History Hoydens

Example

Historical Romance Writers Dishing the Dirt on Research

21 June 2010

HISTORICAL romance vs. historical ROMANCE

I was recently talking with a group of fellow historical writers and was pretty much flabbergasted to find that I was the only one who finds the seemingly endless supply of anachronistic sleepwear bothersome. One writer was willing to go to the mattresses in defense of the red silk nighty. She said that even though she knows it’s “wrong”, it says “sexy” to a modern reader in a way that nothing else can.

I find the entire concept depressing. The idea that accurate history is somehow not sexy enough, that it must be embellished and modernized in order to appeal to readers, verges on the insulting. I find it especially distressing that people would choose such specifically egregious errors to latch on to (it’s as though they’re throwing up their hands ecstatically and saying Sophia Coppola was right, what readers really want is a modern girl in a Halloween costume and high tops; stop jamming history down their throats!).

To me, it seems ridiculous to even bother writing “historical fiction” (be it romance, mystery, whathaveyou) if the “historical” part is optional. I know, I know . . . in Romancelandia a lot of the history has become optional: our characters are abnormally clean, have perfect teeth, and somehow our heroes never have the ridiculous haircuts that were in vogue for their age (has anyone ever written or read a medieval hero with a bowl cut?). Is a man with Fabio-locks in the Middle Ages any less offensive than a red silk nighty in Regency England? I think they’re both problematic, both a betrayal of the entire point of the genre, but clearly my perception of the genre as HISTORICAL romance is not universal. My friends, I think, view it as historical ROMANCE (I’m guessing these types of books are the ones so often labeled “wallpaper historicals” in reviews and reader discussions; the label is used pejoratively, but clearly their strong showings on “the lists” backs up my friends in their assertion that readers like this sort of thing).

Today I’m going to take a look at the different types of anachronisms I see in books, and because I think it unfair to point the finger at others, I’m going to use my own books and mistakes as fodder.

WORDS & LANGUAGE

There are a lot of different ways in which words and language might be anachronistic. Firstly there are words for concepts, ideas, and things which simply didn’t exist. I can say my hero is “enchanted” by the heroine, but I shouldn't say he is “mesmerized” (the word comes from the name of a specific man and he had not yet come to fame during the period in which my books are set).

Now, to further muddy the waters, lets say I’ve shifted back in time and/or moved my book to a non-English setting. Is it now ok to say he’s mesmerized? I would argue that it might be, since the writer has an entirely different set of rules. Now it’s even more about making the dialogue *feel* authentic to the setting and characters, but the burden of being limited to historically accurate words is basically gone. By no means is this an easier challenge for a writer however. In fact, it might be harder.

There are also words that *feel* period but aren’t. For example, I think “hellion” and “mount” (as a synonym for horse) both feel appropriate to the Georgian/Regency era, but they aren’t. They are both Victorian. Conversely, there are words (or names) that are period, but somehow feel anachronistic: the name Skyscraper for a horse. It’s just so wrong, and I’d never use it in a book, and yet, it’s perfectly period: Skyscraper won the Derby Stakes in 1789.


CONCEPTS & IDEAS

This can be a hard one. So many of the things we say and do everyday are based on the technology we’ve grown up surrounded by: Photographic memory, replay, steamrolled, derailed. There’s also all the self-help, introspective stuff we get from psychology (oh the ego of the man!), not to mention the scientific discoveries (honestly, he behaves like a Neanderthal!). So many ways in which we think about ourselves, others, and the way we experience the world are modern. Finding a historically appropriate way to express the same idea can be a challenge.


THINGS & FACTS

This can be both the hardest and the easiest thing to get right.

It’s hard because in order to get it right, you have to do a lot of research, and the odds are high that even if you do, some basic thing will trip you up: Scones, for example. Did you know that scones are Victorian? I surely didn’t. What’s more basic and English than a scone? *sigh* Long after my second book came out (where the heroine happily eats scones for breakfast) I discovered that a “sconce” in 18th century England is a bannock (a hard, fried oat cake), not a soft, fluffy muffin-type thing. Mea culpa, mea culpa.

But it’s also the easiest one to get right, at least within reason. Some things are basic, or factual. The law is the law. Forms of address haven’t changed. New World food stuffs simply didn’t exist in Europe before the end of the 15th century.

This is the category that our red silk nighty goes in. It’s not as if even the quickest survey of historical sleepwear wouldn’t show you that it’s white linen, white linen and yet more white linen (and it’ a basic t-shaped garment, not a Frederick’s of Hollywood slut-gown with lace and slits). So, getting this detail wrong shows one of two things: either the writer literally did NO research, or this is a willfully chosen anachronism (which I find hard to overlook and forgive). In this same category, you find the missing stays/corsets, the Regency heroine’s chocolate bon bons, medieval knights eating potatoes while their flowing Fabio-locks swirl about their shoulders, bastards inheriting English peerages, earls who are addressed as ‘you grace” . . .
MADE UP THINGS

There are some things which authors make up which are not anachronisms, but do seem to freak out many would-be authors because they are supposedly “afraid to get it wrong”. Here I’m talking about things like titles and businesses. Endless amounts of time gets spent (dare I say wasted?) on the various discussion loops I’m on batting these things around. How we pick titles and names for our characters seems to mystify—and frighten—people. Even worse, some writers are actually afraid to make up a small detail like a shop! If I need a shop and I don’t know of a famous example, I *gasp* MAKE IT UP! And guess what, I’m not damaging history or the authenticity of my book one jot by doing so. We all make up characters and give them imaginary titles and estates and family histories (sometimes even making them related to real people). Given this breach of reality, I have no problem simply making up an inn, or a book shop, or a tailor.

IN CONCLUSION

Perhaps I’m being ridiculous, but the willfully chosen error just gets under my skin and itches like mad! There’s something demeaning about it, something dismissive. Something about it says: It was too much trouble to find a way to make my vision/story work within the framework of history, and rather than alter my vision/story, I chose to alter history instead.

Am I insane? Am I being too picky? I understand that mistakes will happen, errors will slip though, but should I also be more accepting of the willful (or blatantly sloppy) anachronism? Perhaps I simply don’t see eye to eye with other authors about which details matter and which ones don’t? Are HISTORICAL romances and historical ROMANCES simply entirely different types of books? I’m still not sure, but I’m beginning to guess that my goal of creating HISTORICAL romances might not be shared by some of my friends . . . and maybe I just need to learn to be ok with that.

What do you all think? Are there really two distinct types of historical romance, and if so, does it matter to you to know which type you’re getting?





77 Comments:

Blogger Evangeline Holland said...

I've honestly grown weary of this topic because no one is perfect. For the most part, we have wallpaper historicals because it's all about the hook, Hook, HOOK for publishers (hence, why we now have all of these modern pop culture influences in Regency historicals: When Harry met Molly; Sex and the Single Earl; I Kissed an Earl, Ten Rules to Break..., etc etc), and everyone is satisfied (and published) with the bare minimum of historical description.

Do I strive for HISTORICAL romance? I certainly do, but the market speaks. If rich, incredibly complex historicals were what readers wanted, Roberta Gellis would sit atop the lists, and the many historical romance authors who cut their teeth on historically accurate novels wouldn't have seen success once they made their books a little less historical and a little more humorous and fantastic. Personally, I see it as a fun challenge to balance market desires with my personal vision, and once I stopped obsessing over what other authors do and or don't do for their research, the less I felt the need to adhere to the rigid, perfectionist drive to be absolutely, positively historically accurate. Because face it, the history of people can be dour and unromantic, but we as writers of historical romance are here to make the mundane as fantastic and sexy as possible.

