Feb 17 2011 11:00am

Have Bookcase, Will Travel: Changing Up Setting in Historical Romance

I missed out on what many consider The Golden Age of historical romance. Now, the idea of what constitutes a “golden age” of anything is highly subjective, but for the sake of this post, I’m talking about those days when it wasn’t frowned upon for authors to hop around time periods and settings. Back when publishers were not toeing the party line that authors should stick to one setting and one time period to make it easier for marketing. Back when authors could publish one book set in medieval Ireland and the next in the American West and the sky wouldn’t turn black or come crashing down to Earth.

Then, single-title Regency England took off like a rocket, and the rest, as they say, was history. There was no more hopping around. Publishers told authors that in order to build an audience—an audience made up of readers who wanted a steady diet of one food group, apparently—they needed to stick to one setting and one setting only. Give readers what they want, publishers said, and what they want is whatever is selling at the moment.

I am the type of reader who does not like to read too much of the same thing in a row for fear that burn-out will set in. As much as I love historical western romances, I do not read them exclusively. As much as I love category romance, I tend to hop around to all the different lines and sample all the flavors available. It keeps my palate fresh, and keeps me, as the reader, from becoming bored.

This is why I am always desperate for historical romances that are set in locales we do not see every day of the week. Hey, England, Scotland, and America are nice, but there is a whole wide world out there with a whole wide range of history, people, and love stories begging to be explored.

Opening a well-written, engaging historical romance is like taking a really frugal vacation through time and space. I would never want to stuff myself into a corset every day of my life, but it sure is romantic to think about wearing one. I will probably never have the opportunity to visit Australia, South Africa, Mongolia, Russia, or Brazil, but I sure would love to read about those places. Not in a travel brochure, or in a nonfiction narrative, but as the backdrop to a grand, passionate love story. At its core, the romance genre is about exploring basic and universal human emotions. No matter our differences, no matter our backgrounds, we can all relate to feelings of happiness, sadness, anger, and love. If I can get all that, and get a glimpse into a time or place I will never have the opportunity to visit firsthand, then I say bring it on!

Publishers consider these types of books “hard sells,” and maybe they’re right. Maybe they are. However, it’s amazing what people will buy and read when a work is well written, engaging, and given enough of a marketing push. If someone had told me that a trilogy of suspense novels written by a dead Swedish writer and translated into English were going to take off like a rocket, I would have told them to get out of my way and stop wasting my time.

Yeah, and we all know how that story turned out.

Want to discover some authors who write off-the-beaten-path? Check out the Unusual Historicals blog

And here is some recommended reading:

Scoundrel's Kiss by Carrie Lofty (medieval Spain)

Song of Seduction by Carrie Lofty (Regency-era Austria, ebook)

Zoe Archer's Blades of the Rose series (Mongolia, Greece, frontier Canada)

Surrender of a Siren by Tessa Dare (Regency-period high seas, shipboard romance)

Surrender to an Irish Warrior by Michelle Willingham (medieval Ireland)

Innocent in a Harem by Michelle Willingham (Ottoman Empire, ebook short story)

High Seas Stowaway by Amanda McCabe (Venice and Caribbean)


Image courtesy of Erika Thorsen via Flickr


Wendy Crutcher, Fighting For Truth, Justice, and the Right to Read What You Want

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kate r
1. kate r
Ha! I must be prescient. I mentioned you and your love of the different settings in my blog the other day when I was talking about Bonnie Dee's latest.
Victoria Janssen
2. VictoriaJanssen
Me, I want more 20th century romances, preferably pre-WWII. Set all over the world.
kate r
3. Kim in Hawaii
Jill Marie Landis lives on Kauai and has written several historical about Hawaii as it was being settled by Western entrepreneurs (who would ultimately take over the kingdom).
Jennifer Savage
4. JenSavage
I agree, but I think it's changing. I feel like lately I've seen more romances set in the ancient world--of course, seeing one or two would amount to 'more'. But also, the time periods for English historical romances are broadening. Just like with the erotica boom, with so many diverse romances available online, publishers are adapting.
kate r
5. Lynne Connolly
In the UK, we have mainly Victorian and World War One and Two sagas, but that's changing. Publishers are now asking for "historicals" set in the fifties and sixties.
I'll stick to my Georgians, I think.
kate r
6. cjewel
I love me some ancient Romans! I, too, wish there were a broader range of time periods, but then, I also love Regency.

