I can’t say that I don’t want to write contemporaries since I have, but historicals are my main love. I researched contemporary subjects for the contemporaries, but researching a town or a career isn’t quite the same as digging into the culture and politics of two hundred years ago. I can put my 1830 people on the cutting edge of industry and inventions and know those industries and inventions won’t be outdated tomorrow, they’ll always be fixed in 1830. But if I write, as I have, about a techie in the 21st century who uses the latest greatest device, a thumb drive—by the next year, that book is completely outdated. And man, cell phones really ruin suspense!
And then, of course, there’s the sex thing. When I first started writing, romance of the contemporary category variety was relatively “clean.” But historical romance broke onto the lists with lush, exotic scenes fraught with tension, because historically sex was taboo outside of marriage. Creating plots where I could bring my disparate characters together in bed made writing exciting. These days, all romance Must Have Sex, and it’s become a giant yawn, but I still have the traditional fall back that the characters can’t have sex unless they’re married or under exceptional circumstances. Having that ax hanging over the characters’ heads is much more interesting to me than having them fall in bed at first sight.
This one is easy–I LIKE writing historicals. <G> I like history–my sophomore year of college, I sat in on an English history class that met Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday at 8:00 am just because the subject interested me. (To be fair, the professor was a great storyteller which made it fun, but really—8:00 am on Saturdays? And not even taking the course for credit? In retrospect, I impress myself. <G>)
Historical stories have a mythic element that's hard to achieve in contemporary stories. Characters can be larger than life and even over the top–because it's fun. <G> Ditto outrageous plot twists as long as they can be made plausible, if not likely.
History is also a good lens for discussing contemporary issues at a safe distance. Plus, you can pick a time period or historical situation that will highlight the themes you choose to emphasize. History can also provide conflicts that wouldn't make sense in modern times. All that, plus fun clothing!
Really, what's not to like?
Mary Jo, admitting that she actually has written three contemporaries.
I've written one contemporary — a romantic comedy and I would like to write more one day. But I chose historicals—and specifically Regency-era historicals—for several reasons. I grew up reading and rereading Georgette Heyer, so when I realized there was a market for new Regency-era stories, it felt like I’d come home. Writing stories set during that period of history, I can play in glamorous ballrooms, or go to war (Gallant Waif). I can be part of the industrial revolution (The Perfect Waltz) or sail the seas as part of the British Empire (An Honorable Thief). I can explore Egypt (To Catch a Bride), visit post-war Spain (Bride By Mistake) or go on the Grand Tour (Tallie's Knight.)
There were such contrasts in wealth and opportunities — rags to riches and back again — and I love to show people who've fallen through the cracks in society, and somehow get themselves back, finding love and happiness along the way. History is such a fabulous adventure playground, and I feel I've barely scratched the surface.
Even as a child, I was fascinated by history. I loved reading about knights in armor, Colonial America, pirates sailing the Spanish Main . . . I think one of the things that appealed to me about the past was that it sparked my imagination in a way that the present didn’t. It offered so many worlds for limitless exploration.
I fell under the spell of Regency England when I read Austen and Heyer, and it just struck a chord. I knew that was what I wanted to write. I love the era because it was such a fabulously interesting time and place—it was a world aswirl in silks, seduction and the intrigue of the
Napoleonic Wars. Radical new ideas were clashing with the conventional thinking of the past, and as a result, people were challenging and changing the fundamentals of their society. In so many ways, it was the birth of the modern world, and for me, its challenges, its characters and its conflicts have such relevance to our own times. I love the language, the glamor, the heady mix of exotic and familiar, the contrast of formal ballrooms and swashbuckling adventure. It’s a perfect era in which to create heroines and heroes who question convention and explore their own inner doubts and fears as they seek to define their own place in the world. Not to mention there’s something about a man in breeches and boots . . .)
That said, I’m toying with some contemporary ideas, but I still haven’t found the right voice.
I wrote history academically years before I wrote historical fiction, although as a kid I dabbled in writing a little historical fiction on the side (or imagined I was!). I've always preferred historical fiction, which for me may have started with the fairy tales that I loved above all. It was a quick leap from fairy tales to reading whatever historically-set story I could find, such as Little Women and The Witch of Blackbird Pond. As an adult reader, I came a little late to historical romance. I was in graduate school studying medieval art and reading medieval poetry and romans before I read medieval romance, but I was quickly hooked—here were the great fairy tales of my childhood in a new incarnation. Within a few years, I tried my hand at writing fiction while I was still writing scholarly papers.
Historical fiction has a magical way of opening doors to other realms, and I am always happier in some other century, especially some century in Scotland. What captures my imagination and keeps me in historical fiction is not just a deep love and curiosity about history, but the mythic and archetypal connection to the fairy tales I adored as a child, and the history, artworks, myths and legends I studied in grad school. History and fairy tales are filled with heroes and heroines, with romance and danger and a sense of magic. I'm content there, with much to explore yet in my own writing. I haven't written contemporary settings, but I do love to read them: a heroine who wears jeans and eats pizza is—really—just a plain relief to read about sometimes. Someday, I admit, I'd like to play with writing a contemporary setting—particularly one with a historical spin!
These days I am fortunate that I combine both in my dual time or time-slip novels, so I get the best of both worlds. For years I was a history girl; studying, writing and reading history was my favourite pastime from childhood, so it felt natural to write historical romance rather than contemporary romance. Besides, I had tried writing contemporary fiction a few times and failed spectacularly. There are a couple of manuscripts still under the bed to prove it.
So when it came to combining a contemporary and a historical strand—or two—in my time-slip books, I was naturally apprehensive. Would I be able to make the present come alive in the same way that I hope I do with my historical novels? It felt very difficult to portray the modern world; oddly more difficult than creating a vivid world of the past. Over the last few years, though, I have come to enjoy it. I like observing modern language and modern dialogue and contrasting it with the historical. I particularly enjoy looking for the traces of history that still exist in the present—the old place names, buildings that have stood for hundreds of years, folklore and legends that have been passed down for generations. Historical and contemporary lives are not as far apart as they sometimes seem and I am so lucky to be able to combine both in my writing.
How about you? Do you prefer reading historicals or contemporaries—and why?