1:08 AM  
Blogger Portia Da Costa said...

I do try and strive for historical accuracy as much as possible, and spend a lot of time comparing information from a variety of sources. If the facts conflict each other, however, which they often seem to do, then I usually pick the one that suits my story the best. :)

When reading, I like stories that are as historically accurate as possible, but if an author projects an authentic and entertaining overall flavour of the era, well, I'm prepared to forgive a minor slip or two here and there.

3:34 AM  
Blogger Victoria Janssen said...

This is a really interesting post, and a topic I frequently ponder.

I am one who's more likely to forgive small errors if the story is involving.

As a writer, I frequently research but then don't use the research, instead coming up with, say, a town that is more a conglomerate of several towns. That gives me more story freedom and, more importantly, prevents my obsessive soul from researching the same square mile for 72.5 years.

7:04 AM  
Anonymous Anna Katherine said...

While I haven't written (or rather, finished!) a historical romance yet, I can tell you that reading historical mistakes, particularly in costuming or language, really bothers me. I spent fifteen minutes last night trying to determine whether "pipe dream" was a phrase that would be uttered by a young Regency miss -- time I could've spent reading more of the book. I've also stopped dead during a romantic scene when I was certain that a young lady's dress could not _possibly_ be able to pull up in such a fashion.

Personally, during the course of writing my first historical, I'm trying to find the sexy in real history. It was there in spades -- while not all of it translates (who would've thought scatological humor would be _that_ popular), there's still a lot there to work with. We'll see how successful I am. :D

7:41 AM  
Blogger Stephanie Dray said...

Can't this simply be solved with an author's note at the end of the book explaining the willful choice of a silk nighty?

8:27 AM  
Blogger Jeannie Lin said...

When reading, I'm of the mindset of "if it pulls me out" then it's a problem, for both historical and non-historically accurate details. I know that's such a soft sell, but my argument is "Shakespeare did it too". :) Every reproduction of a story is unavoidably colored by the sensibility of the times. Romeo and Juliet is an Italian setting, but written in a very English mindset and probably costumed and performed in a way that always reflects the current times. It happens with genre fiction for accessibility.

So an eye towards historical accuracy is always appreciated -- but I'm looking for believability vs. authenticity. If they both coincide, that's a plus.

8:40 AM  
Blogger Vanessa Kelly said...

As the author of Sex And The Single Earl, I have to say that I don't characterize myself as writing wallpaper historicals. Yes, my book has a cute, hookey title, but I spent weeks and weeks doing the research for this book, which included a trip to Bath, where the book is set. I also spent years in grad school studying the literature and history of the Regency period. I think the other thing to remember is that authors don't necessarily come up with titles - they often come from the marketing department. It doesn't mean that authors haven't carefully researched their book, or that they write wallpaper historicals.

Having said that, I think this is a really interesting topic for discussion.

9:01 AM  
Blogger Blythe Gifford said...

Thank you for this post. There is certainly a place for both, but it is hard for the reader who has a preference to figure out which is which, since the publishers (rightly) will market, as Evangeline said, the HOOK. So how is a reader to know when she looks at a book whether it is an HISTORICAL Romance or an historical ROMANCE? I try to blog about history often, just to signal which side of the fence I'm on.

That aside, I think the concepts are the most difficult to get right. (Actually, they are impossible, but we, as authors, fake it.) No romance author could get away with a totally subjugated woman, even if it were historically accurate. On the other hand, many of our ideas are so ingrained, we are not aware of them. I once wrote something about a medieval baron's "ego." Not until the final edit did I remember that Freud was centuries in the future!

9:23 AM  
Blogger Cecilia Grant said...

I'm guilty of doing whatever I can to avoid the word "pantaloons." Accurate it may be, but to the modern ear - even the modern ear who knows better - it does not sound like something a sexy hero would wear.

On the other hand, I am currently writing a hero with imperfect teeth :)

9:42 AM  
Blogger Magdalen said...

Here's why I think this is very hard to do. I wasn't surprised *today* by the idea that scones are Victorian simply because I recently heard Michael Pollan (author of Food Rules) explain that the Western Diet arose in large part when the industrial revolution yielded the ability to refine flour -- in the mid-19th century.

Think about it -- everything characters have ever eaten in a romance novel set in the early 19th century was made of wholemeal. Those dainty little cakes? Wholemeal. Biscuits (because American writers and readers known that's the proper British term for "cookies")? Wholemeal. And scones aren't scones as we know them if they're made with whole grains, so they couldn't have exists in the Regency era.

This isn't a big deal in itself, but it bore home to me the challenge in researching every little thing. I think we rely as readers on the sense of anachronism; something just "feels" wrong. The word "driveway" doesn't look right in the context of 19th century England, and it isn't. But bivouac didn't look right to me either, and it was.

But some things are so ubiquitous it's hard to imagine anyone living without them in the past 200 years -- like white or refined flour!

Authors of historical novels have my sympathy: while I think they can and should avoid the worst clangers (e.g., dialogue that sounds far too modern in attitude and morals for the period), I don't expect them to research every last bit of the history of horticulture, transportation, food, dress, deportment, politics, agriculture, war, music, decor, etc., etc.

9:43 AM  
Blogger Sarah MacLean said...

Since Vanessa piped in about Sex & the Single Earl, I feel that it's only fair for me to pipe in as the author of Nine Rules to Break When Romancing a Rake and Ten Ways to Be Adored When Landing a Lord. For the record, I chose my titles, not marketing. And I did so carefully, long before I sold the series to Avon. I have a day job in marketing, and I wanted the title to convey something fun, frothy and modern even as I write historicals.

Like Vanessa, I do extensive research--I care very much about my characters' world and the rules, traditions and truths of it. All three books in the series hinge very seriously on the existence of these rigid rules. On top of that, I do plenty of etymological work and spend a lot of time reworking my descriptions of heroine's dresses so that they have neither necklines nor decolletage.

Because of this, I don't think of my books as wallpaper romance, but expect that many do...in part, because sometimes an historical truth must be sacrificed for an unputdownable book. Nine Rules and Ten Ways both have heavy references to mythology in them. I know more than anyone ever need know about certain gods and goddesses and myths. I did all the research for the book, but most of it never got into the story--because it wouldn't have made readers want to turn the page.

The point is that I, as author, know what I've included, and what I've left out. If I've made an error, that's 100% mine. And in some cases, I have no idea I've done so. But in many cases, I have done it with purpose. With gusto. Because I proudly write historical romance and, ultimately, it's the Romance that must win the day.

I say, hail the red silk nightgown. I want to read about it coming off. Inch by wicked, wonderful inch.

11:09 AM  
Blogger Miranda Neville said...

Excellent post, Kalen, with some good distinctions.

I used to be a history snob about romances, then I noticed something. My assessment of whether a book was a good read bore no relation to its historical accuracy. I've read books with hardly an error that were dull, dull, dull. And I've read total wallpaper I couldn't put down.

We all create our own version of that foreign country known as the past. But if no one reads it, what's the point? I don't condemn any writer for her choices.

That said, to me beautifully pressed linens, whether for sheets or nighties, are preferable to silk. And when a book has a good plot, strong characters, and fabulous writing as well as great historical detail, that's the jackpot.

12:01 PM  
Blogger Kalen Hughes said...

