Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Gray Can Be A Calming Color

Have you ever been in a two car crash or seen one happen? How much of the events leading up to it and the wreck itself do you remember? Even years later? Would the other person’s memories be different?

A few years ago, I wrote history tidbits for my chapter’s newsletter. It was a lot of fun and gave me a great excuse to buy all of the history books I wanted. At the time, Barnes and Noble even sent me the paperwork to fill out for a professor’s discount. That tickled me.

Anyway, during that period I received several responses from different readers – our chapter’s articles are sent out on an editors’ loop for other newsletters to use with credit given to the author – and several were good but there were a few who had objections to what I’d written.

One writer, who's a Native American in the mid-west, commented on my article about Plains Indians. She corrected me on family relationships in the tribes. Though she admitted customs varied from tribe to tribe.

Then a nice lady in Georgia caught me on a wrong word choice. I had said wife sales in England were legal up to 1850. She said they were never legal and there were recorded sales until 1919. How embarrassing. For me and the wives.

The biggy was a long email I receive from an enthusiast in the U.K. who said I was totally wrong about the death of a man-at-arms (long story). Anyway, she wasn’t an expert but her father loved history and knew I was wrong. I found her interesting and asked her a few questions and explained I had gotten the information out of a certain history book. She became upset with me and said no matter where I got it, I was wrong and I should correct it. Then I proceeded to explain even her father would know the contemporaries of that time would all have different opinions accordingly to their loyalties and how they heard it. Not everyone wrote back then and much of history was repeated from one person to another before someone wrote it down. Needless to say, she was not too happy with me. To her, history is black and white with no gray. Me? I believe history is all gray. Ten people can see the same thing happen and there will be ten different accounts with usually only one main string wiggling through it.

When it comes to reading historical romances I rarely pay attention to the historical accuracies as long as nuances of the period are there and the author can keep the picture rolling in my head, I’m okay.

So I would like to say to those out there who believe history is written in stone. Go read a rock. I prefer historical romance for entertainment and I don’t mind a little gray in it.


Jeanie said...

I'm with you, Carla. I am not a black and white person either, and I see things in shades of gray.

Good point about history being subjective. What is that old saying about history being written by the winner?

I read TONS of historical and I don't sweat the small stuff. Sure, obvious anachronisms would bother me but I don't care enough about say, furnishings and draperies in the books I read, to carp about whether Regency Egyptian Revival was in vogue at the time of the novel or not.

And I know that Georgette Heyer made up her own list of cant terms that she used in her Regencies. Those terms that are widely used today by other Regency writers. Strictly speaking, they aren't historically accurate, but I love them anyway. And if I ever get around to writing a historical, I'll no doubt use them too, as I am a HUGE Heyer fan. So there!

Christine said...

I have read historicals for years and I never worry about the accuracy of the details. I read them for the story, the opulent settings, and the amazing sensual tension.

Great post!

Callie James said...

I agree. A psychologist once told me when he counsels marital couples with different viewpoints regarding the same experience, he finds rarely is anyone right or wrong, but the truth lies somewhere in the middle. I think back often on that statement and I think he's right. Or in the middle.

You get my point.

Great post, Carla. I miss those articles!

Carla Swafford said...

Thanks, Jeanie. I looked up the quote. Winston Churchill said, "History is written by the victors." So true.

Carla Swafford said...

Christine, I've loved historical romances too. In fact the first romance I ever read was one set in the middle ages.

Carla Swafford said...

Thanks, Callie. Isn't that true about everything?

Louisa Cornell said...

Great post, Carla ! And you are so right. I do an enormous amount of research for my historicals. My collection of books about Regency England is over 150 strong and growing.

And the one consistency in them is that while the bare bones facts may stay the same, much of history can only be read with the understanding that the writer's point of view colors everything! And isn't that what is most important about history? The human element is the part that changes history, makes history and keeps history. And that is something that more often than not is very much a matter of where the historian is standing to view that history.

The most important part of a historical romance is THE ROMANCE! And that is something we can all relate to, not in shades of white or black, but in all of the glorious colors of passion.

Carla Swafford said...

Ooooo, Louisa, I like "colors of passion." Good one. Thanks.

Lisa D. said...

I think that the people who think that historicals must be 100% accurate really don't have a good grasp on the history. Those rakes we love reading about? Yeah, many of them were barely a step above rapists. There were real reasons women didn't go out on the streets of London alone in the 18th and early 19th centuries. And all the death and disease they had back then-- that stuff doesn't make for a very happy book. I think it's impossible to be 100% accurate in a historical. That's not really the point, though, is it? It's really about the love story.

Carla Swafford said...

I so agree, Lisa.

Gwen Hernandez said...

Great post, Carla. My grandma and I were in a car accident once, and the other guy took off. When we had to describe him to the police, it was like two different people. Red bandana. No blue. And so on.

And that was a simple description of one man. I can't even imagine how all of the viewpoints of history have shaped it. The good news for writers is that there's a lot of story in the gray.

Cari Hislop said...

You're right, everyone's point of view is individual and history is always a layer of different "times".
I had a great great grandmother born in the 1840's in West Virgina who lived 'till the end of the 30s or early '40's (and died in Washington State). You don't think of the late 1930's as being connected to the Civil War era, but they were. As a regency romance writer I always keep in mind this overlapping of eras. There were a lot of people alive in 1812 who had more in common with 1700 or 1750. There were men still wearing wigs or wearing their hair long tied back with a bow (even though the fashion was to wear their natural hair cut short) because people often wear and live how they're used to living when they're young. (That old joke about being able to tell when someone graduated by their hair and makeup sadly isn't always a joke.)

I try to be accurate in my regency world (though I often don't know I'm inaccurate until I find out the hard way). I think with historical romances facts should be like servants who know how to do their job and keep their place by blending into the background.

Carla Swafford said...

Cari, actually I do believe that about the Civil War. I remember in the 60's we had a parade downtown and there was a Civil War solider in attendance. He'd been a drummer boy the last year of the war. He was easily over hundred years old.