All Times Are a Stage aka Historical Romance

”His cloak, held by a leather thong, had fallen off his shoulders when he had tumbled into the coach, revealing a full sleeved white shirt open at the throat, plain leather riding breeches and the knee-high jackboots common to men of the road. Tightly coiled tension accented with undertones of determination and danger emanated from the lean figure.”

Today the gentleman described above would garner stares (perhaps admiring in nature) and most would think him bound for a masque ball--sorry, make that costume party. It’s one of the dangers/joys of immersing yourself in a story be you writer or reader. I’ve been listening to Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander series and have to watch myself to keep from speaking at times with a Scottish brogue.

This graphic shows three figures in modes of dress common circa 1809. They would be very comfortable in my books. I’ve had nine “sweet”* Georgian (1700-1798) and regency (roughly 1800-1825) books published. *Sweet” regencies are stories that contain sexual tension and kissing but no other sexual content. They disappeared from the marketplace in 2006 but they now flourish in the eBook market. I am currently working on a Napoleonic spy mystery/romance series.
Why did I choose to write historical romance? I think I do so because of a love of history (attested to by my minor in American History) and a fondness for word play combined with years of reading historical fiction topped by the discovery of Georgette Heyer, the earliest writer of and oft regarded queen of Regency Romance. Then there are those characters in my head that are happy only occupying the past.

Why should you write historical romance? Perhaps some of the above and also because historical romance ranks second in all sales of romance. In 2007 Romance Writers of America (RWA) ( stated that historical romance was 16% of the romance market. In 2008 it was 17% and holding strong, especially regency set historical romance.

RWA describes Historical Romance as “Romance novels set in any time period prior to 1945, and taking place in any location.” Settings in historical romance can range from the Dark Ages to ancient civilizations; from the Middle Ages to Regency England; from the Civil War to the Wild West or World War I or II and many more. These romances can cross with other genres. To name a few--inspirational, mystery, or paranormal such as the regency paranormal The Marriage Spell by Mary Jo Pultney. But one thing is true for all historical novels--through accurate detail they take the reader to a specific time and place in history.

Some authors use actual persons, places, and events amidst their fictional ones. Some use only the fictional--characters, places, and events of their invention. Knowledge of the every day life of the time and place (together the make the setting) of the historical romance as well as the language and jargon in use then is very important. Once a setting has been chosen and the plot set--or even before this--research begins. Just how much to learn about your setting requires a delicate balance. Too little makes the book unreal, even laughable--substitute rebooks for jackboots in my opening paragraph) but too much research can lead one to either get lost in the delight of fact finding (odd but true for some of us) and never write the book or turn the book into a litany of facts which detract from and turns off the reader.

In writing historical romances you share your love of historical periods, educating and entertaining. I just finished reading Reflections in the Nile by J. Suzanne Frank and now know more about ancient Egypt than any history textbook could induce me to remember as well as having enjoyed a fascinating romance. The best way to decide if this is your niche and which period of history your characters will inhabit is to read a variety of periods. When you find one that peoples your mind with characters and plots read a lot of books in that period. It’s a great way to absorb some of the ambiance and helps you to learn the market--but that is for another post. Many years ago I read over 200 regencies in six weeks. As I tossed the last one back into the box I thought, “I can write something better than some of these.” I sold my first historical romance two years later. So start reading . . .


Pat Davids said...

Great post, Joan.
You hooked me right from the start. Although I don't write historicals that doesn't mean I don't love them. I'd rather go back in time more than anywhere else when I open a book.

Joan Vincent said...

Thanks Pat. That's why its so great having good writers like you who enable readers to escape for a time and be uplifted.

Becky A said...

Ditto Pat's remark. That was a very informative and intriguing post. I used to devour gothic romances which I am assuming are some form of historical romance since they were always pre 1945. I often write stories in my head in medieval type settings so some day I'll have to put one down on paper and see what happens. Can you recommend a good history book to research that won't put me to sleep?

Rox Delaney said...

As I've told Joan before, I cut my Romance teeth on Georgette Heyer, who is sometimes referred to as the First Lady of Regency. I couldn't believe how much British history I learned while reading those in high school. (The Grand Sophy is my favorite.)

