History/Historicals

Happy Tuesday, everyone! It’s a busy day here, bailing out from some heavy rains and flooding yesterday (my garage is a mess) and recuperating from my ballet class’s recital last weekend. My little students danced their routine perfectly, and were adorable in the bargain, and I’m so proud of them! Now I have to take more dance classes myself so I can keep up with them when lessons resume in July…

I’m also starting a new book which needs lots of research (it’s set in the world of the late Elizabethan theater!), and have been reading a lot lately, so I had a hard time summoning up the brain power to think of a blog topic for today. After reading Diane’s great history post yesterday, I thought of something I’d love to hear Risky visitors’ opinions about. I recently came across a review of my Laurel McKee book Countess of Scandal that said the reviewer didn’t like anything about it because she hates “real history” in historicals.

Now, like every writer, I wish every single reader would love-love-love all my books–as impossible as that dream is! But I certainly know there will always be people who don’t–I don’t like every book I read by any means, after all. But I puzzled over this one. If a reader doesn’t like history, wouldn’t they read romantic contemporary comedy, or romantic suspense, or vampire stories, or something else? I don’t like stories about serial killers, so I don’t read them.

But then I realized something–I tend to get lost in my own world of weird obsessions a lot (True Blood, salad caprese, finding the perfect pair of leopard-print shoes, or whatever), and my biggest obsession of all is history. It’s why I read historical romance and historical fiction and most of the non-fiction I choose. I love falling deep into a different world and feeling like I’m really there. As a reader, and a writer, it’s what I enjoy the most–using real events to create conflict and drama (as Diane did with Waterloo, or as my Laurel books do with Georgian Ireland!), and to believe in a setting and the characters who belong there (even if they’re the rebels of the era).

Yet maybe I do get lost too much in my own interests. Maybe other people want pretty clothes and fancy estates and that’s it. As I start this new project, though, it’s something I need to think about more as I work out the plot. Is this something people would want to read?

So, now it’s your turn! Why do you read historicals? What do you like to see in the stories? What plots or characters do you find yourself drawn to? What would you like to see more of?

And speaking of history–next month I’ll be at RomCon in Denver, and will be taking part in a workshop called “Stripping the Heroine,” all about what the well-dressed romance heroine will be wearing (I do like pretty clothes in historicals, too!). I’m so excited about it–it means I get new gowns!!! If you’re there too, come and find me and say hi (Risky Carolyn will be there, as well…)

About Amanda McCabe/Laurel McKee

Writer (as Amanda McCabe, Laurel McKee, Amanda Carmack), history geek, yoga enthusiast, pet owner!
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17 Responses to History/Historicals

  1. Enid Wilson says:

    Like the reviewer, I like to read historical romance, but not too much history in it.

    I think I like the fact that the historical romance world has a different social order and people behaved differently.

    Bargain with the Devil

  2. I think characters come first in any story, of course, no matter what the genre! (except maybe literary fiction, where it’s more the style, at least to me). And class issues are a big part of characters in a historical setting…

  3. Valerie L. says:

    I’ve stopped reading books of historical romance where they got the history completely wrong. I’ve loved history with a passion since childhood and confine my reading to it. Whether it’s non-fiction, romance, mysteries or just plain fiction, if it’s historical, I’ll read it. And getting it right matters to me. Keep up what you’re doing.

  4. Diane Gaston says:

    I do understand Enid’s perspective-not wanting the history to get in the way of the romance. Thing is, I think you can do that and still use “real” history. For me, this is part of the fun of writing historicals – fitting in the real history with the story.

    It is personally important to me to get the details right. It is like a challenge. It is a way that makes the story real to me. If there weren’t ice cream cones and Baskin Robbins type ice cream parlors in the Regency, I don’t want to put it in a scene. I do, though, want to find out what Gunter’s in Berkeley Square was really like.

  5. Rose Lerner says:

    I love real history in my historicals! My first book includes significant references to the Peterloo Massacre and my second book will be set in England during the tail end of the Hundred Days before Waterloo.

    Of course, I have to be careful so it doesn’t overshadow my characters or feel shoehorned in just so that I could include a clever scene with the heroine flirting with my favorite poet or what have you–sort of the literary equivalent of a film costume drama that suddenly includes famous stock footage of a historical event. I have to make the seams invisible, because I’ve read books where they’re not and it throws me out of the story.

    For me that’s part of the challenge and the fun of writing historicals–making the backdrop and historical plot elements (and characters based on real people, if any) feel organic to the story. When it’s done right, as it often is, I think it adds wonderfully to the richness of a story.

