Wednesday, May 04, 2005

Another Historical Rant

I graduated with a degree in history. I chose the major because:

1. I liked history, when it came time to declare, most of my classes were in history.
2. Its a good major if you want to go to law school, which I thought I did at the time.
3. What better degree for a romance writer, the other career I aspired to?

My focus was the colonial south and I spent a few months in Williamsburg, VA studying the era. Oh, I loved it. I couldn't wait to write my great, dramatic romance novel encompassing a period and location I adored.

A few years later, I did write my novel. I took my knowledge and experience studying colonial America and set my book in Virginia in 1752. Okay, I won't candy-coat the truth. The book reeked. Oh man, it was not good. But at the time I thought it was pretty good. So with perky optimism I submitted it to agents. Before they could actually find out how bad my book was, they flat out said novels set in colonial America did not sell.

Now, a bit more jaded, I've found there are only two periods in history and two countries as far as publishers are concerned. It seems every historical is set either in medieval England or Scotland or set in Regency London. France exists to provide that pesky Napoleonic war so we could have Regency spy heroes.

I know I'm being extreme. There are other books out there written in different time periods and places, but they aren't the norm.

Yeah, this is an old argument that gets rehashed time and time again. But I do wish it would change. I'd hoped when "The Patriot" came out there would be a revived interest in colonial-Revolutionary America (although by the end of the film I was rooting for the redcoats. Wasn't Jason Isaacs a hottie?). But it didn't happen.

I have buckled under the pressure and my current WIP takes place in the Regency era although out stubbornness I set it in 1808 which technically is not the Regency. And as I look towards the end of my WIP and my next project, I can't help but long to return to Virginia and write about pocket hoops and would-be patriots.

Sorry, after writing this blog, I thought of a whole other part.

As a reader, I have found myself drifting away from historical romance. Funny, because when I first started reading romance I only read historicals. I started reading in the early '80's during the days when Woodiwiss, Busbee, Wilde & Lindsey were royalty. Lindsey was all over the historical atlas and part of the fun was never knowing where she was going to take you. Busbee settled in the south in the early days of the Republic and mixed in the troubled political climate of the era with her sweeping romances. Does anyone remember Eleanora Brownleigh and the way in which she brought the elegance of the the early 20th century alive to her readers?

It seems the choices for readers have been funneled down. Not that there aren't great authors, but I feel like the choices are limited with regards to variety.


Melissa Amateis said...

You said it perfectly. I think the trend will shift again - it's just a matter of time. So I say if you want to write a historical novel set in the 1750's in Virginia, go for it! By the time you're finished, the market might have changed.

Rene said...

I should clarify, I have nothing against medievals or Regencies, I would just appreciate more variety as both a reader and writer.

Anonymous said...

I loved historicals and started writing WANTING to write that, but started in contemp category instead. Eventually, I had three historicals published but with the market the way it was and missing contemps, I went back to contemps. I'd still love to do more historicals someday, but the market really isn't there for them now. I'm just lucky that I'm happy in a lot of different subgenres so I can switch around if I need to. I do wonder if historicals will ever return to their former heyday.

Rene said...

Suzanne, I don't think historicals will ever hit the levels they did 20 years ago. But at that time, there was very little choice in romantic fiction. You had category and historicals. Not much else. And that's okay. I think there will be little peaks here and there, but most genres have their moments in the sun and fade out a little bit. Right now, chick-lit, paranormal and romantica seem to be the hot topics and you can't get away from them, but I do think the craze will die down, leaving these genres still big sellers but without the mania.

Tess said...

Rene - been meaning for almost a week to get back to comment on this! I hear you loud and clear. Heck, I even WRITE medieval and read Regencies, but love other time periods as well. Like Stuart England, Revolutionary France and pre-Regency England (late 18th C). What I find so interesting is that readers I know are always fascinated by other periods and complain they can only find books set during a couple of key ones on their bookstore shelves. What's a writer to do?

Rene said...

It kills me, how many times there is a post at the RT boards for someone looking for a good colonial. Or Restoration. Or any other time frame. I had a story I wanted to write that took place in the late 19th century about a woman's baseball team. Could you imagine any publisher picking that up?

Tess said...

Rene - LOL - sounds like a fantastic story idea! But you're right, one no-one would buy. Guess we just have to keep on writing and submitting and hope to find an editor willing to take a chance! Or start our own publishing company *vbg*.

Kelly Boyce said...

I feel your pain, Rene and agree completely. While I love reading books set in Medieval England/Scotland and the Regency period, I also love westerns, civil war, colonial times. And what about the Renissance (which I believe I just horribly mangled in spelling)? What ever happened to variety being the spice of life?