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BY CA RRI EL O F T Y

setting
Woo reodersinto lovingon unexpected

Twoyeorsogo, I wrotemy firstorticlefor the RWR("The Discovery, Novelty qnd Wonder


Triolsond T r ium p h so f U n u s u o lH i s to ri c o l s " ),
w h i ch exom-
Most of the writers I surveyedadmittedto writing unusualhis-
i ned t he s t qt e o f th e i n d u s try re g o rd i n g hi stori col toricals becauseof their desire to be original, to indulge in
researchcwiosities, and to explore eras rife with interesting
romoncesset outsideof Englond-which todoy ore doing
.conflict. Alex Beecroft, whose False Colors is set during the
betterthon ever. Groundbreokingnovels(suchos Jeonnie SevenYears'War,says,"...An old, well-worr settingsuch as
Lin's Butterfly Swords ond Zoe Archer's \Norriorl keep the Regencydoesn't offer me that thrill of discovery novelty
and wonder."
p r ov ing t hot t he p u b l i s h i n g i n d u s try ,i h o rg h sl ow to . The difficulty with this dive into novelty is becoming
ch onge, is gent lye x p o n d i n gi ts b o u n d o ri e s . seducedby world building. Historical authors face the same
challengesas writers of sciencefiction and fantasy,where set-
ting plays an enoflnous role. In using Regency or medieval
How did suchbooks achievethe improbable?We akeady England-both well known to fans of historical romance-an
know unusual historicals are difficult to sell, but tricks and author starts from a much higher assumption of familiarity.
techniques exist that enable writers to minimize roadblocks Not every nuance ofthe ton needsto be explainedafresh,but
and maximizechancesof success. rather gently revisited as required by the plot.
Once again, I called upon a fine network for my inquiry In more exotic settings,the particularsmust be illuminat-
including fellow authorsof the Unusual Historicals blog. But, ed as if for the first time a difficult balancing act! Authors
becausewe authorscan get too closeto our work and, frankly, must provide enough inforination to ground readers in the
a little defensiveabout the subject, I also contactedindustry important aspectsof an unfamiliar place and time, while main-
professionals.We proceededwith the assumptionthat writers taining the tight plotting, strong emotion, and potent charac-
always will want to push the boundariesand pursue subjects terizalion required of romantic f,tction.
they hnd intriguing. So, what can we do to make that process The hrst tip for traversing this tightrope is to ground
somethinemore than a fool's errand? yourself in a broad variety of primary sources,delving exten-

Dl,(-ti',1g[[2C 1O R\i\iti
sively into what Beecroft dubs "the spirit of an era."New York techniquesin,both of my Austrian-setromances,revealing
Times best-selling author Jennifer Blake advises, "Know 10 aspectsof Napoleonic Salzburgthrough Camival celebrations
times as much as you ever include in the story." This uncon- and the custom of giving a gift to a new bride when sheproved
scioussynthesisofresearch"...lendsan impressionofrichness to be a virgin. Neither of these examplesstood on their own,
that'shardto explainbut easyto recognize."Think ofresearch serving instead as vital plot points that amplified tension
as an iceberg:90 percentof it remainsunseen,but its very betweenthe hero and heroine.
existencemakesthe romancericher and more authentic. Anotherconsiderationis to keepresearch-heavy passages
You may, however,find yourself indulging in too much of away from opening chapters.Begin with somethingfamiliar,
a good thing. The best guidelineregardingthe inclusion of suchas a maskedball, the readingof a will, or a chasethrough
researchis to brutally assessits usefulnessto the story.Author darkened streets. Excitement will propel readers into this
Blythe Gifford says,"Fascinatingas your settingmay be, I'm unfamiliar world, rather than challenging them with off-put-
only interestedin it as it touches the characters."If you ting detail.
includeparagraphsofdescription,ostensiblyto set the scene,
then you may be sacrificing vital tension. Facts for their own
sakearen't compelling.The readerneedsto seethem,if at all, Gotewoy Chorocters,Fqmilior Hooks, ond
throughthe eyesofmultifaceted,engagingcharacters. ClossicPlotlines
Carina PressEditor DeborahNemeth offers this advice:
"Select rich, telling detailsthat give your story texture and Assume, for a moment, that most readers,especially agents
revealthe customs,valuesand motivationsof your period. If and editors,are actually repelledby unusualsettings.This cre-
the story takes place during a major holiday, we should see ates a realistic starting point when assessingyour romance.
how that culture celebrates.What's distinctive about courlship Best-sellingauthor Jade Lee says,"The salesstaff has two
rituals in ancientEgypt, Peru or Polynesia...?"I used such columns: pluses for the book and negatives for the book.
Unusual setting is a huge negative.Everything else has to be
on the positive side." Suchpositivesinclude not only a greal
voice, a sizzling romanceand fantasticpacing, but also the
Hisforicql Reseqrch Websites very bonesof the story.
Readers,generally,are familiar with the common tropes
OnlineEtymology Dictionory: of our genre: secretbaby, marriage of convenience,reunited
http:/ / www.etymonIi ne.com/ lovers, etc. My forthcoming South African-set romance fea-
fures an English viscount and his estranged wife, whose
BritishHistoryOnline: arranged marriage is fraught with tension. Forced to work
istory.oc.uk/
http:/ / www.british-h togetherin a hostilecolonialtown, they discoverthe true,lov-
ing hearl of their marriage.This plotline doesnot set out to
DovidRumsey Mop Collection:
Historicol challenge;the comfort is in the familiar progressionof a clas-
hnp/ / www.dovidrumsey.
com/ sic romancetrope, no matter the unusualsetting
Customs,laws, businesspractices,and geographyare
ProiectGutenberg:
more easily absorbedwhen accessiblevoicesfilter and inter-
http:/ / www.gutenberg.org
pret the strangeness. Even a story as exotic as JeannieLin's
Butterfly Swords utilizes this technique The blue-eyed hero,
TheCostumiers Monifesto:
Ryam, is from the West and helps guide the readerthrough the
mes.org,/
http:/ / www.costu
world of eighth-centuryChina.
Legendsof Americo: Names also must draw readersin. Lin describesher diffi-
http:/ / www.legendsofomericq.com culty in selectingnames for Chineseprotagonists:"Foreign
nameshaveto be easyon the eye,pronounceable, easyto dif-
Society Anochronism:
for Creqtive ferentiate.I joke that I'11have to stop writing books set in
http:/ / www.sco.org,/docs/li brory.htmI Chinawhen I run out of useablenames."
Diane Whiteside found the same trouble. "[A reader]
FoshionEro: needs to think she can pronounce them fnames]-even the
com/index.htm
http:/ / www.foshion-erq. really weird ones from those faraway placesand times. For
northwestemmedieval Spain, I wound up with fewer than 12

