Friday, May 08, 2015

Historical is the New Sexy - Seven Reasons I Write Historical Romance

They say the fresh, new romance genres are small-town romance, new adult / young adult, and erotic romance. I am not quite certain who "they" are. Frankly I think "they" are a bunch of editors, agents, and reviewers who get together once a week, get snockered on martinis and wine, throw darts at a board, and whichever genre gets the most hits is decreed HOT ! Sort of like the way Congress decides which laws to pass.

And historical romance, of course, is dying again. I swear historical romance has more lives than Luke on General Hospital. (You young people will have to Google that if you don't know who Luke is.) Jane Austen published Sense and Sensibility in 1811. She published Pride and Prejudice, the Holy Grail of historical romance, in 1813. Georgette Heyer published her first historical romance, The Black Moth, in 1921. (She was nineteen years old and it was an instant success. Yes, I kind of hate her a little bit too.) A genre with this sort of longevity has to have something going for it. Frankly historical romance has dodged more bullets than Captain Keogh's horse, Comanche, at the Battle of the Little Bighorn. (Look that one up too. It's a great story.)

I can't speak for other authors, but here are some of the reasons I write and will always write historical romance.

1. Mr. Darcy – This one should go without explanation, but I will elaborate. I have been in love
    with Mr. Darcy since I was nine years old. There is something so sensually attractive about a
    a man that repressed, yet seething with passion for a woman who frankly is forbidden to him.
    A man that vulnerable, honorable and determined to have the one woman he shouldn't want
    is sexy as hell to me.

From Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen

``In vain have I struggled. It will not do. My feelings will not be repressed. You must allow me to tell you how ardently I admire and love you.''

 “You are too generous to trifle with me. If your feelings are still what they were last April, tell me so at once. My affections and wishes are unchanged; but one word from you will silence me on this subject for ever.”

 “It was gratitude; gratitude, not merely for having once loved her, but for loving her still well enough to forgive all the petulance and acrimony of her manner in rejecting him.”


2. Stately HomesI have 3 boards on Pinterest devoted to those deliciously decadent monuments
                                 to more genteel and elegant times. These homes, however, are more than just
                                 expressions of rich folks' egos. They are works of art. They hold family secrets,
                                 mysterious hidden passages, libraries to die for, and bedrooms with lots of space
                                 to play. Not to mention artwork so erotic some museums wouldn't display it.
                                 Romance is about escape. If you're going to escape you might as well do it with
                                 style. Every woman needs a little time in a beautiful castle with a handsome
                                 man. Historical romance has lots and lots of castles. And very handsome men.

3. Manners - I work at Walmart all day. Manners are as scarce there as donuts at the end of shift in
                       a police squad room. Historical romance allows me to retreat to a time when manners
                       were an art. They were as natural to men and women as breathing and just as essential.
                       And frankly, all of those lovely manners force a man to be sensually creative when it
                       comes to seduction. Innuendo tickles the ear. Eyes caress. A touch is foreplay. A bow
                       is an invitation. In the world of polite society, manners create sexual tension and all of
                       that tension works up an appetite. I do love a historical romance hero with an appetite.
                       Don't you?

4. The Clothes - Is there anything so elegant as a ball gown on a lady? Or formal dress on a man?
                           The only thing more elegant is a man and a lady out of those clothes. These days
                           clothes leave very little to the imagination. It's like getting a Christmas present
                           wrapped in Saran Wrap. Where's the fun in that?

                           Historical romance heroes always dress well. Those thin lawn or linen shirts on
                           a man with a broad chest? Hello, Colin Firth's Mr. Darcy. And those buckskin
                           breeches let a lady see exactly what she is getting. A cravat gives a man such an
                           air of dashing and when a lady unties it the possibilities are endless. So you think
                           E. L. James invented tying someone to the bed for fun?

                           Historical romance heroines wear lots of clothes. Which means it takes a long time
                           for the hero to undress her. And all that time the anticipation rises. After all, this man
                           has never seen this woman in a bikini or Daisy Dukes. He's never even seen her
                           ankles. That's a lot of territory to explore. And I've always been fond of a creative,
                           intrepid explorer who takes his time? Haven't you?

From Lord of Scoundrels by Loretta Chase

. . . his pulse had started to accelerate by Button Number Six. By Number Twelve, it was racing. By Number Fifteen, he had to concentrate to keep his breathing steady . . . Miss Jessica Trent’s grey eyes had taken on the drunkenly bewildered expression of a respectable spinster being seduced in spite of herself.

Even if he had comprehended her expression, he wouldn’t have believed it, any more than he could believe his untoward state of excitement—over a damned glove and a bit of feminine flesh. Not even one of the good bits, either—the ones a man didn’t have—but an inch or two of her wrist, plague take her.

The worst was that he couldn’t stop. The worst was that his passionately intent expression had somehow become genuine, and he was no longer talking in Italian about drains, but about how he wanted to unbutton, unhook, untie every button, hook, and string . . . and slip off her garments, one by one, and drag his monstrous blackamoor’s hands over her white virgin’s flesh.

