This weekend, I missed National Fountain Pen Day, and squeaked in under the wire on #FallBackInTime. The first holiday is rather self-explanatory, and we’ll get to that one, but I want to work backwards today. #FallBackInTime comes each year at the day we set our clocks back, and readers and writers of historical romance are invited to post pictures of themselves with a favorite historical romance novel and add a comment about why we love the genre. This year caught me by surprise.
Part of that is because it was a hectic weekend, and part of it was because I was in a crappy mood from said hectic weekend, and had to have go-out-and-do-stuff therapy on Sunday afternoon. I got home, feeling much better, but bone-tired, and checked my phone. Those are a lot of hashtags from my fellow historical romance people. What’s up with that. Oh. #FallBackInTime. Umm… :looks around, weary body at war with desire to participate: I grabbed the nearest book (Kindles are kind of tricky for shots like this) and snapped a selfie. This is not, for those interested in such things, my favorite historical romance novel; I’ve only recently started reading it (and stay tuned for highlights of my rant on lack of reading time in recent weeks) but Bertrice Small is the first genre historical romance writer I ever read, and the one who got me into this beautiful mess in the first place.
One of the things I like most about talking with SF/F writers is that most of them have a specific origin story; that a-ha moment when they first connected with Asimov, Bradbury or LeGuin. That never happened to me, at least not with those authors, but I know that moment. I found parts of myself in Small, Sherwood, and Woodiwiss. Though galaxies far, far away never called my name (on occasion, one would aim a friendly wave from a polite distance) the long ago part, that had a big, sparkly sign with my name on it, jumped up and down and waved its arms to beckon me over.
Those centuries far in the past felt like home right from the start, and they still are. When I wrote fan fiction inspired by SF/F franchises, even those stories were pretty much historical romances with blinky props. Even with the modern setting of the Beach Ball, which I am co-writing with Melva Michaelian, it’s set in the world of historical romance publishing. Historical romance isn’t as much a what-I-do as a part of who-I-am. For those who think the genre is only about wallpaper history or girls in prom dresses, or that it’s all about the sex, I say oh no, no, no, no, no, no. In historical romance, the woman always wins. The woman gets to tell her story. She gets the guy, yes, but more than that, she gets the right guy. One who respects her and cherishes her and considers her wants and needs as important as his own. Shoot, she gets a guy who likes her. He’s not all she gets, either. She gets what she’d have wanted even if he didn’t exist. She gets a say in her own future. She gets to use her talents, speak her mind, win the war.
When I was eleven years old, I stole my mom’s copy of The Kadin, by Bertrice Small, set in sixteenth-century Scotland and the Ottoman empire, and read it under the brass bed in the guest bedroom. Right away, I knew I’d found what I wanted to read and write for the rest of my life. So far, so good. I may have been on the young side to get the romance part, but I’d always loved the fairy tales with romance in them best, so I figure I was hardwired for that stuff. The world of the story blossomed around me, and watching the heroine, Janet (later renamed Cyra) grow and change and fall in love, that lit a fire within me. I wanted to learn how to write stories like that when I grew up; still working on that one, but I like to think I’m making progress.
Trends in publishing are ever-changing, and romance is a huge, huge umbrella. Big, sweeping historicals with bold heroines and epic timelines are still my favorites, though there are countless other variations, but historical romance is my home. If I received or discovered any super power under that brass bed, when I fell into the voice and the history and the time and the place and the characters and the story, it was the ability to come as close as mere mortals can to traveling in time. It’s been said that we are each the result of a thousand loves, and that holds true for historical romance novels as well. Each love story is a moment in time, when two people find a part of themselves in each other; who they are, who they want to be, who they always were, but never had the courage to declare. When a family, whether it remains only those two people, or becomes the start of a dynasty that spans centuries, takes its first breath. Play it all out against the pageant of history, and I’ve found my happy place.
Why read and write historical romance? For me, it’s only natural. I kind of like that product of a thousand loves thing. Let’s go with that.