I’ve been thinking about historical romances ever since I read that Dear Author post about the death of them. Also, I sat in on the Shindig historical romance panel that included the RITA nominees. The Dear Author post was a topic of conversation.
I adore historicals. I wrote one several years ago and it’s one of my favorite books I’ve ever written—even if it’s never been sold. So many of us have books like this, don’t we? Books that we loved writing but just have not found a home yet?
A little about my own homeless historical
“Tempting Will McGlashen” is set in 1765 in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia. This was the frontier. Roads were being blazed out of old Native American trails. People were seeking opportunity for more land at cheaper prices came to the Valley, mostly from Pennsylvania, which was becoming crowded and expensive.
My heroine is an innkeeper’s daughter and my hero a blacksmith that comes to work for her father. Both my agent and my current editor loved the book, but he could not get the rest of his committee on board. The main reason was that the time period and the place are just not easy to sell. (And would be even harder with a first time novelist.)
I’ve thought about self-publishing it—and I probably will at some point. But right now, I don’t have the time. (Kudos to those who can do it and do it well.) I’m writing two series and several blogs, and do have a life. (Imagine that.) But it’s a project that is very near and dear to my heart. I loved the research and the writing. And I keep the thought of doing something else with it tucked back in my mind.
Mathilde, the innkeeper’s daughter , is second generation of German descent. She’s 20-years-old, loves to cook, and converse with the travelers who eat and stay at their “ordinary,” which is what inns were called in Virginia then. Oneof the reasons I set the book at in and ordinary is I wanted her to meet many people. She has a lively mind and when her father mentions that it’s time to consider marriage to a young man who owns a farm in Pa., she balks. She doesn’t want to be tucked away on a farm, and she can’t imagine marrying Joshua. But she tries to consider him because she’s a dutiful daughter. She goes along with her father up until a certain point.
In walks Will McClashen, fresh from Scotland, whose voice “sounds like song” and makes Mathilde’s heart race. Will has a few secrets of his own and knows that acting on this heated attraction with Mathilde might put his new job (and new life) in jeopardy with his new boss, her father. Where he comes from, marrying outside of your class is not done. And besides, as far as he knows, Mathilde is going to marry Josh. So even though he has a burning desire for her, she is off-limits. Or so he thinks.
A little about the tension therein
Is there anything worse than wanting a lover you can’t have for whatever reason?
This kind of plot is not unique—feeling love and attraction for someone that society deems unacceptable. This convention exists is many, many romances. What makes each story unique is the setting and circumstances along with the characters, complete with their own foibles and quirks. And of course, the narrative the author place over that “structure.”
This scenario is even popular in contemporary romances. Think about the colleagues who should not have an affair, or the boss and employee, and yes there’s definitely still “class” lines drawn in the sand, especially in other cultures. And let’s not forget the multicultural taboos. But all of those lines are more sharply dawn in historicals. And I wonder if that’s one of our fascinations with them. We also love history coming alive, imagining ourselves back then, how would we have reacted? What would we wear? What station of life would we be in? Would we be one of those who went against convention or would we have the courage to walk our own paths?
I think that good historical romance writers are some of the best writers. Think about it. Not only must they be accurate in the historical manner, but they also must bring some kind of modern sensibility to their storytelling or today’s reader could not relate. Achieving that balance in an artistic, yet readable fashion is not easily done.
What do you think about historicals? Are they dying?