Hey All,

I see you've been busy gnawing on the topic while I've been driving down from my friend's cabin (there was still snow at Huntington Lake, in June!!!).

It's nice to see some of our lurkers speaking out! Welcome to the blog, ladies. It's interesting to see just which straws break which camels’ backs. For me, the willful clothing anachronisms are an extreme irritant, but I also assume that when it comes to the reader pool, there are only a handful who know, let alone care (and at this point most readers have been trained to expect the anachronistic silk nighty and the absence of proper undergarments, so it’s something of a losing battle).

I say, hail the red silk nightgown. I want to read about it coming off. Inch by wicked, wonderful inch.

This was pretty much what started my whole train of thought for this post. Some say hail the red silk nighty and some just end up flinging the book against the wall . . . but I'd bet my dog (and I love my dog!) that we flingers are in the minority.

And I must back up our visiting authors: We don’t get to choose our titles. We get to suggest things we like, but if the almighty sales and marketing depts. don’t like it (for whatever reason) it’s out. And what they come up with as a replacement occasionally can drive you to drink and weep and gnash your teeth (e.g. Lord Sin, which I sold as Incarnate).

12:14 PM  
Anonymous Theresa Romain said...

Really interesting discussion. I think historical ROMANCES and HISTORICAL romances are two ends of a continuum. Readers want characters they can relate to - for example, characters who are determined to marry for love (which was certainly valued during the Regency, but is really more in line with our modern concept of marriage). On the other hand, readers can sense when a historical world is vividly (and one hopes, accurately) built.

So we often have characters with modern sensibilities/decisions acting within a historical setting. Different authors may stress one or the other of these more. I don't find that there's any one thing that will always pull me out of a story in terms of character, but I do get distracted when I start mentally flagging factual errors!

12:46 PM  
Blogger Jessica - Lovely Undergrad said...

Great post! This brings up so much to talk about.

I read and write historical fiction. (I'm a 21-year-old student... I write it for fun and haven't given a lot of thought to publishing.)

But whether I'm reading or writing... historical accuracy is a must. When I hear "Historical Romance," I do think Historical ROMANCE. My favorite books are historical fiction novels that have romance woven in.

For me, reading and writing historical fiction is the closest I'll ever get to time travel. And if I pick up book, start reading, and happen upon an anachronism... it jolts me back to 2010. Frankly, I don't like that.

2:13 PM  
Blogger Kalen Hughes said...

And if I pick up book, start reading, and happen upon an anachronism... it jolts me back to 2010. Frankly, I don't like that.

Me too, Jessica. I know no book will ever be perfect (lord knows I've made my share of mistakes, LOL!), but when I stumble across a blatant anachronism, it does jolt me right out of the book (which sucks, cause as a reader I want to lose myself entirely in the story).

2:34 PM  
Blogger Delilah Marvelle said...

I think it's pretty obvious when an author strives for a historically accurate book and when they don't. There is a huge difference between 'a boo-boo' and 'an oh-well.' And yes, I cringe whenever the book is an 'oh-well.' Just like it was so brilliantly pointed out, even being historically accurate doesn't necessarily fly with readers. I think this is because readers have read so many 'oh-well' romances that the writers who do roll up their sleeves and try their darnest to make sure it's 'boo-boo' free get slapped upside the head by readers for not doing their research. I've been dubbed as one of those authors. Allow me to roll my eyes as I climb over all of my research books to type this...lol
Great post!!!!

2:51 PM  
Blogger Susanna Fraser said...

I do think there are two kinds of historical romance, and knowing what I'm getting going in can make all the difference to my enjoyment of a book. I prefer the HISTORICAL romance, but if I know going in not to expect meticulous accuracy, I can make a choice to check my research geek status at the door and enjoy a well-written historical ROMANCE.

As a writer, I'm definitely striving to write HISTORICAL romance, and I enjoy the challenge of trying to bring the past to life. That includes having my characters act and think in ways a man or woman of 2010 probably wouldn't, but making their culture and worldview so vividly alive that modern readers will understand and sympathize.

That said, eventually you have to accept that you're never going to know everything, that you WILL make mistakes, and step away from your research sources and start writing. I'm embarrassed to admit there's at least one anachronism in my upcoming release, one that I learned about just after it was too late to make any changes. At least it's a violation of custom rather than one of law or technology, so it's not like what I wrote is actually impossible. But still. I blush. (And I don't reveal what it is deliberately because I'm curious to see how many readers will actually catch it. If I'm brave enough to mock my own research-geek pretensions, maybe I'll even start a "Find Susanna's Anachronism" contest.)

3:02 PM  
Blogger Kalen Hughes said...

@Delilah: Those of us who choose to write about "fast" women will always catch crap from the contingent that believes that women like the ones we write about didn't exist (I’ve received emails stating exactly this!). The enormous amount of documentation we can provide to prove that they did is worthless to them. It's the Scopes Monkey Trial all over again . . . albeit with far less serious consequences.

I do try to talk about the books and real people who inspired me in my author's notes though. I hope that providing a glimpse of the lives of the real women (cause readers seem to be willing to admit that men are naughty, sexual beings) who "behaved badly" will widen the scope of what is not only acceptable, but believable, as a period heroine.

My next book, Ripe for Pleasure (and yes, I suggested—begged for!—the “Ripe for . . .” titles) has a heroine inspired by Harriette Wilson, Dally the Tall, and the amazing account of Lady Worsley’s life and trials in Hallie Rubenhold’s The Lady in Red: An Eighteenth-Century Tale of Sex, Scandal, and Divorce.

3:10 PM  
Blogger Kalen Hughes said...

I'm embarrassed to admit there's at least one anachronism in my upcoming release, one that I learned about just after it was too late to make any changes.

This is always when I find them too, so you are not alone. What always amazes me is the number of authors who tell them they don't know of any errors in their books? Denial? Willful ignorance? I'm not sure. I do know that my mea culpa question was inspired by the page on Eloisa James's website. I've always thought the way she handled the issue showed her to be a class act.

3:14 PM  
Blogger Leslie Carroll said...

Oh, Kalen, I'm so glad you posted this. I tend to read more historical fiction than historical romance and reader expectations can differ between the two literary genres -- but as both writer and reader I like as much historical accuracy as possible. Playing really fast and loose with the facts takes me entirely out of the story (a problem I have with myriad movie adaptations such as "The Duchess," "The Young Victoria" and "The Other Boleyn Girl," to name a few. And don't even get me started on the execrable "Tudors." I can't just sit back and enjoy the story when I'm looking at the wrong clothes, the wrong relationships, the wrong ages of the characters, and even the wrong Pope!

My personal touchstone as an author of historical fiction is "if it COULD have happpened, you can write about it. But if no way in hell could it have happened -- such as Nelson surviving Trafalgar, to use a wild, hypoethetical example -- then unless you are deliberately writing the events of an alternate universe (and I do adore Jasper Fforde, but he's not writing historical fiction/romance), then it doesn't go in the book."

And I salute you on the "mesmerized" example. I try to be very careful to avoid post-dating information (a Georgian woman could NOT have endured a "Dickensian" childhood, for example. And today's little tidbit. I was about to make a reference to luna moths when I thought I should check to see if they had them in France in 1770. Nope! They're a North American bug. I researched the large moths of Northern Europe and came up with arcana that would be more confusing than amusing. So I ditched the moth reference entirely, not wanting well over a year of research to result in a single luna moth anachronism.

3:19 PM  
Blogger Louisa Cornell said...