In fact, ALL romance I used to read was Historical. No contemporary stuff for this miss. Another of my favorites and possibly where my oldest daughter's name came from (heroine's name is Sabrina) is Moonstruck Madness by Laurie McBain. It has been rumored that Laurie McBain is the female pseudonym of Stephen King. That's RUMORED only, no proof.

There are thousands of wonderful historical romances out there, a great way to escape the modern world for a few hours. I'm so glad Regency has found a home with ebooks, until it revises once again in print books.

Joan Vincent said...

Becky--it was a medieval romance that first started filling my head with characters and a plot that would not stop growing. I’d give anything to have the name or author of that book--I only recall the story. A medieval set in a world I created was the first book I wrote--I hadn’t thought about it in years. I haven’t researched in the medieval era so can’t recommend any textbooks. Unfortunately many will put you asleep! But there are the odd one out that excites and thrills with just the info you wanted!
Below are some links I found after a cursory search: Literary resources Medieval --Medieval Studies Research Links I got goose bumps looking at this site! site done by a gifted elementary class--basic but a good starting point. What a teacher these kids have!

I’ve enjoyed Jo Beverley’s medieval works- Lord of my Heart, Dark Champion,
The Shattered Rose, Lord of Midnight

Joan Vincent said...

I have all of Heyer's romances. I love These Old Shades--a Georgian but delicious. In fact I'll have to reread it and the book comes from Shades--Devil's Cub. Sylvia Thorpe, just a little later than Heyer was also very good.

Reese Mobley said...

Great explaination, Joan. I've not read very many historicals but the ones I've read have been wonderful. Thanks for enlightening me.

Rox Delaney said...

Joan, I loved These Old Shades and Devil's Cub, too, but if I remember correctly, I read them out of order, i.e. Devil's Cub before These Old Shades. A bit backwards, but it didn't hurt.

Several online bookstores have Heyer's books. I think Harlequin has many available as does SourceBooks. I may see about getting the ones I'm missing. I lost a few when the basement flooded at the farm. I'd really like to get my youngest to read a few. She thinks history is boring. I think she'd find it doesn't have to be.

Joan Vincent said...

Reese--different strokes for different folks. The world would be very dull if we all liked the same thing. I'm thankful you write humor--can't wait to read your first book published and I know that will come :)

Joan Vincent said...

That is a terrific idea--she'll absorb history without even realizing it.
Thinking of Sylvia Thorpe reminded me of Joan Smith--all wrote sweet sometimes refered to as traditional Georgian (perhaps more easily remembered as the time of George I,II,and III for those who are wondering what I'm talking about with that term) and regency historical romance.
Mary Baloughs early work and Barbara Metzger are also favorites of mine.

Rox Delaney said...

Sylvia Thorpe sounds familiar, so it's possible I read one or two. I've heard Mary Baloughs has great books. In fact, I was at Borders and B&N the other day and saw one of hers there. That's name recognition.

So here's a question. You said Regency is roughly 1800-1825. Is that during the Napoleonic period? I should look that up, huh? :)

What I remember is Prinny, though I don't know what British prince that was, and all the talk of dandies, balls, gaming hells, cravats (waterfall and 4-in-hand? Or was four-in-hand a coach?) and the many types of conveyances, carriages, etc. Oh, and the dresses! I love those dresses!

Becky A said...

Thanks for all the authors and websites mentioned. I'm going to check them out. Of course if I spend all my time reading, when will I write?????????????????

Joan Vincent said...

Be warned, you should never give an opening to a researcher who has little opportunity to share-- “You said Regency is roughly 1800-1825. Is that during the Napoleonic period?”
The actual regency--which refers to the period of time when George III went “mad” for the last time and his son George Augustus Frederick of Hanover, Prince of Wales, nicknamed Prinny by his intimates, was declared regent until George III’s death in 1820 when Prinny became George IV.
So technically the regency is 1811-1820. For writing purposes however most people go with the time frame where all the aspects of the regency existed. The most common stretch of time is 1790 (after the reign of terror in France) until 1830 (the death of George IV). The Napoleonic Period overlays the regency as it is generally given from 1792, the French First Republic under which Napoléon Bonaparte--not Napoleon Dynamite--rose to fame and power until his defeat at Waterloo in 1815.

