Pat Rice here, keeping up my jetsetting image by saying I’m just back from San Diego where I merrily partied with Mary Jo and Jo and the likes of Judith Merkle Riley (eat your hearts out, dear readers!) and several other honorary wenches and soon-to-be wenches. We had Fun in the Sun, watched protest marches beneath our hotel windows, and avoided the St. Patty’s Day madness of the Gaslamp District by hobnobbing in the Presidential Suite of the U.S. Grant Hotel. And now that I sound like an RT ad, I’ll return to your regularly scheduled, highly elevated, intellectually stimulating, blog of the day.
Call me slow, but in getting back into the current manuscript, I just discovered one of the reasons
historicals don’t connect as easily to the reader as before. Twenty or thirty years ago, an author could rely on the reader knowing that Paul Revere would warn the British, Wellington would win at Waterloo, and that the king and queen were beheaded in the French Revolution. We could use those events as elements of suspense that the reader understood as the British hero rides out with his troops, or the French soldier marches into battle, or the queen’s maid asks to stay with the royal family. We’d know disaster was about to strike, and we’d be on the edges of our seats, wondering how the author would save the world against all known odds.
Sadly, I don’t think we can expect the same of today’s readers. Does the school system have any idea
how much a lack of history deprives students? How can they understand historical or literary references in any book without the background of knowledge of the world as it was? How can they learn from the past if they don’t know the past? Why isn’t the sign of a good education as important as driving a Porsche?
Okay, that rant can only go downhill from there. (I always enjoyed Tommy Smothers when he digressed into entertaining rants, but I’m not nearly as humorous. Maybe I should learn to play a guitar. Or a yo-yo.)
So back to the original point—we can’t write historicals like we used to write. I just sent poor dumb Louis and Marie-Antoinette plodding in their cumbersome berlin into the French night, and now my fictional characters are safely riding into the sunset. How do I let the reader know that Louis and Marie aren’t going to be so lucky? Instead of the tension of
the reader knowing the villain will mercilessly track the royal berlin and circumstances will be their downfall and the king and queen will lose their heads within the year, I have to create a fictional counterpart to ride along and explain everything. It would have been far simpler if I’d just skipped the real world and real history and made up everything.
Which, of course, is what is happening in historical romance these days. What’s the point in including actual historical events if the majority of readers don’t have a clue as to how they have affected the world in the book as well as the world around them? The French Revolution is a fantastic example of
what happens when the rich suck the blood out of the poor until they’re nothing but dry husks, then start on the middle class. Maybe they hoped to create Russian serfs out of them. There’s another fascinating period I’ll probably never have the chance to write—Russian history. If American readers barely know American or English history, I’d have a devil of a job explaining Russian.
But I have this horrible urge to provide the education that our schools can’t. Which leads me to the Question of the Day—how much do you appreciate the actual history in a genre book? I know all our readers are well read. (Especially after reading some of the replies this past week. I didn’t dare mention my favorite reading was MAD magazine when I was young!) Most of you
know your history and are perfectly comfortable with historical fiction and nonfiction. Do you appreciate seeing real history in your romances? Or do you feel as if authors are “talking down” to you if we explain what you already know?
What about readers who aren’t familiar with history? Do you appreciate tidbits of information you didn’t know? Or would you rather authors just got on with the character drama and skipped the historical backdrop?
We’re so limited by word count these days that I hate to include bits that will bore people when I know I can add all sorts of exciting character development, but I relish the historical byplay of comparing what was to what is to what might be. And since this book is more fantasy than anything else I’ve written, I want to keep the reader fully grounded in the reality. Argh, I have to make choices….