Since my latest contemporary SWEET HOME CAROLINA, hit the stands while I was on vacation, I’ve been asked to write about the differences in writing contemporary and historical romance. I’m not entirely certain anyone has an interest in the topic, but I thought I ought to at least think about it for about five seconds.
The first thing that jumps out, of course, is the research. I have books stacked all around my desk and lined up on bookshelves nearby ready to be grabbed while I’m writing my historicals. Admittedly, I still have to do a lot of Googling since I can’t think of everything while ordering research books, and some tiny details just seem simpler to look up on the internet (the differences between porpoise and dolphin, anyone?).
The contemporaries are another story entirely because they’re well…contemporary. Anything that’s happening right now isn’t likely to be in a research book written two years ago and published last year. Daunting, how things change so rapidly! I tend to write about areas in which I live, so researching setting is fun, and current events are in the local newspaper that I read every day. In SWEET HOME CAROLINA, I picked up on the scenario of all the cotton mills and manufacturers in the Carolinas closing down because foreign exports made it impossible to keep prices down. Cotton has been a way of life in the south since the beginning of this country, and the industry and its lifestyle is disappearing faster than wig and hat makers. I can’t resist my historical footnotes, sorry!
The most difficult part about writing contemporaries is coming up with genuine conflicts without commiting major crimes. <G> In historicals, we can easily set up marriages of convenience for poor orphaned or widowed heroines or dastardly distant relatives with the power to fling children into the streets. And a lady who has lost her reputation is scarcely a welcome candidate for marriage to a highly respectable duke. Translating these conflicts into contemporary romance might make for a hilarious story, but not a very realistic one. How many conflicts can you set up in today’s world that can’t be resolved by law or communication? Throw this heroine out of her house, will you? My lawyer will see about that! My reputation isn’t good enough for you? Well let me just Google up your background! Take that, you cad.
So, in SWEET HOME CAROLINA, I had to come up with a jetsetting foreign prince (well, he’s from Europe and he’s rich) who is only in the Carolinas to make some money and get the heck back to his palace. At least contemporary lords can work for a living! And then I matched him up with a homebody whose only goal is to support her children after a nasty divorce and buy a house near her family, who live in the backwoods of nowhere. True modern day conflicts tend to revolve around home, family, and work, unless I want to step into crime drama.
Language is another biggy. Contemplate, if you will, the current versions of the word CAD. Just Google images and see what you get. When I first started writing historicals, my heavy duty background in English literature allowed me to write the kind of circular, descriptive sentences that were popular in the early days of historical romance. Using sentences like “The rapscallion raced off with her purse of gold coins, only to be tripped by the gold-knobbed walking stick of Lord Hero” sounded historical. Even translating that sentence into contemporary English causes laughter. How does one translate rapscallion? Rogue and knave come to mind, but they’re certainly not modern! We just about have to use foul language to even come close to the same meaning in modern English. In some ways, contemporary language is extremely limited compared to say, Regency. But then, we have all the NEW words that have been added like bytes and nanoseconds and Blackberries and whatnot that I sometimes have to look up before using. I know many authors litter their contemporaries with the current stock of curse words, but after about the fifth "m..f..er" or its counterparts, those words tend to lose their impact, and I just get annoyed. I want the modern equivalent of rapscallion!
So, are there any contemporary romance readers here today? How do you feel about modern language and conflicts compared to historical ones? What kind of drama would you prefer to see in a contemporary that can’t be done in a historical, or vice versa?
And by the way, the snowstorm finally hit the midwest and apparently blanked out my mind, so sorry for posting so late today!