“What I remember is Prinny, though I don't know what British prince that was, and all the talk of dandies, balls, gaming hells, cravats (waterfall and 4-in-hand? Or was four-in-hand a coach?) and the many types of conveyances, carriages, etc. Oh, and the dresses! I love those dresses!”
4-in-Hand was a club of men, some dandies (men concerned with fashion above all) who were excellent "whips" (very skilled at driving a carriage) and competed in racing with 2 pair of horses hitched to whatever style coach or carriage they chose. It could well have the name of a cravat too. And the dresses--remember the high-waisted dresses which were the rage in the 60’s? Several of my friends had wedding dresses in that style and my bridesmaids' dresses were that style. It was/is more commonly called “empire” from Napoleon’s court where the style originated. I’m old but not THAT old.
You know, I was sweating musket balls this morning but this blogging is fun!

Joan Vincent said...

I'm happy to oblige as I found some very useful links too. Getting lost in research is truly a danger to writing time. So little time, so many books! If we just didn't need to sleep :)

Joan Vincent said...

Begging your pardon--The Reign of Terror (8 September 1793 – 29 July 1794). A demonstration about why you check and recheck facts!

Starla Kaye said...

I'm in absolute awe about your knowledge of the time period in which you choose to write.

I had never read romance until I joined WARA, and then I started reading historicals. I have a minor in American History and have always been intrigued by Scots as well. Because of my passing interest in writing historicals, I've written and sold two American Western romance novels and one pirate novella.

But, again, I'm in true awe of you, Joan.

Joan Vincent said...

Thank you. At least you have used your minor in American History while I bounced across the ocean and became a "royalist" of sorts. What are the names of and where can we find your American West romances and pirate novella?

Nina Sipes said...

It is a little late today, so though I've read all of the blog so far, I've got to say WELL DONE! Joan's piece was inspirational. The others very fine in their unique voices.
'My alter ego says "Dang it! Ladies. You're a tough group to follow!"

Joan Vincent said...

Thank you. Pat and Theresa so deserve that "well done!" Thanks for stopping by

Penny Rader said...

I read my first historical romance in the 9th grade. A classmate put "Caroline" by Cynthia Wright into my hands and I was hooked. I read historical romances pretty much exclusively for ten years. My favorite time period was the Colonial America period.

Rox, I read and loved many of Laurie McBain's books. Thanks for the reminder! Hmm. Wonder if I still have some of her books?

I haven't read any Georgette Heyer books. The idea of trying to write a story set in historical England scares me silly. The Lord and Lady and Duke and Duchess, etc. stuff just leaves me all confused.

Jeannie said...

I love to read historical romance. I'm just too lazy to write it. :-)The closest I ever came was a story about a Northwest Mounted Policeman and a mail order bride.

I think one of my favorite historical romances of all time has to be THE SCARLET PIMPERNEL by the Baroness Orczy. As far as gothics go, (yes, Becky, most Gothics are historicals) who can ever forget Heathcliff of WUTHERING HEIGHTS?

My all time favorite romantic suspense writer is Barbara Michaels, who also writes as Elizabeth Peters. She writes both historical and contemporary, under both names. Her Peabody series, named for the heroine, Amelia Peabody, began with the book THE CROCODILE ON THE SANDBANK. It's a classic gothic romance tale that will teach you tons about Eygptology.

I love seeing how many of us have read Georgette Heyer. No one mentioned my favorite book of hers, FRIDAY'S CHILD. One reason I loved the book was that the hero, Sherry, was the Regency equivalent of a jock. I don't like jocks, but I adored Sherry. And my favorite term for "drunk" came out of one of Georgette's books. The term was "foxed." Sounds way cooler than "swacked," doesn't it?

This was a great post, Joan. Like the others, I'm just amazed at the knowledge you have of your era. It generated a lot of interest. I may even dust off that Mountie. I love men in red coats. ;-P