This action might not be possible to undo. Are you sure you want to continue?
B Y CA RRI E O F T Y L
surroundSir WolterRoleigh oncewrote,"Romonce o loveoffoirin otherthondomestic is ings." So whot'so romonce writer to do when formerlyexotic locolessuch os Regency Englond theScottish Highlonds beginto feel...well.. domestic? ond gender play HopeTarrflipped settings. authors with convention, adding twiststo familiar Some
expectationsin her Highlands-set Bound to Please and in her "Gardella Vampire Chronicles," Colleen Gleason added bloodsuckersto Mr. Darcy's era. Yet, a few plucky souls have chosen to set genuine romances in exotic times and places My own journey began when I received my frrst rejection for "Serenade," a manuscript set in Napoleonic Salzburg.Until that moment, I'd labored becauseof my love fot the subject matter-a book of my heart. But rejection made me wonder whether to blame the location or my skills as a storyteller. ln November 2006, 1began writing lVhat a Scoundrel Wants, ny December Zebra Debut from Kensington. In it, Robin Hood's nephew, Will Scarlet, rescuesan alchemist who can clear him of murder, but she's blind, obsessedwith fire, and sister to the woman he helped kidnap. While not as exotic as Krss, in medieval Spain. That same month, in order to Salzbulg, I planned to set its sequel,Scoundrel'.s network with like-minded writers and fatten my TBR [to-be-read] pile, I founded a multi-author blog called Unusual Historicals (htQ://unusualhistoricalsblogspot.com). After three years coordinating Unusual Historicals, I knew exactly which professionalsto consult for this arlicle like putting out the "Bat signal," becausethose who are passionateabout this subject have a lot to shale. Through their generous input, I've leamed that finding a publisher for unusual hrstoricals can be arduous, and that people may not be as eager for globetrotting stories as authors are to write them But a market does exist. And readersare getting restless.
Milhr^ D*kuu T*utou
"There currently exist in fiction approximately 12 million dukes," says Erika Schutte, an avid reader. Jayne of DearAuthor.comadds, "If it's somethingdifferent, something non-Regency, non-English, non-dukes, catches interest." it my Blogger Kristie(J) of Ramblings on Romance defended Regencyromances to a point. "Who doesn't dream of handsome dukes, earls, and viscounts,and the women with their beautifulgowns? But me, I've preffymuchhad my fill."
"lt's olwoyso gomblewhenyou go outside the of " typicolreoderexpectotions. - Jode Lee
But the burdensofone settingdon't necessarily explainthe appealof others.With regardto the Regency, many respondents agreedthat the works of JaneAusten-primarily the film adaptationsto the currentboom,just asBraveheartand -ontributed Diana Gabaldon's Outlander series sparked interest in the Highlands. New York Timesbest-sellingauthor GaelenFoley is wellknown for her Kdght Miscellany series,where intrepid characters head to SouthAmerica, India, Italy, and Greece.She suggeststhe Regencyis simply bettersuitedto the romantic ideal, allowing us "...to experience lot of what we're missing so a badly in today's world: graceand refinement,honor and chivalry an acceptedsocial structure,a taste of aristocraticideals, [and] small, tightly knit communities." Not only was the Regencypoisedbetweenthe free-wheeling Georgian period and the strict morality of the Victorians, but unspoiled, pre-Industrial landscapesand conveniencessuch as indoorplumbingandtoothbrushes makeit an idealromanticsetting. But what if it's not a particularsetting,per se,but familiarity we seek?
Even Dorchestereditor Leah Hultenschmidtfeels a little starvedfor change."I'll admit it-I often get boredwhen reading througha pile of submissions. Something differentand fresh getsimmediatepoints in my book." Thesewomen quickly pointedout that after the initial novelty of an unusualsetting,only quality writing keepstheir inter est.But ifreader and editorcuriosity exists,what's the hold-up? protestwhat they seeas the amountof detail Somereaders many writers needto introduceand fashionan unfamiliar historical time, while othersquestionthe romanticpotentialof certain settings. For example,can a true happily-ever-after takeplacein just 1928Oklahoma, beforethe GreatDepression? in Atlanta Or prepares march to the sea?Or betweenParisian as Sherman his aristocrats 17932Azteclady, readerand frequentcontributor in a perito KarenKnowsBest.com, says,"There are circumstances, in history in which large segments the populationwere ods of barelyholdingon, andthus...ourembellished imageof 'happily-ever-after'shouldby all rights feel ridiculous." Political correctness also play a part in the storiesan can author feels comfortabletelling. As a society,we've come to demand fairnesstoward cultures that were once popular subjects, suchasAmericanIndians.Thus the needto address certain historical atrocities, which today's readersexpect to see acknowledged, ignored,can detractfrom the romantic fannot tasy. Paula Reed, whose Kensington romancesare set in the Caribbean, says,"You can't glossover the pre-Civil War South like you usedto, and the violencethat would necessarily a be part ofthat erais no longertolerated readers." by
W"u"Lli* Y"*o M^o# Cilouuuu
