Historical Novels

If you know the first thing about me, and maybe not much else, it is that I love historical romance.  The thing about historical romance is of course that it is historical and that it is a romance.   But why?

As a reader, since I only started writing about a year ago, I am much more of a reader than a writer; I never chose to read historical romances because of the history.  I mean, history is fine when it is woven into the story, but I always worry if the historical aspect of the historical novel is, in fact, true to history.   More often than not, it isn’t, and in that case I wish the story was not historical, in that sense.

I rather enjoy a good fantasy or alternative historical romance, just as much as one that stays true to history.  At times, I might even enjoy it more if it is set in a fantasy world, then I don’t have to worry about whether it is staying true to actual historical events; however I don’t really like your normal fantasy, per se.  For me the setting is not as important as the story itself.  So, I don’t list fantasy as one of my preferred genres, because I am not sure where it will take me, and the usual stories that happen in the fantasy genre are not my favorite; although I do like some.

Here is a concrete example.  I like George MacDonald’s romance novels, such as The Fisherman’s Lady (I really need to re-read that), more than his fantasy stories—Phantastes, Lilith and others.  That being said, I like the Chronicles of Narnia, which are fantasy, more than George MacDonald’s romance novels.  In spite of the fact that Phantastes is not my personal favorite; it is because of it that C.S. Lewis “crossed a great frontier” and was henceforth inspired to write his Chronicles of Narnia and Space Trilogy.  Any person who is familiar with George MacDonald’s writings can see just how much C.S. Lewis was influenced by them.  The greatest attraction for me to read a George MacDonald novel is the fact that he wrote them in the 1800’s, and he was writing contemporary modern literature for that time, but for me now, they are the purest form of the historical novel.  Add to that attraction, the additional blessing of getting to read one of his sermons now and again woven into his novels, and for me it is a win/win/win.

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The downside of the modern historical romance genre is that unless it is sold as a Christian Historical Romance it can be littered with explicit sex; and even then it is not immune to it, if an author/publisher labels it as Christian in order to appeal to a bigger readership.  I mean, just because a story is set in a convent or the main character is a priest or a pastor, that doesn’t mean the book should be classified as Christian.  Personally, I don’t exclusively read Christian literature, because I have found some very good books that are not; however it can be quite deceptive and by the time you get to the sex scene you are already invested into the storyline and you want to know how it ends.  Of course, I just skip over it, but it is disheartening to be blindsided over and over again due to the mislabeling of books.

So then, just exactly what is it about the historical romance genre that I like so much?  Well, if it is not the history and it is not sex, what is it?

It is the mindset of the characters.

This is the reason that I prefer to read novels that were written centuries ago, versus new novels that have a historical setting.  I am much more interested in how they actually thought and felt, versus what someone today thinks they thought or felt.  Like I have said previously, it’s more than just making your characters speak in an old-fashioned manner.

Moment of truth—I do occasionally enjoy reading a historical romance that is completely full of historical inaccuracies and has the characters speaking in modern slang, if the mindset of the characters is more old-fashioned.  If the relationship between the main characters is true to what it would have been historically.  Here is the thing.  I read historical romance to get away from the modern mindset, which I hate and blame for all that ails our society today; and I hate it when it pops up in what is supposed to be historical novels.

Here is a quote from Thomas Babington Macaulay (b.1800-d.1859):

Everywhere, there is a class of men who cling with fondness to whatever is ancient, and who, even when convinced by overpowering reasons that innovation would be beneficial, consent to it with many misgivings and forebodings. We find also everywhere another class of men, sanguine in hope, bold in speculation, always pressing forward, quick to discern the imperfections of whatever exists, disposed to think lightly of the risks and inconveniences which attend improvements and disposed to give every change credit for being an improvement. In the sentiments of both classes there is something to approve.”

I readily admit that I fall into the first class of men, who cling with fondness to whatever is ancient.  Whether it is unreasonable or not, that is who I am and I am proud of it.   Thomas B. Macaulay certainly thought it unreasonable, although had he lived to see the last few decades, I wonder if he wouldn’t have changed his tune.

Another thing—I hate superwomen historical characters.  Even worse than that, I hate wimpy historical male characters.  That doesn’t mean that historically women never wore the pants, figuratively speaking, in the relationship; because ever since the time of Nimrod women have been controlling their men.  That doesn’t make it right, and it certainly doesn’t make it entertaining to read about.  I understand that many women, who have chips on their feminist shoulders, write novels in order to re-write history in their own image; but that is not why I read romance novels.

Personally, I hate reading about emasculated men, we have too many of them nowadays.   I ask you a very serious question.  When was the last time you saw a modern TV show or read a contemporary novel where the supposed hero was not emasculated? (Please post the name of the hero in the comments, because I want to check them out.)  Even if the guy does start out at the beginning of the story to be very strong and masculine, he is given so many weaknesses that they break him by the 2nd or 3rd season or by the end of the book; turning him into a mere shadow of what he could have been.  They poke so many holes into the character that it ends up resembling a bullfight.  It is so much easier to tear down than to build up, and yet that is what we as a society need.  We need heroes that are built up, that we can look up to, that our children can emulate.