I've read this post once and I, no doubt, will read it again. The entire discussion is fascinating and very informative. It is also the reason I try to take as many Beau Monde courses and attend the Beau Monde conference whenever it is offered. I am smart enough to know that I don't know as much as I need to know about the Regency era. My CP and I spend tremendous amounts of time checking the etymology of words that MIGHT be anachronistic to the era(s) in which our stories are set. All I can do is continue to study, research, read and collect research books and hope I get things right as I write. And more important, hope I make fewer and fewer mistakes as I go!

5:48 PM  
Anonymous Rose Lerner said...

I'm of two minds on this one. On the one hand, I do strive to be completely historically accurate in my own books...most of the time. But yes, there are times I cheat! I found out that the modern English breakfast with bacon and eggs didn't exist in Regency times after I'd already sold In for a Penny, but well before copy-edits. I had time to take it out. After careful consideration, I decided not to, because it worked so well in the scenes it was in, and I knew for most readers, it would seem perfectly natural. That said, I'll never have bacon at breakfast in a book again!

I think historical accuracy is really important, and I do get annoyed when a heroine's underwear is all wrong. Title errors drive me NUTS. But I get more annoyed when the heroine is missing a corset or petticoats than when she's wearing a sexy silk nightgown. The one feels like lazy research; the other just feels like a little deliberate blurring for the sake of the romantic fantasy. I love finding the sexiness in the everyday lived experience of people in the past, and I love simple cotton night-rails because there's something so intimate about them, but I don't mind a little poetic license either.

I'm also more likely to be bothered by "concepts and ideas" anachronisms than by "things and facts" ones, unless they're particularly egregious. Trying to experience the way Regency people THOUGHT is a really important part of why I like historical romance. (On the other hand, I don't want TOO much realism as that would probably entail some really problematic beliefs about women and people of color and poor people and non-English people and so on, even in the most forward-thinking historical protagonists...it's always going to be a compromise between story and perfect accuracy.)

In the end, it's about the way it's done, for me. I think it's hard to write a satisfying historical romance with a lot of anachronisms, but someone with talent can do it. Even the whole "modern people in period dress" thing can work--for example, I loved the movie Casanova with Sienna Miller and Heath Ledger because it did it so cleverly and with such a sense of fun. In that case, the "mistakes" were a feature and not a bug.

If the rest of the book holds up, I feel the same way about the sudden and startling appearance of sexy lingerie.

I think a "chosen anachronism" has more potential to work for the reader than an accidental one, too, because the author is aware of it and can control what they're doing. And if the author makes a conscious choice to use one, it might sometimes be my cup of tea and it might sometimes not, but I'm not going to tell her she can't or even shouldn't.

7:15 PM  
Blogger Delilah Marvelle said...

Kalen,
You nailed it. People think that loose women didn't exist during our time period unless they were 'whores' on the streets...heh.
I learned from you, and I'm doing the whole author letters/notes with my new HQN series to shake things up a bit, lol.
And I can't *wait* for your new books!!!! I'm drooling over here...seriously.

9:04 PM  
Blogger Courtney Milan said...

"To me, it seems ridiculous to even bother writing “historical fiction” (be it romance, mystery, whathaveyou) if the “historical” part is optional."

I started to write this out as a comment, but it was long enough it ended up on my blog:

http://www.courtneymilan.com/ramblings/2010/06/21/historical-romance/

I do have to add that I think it's interesting that Georgette Heyer is so often held up as an example of HISTORICAL romance, when by this definition she is so clearly historical ROMANCE.

Georgette Heyer's regency world is based on a great deal of historical research, and a great deal of inventive world-building that includes deliberate errors and inventions. This is particularly true as to her use of language, and I find it amusing that her language is reproduced by so many Regency authors, and taken as God's own true Regency speak.

10:35 PM  
Blogger Diane Gaston said...

do you mean lots of Regency heroines wear nightgowns? Mine don't; at least not when sleeping with the hero. I'm just saying....

Although I often skirt over the issue of chamber pots and lice and other vermin, I do like to attempt historical accuracy whenever I can. To me that is the fun of writing and reading an Historical. If I come across an anachronism, it pulls me out of the story. And it spoils my enjoyment.

I must say that in EVERY manuscript I've written, I've wanted to use the word "mesmerize." I always change it, though.

11:36 PM  
Blogger Jenny Brown said...

I have been known to niggle about details of historical fact, but what stops me reading a lot of contemporary historical romance isn't the red nightgowns, it's the virgins flinging themselves into bed with strangers just for the hell of it.

For me the whole appeal of the Regency period as a setting for a novel is that it is time when society has strict social and sexual rules and when women who break those rules suffer painful consequences.

But I'm starting to think a person would have to be old enough to remember when OUR society had rigid rules and where flouting sexual taboos brought social ostracism to appreciate stories that turn on these issues. I do, but most of my readers won't.

The other anachronisms we all accept without question involve religion and class, both of which shaped real life in these periods in ways that if we were honest about them would repel our readers.

And then of course there is the very significant issue of family size. A family of 10 to 18 children has very different dynamics than one of two or three. The consequences of a passionate marriage--that child a year each one of which might kill its mother--would certainly color any woman's attitudes towards sex in this period. The brighter she was, the less likely she would be to let herself be swept away by passion.

We must ignore all these issues to give our reader an entertaining story, but where the lines are drawn changes from generation to generation because we all are, in the end, writing about our own experience, the conflicts that interest us, and the emotions that move our readers today.

5:05 AM  
Blogger Miranda Neville said...

"X would pull me out of the story" is such a subjective statement. Yes, a Regency gentleman with a cell phone would cause anyone to pause, but many words/objects depend on the readers level of knowledge and tolerance. A writer is just about bound to use something that will pull *someone* out of the story.

Mesmerize (or mesmerise) for example, I have no issue with in a Regency. The word existed in the late 18th century to describe a sort of hypnotism. For a character to say "I find you meserizing" or "you mesmerize me" doesn't seem far fetched. Mozart made fun of Mesmer in Cosi fan tutte. I assume, Kalen, your new books go further back into the Georgian period.

Courtney: I absolutely agree with you about Heyer.

5:33 AM  
Blogger Lynne Connolly said...

What a brilliant post! And I love most of the comments!
I don't see why the history should get in the way of the romance, I really don't. People did fall in love then - look at Pitt the Elder, who had to earn the right to marry Hester Grenville, but he adored her for years.
I try to find a historical example of what I want, especially for the major threads of my story. There are diaries, journals, newspapers, scandal sheets that you can read. I'd rather read a newspaper from 1754 than one of today!
Yes, for historical accuracy. It'll lead to more respect for the genre, and it also respects the people who actually did live then. If we use their times, then surely we owe them something!

The other side is that I've found that the "lite" books tend to skim on character and depth. Wallpaper leads to wallpaper, and makes for an instantly forgettable book.

And some authors research in 'patches.' So some of the research is really good, and then they slip up and do something that couldn't have happened. There's not the overview that you get when you go to a library and read, read, read. And when you love to do it.

Heroines wearing nightgowns. Not red, but I don't see why not, as long as it's made obvious that it's a specially ordered one, and the construction is correct. My heroines have a lot of fun once the hero gets them down to their shifts!

5:39 AM  
Blogger Janet Mullany said...

