Right now, I’m sitting in my office chair, The Goo Goo Dolls playing in the background, and water bottle at the ready. Skye is curled against the office door, propped open (the door, not Skye) with a blush pink mini milk crate filled with art supplies. I have an ice pack for the finger I burned on the skillet while making sausage for breakfast this morning. My brain is still rather think-y, mostly about writing, the romance genre, and writing in the romance genre.
I’ve known I wanted to write love stories since I was far too young to be reading them, and yes, they do have to end happily. Back when I first jumped on board the historical romance train, things looked different within the genre. Books were books, not series, for the most part, and pretty much the entire sweep of history was fair game, the now-dominant Regency setting mostly in its own sphere, that of the traditional Regency. When I first started reading historicals, I loved the idea of a genre devoted to the specific spirit of a particular time, and distinctly remember asking a bookseller where the Elizabethans were. You know, like the Regencies, but the Elizabethan period, when Queen Elizabeth I ruled England. Or Tudor period as a whole; her dad’s era, or her granddad’s, it’s all good.
I remember the bookseller’s answer as well, after a few rounds of variations of “what on earth are you talking about, strange college student who is super into this historical romance thing?” There weren’t any. Historical romances could be set in any period, and, back then, they were, but these slim books with their distinctive covers only covered one historical period, and a relatively short one at that.
Well, then. Where’s the fun in that? Personally, I think there could be a market for that. Historical romances where the history and the romance are intrinsically intertwined are among my very favorites, and knowing where a reader could find stories in their favorite periods makes a lot of sense, but maybe that’s just me. I spent long hours in that bookshop, pulling spine after spine out of the shelves, for a glance at the cover, then a quick scan of the back blurb, looking for my preferred periods. In the rare case when cover and/or blurb didn’t tell me, the first page of the story usually did.
My favorites back then were anything in the 16th-18th century range, then medieval, then Edwardian, then ancient world, then whatever’s left can all mill about together. Special exception made for historical romances set in Australia. There have never been enough historical romances set in Australia. Coughty-cough years later, my historical hierarchy has not changed, though the first three shuffle around in order from time to time. I think they have some kind of time share thing going, and I remain firm in my position on Australian historical romances. Tell me a historical romance is set in Australia, and then take my money. I need hear nothing more.
It’s a select group of romance novel elements that fit that designation. If either lead spends time in Newgate or Bedlam, give me that book. Star-crossed lovers who somehow make it work? I want that. No, scratch that. I need it. I want the struggle. I want to see our lovers get thisclose to being happy, have it all wrenched away, and then fight like hell to get it back, and, this time, they win. I’m perfectly fine if that takes multiple years, crosses oceans, or takes place on more than one continent. As long as I have a lump in my throat, my heart hurts a little, and I get to fist pump at the end, because the lovers made it, no matter what stood in their ways. Take that, antagonists, you are no match for true love.
There’s a lot to be said for quieter stories, and I have liked some of them, even loved a few. My first historical romance, My Outcast Heart, is a quiet story. My hero is a hermit, and my heroine, a subsistence farmer. Dalby and Tabetha are always going to be special to me, not only because they were my first sale, but because their story could not have come together any other way. I left them happy, healthy, and a wee bit better off than they started the story. Dalby started the story living in a shack in the woods by himself, so the bar was probably low for him to begin with, but still, they ended up together and happy about it, and I don’t think they’d consider their lives small at all. Quiet, yes, but not small. All right, Tabetha’s last name was Small before she married Dalby, but there’s a difference between Small and small.
From there, I took a detour to sixteenth-century Cornwall, and the turn of the twentieth century in England and Italy, before Jonnet and Simon found themselves in the middle of the English Civil War. Every one of those periods, and the periods I’m writing in right now -the late eighteenth century for Her Last First Kiss on my own, and the modern age for my co-written novels with Melva Michaelian, influence the love stories, so that the stories as they happen couldn’t have happened the same way in any other era.
For me, that’s a lot of the fun. How are these particular lovers going to get what they want, within the world in which they live? How have the lives they’ve led up to the point where they decide this other person is it for them, affected how likely it is they are going to get to be with this person, and what are they going to have to do, or give up, to be with this person? For me, the HEA is all the more satisfying if they have to work hard for it, and take a few knocks along the way. That’s the type of story I hope to bring to my readers, with Her Last First Kiss, A Heart Most Errant, and everything else.
What kinds of historical romances are your very, very favorites?