Happy birthday to us! Happy birthday to us! Happy fourth birthday to the Wenches, happy birthday to us!
Hi, this is Jo, compiling our special anniversary blog with four helpers. Each of the Wenches has answered the question, "Why historicals?" We hope you'll enjoy the posts, and then answer the question in your own way.
There's a special anniversary gift, of course — a mini-shopping spree at a great internet bookstore called The Book Depository. What's particularly great about this one? It ships free world wide. We do have Wench readers all around the world, and this way the prize is of use to any of you. To fit with our 4th anniversary, the prize is $40 US, which translates into about 28 British pounds. Why do I mention that? Because the main Book Depository site is in the UK, though there is one in the US. American readers might find books at the British site not readily available in the States.
Click here to visit them now.
What do you have to do to win? The details are at the end.
Now on the the Wenches' answers to the question, "Why historicals?"
Susan King: For me, reading fairy tales and then historical fiction as a kid went hand in hand, and then years spent studying history at a graduate level heightened my fascination for history. So writing historicals, when I began writing fiction, seemed like a natural choice.
Something that greatly appeals to me in historicals is the way a good historical can have a rich world-building aspect — we can totally immerse, through that story, in a different time and place and discover new things that don't exist in our own world. And a good historical, for me, always has a hint (or more!) of that fairy tale essence, of romance and adventure in a far away time and place — and yet characters, settings, situations and events might be actual.
As fiction writers, we're part of a long, long tradition of storytellers and bards who told tales by the fireside–and those old stories were often historicals!
Anne Gracie: Why historicals? I blame Georgette Heyer. She caught me young (11 years old) and I was hooked for life. The book was These Old Shades, and it plunged me into an exciting new world and swept me way on the adventures of Léon, bought for a few coins for the mysterious purposes of His Grace of Avon, turned into Léonie and taught to be a girl again, and then— well, you need to read it. I'm not sure I even noticed it was a historical — for me, the characters and the story were what counted, and the historical setting was just their world, as Mowgli lived in his world and Anne of Green Gables hers.
I don't understand people who love paranormals but say they don't like historicals because of "all that history" — as if a historical novel is some kind of history textbook. And I don't understand those who
only want to read about men and women of their own nationality, time and country. Sure, it's fun, but I love to escape to other places, other worlds, other times.
I read all kinds of fiction; fantasy, adventure, mystery, sci-fi and historicals of all kinds but when it came to writing a romance, Heyer had entwined the Regency era and romance firmly in my mind. I love everything about the Regency era; high society —glamor, intrigue and frivolity, the dark undertow of poverty, the tragedy and heroism of war, the huge changes wrought by the industrial revolution, the growth of the British Empire and more. It's such a rich and varied garden to browse in.
It's perfect for me, because I love to explore the people who fall through the cracks of change — heroines cast adrift by circumstance, heroes who've returned changed by war, or who are the product of broken or dysfunctional families. And speaking of historical heroes… sigh… what's not to love about larger-than- life, unreconstructed men, raised (they think) to rule?
When I started writing romance, I connected with a small bunch of would-be writers who seemed to know everything –all the publishers, the agents, the rules of writing etc. To my dismay they said, "Don't
you know the historical is dead? All the historical authors are leaving. If you want to get published, you'll have to write contemporary." But I loved my Regency-era story so I persevered with it, and to my surprise and delight I sold it. Apparently the publisher didn't know the Historical Was Dead — and I wasn't going to tell them. That was ten years ago, but last year I met a very talented new writer who told me worriedly that she'd just been told the Historical was Dead and she ought to be writing paranormals… Heh heh.
As far as I'm concerned, as long as people write fabulous and original stories, the historical will never die. It's a constantly evolving subgenre and every year wonderful new writers emerge who take a rich, well mined vein of history and create something fresh, bright and new-minted from it. And congratulations to the Original Wenches who've done much to ensure the historical will never die.
Cara Elliott: "How do I love thee? Let me count the ways . . . "
My love affair with the genre started when I was a child. I remember the wonderment of reading of T.H. White's The Once And Future King, a book on King Arthur childhood and his schooling with Merlin (shades of Harry Potter) It was sheer magic! Then it was on to swashbuckling adventure like The Three Musketeers, Ivanhoe, and Horatio Hornblower. And as I got a little older, Pride and Prejudice and Jane Eyre. The list could, of course, go on ad infinitum, but I shall simply say that I was an avid reader long before I was a writer.
When I read, like to be transported into a different world, and a historical setting adds that additional layer of "fantasy" — and I mean that in every good sense of the word! I want to savor the sights and sounds and texture of the imagination . . . and somehow, having the story take place in another era helps me slide out of the mundane confines of my daily routine and into that special place. If I learn a little something about a facet of real history, be it painting or smuggling or what a Regency phaeton and postboy look like, well, that only adds to the enjoyment.