I am going to play my own devil’s advocate and name at least one modern male hero, that I know of, who was not emasculated, even though the show lasted for four seasons and a couple of movies to tie things up at the end.

A modern day hero, who overcomes a very difficult childhood, and with each episode becomes a stronger and better man—Jarod, from The Pretender (1996-2000).  Ok, so it ended 13 years ago, making it only relatively modern.  At least, I avoided ones from more than 20 years ago.

Sept 28 – ETA: I can’t believe that I forgot (no seriously, how could I have forgotten) about, and I’m very surprised that no one else mentioned it to me, FBI agent Peter Burke from White Collar.  He is the best character to grace the small screen in an extremely long, long time.  His wife, Elizabeth, is one of the best female characters on TV, as well.  I really, really hope they don’t mess them up.

Criteria: Hero must stay good, as well as strong of character, no matter what happens.  I could put it another way.  Which modern day hero would make you proud if your son emulated him?

I will add to this list if you post them in the comments.

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Series, Sequels and Prequels.

I am appalled to think that I just might be one of those people, who has a very strong opinion about something and then at the moment that I have made that opinion public, either by posting it on my blog or facebook page; I then find that maybe my initial opinion is not as strong as I thought.  The subject is my opinion on Series, Sequels and Prequels. 

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My initial opinion is thus.

As a reader, I don’t like getting to the end of a book, only to find that in order to find out what happens, I have to buy another book, and then another, and then another.  So, I had made up my mind, in the spirit of “do unto others” therefore, that I would not write any kind of a series.

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Regarding TV series, I am of somewhat the same opinion; however, if you look at a show like Bonanza, yes I have to pick a historical one, even though the characters are the same in each episode, each story arch is autonomous and comes to a conclusion at the end of 60 minutes.  I am beginning to hate modern TV shows like Castle, because even though the detective side of the episode comes to a conclusion, there is a back arch that bleeds into the next episode, meaning that you can’t watch them out of order and if you miss one episode, it might just be the crucial one that explains exactly how Beck comes to the conclusion that she now wants to have a romantic relationship with Castle.  It ends up making you a slave to it.

That being said, I do very much enjoy the British shows that have a story arch continue for maybe two to eight episodes and then it comes to a complete conclusion.  The reason that I really like this idea is that in the US they try to cram all of this information into 60 minutes, and they don’t take enough time for the story to develop properly.  I really like that the UK can take two hours and maybe quite a few more in which to tell the story and when it concludes, it feels like you really did watch a good movie, instead of a Wham-Bam show that is on steroids.

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Ok, but let’s get back to books now.  The difference with books is that if the one volume contains the whole story then it is up to the reader to spend as little or as much time with it as they want.  Plus, the reader doesn’t have to feel like they are being manipulated into spending more money to read the conclusion to the story, which may not even happen yet for several volumes.

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Here is where I change my mind, though.

One of my favorite authors is Louis L’Amour, and I have been reading his books since I was eleven years old; of course, I was borrowing my brother’s copies of the books.  Yeah, I know it’s weird because he doesn’t even do romance, but here is the thing.  He created this family called the Sacketts and he instilled in them characteristics that are totally awesome, like honor and such; but the main thing that I like is the family loyalty; “If you attack one Sackett, you attack us all” kind of thing.

So, he wrote 19 books/stories in the Sacketts series, of which I have read 16, I think.  Even though they are all part of a series, they are complete stories unto themselves, and that is what I like.  So what if my brother had to buy another book to find out what happened to Jubal Sackett, but the story being told to begin with was basically finished in the initial volume. 

The exception to this, are the two books, Sacketts Land and To the Far Blue Mountains, which tell the story of Barnabas Sackett.   Sacketts Land is the only book by Louis L’Amour that ends on a cliffhanger, that I know of.   I am more than willing to forgive the author, or in this case the publisher, for the necessity of having to buy another book to read the rest of his story, because Barnabas Sackett is probably my most loved fictional hero of all time.  I mean I really wish that I had his blood (DNA) flowing through my veins, and therefore through my sons veins.

And that is the thing, though.  A great author with a great story can pull it off; especially, if each volume is quite lengthy.  I mean how bad would it have been if Tolkien would have published the Lord of the Rings in one giant volume.  At the time, it would have been a ridiculous choice for the publisher to make.  Now with ebooks, I am glad to be offered the option to buy all three books in one volume, however.

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I guess what I object to is the publication of very short serial books, that never end and actually ending the story is not even the goal of the author.  Although, I know there is a market for these, because they are selling like hotcakes.  Even then, I would not object * if they were published as graphic novels, and the story was awesome.  Because I understand that it takes longer to tell a story in comic book form and you have to finance the hefty graphic artist fee somehow.

*Note: I don’t really object, per se.  I just don’t want to be one of those writers, and I don’t want to buy those books, either.  For those who like to read them and those who like to write them, I say go for it.

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So, in conclusion I guess I don’t hate serials as much as I thought I did, and I will even buy sequel books, if I like the story enough to do so.  However, I will still think twice, probably more than twice, before I hop on the bandwagon and start producing serials of my own.