Agent Laura Bradford of the Laura Bradford Literary Agency believes our expectationscolor our preferences."We love knowing what we are going to get in a read-a satisSring story with romanceat its center. I know that I like romances in Do set 1920sIndia? Maybe not. Do I know whether I like romances with twirly ball gowns and dissolutedukes?You betcha." Recognizablesettingsoffer a known quantity of escape, just like romancespromise the known quantity of a happilyever-after. Familiarity with a particularlocale transformsit into a comforting place, one full of positive experiences that invite return visits. This processenticeseventhosewho are not otherwise interested history. Suchreaders in freely admit to enjoying the story characters, love affair, and the time and place created for the sake of fiction-but not necessarilythe nitty-gritty detailsat its historicalcore.PaulaReedsays,"Peoplewill go [to unusualsettingslin literary fiction, but ifyou're looking for the 'comfortfactor,'it's a little like wasabiin your mac n' cheese." This expectationof familiarity extendsto romancestorytelling andheroictypesaswell. "The Regency the 'royalty' has of the nobility that lends itself to the Cinderella story" says Blythe Gifford, whose InnocenceUnveiled is set in medieval Flanders. "The Scottish Highlands and the American West immediately bring to mind certain archetypes: warrior, loner, outlaw,man of honor.More unusualsettingsmay leave a reader guessing to what kind of story (and hero) to expect." as
i.iOVE,\,i3 2OOE?tili.l ER
Michelle Styles (Zfte Gladiator; Taken by the Viking) I believescyclical themesare at work. If those themescomoliment larger societalissues, they regainpopularity.Romances in the '70s and '80s reflectedwomen'spush into the workforce,as heroinesslowly, steadilyclaimedempowerment. "The Regency hasprovedpopularin timesofgreat technological societal and ,.Will change...during 1950sand,again, the now," saysSfyles. we see the rise of the Gothic that proved very popular after Austenandagainduring the 1960s, change as givesway to more rigidity?"
("*J Wlfnuou Anild"C"*L"su K*isilotu, lfl*ru
Romancesof the past may have been more willing to trot the globe,but settingsand characters havenarrowed.The tight publishing marketis a contributingfactor,with fewer activereaders andeditorswho areprevented from taking costly chances .Laura Bradford agrees."If the last Italy-set historical had abysmal sales,you have to expectpublishersto be more gun-shy about publishing another." Even authorsare quick to admit what standsin the way of more widespreadacceptance. "It's always a gamblewhen you go outside of the typical reader expectations,"says JadeLee, best known for her six-book Tigressseriesset in 1900 China. Whereasan authorrisks her time and the possibility of rejection or readerdisapproval,the publisherrisks its sizeablemonetary rnvestment. Yet, these books are being published-and read and enjoyed.But by which houses? Harlequin has distribution and reader loyalty on its side. Monthly ordersare shippedautomaticallyto bookstores, which meansbuyersaren't forced to weigh the salespotential of each individual title. This diminishesrisk on Harlequin,spart and increases prospects their authors. for In addition, Harlequin has just started offering its "Undone"series ofe-book shorts, which editors actively for are seekinginnovation. Linda Fildew, senior editor for Harlequin Historical/Mills & Boon Historical Romance, is optimistic about the future, particularly regarding how unusual stories inject creativity into the genre."Authors like the challengethat researching writing about anotherperiod presents, perand and hapswe candraw readers across time by persuading them to follow a favourite author." Other publishing houses such as Dorchester and Kensington smallersizeto their advantage. use Editorspurchase n-hatintriguesthem, and this serves attractpeople-both edito
tors and authors-who think outsideof the mainstream, while their size meansthe ability to reactquickly to changingmarket forces.Another small publisheris Medallion Press.Foundedin 2003 by Helen A. Rosburg,Medallion actively seeksunusual romances that other housesmight not touch. While thesecompaniesoffer smalleradvances new authors,they can provide to a degreeof latitudethat wouldn't be affordedotherwise. E-pubs,which generallydo not pay advances maintain or inventories,are also taking notice ofthis potential opportunity. Nicole D'Arienzo,managing editorof the historicaldivisionof The Wild Rose Press,says,"It's a bit easierfor us to take a chanceon an unusualsettingor story idea." On a personalnote, The Wild RosePress'sdecisionto publish my time travel short story,"Sundial," setin Sorrento, Italy in 1958,aptly demonstrated their eagerness take chances. to
"We love knowingwhot we ore going to get in o reod-o sotisfying storywith romonce itscenier." oi * l-ouro Brodforo, LouroBrodfordLiterory Agency
Wu^tlouoi^s hi*lu tlnu
