There’s the way we think things are going to go, and then there’s the way they actually do. This is true both in writing and in life, and, when it comes to the writing life, it may be doubly true. Way back when, in another life, I was a dewy-eyed twenty-three-year old, opening her very first response from a publisher, I thought the response was going to be “oh my, what a wonderful book; can we please, please, please publish it? Here’s lots of money, send us another.” It was not. What I got was a professionally worded version of “you’ve got something, kiddo, but literally nothing happens in the pages you sent us. Please send us something else. Also, learn how to plot.” The “literally nothing happens” part hit me pretty hard, and I totally missed the “please send us something else” part.
Well, for a while, that is. The “learn how to plot” part happened through writing a lot of fan fiction, membership in RWA, and reading enough historical romance novels to build a small house, if stacked correctly. I pored over every issue of Romantic Times magazine as soon as I had it in hand, scrutinized which new releases caught my eye, and why; plot, character type, character names, author’s voice, and, the first thing I screened for every time I hit the historical romance section: setting.
Let’s go back to that dewy-eyed twenty-three-year-old for a minute. She was absolutely sure she was going to write oodles of books in her very favorite setting, Tudor England, because her all time favorite historical romance was (and, :cough: a few years down the road :cough: still is Skye O’Malley, (the book, not the kitty) by Bertrice Small. Second place is still held by Lovesong (and its two direct sequels, same hero and same heroine) by Valerie Sherwood.
Neither of these books has an eighteenth century setting. Skye O’Malley is set in Elizabethan era Ireland, England, Algiers and the high seas. Lovesong is set in seventeenth-century Virginia, England, the high seas (see a pattern here?) and the Caribbean. So far, I have written one kind of sort of high seas story, Queen of the Ocean, set in sixteenth-century Cornwall, but it’s more of an on-the-shore story, as my heroine comes from a family of wreckers, and she and her hero don’t hit the high seas together until the very end. I dipped my toes into the seventeenth century waters with Orphans in the Storm, set at the end of the English Civil War. My very first book, My Outcast Heart, does have an eighteenth century setting, but it’s set on a small farm in Bedford, NY, a far cry from the glitter of the Georgian Court.
Her Last First Kiss gets closer, as it’s at least set (well, mostly) in London. I do a terrible job of staying in one place, setting-wise. In my heart of hearts, I am still a historical nomad, and fully plan to use a variety of settings (I must apologize to the Regency era for attempting to write in it, though. That did not go well for either of us.) but, lately, when I need to come up with a historical idea, my brain goes directly to Century Eighteen. In retrospect, I should have seen it coming, having spent my first ten years in a town steeped in colonial history, which had actually been burned to the ground by the British army during the war; yeah, think that imprinted on me pretty well.
I was an impressionable wee princess at the time of the Bicentennial, and eighteenth-century stuff was everywhere. My eyes naturally went to a certain look when I watched movies set in “the olden days” – lace and heels on everybody, including the dudes, ornamentation everywhere, powdered wigs (hey, they were hot stuff back in the day) and grand houses. When I was a teen and participated in a young artists’ program at Wesleyan one summer, we had a poetry workshop that had some eighteenth century poetry in the curriculum, and I, to this day, remember walking from dorm to the building where we young writers would meet every weekday, floating on the music of those old-timey words. Yes. That was right. That was how the voices in my head naturally spoke. Doesn’t matter what side of the pond they might be.
Fast forward to now, when Melva and I first started batting around what would eventually become the Beach Ball. It’s a contemporary story, set in the world of historical romance. When we got to the point where we had to pick a historical setting for the book within the book, I had absolutely no hesitation suggesting the eighteenth century. That came as naturally as breathing, and so there it was.
Thinking ahead to what’s next, as I’m working on draft two of HLFK and Melva and I keep bringing the Beach Ball to its conclusion, my brain is pretty darned comfortable in the eighteenth century for the time being. I am okay with that. Why does this period feel like home for now? That’s a good question. I don’t know that there’s any one right answer. I’m hoping that the Hamilton effect will ripple into historical romance, and hang out there for at least a little while (though I haven’t written American Revolution yet, and the one time I tried, I had tried to force certain aspects, and it fizzled, taking part of my spirit down with it.)
In the end, I’m going to go with “it feels right,” and leave it at that. If that’s where the stories are, that’s where the stories are. At least we’ll know where to find each other.