  6. I’m like you Amanda. I’m a total history geek, and I find myself predominantly buying books that are history related, whether it’s historical fiction, romance, mysteries or non-fiction. I think it’s a delicate balance with historical romance, not to have the history dominate too much, but I like to get a real sense of the period. My biggest pet peeve is authors who use real titles for their characters. I had to put at least 2 books down, because I knew that the hero’s title actually existed in that time period, and I found it odd and confusing. Sometimes I think I know a little bit too much history to enjoy too many historical romances. But a really good story, a great hero and heroine will always triumph.

  7. Ali says:

    I like to read historical romance and don’t mind if it has too much history or not in it. I just like to read and get lost in whatever world the book takes me.

    Ooh, I’ll be at RomCon, too *bg* I can’t wait ๐Ÿ™‚

  8. Jane George says:

    I don’t read so-called “wallpaper historicals.” Time-traveling is part of the fun, and I like to be able to trust that the author “got it right” when it comes to period details.

    I’m not talking info-dump here, but a fully realized, historically accurate world. Love it!

  9. Jane Austen says:

    I love history in my books….it’s one of the reasons I read historical fiction. I agree with Valerie L. (we’ve had this conversation many times) that I don’t like it when they get history wrong. I always like to see a bookish character get the guy….why? Because I am a bookish character and I’d like to this that maybe there is a Duke out there who would appreciate that. Maybe I’m wrong.

    I’m writing an update of Jane Austen’s Northanger Abbey and who knows if it will ever get finished, but I notice myself adding little factoids about Florence and art and artists and about libraries and such since my heroine is working on a Ph. D. I wonder if sometimes those bits aren’t distracting, but really they are things I love most in a novel. For example I love how the Hailey Lind art theft series puts in all these little quirks about art history as well as interior design tips since the heroine owns a faux design studio. I like the little bits I learn from it. Also according to Robert J. Spiel Jr…who wrote the art crimes manual for the FBI…the best way to learn about art theft is to read art theft fiction. Most of it is really well researched and really shows how it happens. Just a fun tip from me to you.

  10. I think it’s absolutely essential to get the details right in whatever period one is writing about. And the more history the better, in my opinion; that’s what makes the book’s world real, and takes me away from my work-a-day life. Of course characters come first, but even they have to be realistic to their time period. Anything that jerks the reader from the book/time period really needs to be avoided.

    Thanks for a thought-provoking post!

  11. “Sometimes I think I know a little bit too much history to enjoy too many historical romances.”

    LOL, Elizabeth! I think this is one of the perils of being a history geek–it can lessen enjoyment in reading. I’m sometimes jerked out of a story by a wrong note or inaccurate factoid, then have to shout at the book. ๐Ÿ™‚ But a book where the period feels “right” and the details are evocative is so wonderful. A book where I feel like I am really there in the era is a jewel!

    Rose, I have your book on my TBR pile, waiting to be packed for an upcoming car trip! I’ve heard such great things about it. Thanks for dropping by the Riskies!

  12. Hm. I think that if the history becomes the focal point of the story, like it’s clear the author just loves, loves, loves the history–to the detriment of the plot and the characters–then I don’t like it.

    But, like you, I like being immersed in a different world, whether it’s Sookie’s Bon Temps, or in Martin’s Game of Thrones world, or your Elizabethan; so I’m okay with whatever history is being handed down.

    And where do I find some of those leopard shoes?!?

  13. Jane Austen says:

    History Hoydens: I just had a huge interview for my dream job today where I would go to work with first editions of Jane Austen’s works! Please pray to the Regency gods that I get this amazing opportunity. It would be a dream and would invite you all over to see the first editions. I’ll even dress like Jane for the occasion.

  14. Diane Gaston says:

    Oh, Jane Austen!!! I’ve heard of that collection! I will cross my fingers and toes and say a prayer that you are selected. If you are, I certainly would LOVE to visit!

  15. librarypat says:

    I’m with you. Why read historical romances if you are not interested in history? Take out the history and you have relationship stories which can be set anywhere. The only reason for an historical setting would be the dresses and social scene. Not much of interest there, at least for me. I need a bit more meat to my stories.
    One of the main reasons I read historicals is for the history. I do want the book to be well researched and accurate.
    If the reviewer doesn’t want her romance muddies up with history, she should just read a different sub-genre.

  16. “And where do I find some of those leopard shoes?!?”

    LOL Megan! The ones I have my eye on are BCBG t-straps, but they don’t have my size. So sad. ๐Ÿ™

    Good luck, Jane Austen!!!

  17. Jane Austen says:

    I feel silly that I referred to this wonderful group as the History Hoydens since I love this blog so much more. But thanks for the good wishes!

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