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Historical Romance Writers Dishing the Dirt on Research

02 April 2007

A Fully Realized World

I think this is what all authors are attempting to create when they sit down to write, and what all readers are hoping to find when they crack open the pages of a book. Whenever favorite historical novels or writers are discussed, there is one name that inevitably appears: Georgette Heyer. Aside from the fact that she’s simply an amazing story teller, with a gift for wit and dialogue, I think the reason she makes every list, repeatedly, is that she created a fully realized world. So fully realized, in fact, that it spawned it’s own book—Georgette Heyer’s Regency World—and many readers can’t imagine any other competing vision of Georgian England.

That’s right, it’s not just the paranormal authors who have to worry about world building . . . historical writers share this burden. We have to envision our world, know the rules that govern it, the laws that shape it, the mores that twist it up into knots. We have to know the tiny details of everyday life (like how to light a candle without a match) as well as the larger ones (rules of primogeniture, anyone?). So many things that when all fitted together hopefully create a believable world.

There has been a lively discussion of Vic Gatrell’s City of Laughter: Sex and Satire in Eighteenth-century England on a loop of historical authors that I’m a part of. I must admit, this book is right up my alley. So much so that I begged a friend to drag the 696 page tome home from England for me before it was released here in the States. I love books of this type. Books that speak to the dirty, steamy, naughty underbelly of people’s lives.

When Gatrell says Allow this rude language a more prominent place in our attentions, therefore—prioritize real behavior and not the evidence of polite discourse, conduct books or sermons—and our view o the age is usefully reconfigured. it's as though he’s speaking directly to me. This “real behavior” is one of the key ingredients in MY Georgian World. A world which is very different from that envisioned by Heyer.

And the beauty of it is that this is a good thing. No two worlds are going to be exactly the same, even though we’re all basing our world on the same history, the same books, the same everything. Why? Because the facts must be filtered through each writer’s personal experience. What I many choose to highlight will never be exactly the same as what any other author will choose. Strive as I might, I can never write a book set in Georgette Heyer’s Regency World, any more than I can write one set in Jo Beverley’s, or Mary Balogh’s, or Julia Ross’s, or Pam Rosenthal’s (though I’m grateful that as a reader I get to visit all of them).

As a reader do you appreciate discovering different visions of the same “world” or do you find yourself disconcerted when discovering some unexpected vista lurking behind a run of the mill clench cover?

7 Comments:

Blogger Elena Greene said...

I like reading fiction that presents new facets of a time period as long as I can make sense of them in relation to what I already know. If there's a contrast with things I know, I find it fascinating, but NOT if it contradicts generally accepted facts. Alternate history is another matter.

Historical authors use the elements they know best or are most interested in. An author's "palette" can become richer over time. I finally got to see AMAZING GRACE and it made me more aware of the abolitionist movement in England. That awareness will inform my future writing even though I wouldn't use something--especially a weighty issue like slavery--unless it fit the story.

10:20 AM  
Blogger Kalen Hughes said...

Hey Elena. I love when my "palette" expands. LOL! Every new book I get expands it, makes it richer, gives me a new idea. I was already mulling over a book about a free blacks in England when Amazing Grace came out, and seeing it just made me even more sure that I HAVE to write the book.

12:29 PM  
Blogger Kathrynn Dennis said...

I just read a Regency time-travel. Picked it up from the dump in Kepler's bookstore because I wanted to see that time period through a modern heroine's eyes.

I know there was a dirty, naughty, underbelly to the ton, but for some reason, I found what would have been socially unaccepatble sex scene (especially where the hero is concerned) a bit jarring. I mean, I can't see a Mr. Darcy-type talking dirty, no matter what, even if a modern woman time-traveld back in time coerced him. ;-) Not in his character..., some other guy's perhaps.

My point: historical authors have to walk a fine line between portraying the period in a way that appeals to modern readers and is still accurate in the world building. The best historical writers, of which there are many, tell a damn good story that's timeless.

1:26 PM  
Blogger Keira Soleore said...

I love the Georgian-Regency period so much that I love discovering all the new ways different authors make it fresh and interesting.

Georgette Heyer’s Regency World--and many readers can’t imagine any other competing vision of Georgian England.

I love "The Private World of Georgette Heyer" by Jane Aiken Hodge as a look-see into Heyer's life.

I'm dying for "Amazing Grace" to come out on DVD.

1:29 PM  
Anonymous Tracy Grant said...

I love books that pull you into a fully realized world. To me that's one of the great delights of reading and writing historical fiction. I love discovering new aspects of an era and reading different authors' takes on it. Sort of like seeing the same play interpreted by different directors and actors and designers. I know the Regency/Napoleonic world I write about is distinctly my own (though as accurate as I can make it). And there's definitely so much to learn that I think my palette can expand infinitely...

4:05 PM  
Anonymous Gillian said...

No matter how well researched and portrayed a time in history is, if it's a historical romance...

It's Fiction. Fiction! I feel really strongly about this, as I immerse myself more in the Regency period and see how passionately people feel about "errors" in their historical romance.

Come on--Just tell me a magnificent story with compelling characters. I'm not checking to see what the weather was the week of July 7th in 1812. I'm willing to accept a wide variety of scenarios, if they fit the storyline.

If I wanted rigid historical accuracy, I'd read a textbook.

5:45 PM  
Blogger Kalen Hughes said...

I guess for me the beauty of historical romance is that is first and foremost, HISTORICAL. If you're going to ignore the laws governing that point in history, you might as well just write a fantasy romance. I can forgive small errors, but not large ones (courtesans don't get to go to Almack's, bastards don't get to inherit titles, I don't care if it makes your book "more romantic" or the ending tie up neater).

8:47 PM  

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