What a great post and of course I'm chiming in late. One phenomenon I don't think we've mentioned is the trickle down effect of historical bloopers such as scones in the Regency (they didn't exist because you need a raising agent and at the time all that was available was yeast or eggs and a strong beating arm), the ubiquitous red silk nighties, and the heroine's gown that has tiny little buttons all down the back. Why do they exist? Because well-respected authors have used them and now they've entered into the mythology or the well of laziness as I like to call it.

I have the advantage of growing up in England and there are historical facts and details I just know. I don't know why I know them or how I know them and I'm fortunate to have that cultural background. But I get annoyed by the "it's English so therefore it's Regency" style of writing where Georgian England is inhabited by Jeeves, Wooster, and Lady Bracknell clones.

We all have details that push our buttons (however, as Kalen memorably put it one time, it's ALL in the details) but I think a lot of the skill in writing historical romance (upper case or otherwise) is knowing when to bend or subvert the truth and doing so in a way that does not jerk the reader out of the story. If it's great writing I'll forgive almost anything.

6:51 AM  
Blogger Janet Mullany said...

and the obligatory p.s. I LOVED Marie Antoinette. Why? Because it was so over the top and gorgeous and unashamed in its anachronisms. Coppola understood what she was doing and the period about which she fabricated this gorgeous fantasy extravaganza.

Whereas The Tudors. Yuch. I waited and waited for pretty boy Jonathan Rhys Meyers to become old and fat and syphilitic.

6:54 AM  
Blogger Kalen Hughes said...

@ Rose Lerner: Wow, your response is better than my original post! I’m not at all surprised by this, seeing as you’re one of the major research mavens in my heard (and I’m only barely getting to know you!). I do think that a chosen anachronism can work, I just have trouble allowing myself to chose one (except for “mount”, which I’ll cling to with my cold, typing fingers).

@Courtney Milan: I agree about Heyer. I love her books, but they have a Victorian feel to them IMO (esp her take on social mores), and she began putting anachronisms in on purpose when she got annoyed that other authors were using her books as “research” which further muddied the waters.

@Diane Gaston: My characters always at least start out in their nightclothes (I think I erred and called them “nightrails” in my books *sigh*; another example of learning as you go). In Lord Scandal there’s a moment where the hero realizes that the heroine has got ready for bed, not seduction, when he arrives to find her in her nightgown, with her hair primly braided. It was a fun scene to write.

7:43 AM  
Blogger Kalen Hughes said...

@Jenny Brown: what stops me reading a lot of contemporary historical romance isn't the red nightgowns, it's the virgins flinging themselves into bed with strangers just for the hell of it. Yeah, this is why I don’t write virgins or good girls. *grin* For me, there’s a lot more breadth of possibility with the widows and fallen women of the day. That said, I’m writing my first virginal heroine right now, and it’s been an interesting change. No flinging herself into bed with the hero just for the hell of it, but there will be flinging . . . purposeful flinging (as in: she knows what she wants and she does what she has to do to ensure she gets it . . . which will then bite her in the ass).

@ Miranda Neville: Mesmerize (or mesmerise) for example, I have no issue with in a Regency. You might be right . . . huzzah! I dug a little deeper into the OED and found this (I’d only looked as “mesmerize”, which dates to 1829):

“Mesmerism” the name of Friedrich Anton Mesmer, Austrian physician (1734-1815) + -ISM suffix, probably after French mesmérisme (1783).

Mesmer settled in Paris in 1778 after accusations of fraud by physicians in his native Austria.]

A therapeutic doctrine or system, first popularized by Mesmer, according to which a trained practitioner can induce a hypnotic state in a patient by the exercise of a force (called by Mesmer animal magnetism); the process or practice of inducing such a state; the state so induced, or the force supposed to operate in inducing it.

Mesmer's claims were not substantiated by a scientific commission established by Louis XVI in 1784 including Benjamin Franklin and Antoine-Laurent Lavoisier. His techniques, however, had great popular appeal and were variously developed by other practitioners in the late 18th and early 19th centuries, ultimately forming the basis of the modern practice of hypnosis.

7:44 AM  
Blogger Kalen Hughes said...

@Lynne Connolly: Heroines wearing nightgowns. Not red, but I don't see why not, as long as it's made obvious that it's a specially ordered one, and the construction is correct. In this case it’s a simple case of knowing too much about something as pedantic and laundry. Nightgowns had to be laundered. Silk was nearly impossible to launder in the era. Red was very hard to retain when laundering. A red silk nightgown was essentially a disposable garment, and my brain won’t stop asking why she would want such a thing and just how she would have come up with such a far-fetched idea in the first place? Clearly this is just my own hang-up though, as almost everyone else universally thinks it’s not a big deal.

@Janet Mullany: the well of laziness OMG, I love this term. I’m so going to use it!!!

I have the advantage of growing up in England and there are historical facts and details I just know. I don't know why I know them or how I know them and I'm fortunate to have that cultural background
In this I envy you. I will say that my favorite fan mail of all time came from a woman in England who wanted to let me know that she had loved Lord Sin and had been gleeful about having finally found an English romance writer . . . until she read my bio and found out I’m from San Francisco. She seemed slightly put out, but I took it as a major compliment that she’d had to read the bio to know I was American. Talk about a marble in my bag of happy thoughts!

7:47 AM  
Blogger Kalen Hughes said...

@Sarah MacLean: I do plenty of etymological work and spend a lot of time reworking my descriptions of heroine's dresses so that they have neither necklines nor decolletage. Argh! Another “scone” moment for me. *shakes head* I’m 99.9% certain I’ve used “decolletage”.

7:53 AM  
Blogger Kerrelyn Sparks said...

The OED is a wonderful resource but not infallible. Mesmerise was definitely around earlier than 1829.

7:58 AM  
Blogger Miranda Neville said...

This is bizarre. My previous comment posted as Kerrelyn Sparks. I'm not Kerrelyn, though I'd love to be. How the heck did that happen?

8:00 AM  
Anonymous Jo Beverley said...

Fascinating discussion, even if it's perennial. We really have two issues -- whether we choose to be accurate, and whether we are, even when choosing to be.

We can get some things right, but I'm constantly coming across primary sources that surprise me and lead me to question some accepted fact.

We can only do our best and hope to attract readers who enjoy our style of historical.

To illustrate the shakiness of fact, I don't know how authoritative the writer was who said all flour was wholemeal, but it doesn't seem right to me.

It's quite likely that the pure white flour we know today wasn't available, but flour can be sieved to remove germ and bran and leave something pale and light. They used hair sieves, which were very fine.

Old recipe books often call for "fine flour" or "finest flour" as opposed to just flour. I assume that's what they mean.

I have an 18th century recipe for puff pastry which I doubt would work with wholemeal flour.

What they didn't have until well into the 19th century was a raising agent other than yeast and egg whites, which is doubtless where the scones come a-cropper. I'm sure I've had people eating scones in a book somewhere.

To the best of my knowledge, as always!

Jo

8:08 AM  
Blogger Sarah MacLean said...

@Kalen... I know. I LOVE dresses. I have at least one thoroughly researched, lovely dress in every book. I love describing all their little details. Fashion is very likely the reason why I write historicals. But necklines and decolletage...they are my nemeses. *sigh* And the worst part? I blogged about this once, and now my readers know that the words aren't of the time too, so I can't pretend ignorance. Stupid internet. (For the record, I'm not giving up scone.)

I love this conversation, Hoydens...especially because it reminds me of what a brilliant group of women historical romance authors are! Thanks for hosting it!

8:14 AM  
Blogger Susanna Fraser said...

(I think I erred and called them “nightrails” in my books *sigh*; another example of learning as you go).

