Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Go West Young Woman!

Well it's been a few months, so that means it must be time for yet another endless debate in Romance Novel Land about historical accuracy. The latest kerfuffle started over at one of the AAR message boards and soon spilled it's way over into Blog Land. Dear Author has a post up with links and stuff, so that's a good jumping off point for those of you with train wreck fetishes.

Since I generally avoid message boards (they just ain't my bag baby), I don't know if the author in question behaved like a jackass or not. And frankly, I don't really care. My knee jerk reaction to this whole thing is to side with the author, although she really, really should have just stayed far, far away and not waded into the discussion at all. Neither here nor there. That said, I firmly believe some readers really need to get a life. These are the readers who get their panties in a bunch about language, champagne flutes and travel distances - but don't seem to be bothered by the fact the hero smells good, plus is lice and flea free, back in the days when people bathed once a month and the streets were open sewers. And let us take a moment to ruminate on dental care prior to the 20th century. Ewwwww

But I digress.

Historical accuracy in historical romance (and novels in general) is the easy thing to harp on, and I think that's why some readers are obsessed with it. They do it, because they aren't willing to voice why they're really dissatisfied. Working my way through Lonesome Dove (page 425 y'all!) it hit me.

I don't think it's historical accuracy readers necessarily miss. It's the big, epic, saga-like qualities that a lot of the early historical romances had. These books were rich, meaty and really transported you. They swept you off your feet. Readers got lost in these books. Nowadays I suspect authors are providing too much GPS. Readers aren't getting lost. They're getting detailed road maps.

I don't want to talk out of my ass here, having never read either author, but I have a hard time believing that Kathleen Woodiwiss or Loretta Chase got every single minor minuscule detail right in their stories. And everybody points to Laura Kinsale's way with language, but trying to read her books is about as much fun for me as ramming an ice pick up my nose. But using these authors as examples, is it really the "historical accuracy" that make readers love their books?

Hell to the no.

It's the fact that their work has the ability to transport readers. To make readers "lose themselves." Say it with me: big, epic, meaty and saga-like.

Honestly I think that's what readers really miss, at least on a basic level. They want to "lose time" and "lose themselves." Which is why everybody needs to stop whining and pick up a western. Frankly Americans (OK, I'll give a slight nod to Canada and Australia too) cornered the market on big, epic, meaty and saga-like. It's OK to leave England. Seriously, it really is.


Zeek said...

I'm so with you on this one. It's ridiculous that such a big deal has been made of AA's comments.

And I so agree with your point about the big sweeping epics. I can't decide if it's nostalgia or the fact that I've become jaded OR that the newer books coming out indeed "ain't what they used to be"- but something has been decidedly missing for a long time now for me.

Sherry Thomas said...

I frankly don't know if a book has to be big, epic, or sagalike to be meaty.

One of the best Harry Potter books is the first one, the shortest. It's amazing how much world building Rowling packed into that slender volume.

Likewise, I think Angela on the AAR board discussion made an extremely perspicacious observation that it isn't necessarity historical accuracy that readers are crying out for, but proper worldbuilding in historicals, at which authors like Loretta Chase and Laura Kinsale (whether you love her style or want to tear your hair out about it) do a right proper job.

I've heard people complain about historical accuracy in Judith Ivory's books. Yet except for one instance (calling Prince of Wales Your Majesty), I've never caught any mistakes in her books, and I write in roughly the same era as she does. Because Ivory does a wonderful job creating atmosphere, and I'm immersed in HER historical world, and she carries me along.

Wendy said...

I agree - a book doesn't need to be 900 pages long to be "epic" and "meaty." I've heard the world-building argument before as it pertains to historicals and couldn't agree more. But it's a tough road for the authors. I don't want pages upon pages of minutia that have no bearing on the "story" but I don't want wallpaper either. Gah! This is why I'm "just a librarian" and not writing historical romances for a living LOL

Zeek: I think the Regency glut is starting to catch up with a lot of diehard historical readers, hence the current dissatisfaction. Like any sub genre that becomes popular, as more titles flood the market, it's hard for readers to find the "cream" amongst the dreck. I'm hoping it evens out soon though, because I truly love historicals.

Alie said...

I agree with you that we don't get as lost in historicals as we once did. This is why I am a period piece/costume drama television and movie junkie. Jane Austen owns me lol. I can honestly say that no historical romance (other than the classics) has really lost me. Great point Wendy!

sula said...

You pretty much said exactly what I have been thinking. Although I think AA would have done better just to sit on her hands, I get so very weary of the nitpicky historical accuracy purist discussions. *yawn* I just want to read good books that take me another place. If the writing is good and I'm emotionally engaged, I doubt I would even notice the errors (assuming there are some). If the writing is boring and I couldn't care less about the h/h, then all of the historical accuracy and research in the world won't save the book. There are a few authors that get brought up over and over as the poster children for "good" historical detailing and research and to be frank, I've never managed to get through any of their books without falling asleep. *shrug*

I love historicals. I just wish that we'd see more outside of the Regency period and outside of England. I've been to some twenty-nine countries and in each one of them met interesting people and learned about histories I never would have otherwise known. Why can't we have stories from faraway lands and time periods near and far? The world is so big and human history so diverse that it seems that we should have a big banquet of potential stories just waiting to be written.

Wendy said...

Why can't we have stories from faraway lands and time periods near and far?

Now Sula - didn't you get the memo? Apparently historicals in "exotic" settings don't sell ::heavy on the sarcasm::

I think just about anything would sell well if the publisher(s) throw some weight behind the book (like, you know, marketing). But like TV shows that get yanked off the air after 2 episodes, there just doesn't seem to be time and money anymore for authors and/or settings to find their audience.

And wow! 29 countries!

sula said...

oh yes! *smacks forehead* The Memo...doh!

Don't get me started on publishers and their magic 8 balls. pfft. Seems to me that it's easier to pump out Regencies or secret baby books because the marketing machine is already in place. But honestly, I would kill for some exotic settings.

29 countries...or more than 30 depending on how you count Hong Kong (went there when it was not yet part of China) and if you want to separate Great Britain into England, Scotland, Wales, etc. Blame it on the parents' work and my subsequent wanderlust. Peace Corps helped too. There you go for a potential story...the Peace Corps volunteer that goes to a strange new land, makes friends, and finds true love. I'd read that book...hell, I've LIVED that book! ;-)