Thursday, September 06, 2007

History, or fantasy?

Okay, so I'm ready to give up buying and reading historical romance.

Coming from me, that's like saying I'm giving up breathing. I love a good historical romance, but these days there are only a few authors I'll trust any more. And I won't buy a new author unless I can read a lengthy excerpt. After one more attempt to read a new book by a new author, that is it. I've just about had enough.

It's for self preservation, that's all. The number of historical errors is just increasing so much, that it's trampling on my history (because most historical romances are set in my country, the UK) and I need to save my blood pressure and my health. I feel insulted every time an author plays fast and loose with my history, calling dukes "my lord," letting an earl choose who is going to inherit his title, having people think in centimeters pre-1981. I've read them all.

I've just read another appalling hotchpotch and for now, that's my last one. I'm sticking to the writers I know get it more or less right, writers like Laura Kinsale, Jo Beverley, Mary Jo Putney and Liz Carlyle. Not only do they get the facts right, they get the feel right, they understand the era they write about and the way men and women felt and thought then. I read historical romance to be spirited away to another era, not to read about a woman with a modern American mindset jumping in and out of beds with all the carelessness of a woman who has a reliable contraceptive method at her beck and call.

I think historical novels should come with a history warning, from one to five, where one is "Which era is this supposed to be?" and five is "You can relax, I know what I'm doing."

And just to save some of you putting pen to paper, here are my answers (not necessarily the ones others would answer, because this is strictly my opinion) to the questions and comments that come up over and over again:

"We're writing novels, not history text books."
Any book that recites long lists of facts and figures while purporting to be a novel is bad. Any book, any genre. There's nothing wrong with making an effort to get the facts right that you do use.

"It's all about the romance."
Yes, it is. But people loved and lived differently then, and that's one of the reasons I adore a well-written historical romance. Put a romance in context, make a real effort to get the history right, and it can bring a book alive. Same with any other genre. Make your Sci Fi alien real, give him a real world, and he starts to get three dimensional.

"The readers don't pick it up, and they don't care, so why should we bother?"
Because some do, and by not getting it right, you're already limiting your readership by putting off readers like me, who like a well written, well researched romance.

You're insulting the intelligence of your readership. If you're all about the money, then go ahead and write the thing, but if you love writing and you really care about your readers, do them the courtesy of getting it right. Many readers, although they might not know the details, can sense when a story is off. I've seen a few on lists asking if such-and-such a detail is right, just to confirm a gut feeling they had.

"Editors don't pick it up, so why should we?"
Editors IMO should be able to, but they can't always do so. Not every editor knows her way around a historical like my editor does. And editors have to edit all genres, there are few specialists these days. They move around, are given different lines to edit. Besides, it's your book, not your editor's and your name is on the cover.

It's a matter of pride in what you do.

And no, I don't think I get it all right, all the time. But at least I try. I really think the lack of ability to trust a historical author has led to the current dearth in the historical romance, a slump we're only beginning to climb out of. And now the historical romance is hotter, we'll have more "Sex in the Regency" style stories.


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