Wait, that's an error?

::Susanna curses like her military characters would, on a particularly bad day::

OK, that's ANOTHER anachronism it's too late for me to fix...

8:16 AM  
Blogger Kalen Hughes said...

@ Jo Beverley: We can get some things right, but I'm constantly coming across primary sources that surprise me and lead me to question some accepted fact. So true. I still remember stumbling across Madame de Pompadour’s lace stocking for the first time and thinking “Jo Beverley was right! They did exist.” Not that I should have been surprised, but up till then I’d never seen or heard of one except in your book Something Wicked (which I love love love; it’s one of those books I reread at least once a year).

@Susanna Fraser: “Nightrails” are actually dressing gowns (aka robes or bed jackets). This is one of those terms that just sounds right though, isn’t it? I know I’ve always used it as a synonym for nightgown and was blown away when someone pointed out on the Beau Monde loop that per the OED it’s a dressing gown. *insert sound of grumbling here*

8:44 AM  
Blogger Kalen Hughes said...

@Magdalen: I recently heard Michael Pollan (author of Food Rules) explain that the Western Diet arose in large part when the industrial revolution yielded the ability to refine flour -- in the mid-19th century.

The Romans had refined “white” flour (ground with stone wheels and then sifted through linen). What the industrial revolution yielded was the ability to produce large quantities of white flour at a low cost (meaning the poor could now afford it). Many period recipes call specifically for “best white flour” (often “best Hertfordshire white flour”), which would indeed have been refined and white, not wholegrain.

9:34 AM  
Anonymous Kate Pearce said...

I'm like Janet, I come from England and grew up with a history-mad mother and did my own degree in history so I get a bit fed up when people don't seem to bother to do what seems to me to be basic fact checking, mixing up biscuits and cookies, ground floor, first floor, etc etc etc. They are 'basic' and a two second check on the internet can sort them out for you.

I also have a deep understanding and respect for the English notion of 'class', which seems a difficult concept for those not brought up in it. LOL

But I don't get my knickers in a twist over whether the weather was really like that on a particular day of the year. And if something pulls me out of the story, it annoys me, but if the writing is excellent, I'll let some stuff go.(big of me I know)

I also get fed up trying to explain to people that the Regency era is significantly different to the Victorian era, which was in itself a reaction to the more immoral ways of the Regency.
So put me on the more 'Historical' side of romance.

10:43 AM  
Blogger Kalen Hughes said...

@Kate Pearce: That's so funny. I got eviscerated in a review because my heroine came downstairs from the first floor (clearly the reviewer was American and didn't understand how the English number their floors). Sometimes being right is no help at all, LOL!

11:45 AM  
Anonymous LizA said...

Kalen, I think I remember reading that and thinking that finally someone had got it right! I find the first floor = ground floor so distracting in historicals set in the UK. Esp. if they describe stately homes or manor houses.It feels desperately wrong to have a hall on the first floor, for example. Why go up?

I realize that accoracy is impossible to achieve, but I think it can be tried.... and I particularly hate details like the red silk nightgown or some such thing, as these are easily avoided. At the same times, contemporary attitudes are superimposed on romance novels. And I am not only talking about the virgin that throws herself at the first available man to get rid of it, but also about the attitude to fidelity in marriage and even the reasons for marriage. You never read about a married woman falling in love with a man, becoming his lover and marrying after her husband died... for cheating is about the worst offence (at least on paper) and our nice heroine could never do it. Yet contemporaries had quite different attitudes to that...

And now I will stop my ranting....

3:56 PM  
Blogger Kalen Hughes said...

@LizA: You never read about a married woman falling in love with a man, becoming his lover and marrying after her husband died... for cheating is about the worst offence (at least on paper) and our nice heroine could never do it. Yet contemporaries had quite different attitudes to that...

I think it could be pulled off, but very very very carefully (bad husband, falling in love, but platonicly until she's a widow; in fact, that's not too far off from the set up for the third book in my new series, LOL!).

6:18 PM  
Blogger Kalen Hughes said...

I should add: I rarely do nice heroines. In fact, I'm not sure I've done one yet . . .

6:19 PM  
Anonymous Rose Lerner said...

...seeing as you’re one of the major research mavens in my head (and I’m only barely getting to know you!).

::blushes:: Aww, thanks, Kalen! That really means a lot since I've been fangirling you on the Beau Monde list for years.

I know what you mean about how hard it is to choose an anachronism after striving so hard for accuracy! I have especial problems with the "words and language" ones because they're the ones I most often find unavoidable...there are some words (especially dealing with sex) where the historically accurate term just sounds awkward to me or where I can't find a historically accurate term. So I cheat--but even though I know it's for the best, I can still tell you off the top of my head where they all are, because they itch.

::makes a note to get rid of "night-rails" before copy-edits on her next book::

7:20 PM  
Blogger Maggi Andersen said...

I love the inventive world building of Heyer who spins a spell binding romance which is in no way an accurate portrayal of life during the Regency era. What I don't like is modern historicals who have practically no historical detail in them. I'm quite happy to find a red silk nightgown - and I'm guilty of something like this in my own books - if the world I'm engrossed in is steeped in historic detail.

7:34 PM  
Blogger librarypat said...

Wonderfully interesting and informative post, Kalen. The responses have been as interesting to follow. I started reading romance with medieval historical romances. After I read quiet a few historicals set in different periods, I started noticing a difference. Some were ROMANCES - change the clothes, manner of transportation, and housing and they are a contemporary. I found the ones I enjoyed the most had details of life and behavior that was true to the time period. The mouthy, independent heroine would probably not have survived long in many eras. She may appeal to the modern young woman who knows only the rather free and open society we live in today. She has no idea how very different a world it was just 50 or 60 years ago. Women did not have the opportunities or freedom they do today. Going to college, of course you are going to be a nurse, teacher or librarian. If they can't relate to a woman almost totally dependent on her husband just 60 years ago, how can we expect them to relate to the strictures they had to live under hundreds of years ago?
That said, some of us, even the younger us, do enjoy history and read historical fiction for those details. I discovered the books that included details of everyday life, religion, social interaction, etc. were the most interesting to me. The setting of the story is almost a character itself. If that character doesn't ring true, the story suffers for it. A little slip her and there is no big deal. After all , the reader must be knowledgeable enough to know you have made a mistake.
I prefer HISTORICAL romances. I want the history and the accuracy. I do read historical ROMANCES knowing there may be inaccuracies. I just hope they aren't too blatant and pull me out of the story. Both types are read for enjoyment, just a different kind.

8:46 PM  
Blogger Kalen Hughes said...

@Rose Lerner: there are some words (especially dealing with sex) where the historically accurate term just sounds awkward to me or where I can't find a historically accurate term.

We've done a lot of posts on that topic since starting the blog . . . most of the words around are actually period, it's just that they sound clinical and can seem too modern. I tend to have more trouble with actual period terms (cunny and quim just make me shudder).

8:46 PM  
Blogger Kalen Hughes said...

@librarypat: That said, some of us, even the younger us, do enjoy history and read historical fiction for those details. I discovered the books that included details of everyday life, religion, social interaction, etc. were the most interesting to me.

This is pretty much where I find myself as a reader and a writer. The history is interesting. Plotting around it, through it, with it, is the joyful challenge of it all.

8:51 PM  
Blogger Kalen Hughes said...

@Maggi Andersen: I'm quite happy to find a red silk nightgown - and I'm guilty of something like this in my own books - if the world I'm engrossed in is steeped in historic detail.

