I read an interesting article in the May issue of my Romance Writers Report entitled, “Who Said Historical is Dead?” by Anabelle Bryant. It explored the rumors that historical romance is dead, a claim that the article’s author very firmly denied. She said it isn’t dead, rather it’s going through a transformation. One quote she cites by senior editor Esi Sogah at Kensington Books that supports this transformation caught my interest: “Watch for more romance set outside Europe, more romances with non-white main characters, and more heroes and heroines from varied class backgrounds.”
Bryant’s article got me thinking about my own reading and writing interests that have evolved throughout the years. Some of the first romances I ever read were by Jude Deveraux and Judith McNaught. These centered around medieval knights and the English aristocracy, and I devoured them. When Westerns ruled the romance market, I gobbled up novels by Jill Gregory and Patricia Gaffney until the market shifted yet again. Perhaps it’s simply my own perspective, but lately I’ve thought the world of romance publishing could use another shift. Or better yet, multiple shifts. I love reading about a handsome duke as much as the next girl, but I feel like the market is saturated with such heroes, and has been for a while now. There’s only so many variations of this story that can be repackaged before the staleness can’t be disguised anymore.
That brings me to my own writing and the sort of characters and settings that inspire me. Although Clingstone takes place during the American Civil War—admittedly, a setting that once saturated the romance market—my hero is deaf, and both he and the heroine inhabit the not-so-romantic working class. My hero is also the more nurturing parent figure toward the little boy in the story, whereas my heroine struggles with her maternal side, at least initially. As much as the romantic images of southern belles in gorgeous finery and soldiers in dashing uniforms appeal to my aesthetics, I’ve never been drawn to write about those types of characters. Mae and Creighton are imperfect characters inhabiting an imperfect world, and that’s what makes them interesting and authentic.
Historical romance is begging for a transformation, I agree. As a reader, I’ve always liked the underdogs. The stable boy secretly appealed to me so much more than the earl ever did. As an author, I’m now allowed to indulge in my own versions of happy-ever-after and what sort of characters get to populate them. If, like me, you prefer your heroes and heroines a little less flawless—dare I say, somewhat grubby and disheveled at times!—then I hope you’ll skip the nobleman the next time you need a little romance R & R, and instead make a move on the unshaven stable boy instead. After all, he might be a big pungent from mucking out stalls all day, but all that hard work builds great moral fiber.
Oh, and a strapping physique. We can’t forget that.