upon a Time in the Weird West. Kim’s here today to talk about about her story, The Tale of August Hayling, and she’s also offering a giveaway, so be sure to check it out.
My story, “The Tale of August Hayling,” takes place during the California gold rush. I live about an hour from the heart of gold rush country, and the history of that time fascinates me. I’m lucky to be able to visit gold rush towns often, where a lot of that history remains visible.
However, evidence of one important piece of that history is hard to find: How was homosexuality treated in 1850s California? I’m going to focus specifically on gay men, both because that’s who’s in my story and because relatively few women participated in the gold rush. And I’m also to discuss concepts of sexuality among the Native Americans, because that’s a very different story.
It might be tempting to assume that society treated gay men harshly. After all, this was a long time ago. Rules about sexuality in general were relatively strict back then. But the reality is more complicated.
For one thing, our modern concept of homosexuality is just that—modern. While same-sex acts had been punished in Europe and the US for some time, people who engaged in them didn’t necessary receive the same kinds of labels they would today. To some extent, at least, same-sex behavior might be considered a consequence of certain circumstances, such as the shortage of members of the opposite sex.
Furthermore, ideas of acceptable behavior between men were different than as well. Look at vintage photos of men together—there are some good ones here—and you’ll see men posed together in ways that a modern eye interprets as romantic. Some of those relationships undoubtedly were romantic. But men could be physically close then without others assuming anything but platonic friendship. That leaves a lot of us today wondering about the specifics. Abe Lincoln, for example, shared a bed with more than one man over the course of his life. Did they do more than sleep?
And now consider what life was like in 1850s California for the people who’d recently immigrated there from elsewhere in the US or from Europe. Many of them came to the Wild West specifically to escape the strict social structures of their birthplaces. For some of those people, that undoubtedly included rules about whom they should have sex with.
And the other thing about the gold rush was that men considerably outnumbered women. You get a bunch of lonely young men together without a woman in sight, and traditional ideas about sex might very well be abandoned. Especially when those men were living together in close quarters without much to do in the way of entertainment. No Netflix and chill back then—just chill. There are several journalistic accounts of dances where some men dressed as women. Add in a little (or a lot) of alcohol, and any remaining inhibitions were likely to be shed.
So we can safely assume that a fair number of gold rush men had sex with other men, and some of those people had romantic relationships. But there’s little formal documentation of that. I’ve always thought that the guy on the far right in this painting is checking out his colleague’s ass, but I’m just guessing. In gold rush cemeteries in places like Columbia and Sonora, I’ve seen unrelated men who share a burial site, but I don’t know if they were friends, business partners, or lovers. There’s at least one well-documented case of a same-sex couple who were well-respected members of their community. Shortly after John Chaffee died, his partner, Jason Chamberlain, committed suicide. They’d been together over 50 years.
I’ve looked for academic research on this topic, but haven’t been able to find much at all. I hope historians give it more attention. In the meantime, we have speculation and our imaginations. And stories like August Hayling’s.
About Once Upon a Time in the Weird West
This isn’t the same old Wild West. The usual suspects are all present: cowboys, outlaws, and sheriffs. There’s plenty of dust, tumbleweeds, horses, and cattle on the range, but there are also magical gems, automatons, elementals, airships… even dinosaurs and genetically modified insects. Roaming among the buffalo and coyotes, you’ll encounter skinwalkers, mad engineers, mythical beings cloaked in darkness, and lovers who stay true to their oaths… even beyond the grave. On this frontier are those at the mercy of their own elaborate devices as well as men whose control of time and space provides a present-day vision of the West. There might even be a dragon hidden amongst the ghost towns and wagon trains.
If you like your Westerns with a splash of magic, a touch of steampunk, and plenty of passionate romance between men, these genre-bending tales will exceed expectations.
Hold on to your hats, cowboys and cowgirls. The West is about to get weird, and you’re in for a hell of a ride.
About The Tale of August Hayling
August Hayling went west following the discovery of gold in California. While most prospectors were hoping to strike it rich, August was more interested in a place big enough to let him get lost. Sitting alone in a saloon, he is approached by a peculiar man named Georgios Cappadocia, who offers August a fortune in gold if August will come along and help him fetch it. August soon learns that his strange new employer is engaged in some kind of ancient dispute. And when they arrive at their destination, both men will realize that not all treasures are golden—and sometimes destinies can be changed.
About the Author
Kim Fielding is the bestselling author of numerous m/m romance novels, novellas, and short stories. Like Kim herself, her work is eclectic, spanning genres such as contemporary, fantasy, paranormal, and historical. Her stories are set in alternate worlds, in 15th century Bosnia, in modern-day Oregon. Her heroes are hipster architect werewolves, housekeepers, maimed giants, and conflicted graduate students. They’re usually flawed, they often encounter terrible obstacles, but they always find love.
After having migrated back and forth across the western two-thirds of the United States, Kim calls the boring part of California home. She lives there with her husband, her two daughters, and her day job as a university professor, but escapes as often as possible via car, train, plane, or boat. This may explain why her characters often seem to be in transit as well. She dreams of traveling and writing full-time.
Follow the Tour
12/6 – Gay Book Reviews – Jana Denardo
12/7 – The Novel Approach – Kim Fielding
12/8 – Scattered Thoughts and Rogue Words – Venona Keyes
12/9 – Diverse Reader – Tali Spencer || Sinfully Gay MM Book Reviews – Jamie Fessenden
12/12 – Love Bytes – Lex Chase
12/13 – Boy Meets Boy – Astrid Amara
12/14 – Prism Book Alliance – Ginn Hale
12/15 – Alpha Book Club – C.S. Poe
12/16 – Joyfully Jay – Langley Hyde
12/19 – Divine Magazine – Nicole Kimberling
12/20 – My Fiction Nook – Shira Anthony || Open Skye – Andrew Q. Gordon