If there are red silk nightgowns, I find I have a severe lack of trust for the rest of the details. *shrug* It's simply world building fail for me.

8:53 PM  
Blogger Monya Clayton said...

I expect we'll agree to differ. There are markets for both types of books. I personally prefer my historical romances to be HISTORICAL romances, or even straight historical fiction. That's my taste and everyone is entitled to read what suits their own taste.

Even though I'm a practical soul and prefer details to be researched as correctly as possible, in my own book (wr/as Mary Clayton) I did make two small mistakes and found out about them later. It's almost impossible not to include errors when dealing with the past; we approach it, no matter how openly, with our own mindsets firmly in place. Often we must change these, and I find this less difficult than interesting.

Kate and Janet: I'm Australian and 69 years old, therefore brought up to British attitudes (except to class). I have had the temerity to write a book set in colonial USA, but folk then of course considered themselves English, as we in Oz did many years ago. On the other hand my granddaughters, seven of them between 16 and 26, would be far more comfortable with American values. And they would not believe that Victorian attitudes to women still existed only 50 years ago.

But there is no excuse these days for inadequate research. I cannot finish a historical ROMANCE (and some of them are very good) when I run into an obvious mistake. Like Beau Brummell still kicking around the London social scene just before the Crimean War (1850s). And another with the hero falling for a nurse during the Napoleonic Wars; I do believe the author was thinking World War I. Of course the profession didn't exist until Florence Nightingale did her thing during, again, the Crimean War. And I've read somewhere (and may be wrong!) that the group she took to the Crimea was half nuns and half prostitutes.

End of lecture. I do carry on once I get on my hobby horses.

5:17 AM  
Blogger Kalen Hughes said...

Hi, Monya. Welcome to the blog. It's so nice to *see* some new faces around here. That Brummell error slays me. Ouch.

7:11 AM  
Blogger Courtney Milan said...

"Of course the profession didn't exist until Florence Nightingale did her thing during, again, the Crimean War."

Nightingale made a huge contribution towards making nursing a respectable profession in Britain, but she didn't invent the field, not by any stretch of the imagination.

A Google books search turns up multiple references to medical journals and accounts of hospital procedures, referring to nurses in Britain pre-Crimean war.

One such for instance:

http://books.google.com/books?id=aQ4HAAAAQAAJ&pg=PA234&dq=nurse+patient&hl=en&ei=SFMiTPX8E9SnsQbWqaTYBA&sa=X&oi=book_result&ct=result&resnum=9&ved=0CFQQ6AEwCA#v=onepage&q=nurse%20patient&f=false

11:47 AM  
Blogger Kalen Hughes said...

Nightingale made a huge contribution towards making nursing a respectable profession in Britain, but she didn't invent the field, not by any stretch of the imagination.

My understanding was that nurse was a very lowly profession during the Regency, certainly not a task a lady or woman of any standing would be undertaking (wives of officers who followed the drum might, of course, assist the surgeon after a battle, but they would not be “nurses”).

1:40 PM  
Anonymous Rose Lerner said...

@Kalen Hughes--yes! I HATE "cunny" and "quim." HATE HATE HATE. I don't know why, really. And yet.

@librarypat--I agree, and yet I do think people tend to overestimate how anachronistic the "mouthy, independent young woman" really is. Of course there are ways of doing it that I think work much better in-period than others, and ways of doing it that seem more like mutually-agreed-on shorthand for "mouthy, independent heroine" than anything else (an author can make the heroine riding astride in breeches work for me, but she has to really work at it).

But often I hear people talk as if we should just take the societal expectations for the fifties housewife and put that on Regency or Georgian women and that would be more accurate or period-appropriate. When really, it's just as anachronistic as using the stereotypical 21st century female college student as a model.

Times and mores change, but women are always human beings with plenty of agency and personality no matter what the conventional image of femininity is in their era, and whatever the financial and social constraints placed on them. The fun, for me, is in capturing the differences and similarities in how they would have expressed that.

5:10 PM  
Blogger Kalen Hughes said...

@Rose Lerner: I couldn't agree more! I buy every bio I can find about badly behaved women from the era and I read them over and over. My bad-girl virgin is a real challenge though, LOL! She's "fast" because she'd confident and has money and power behind her (not slutty, just a bit more like a young matron than a debutante). So far it's been an interesting experience to have to deal with a lower-key sexuality than I'm used to writing.

7:29 PM  
Blogger Pam Rosenthal said...

How did I miss this wonderful post?

Like Miranda Neville a million comments ago, it seems to me that after a certain immersion in studying, say, the Regency period, a red silk nightgown just doesn't seem hot. Not when you feel the exquisite luxurious labor-intensiveness of very fine muslin and lace. I don't like having to leave the world I've built for one designed by Victoria's Secret. Why bother going there?

But that's old stuff, and not really what I care about -- unlike the word that DOES drive me bats in a Regency or even perhaps a Victorian. Well, two words -- "sex" and "sexuality." "Sex" as in the act, and "sexuality" as in our intimate erotic nature that might or might not have to do with the act but which we now accept as having something to do with our profoundest selves.

This sexuality business is all a very recent notion (maybe 100 years old, or less). I'm not saying people didn't enjoy it before then -- people certainly did, the evidence is incontrovertible given the amount of trouble they got into doing it licitly and illicitly, and all the beautiful art devoted to it. But the modality was different. The chord structure, the color tonality, if you will. The public vs private, felt vs shared.

I know I don't get it right myself, but I try to imagine something not exactly like our contemporary combination of pleasure, therapy, self-actualization and expression. I especially try not to have what happens in bed be therapeutic. Better it be a power struggle, I think, until hopefully happy exhaustion.

And tho it's not just about terminology I'm still looking for a term that has the mutuality of "making love" but isn't that, since "making love" meant "wooing" and had nothing to do with going to bed.

But to me NO word is worse or more out of place in historical romance than "libido." I absolutely cannot fathom how anybody can use it, and I tend to distrust everything else they say after I find it.

5:12 PM  
Blogger Pam Rosenthal said...

The hardest thing of all -- and perhaps impossible in historical romance -- is to create a world where something that's old to us actually feels new, as perhaps it would have been in the period we're writing about. Like certain dissenting religious ideas in Wolf Hall (dream on, Pam)

5:58 PM  
Blogger Kalen Hughes said...

I totally agree about the sex/sexuality/libido stuff. It can be hard to write around, but if you don't, the book can end up with a very modern edge.

6:06 PM  
Anonymous Liz Fichera said...

Story first, historical details second. However, a well-told story should seamlessly weave the historical details into and around it. I know: Easier said than done. It goes without saying but don't attempt a historical novel without doing your research, regardless of the period or location.

7:16 AM  
OpenID gwynnyd said...

Re: red silk nightgowns - an author who could pull off a pre-cochineal-dye-era man giving a kermes-dyed fine crimson silk garment never meant to be seen except by him to the girl as a symbol of his absolutely extravagant over-the-top wealth and power, or love that beggared him to provide it, would have my vote as a "cool historical detail".

Or maybe someone could use the inevitable fading of a madder-dyed-red garment to a rusty orange-red to indicate something about the plot ....

That would be cool - er, at least to me.

9:09 AM  
Blogger Kalen Hughes said...

Story first, historical details second.

Clearly. If your story sucks, filling it with correct details isn't going to help. But if your story rocks, and you mire it down in anachronisms, you have, IMO, a problem (the biggest of which is that you haven't actually written a historical romance).

