Thursday, April 17, 2014
Favorite Author and My Guest Today...Madeline Hunter!
Welcome to my blog, Madeline! And for you readers, Madeline is graciously giving to one lucky commenter a book of your choice! So leave your email!
Thanks, Regan. It's great to be here. In keeping with your theme for the month, my post is about how historical romance has changed over the years.
How We Got Here from There by Madeline Hunter
If you have been reading historical romances for a long time, you have watched them change over the years. Go back even to the early 1990s and they looked and read much differently. Go back farther, to the early years of their market dominance in the 70s and 80s, and they were even more different.
The most notable difference is that back then they were longer. How much longer? In some cases, almost twice as long as they are now. A typical historical romance today will have between 85,000 and 100,000 words. I saw an excel spreadsheet once that charted some of the older ones, and a few broke 200,000 words. 150,000 words minimum was typical of books by stars like Kathleen Woodiwiss and Roberta Gellis and other authors selling books by the boatload then.
Is this a bad thing? Not if the story works and the writing is good, although some of us may miss the long emersion in a big fat book. On the other hand, I think it is safe to say none of us miss any padding, or artificial lengthening of the story just to satisfy a publisher’s longer word count expectations.
Another reason they changed was purely practical. Rather abruptly in the mid-90s paper became much more expensive. So did shipping. Furthermore, the shelf space in mass-market venues like grocery stores and drug stores began shrinking fast. In that environment, a book that was fat was expensive to print, ship, and stock. A rack in the local drug store might only hold 3 of those fat books but could hold 5 thinner ones.
Other developments aided the shortening of these books. As the “little Regencies” began disappearing in the 90s, those readers moved over to single title historicals. This influenced the length, I think, because those readers were accustomed to short books. It also influenced the settings of historicals, and began the domination of the market by books set in 19th-century England.
This change was in full swing when I was trying to sell my first medievals in the late 90s, the “By” novels set in 14th-century London. Even as I wrote them, books were getting shorter so my first ones were too long. I often received rejections that referred to them as “too historical.” At the time I took umbrage with that, and assumed it was a criticism of my using real history in my plots. I now realize it had more to do with the tone of the manuscripts, and the length, and the unfolding of the story. Eventually I went back and cut the stories down significantly and they sold. Same story, same characters, same events, same plot, same historical figures as secondary characters.
So what did I change? Episodes that did not absolutely have to be there got slashed. Three lines of description became one good line of description. World building came to rely on what I call “the telling detail.” Some secondary plot events happened off stage.
Even so, some readers felt my medievals harkened back to earlier historicals. Others thought they represented the future, probably because they were more sensual than the norm at the time.
Other things have changed too. When historical romances exploded on the bookselling scene in the 70s and 80s, the heroines might have more than one lover. These historicals described the heroine’s journey over time. She would travel to exotic locales, or endure some disaster, and she would have a lover for a while who was other than the one she chose for her HEA.
I do not know how they became so common for a time in early historical romances, but I have a theory. I think a book or two had them, and when they became blockbusters publishers dissected those books and decided readers wanted what was in them--- including rape. I have this theory because as I read widely once I discovered romances, and read lots of older ones, I found some where I swear that rape was added later, after the book was written, because it had no point whatsoever in the story. Whenever I see elements stuck in like that I tend to suspect editorial intrusion.
There are readers who either remember those long, detailed historical romances fondly from reading them back in their day, or who stumble upon one now and like the differences. There are readers and writers who think more variety in settings and options in story lines and length would be nice to have again. Some writers take the shot on writing extra long historicals now, hoping the readers will support the effort.
But there are other voices that claim that those reading preferences are now served by the historical fiction novels that have romantic elements. I personally do not agree with that.
There is a difference between romantic historical fiction and an historical romance that has nothing to do with setting or length, or even the type of development that caused editors to call my early manuscripts “too historical.” Think of the story as a photograph. In a photograph, a good one, there will be a focal point. Other things and people will be in the photo, but the whole composition leads to that focal point.
In historical romances that focal point is the romance. Duels may be fought, villains may be vanquished, kingdoms may fall, but the romance is still the focal point. In historical fiction, however, the romance is part of what moves around the focal point, helping to complete the composition and essential to it, to be sure, but not at its center.
If you want to read a romance, you want that focus on the romance. This does not mean that readers who prefer those very long historical romances cannot find them now. Due to re-releases in ebook form, the classics from that period are actually plentiful. But unless the marketplace demands stories like that again, it is unlikely that many writers will create new ones. Because readers and authors are not there anymore. They are here now.
Thanks for being on the blog, Madeline.
And for all you readers, Madeline’s next release, The Accidental Duchess, will be published on June 3, 2014.
Visit her at www.MadelineHunter.com