Now, don't get me wrong, I love a good contemporary story, too. But there is an element of romance to windswept castles and candlelit ballrooms, aswirl in silks and satins, that make my heart go pitter-patter.
Now, why do I write historicals? For exactly the same reasons. Leaving the present for the past seems to let my mind to explore stories and characters with more freedom. Maybe it's because even with all the research we do-the studying of fashion and furnishings, the walking through historic houses and gardens, the tasting of orgeat and spotted dick-we have to create what life felt like, smelled like and sounded like in our own heads.
Every so often, a big debate arises in publishing circles on whether historicals are dead. Dead? Ha! A look in any bookstore will show that they are clearly alive and thriving. And I believe that won't change because they have an appeal that is truly timeless.
Pat Rice: I was one of those irritating children who always asked Why? Of course, at that age, my concerns were more of the nature of Why do I have to wear dresses and not pants like the boys? But I quickly branched out to Why did the Greeks and Romans have so many gods and Why are they rioting in Alabama and after being ignored enough, I eventually learned to look up the answers. That's when I learned that you can't understand today or tomorrow unless you understand yesterday. The old adage that history is doomed to repeat itself until we learn from it is painfully true, so I set out to learn from our ancestors.
With that kind of fascination with history, writing historical romance was a given. It's the people and cultures and society of prior periods that interest me more than battles and dates. Romance allows me to explore the past through the eyes of my characters, play with the same issues we have today” Does he love me? How will I feed my children?” and show how society changes from the perspective of my characters.
And besides writing about history, I get to write about my other passion ”how love changes everything." All is good! Happy Anniversary, Wenches!
Mary Jo Putney. Why historicals? Why oxygen? I seem to have needed both my whole life
Maybe it's genetic. My father was a history buff, with a particular interest in the American Civil War. As a boy, he heard stories from his grandfather, who served with the Union at Gettysburg. As kids, we regularly visited places like Fort Ticonderoga (shown below.) I was the only of my father's offspring who was happy to read the historical novels he offered, so I cut my teeth on Bruce Lancaster and Kenneth Roberts. (Georgette Heyer, Norah Lofts, and Dorothy Dunnett came later.)
As a reader, I love being taken to other worlds, which covers both historical novels and my lifelong love of science fiction and fantasy. Of course, I read just about everything, but a good historical novel was a particular delight. Our tastes shape our lives, so it's not surprising that I ended up with a degree in 18th century British Literature, nor that I engineered an opportunity to live in Oxford, England for two years. There it is, in misty grandeur. Click on the picture to enlarge.
With all that background, it's hardly surprising that when I mastered word processing and decided to see if I could write a novel, what came out was a traditional Regency romance, a la Georgette Heyer. I loved the language, the settings, the happy endings. Since I also loved stories with action and adventure, it wasn't long until I moved into historical romance, where we can write magnificently over the top characters in a way that's very difficult with contemporary settings.
History also makes it possible to explore interesting issues right at the source, whether it's Waterloo or abolition. And it gives us an excuse to read fascinating history and visit even more fascinating places. And deduct part of the costs, even. <g>
I mean, is this a great job or what?!!!
Nicola Cornick. Nicola is enjoying a well-deserved holiday.
If she gets back in time to contribute, it will be added then.
And now here's me, Jo Beverley. After all the excellent pieces above, I could just say, "Hear, hear!" I too had a father who was very interested in history — in this case, English history. His particular hero was Hereward the Wake, leading of the English resistance after the Norman Conquest. That's why he appeared in my first historical romance, Lord of My Heart.
I loved historical fiction from my earliest reading days. After all, most fairytales are historical, aren't they? I adored the traditional costumes for Cinderella, which could be why I now write Georgians. I, too, plunged into adult historical romance at about 11, first with The Scarlet Pimpernel, and then with Georgette Heyer. I, too, studied history at university simply because I loved it.
The whole "historicals are dead" seemed an error to me at the time, so I ignored it, which has worked out very well. Why did it seem wrong? I could see that my books were doing just fine, and the readers I had contact with were as enthusiastic about the books as ever. In addition, however, people have always been hungry for tales of yore, be they of love, adventure, myths, or monsters. I don't think that will ever change.
The favourite periods might change, or the most popular story elements, but fiction set in the past, especially love stories set in the past, will die round about the time the sun does.
Talking about periods, I have no interest in historical fiction set in the recent past because that's too close for the magic of "other times" to work. Anyone else feel like that? I think I can't find the magic in a time inhabited by anyone I've known, and one of my grandmothers was born in 1860. Yes, I do remember her, and a scary remnant of the Victorian era she was too. She probably explains my aversion to that period. So it's back to Regency and earlier for me.
Now it's your turn.
Share your thoughts on "Why historicals?" Why you read them, why you think others read them, and if you're a writer, why you write them. Could historical romance ever die?
On Thursday, May 27th, the Wenches will choose the most interesting comment posts, and we'll be very liberal about it, and then one will be randomly picked to win our prize.
The Word Wenches