9:34 AM  
Blogger Evangeline Holland said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

12:33 PM  
Blogger Evangeline Holland said...

Of the titles I mentioned, I did not imply that those particularl books were wallpaper historicals. I merely used them to reference how much the HOOK matters in historical romance over the history. Take those same books and give them the sort of titles present in 19th century fiction and romance readers would scratch their heads. However, the growing trend of choosing titles which reference 20th and 21st century pop culture do nothing to dispel the notion of the "wallpaper historical."

12:36 PM  
Blogger Kalen Hughes said...

The hook matters to grab the readers attention, but the history matters to get her to pick up the next book (or at least it does to all the readers I know; clearly this is not a universal truth given the discussion taking place on Dear Author today).

I'm on the fence about the pop culture titles. Clearly they work for a certain kind of book. In my mind they tell me that this is a fun, flirty, Avon-style historical romance (most likely with comic elements). May not be an accurate assumption on my part, but it is where my brain goes. Among those type of books though, there is still a wide divergence in accuracy of plot and detail.

3:16 PM  
Blogger suburbanbeatnik said...

Pam Rosenthal, I love you and want to have your babies. I thought I was the only person in the world who HATED HATED HATED seeing the words "sex," "sexual" and "libido" in stories set before 1900. Whenever I see them I am dragged immediately into the post-Freudian age. There are so many great period words to use, i.e. "carnal," why not use them? But maybe I read too much 18th century erotica.

@Kalen, somehow I have missed reading novels that feature red silk nightgowns, but I agree with Pam that seems kind of shoddy and Victoria's Secret to me, after seeing so many beautifully constructed linen shifts.

Speaking of which, did you know that the quality of silk used in mass-produced clothing is of a cheaper and flimsier quality than that used in clothing from 70 years ago? I own a nightgown from the 1930s that's made out of a very heavy, almost buttery silk-- it wasn't supposed to be a top of the line garment, but it looks pretty amazing compared to the paper-thin fabrics coming out of modern Chinese sweatshops.

8:59 PM  
Blogger Pam Rosenthal said...

suburbanbeatnik (love the handle), you CAN have my babies -- the ones that are called books, anyway. (When I met the erotica author Violet Blue, she said, "I feel like I know you," referring to my erotic novel CARRIE'S STORY. "Oh, I said, "you do.")

While as for the other baby, who's just officially been made a professor (instead of post-doc fellow) in the English Department at Johns Hopkins... well, you'll have to wait a few years until his wonderful work on Victorian novels is published. (Sorry, once a proud Jewish mom, always a proud Jewish mom.)

8:27 AM  
Blogger Kalen Hughes said...

@suburbankeatnik: Kalen, somehow I have missed reading novels that feature red silk nightgowns

Lucky you!

did you know that the quality of silk used in mass-produced clothing is of a cheaper and flimsier quality than that used in clothing from 70 years ago?

Oh, yes. I have a lot of vintage clothing and the quality of the silk is very different. You can still get that buttery, high quality fabric at places like Thai Silk, but it's $$$.

@Pam: While as for the other baby, who's just officially been made a professor (instead of post-doc fellow) in the English Department at Johns Hopkins... well, you'll have to wait a few years until his wonderful work on Victorian novels is published.

Can't wait!

11:50 AM  
Blogger Anna Carrasco Bowling said...

I'm with Evangeline :waves hi: on the titles issue - if I see a cutesy modern title on the cover, that's going to signal to me, rightly or wrongly, that what is inside will likely be in a similar vein. Not all of them *are* wallpaper, but to someone with only a few minutes to browse, a takeoff on the title of a popular television program, movie or song, will more than likely indicate that they are more likely to be than other titles.

For the HISTORICAL romance vs historical ROMANCE argument, I would be over the moon with HISTORICAL ROMANCE. Certainly, a love story between people of previous centuries is possible, and obviously did happen, or there wouldn't be any humans around today to have this discussion. Give me (and let me write) love stories that couldn't have happened at any other time and place and live fully within the world as it was at the time, and I am one happy reader/writer.

4:17 AM  
Blogger Kalen Hughes said...

Give me (and let me write) love stories that couldn't have happened at any other time and place and live fully within the world as it was at the time, and I am one happy reader/writer.

You've summed up my thoughts perfectly, Anna!!!

1:02 PM  
Blogger Vicky said...

This has been a fascinating discussion! Just sent my own blog followers over for a look...

Re the discussion on fine flour used in scones: I've been to an old grist mill in Nova Scotia where the flour is separated out according to grade through a graded cylindrical sieve. When I checked the internet, it appears this sieving method goes way back, in one form or another (it could for example be a group of basket-like sieves), to at least the Romans. In the middle ages (my period), you'll often find reference to manchet bread -- made of fine, white flour. Bread for the rich, of course.

Another thing that writers need to consider when they're writing about bread, btw, is the physical location and time frame of their setting. There are periods in history in which wheat did not grown in Northern England and Scotland. (Actually, I don't think it ever grew in Scotland, but my research of the Roman and medieval periods in England reveal the wheat bordline fluxuated depending on climate change.) Oats, rye and barley were used instead. Wheat had to be imported from the south, so it would have been expensive. Same goes for the rest of Northern Europe.

3:04 PM  
Blogger Vicky said...

Just a quick addition for anyone REALLY interested in sifting wheat. The miller told me the traditional terms for the grades of wheat are:

fine
short
middlings
bran

As you'll see, there's no wholewheat or graham flour here. That's because wholewheat is actually flour where the first four grades are mixed, in various proportions. Graham flour has the bran thrown in, as well.

Modern milling terminology, btw, consideres middlings to have the bran and tailings. It's for filler in pet food. Millers of the past just considered it a course wheat flour.

3:21 PM  
Blogger Victoria Dixon said...

Oy, one of the reasons (certainly not the only one) why I chose to do historical FANTASY was so I could get around this question. There's not enough (translated) data on all of the details I needed for my 3rd century Chinese novel. My contacts began to tire of my bizarre questions when I was still in my first draft! Since I already had a ghost in my novel, there was no reason to stress historical accuracy. I strove for as much accuracy as I could and then I made educated guesses. Will my story have detractors? Yes, I've already seen some of their responses. Ironically, many of those responses are about the historically inaccurate parts of my story - you know, the ones where the reader assumes they know more than you do? They're invariably WRONG. LOL

9:38 AM  
Blogger Lynne Connolly said...

Back again - the nightgown, yes, it's the red bit because of the dyes involved. Silk laundry, not so much. Most of my silk garments go through the washing machine. It's only specially treated silk, like silk brocade and silk velvet that's difficult to launder. They had their own version of dry cleaning, though!
I find the more you know about a period, the more it comes alive. So you learn about the fuller's earth and your heroine passes a laundry and watches them do it, or the cleaner finds something interesting in the laundry - it just develops and enriches the story.
And having scones for breakfast would be seen as a tad bizarre. British breakfasts are, and seem to have always been, savory. Scones for tea, with butter and clotted cream and strawberry jam, oh yes!

I don't come from England or Britain - I'm still here! But my visits to the States and of course to Europe make it obvious sometimes how assumptions are made that are fundamentally wrong. Yes, we're brought up with our history, but we also see it every day, and there are many reminders of our past in the culture, the way we do things, so many people don't know they know as much as they do.
If you see what I mean.

11:21 AM  

Post a Comment

<< Home

Free Web Site Counter
Kennedy Western University Online