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men's flrst names." a/s-especially secondarycharactersand villains, who can be
Without this seemingly trivial entr6e,a reader might not sketchedwith much less attentron.
even give the first pagea fair shot. Stmggling with the basics Lin explains, "When you don't know much about a cul-
doesnot make for a pleasurableexperience.The samegoesfor hrre, the few details you do know, positive or negative,
professions.Having written both Roman and Viking romances becomemore prevalent.It may be harder to convince readers
for Harlequin, Michelle Styles suggests,"Make sure that the of situations and charactersthat operate outside the notm."
charactertype is at least recognizable.For example, using a The task falls to the author to educate and convince, even
gladiator in a Roman-setnovel rather than a mosaic maker." within the conhnes of a romance.
A11of this retums to our initial assumptionthat"an unusualset-
ting is not a draw for most readers, especially hard-to-con-
vince editors and agents.Give them no reasonother than the Overcoming the Odds
setting to put down Your book.
Agent Kevan Lyon presentsa frank assessment of unusualhis-
toricals in today's market: "Romance readershave generally
Stereofypes, Theme Pqrks, ond Politicol not shown a willingness to move too far outside their inter-
Correcfness ests."
When asked to identift concrete choices an author can
Let's be honest for a moment about the historical romance make to help maximize success,she advises, "Try to wrtte
genre.Its strengthis in providing emotional, character-driven about places and periods that you believe will have the best
stories set in the past, inviting readersto consider how love chance of acceptance-i.e., European settings from late
and desire have always moved human beings. Historical medieval to Victorian-and including British characters'"
romanceis limited, however,in its ability to thoughtfully tack- Carina Press Executive Editor Angela James echoes this
le thorny issues.The needsof the romantic fantasy must take advice and adds, "Overemphasizing what's new can work
precedent. againsta manuscript.Don't write a book set in Italy but then
Thorny issuescan be examined,and they can be great for hav€ a story that could have taken place in any London ball-
conflict. The trick is to frnd a sympatheticangle that also is room."
historically appropriate.For example,in my book Scoundrel's Over and over, professionalsand authors emphasizethe
Klss, the hero dislikes the heroine'sneedfor opium becauseof puryoseof a romance:to transportreadersand presenta heaft-
the dangerbrought on them by her cravings. Modem assess- felt love story with a satisfliing ending.MaureenLang, author
ments of addiction do not enter the discussion. Similarly, of a "Great War" seriesof inspirationalhistoricals,suggests
Flawless is set in 1881, a full half-century after slavery was that we all step back and consider what we enjoy as readers'
:'I read nonfiction to leam facts; I read fiction to see other
abolishedthroughout most of the British Empire. This allows
the hero to protest when native Africans are treated as if they places and eras come alive through the eyes of charactersI
are possessions,but that doesnot mean he advocatesfor rights want to care about. If the chemistry betweenthe charactersis
such as suffrage. compelling enough,almost any readercan be wooed into lov-
Janine Ballard of the website dearauthor.comsays, "I ing a setting they never expectedto love."
know that it can be a tough balanceto strike between histori- Without that spark, without that passionateconnection,
cal accuracy and political correctness,but I really want we as romance writers risk failure-no matter the time or
authors to make the effort to get this right." The inability of place.
some authors to achieve that balance makes many readers
wary of periods such as the U.S. Civil War and anything @ K fl ffi K tl ffi
approachingthe Holocaust. The risk in porlraying these bur-
denederaswithout detail and nuanceis to createwhat Ballard Born in California and raised in Indiana, Carrie Lofty met her
terms "theme park" history. For some settings, the span English husband while studying abroad the best souvenir!
betweenhideousinjustice and a romance'shappy ending may Sincecompletingher mastet'sin histoty,she'sbeendevotedto
simply be too great. raising their two precocious daughters and writing romance'
Stereotypesalso can be challenging. Most writers seem Song of Seductionis availablenowfrom Carina Press,with
hyperaware of stereotypesthat both weaken their story and Portrait of Seduction to follow this May. Http //www.ccu'
stray toward insult. Avoiding them meanspalling extra atten- rielofty.com; http://unusualhistoricalsblogspot.com.
tion to researchand using it to createfully realized individu-

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