If willing publishers exist,why aren't more writerspursuingthis course? And, as IGistie(J) laments,why do some authorswho get their startpenningunusualhistoricalsrevert to familiar settings? She says,"I mourn that they seemto have tumed their backson the very booksthat madethem exceptional." On occasion,they have no choice.Diana Groe, who wrote medievals before reinventing herself as Emily Bryan (PleasuringthePirate), says,"My editor nevertold me to move to Victorianor Georgian periods, sheseemed but pleased when I did. I sometimes hear from readerswho want to know when I'll write the next 'song' book to f,rnish out Maidensong and, Erinsong. The answeris, it's alreadywritten, but the market is not supportingit." The issueof money and exposure be dauntingfor writcan ers on the verge of establishing themselves. Bennett,author T.J. of TheLegacy andThePromisefrom Medallion, says,"I'd like to tell [a third GermanReformation]story but in all honesty, I'd also like to sell to a wider market." Another consideration researchand the time it takes to is
NOVET'/BIR R!,x/R 2008
explore a new era. SandraSchwab,whoseBewitchedis set in Black Forest, writes,"As thereis a certainpressure Germany's to write at leastone book a year (if not two or more), a writer might prefer to stick to the more familiar in the knowledgethat shewill be able to finish her next project on time." whatadvicecanwe give? So in light of all we've discussed,
This corner of romance,like all of publishing, requirestalent, optimism, and a practical understandingof its difflrculties. GaelenFoley admits,"It is a riskier careermove, but the readers who are so bored of the samesettingsapprreciate variety the just sold her four-book,aroundso much." And Zoe Archer,who the-world Blades of the Rose seriesto Kensington,adds, "As long asthe major components romancearethere,andthe hero of get their HEA, why not broadenthe scope?" and heroine
R*luu hosdl tnnu
First, write the story you want to tell. We've all heardof authors who chased Next Big Thing, only to face repeated the rejection. When thosesameauthorswrite for the love of a story they dearpublishing hously wantto tell, they find success. although And guidelines be altered the right guidelines, es have those can for officially lists 1900as their historical cut-off, book. Dorchester but they've published Morag McKendrick Pippin'sWWII-era romances. And who's to say your unusualstory won't be the one to to kick offa new trend?"I think it's dangerous ignorethat 'book it of your heart' because could signify the next fresh idea or trend," says Lisa Marie Wilkinson, whose upcoming Fire at "It JadeLee added, just takes Midnight is setin 1703England. time for the marketto catchup." Next, forget every rule but one: write a great book. New York Times best-selling author Loretta Chase, whose Your "I've alwaysbeen is Scandalous Ways setpartly in Italy, agrees. a little dim aboutrules in publishing and have never had much of a clue aboutmarkets.So far no one's ever told me I couldn't place." seta book in a particular As for storytelling techniques,Kate Bridges (Klondike that Fever) suggests readers enjoy a mirror of their own experiwhere we came from, ences."We like to read about ourselves, how our ancestors dealt with the hardshipsof life." Also, consider providing familiar elements,such as a story set partly in protagonist. These Englandor America, or an English-speaking "window" characters behaveas lensesthrough which readers can see,investigate,and experience new setting or era-like a venturinginto the unknown with a tour guide. But rememberthat a romancewriter's job is to provide an that escape, nurture fantasies, and createcompellingcharacters readers believein. Linda Fildew asksa numberof questions can with regardto every manuscriptsheconsiders, which any writer can ask of her own work: "How engaged you with the charare acters?Is there sufficient emotional intensity between them? Does the backgroundfeel authentic and does it complement ratherthan take over from the developingcentralrelationship?" If these questionsare satisfied by a delicious, emotional you're on your way-no matterthe time or place. romance,
"l thinkit' sdonger ous ignor e to fhot' bookof y our heorf'becouse couldsignifythe nextfreshideo it or tr end." -
That attitude,plus an overwhelmingfondnessfor the stories we create, keepsunusualhistoricalauthorsmoving forward. We have our eyes on the future and our arms around an evershrinkingworld. Bonnie Vanak,authorof TheScorpionand the Seducer, tells the story ofa fan letter shereceivedfrom Russia. "I'm anAmericanauthorwriting Egyptian-set romances readby Russian readers. Talk aboutcrossing cultures!" Karen Mercury whosebook Strangely Wonderful set in is 1828Madagascar, says, "It's easytodayfor us to e-maila friend in India orAlgeria, so I'd hopethe curiosity aboutthoseformerly far-flung placeswould compel us to seekout the history of thosecountries-the drama.the events.the romance." And ifyou enjoy unusualhistoricals,show your supportby buying, reviewing, and spreading word about your favorite the authorsand titles. Readerfeedbackis key. We'd love to keep possible. bringingyou the mostengaging diverse romances and
@@@@@ Born in CaliJbrnia, raised in the Midwest, Catie Lofty found the love of her life in England. She earned her master's in histotlt with a thesis on Old West outlaws and the importance of legend. What a Scoundrel Wants, the hot, adventurous tale oJ Ll/ill Scarlet and his dangerous lady love, is a December Zebra Debtft Scotndrel's Kiss,,/eaturing a Spanish warcior monk and an opitrm addict, willfollow in 2009. www.carrielofty.com .L,IR
\]OVFl',i3ER 2008 (i.'r'i