I also know it's true that non-Regencies are a hard, hard sell.
kate r
7. Lucy Blue Castle
From your type to publishers' ears! I cannot believe any reader would choose a steady diet of one kind of romance set in one particular time period forever, yet that is what writers are being asked to produce - no, actually, what they're being forced to produce if they want a publisher.
Wendy the Super Librarian
8. SuperWendy
Kate: Yes! Bonnie e-mailed me, and I really need to get back to her. Her new book sounds fascinating. For those reading the comments: Captive Bride by Bonnie Dee, ebook only, set in 1870 San Francisco with a Chinese heroine.

Victoria: When I was coming up with suggested titles to tack on the end of this post I completely forgot about Nicola Cornick's HH title, The Last Rake in London. Edwardian London :)

Kim: O rly? Had no idea she'd written anything like that......

Jen: LOL - yeah, one or two is definitely "more." I feel that way when I'm lucky enough to see 3 westerns published in the same month :)

Lynne: I love Georgians as well, and I think here in the States that setting seems to get "lost" amongst all the Regencies. It's like they get lumped together - for reasons that make no sense, since those two eras are so very different!

Carolyn: I think a lot of times the non-Regencies suffer from marketing neglect. I think if more promotion happened, sales would increase. long as the product was "good." That's the hopeless optimist in me talking...LOL

Lucy: I'm very passionate about the sub genres I love, but yeah - I always have fear of burn out. I love Chinese food too - but dang, I couldn't eat it every day of the week!
kate r
9. Carrie Lofty
Sing it, sister!

My bit of self-promotion: PORTRAIT OF SEDUCTION (Carina Press; May) is also set in Austria, and HIS VOWS TO KEEP (Pocket; Oct) is set in Victorian era colonial South Africa. Oh, and it's already available for pre-order. Just sayin'...
kate r
10. Lynnd
Here! Here!

To add to the list - here are some recent ones I really liked.

"Libertine's Kiss" by Judith James (Restoration England)

"Forbidden Rose" Joanna Bourne (Revolutionary France)

"Temptation is the Night" (ebook short story in 1920s England and New York) Marguerite Kaye

Please give us more historicals outside of Regency and Victorian England and also give us more "adventure" stories - I get pretty burned out on a steady diet of what I call "Ballroom books".
Olivia Waite
11. O.Waite
I love that unusual historicals are starting to become more a thing. Regencies have gotten me through some rough times, for sure, but there are some pretty significant themes that Regencies aren't necessarily suited to handle. (Race is a pretty big one, and sexual orientation.)

And the Zoe Archer books are tremendously good!
Wendy the Super Librarian
12. SuperWendy
@Carrie Lofty: Really looking forward to both of those!

@Lynnd: OMG, seriously? All of those are in my TBR! I need to read faster! And if you can roll with some paranormal elements, I highly suggest you check out Zoe Archer's Blades of The Rose series. Very high on the adventure scale - especially the first book!

@O.Waite: One of the reasons I like late Victorians and Edwardians so much is that women were starting to experience a bit more freedom. Elements that wouldn't work in a Regency setting because of historical accuracy.
Gwenda Bond
13. GwendaBond
Couldn't agree more with this post. I like a good Regency as well as the next girl, but some variety would be v. nice. One of the reasons I like Loretta Chase so much is that you sometimes get Egypt--either directly or indirectly--which is a refreshing change (plus, usually really excellent). But, yes, yes, yes--other times and places, very much want. (This isn't a category, but it is a romance--since you like westerns, if you haven't read Molly Gloss's The Hearts of Horses from a couple of years ago it's *fabulous*. Set in 1917 Oregon and features a young woman horse trainer/breaker. Just gorgeous.)
Wendy the Super Librarian
14. SuperWendy
@GwendaBond: That Molly Gloss book sounds so familiar to me. Probably you're not the first person to tell me about it! Off to go have a look.....
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