And while in Italian he detailed his heated fantasies, he was slowly peeling the glove back, exposing a delicately voluptuous palm. Then he gave one small tug toward her knuckles. And paused. Then another tug. And paused. Then another tug . . . and the glove was off. He let it fall to the table, and took her small, cool, white hand in his great, warm one. She gave a tiny gasp.

Any questions about the clothes?

5. Being a lady of leisure - I am as liberated as the next woman. I think a woman should get equal
                                             pay for equal work, should be hired for a job if she can do the job, and is
                                             intelligent enough to make decisions about her own life without the 
                                             interference of the government or the beliefs of any political party. That
                                             being said, sometimes all of this taking care of myself gets to be a pain in
                                             the arse. In historical romance I can escape to a time when a woman who
                                             managed a large house with the help of a battalion of servants, served as
                                             a hostess for her husband, had time to read - write letters to friends and
                                             family - play the piano or enjoy other hobbies, and did charitable work on
                                             the side was not looked down upon by men or worse, by other women. I
                                             realize women had few rights in most of the eras in which historical
                                             romance is written, but you might be surprised at the things women
                                             accomplished in spite of the limits set on them by society. Every major
                                             reform movement - the abolition of slavery, the abolition of child labor,
                                             improvements of working conditions in factories, medical research - all
                                             of these had leaders who were women, wealthy women, who wanted to
                                             change the world in spite of the limits society set on them. Yes, historical 
                                             romance allows me to live in a world where I am pampered, pursued,
                                             cared for and provided a life of balls, parties, adventures, and intrigues
                                             without having to work a 40 hour work week or change a litter box. But
                                             it also allows me to meet heroines who make a difference in a time when
                                             the rules make it hard for her to do so. And I do like a woman who breaks
                                             the rules.

6. The language - I am a language snob. I admit it. I love elegant words, beautiful words, insightful
                              words. I love putting them together to create a symphony of images. Historical
                              romance allows me to use words not found in other genres. It allows me to
                              research words to insure they are period correct. Exploring the origins of words is
                              one of the very best parts of historical research. Yes, I'm a word nerd. I am
                              dinosaur enough to find much of today's language jarring at best and confusing as
                              hell at worst. I may be slightly partial, but I believe historical romance has some of
                              the most beautiful language in it ever written. There is such a sense of rest in
                              reading language from another time and place. No cell phones. No computers.
                              No televisions. Simply the lilting grace of words immersing you in eras where
                              words were often a tool of seduction so subtle as to weave a magical haze of love
                              and sensuality unmatched by the power of technology or the modern use of the
                              English language. 

From The Rake to Rescue Her by Julia Justiss

The familiar tones sent shivers over his skin before penetrating to the marrow, where they resonated in a hundred stabbing echos of memory.

What woman wouldn't want her voice described like this?

From Devil in Winter by Lisa Kleypas 

“I want to fill every part of you, breathe the air from your lungs and leave my handprints on your soul. I want to give you more pleasure than you can bear.”

I don't know about you, but I'm in !  

7. The sense of the forbidden - Lets face it, today there is very little that is forbidden in romance.
                             In contemporary romance and even young adult romance just about anything goes
                             so long as you don't do it in the street and block traffic. Even small-town romance
                             can get kind of rowdy. I live in a small town. This place could give Scandal a run
                             for its money. The best part is, you can get a daily recap simply by going to

                              In historical romance, whether it be a knight in love with the bride he is escorting
                              to another man, a Chinese geisha in love with a warlord, a schoolmarm in love
                              with a bounty hunter, a lady Confederate spy in love with a Yankee captain,
                              a duke in love with a seamstress or a Victorian era policeman in love with a
                              brothel owner - the sense of the forbidden is there in spades. Because of all
                              those societal rules, because of the complications of living in a world made small
                              by a lack of technology, because of the lovely manners, the class differences and
                              all of the other strictures the past provides - historical romance is rife with a sense
                              of daring in falling in love at all. The anticipation is heightened. The possibility of
                              a broken heart is greater. The scenes are sumptuous. The risks are higher. The
                              obstacles are often nearly insurmountable. And the sex, when it happens, is
                              sexier because of that sense of the forbidden. A writer has to work harder when
                              she has all of those darned rules getting in the way. And it's fun. Wicked, wicked

Historical romance has been going on since David got his first glance at Bathsheba bathing on her husband's rooftop. It's been going on since Cleopatra rolled out of that carpet at Julius Caesar's feet. It's been going on since Sir Lancelot first saw Guinevere and knew his friendship with Arthur was in big trouble. We've been around a while. We're not going anywhere. And we're getting better and better every day.

 From Say Yes to the Marquess by Tessa Dare
“At some point, while you were roaming the globe, making treaties and dividing the spoils of war, I quietly declared my own independence. I am the sovereign nation of Clio now. And there will be no terms of surrender.”

He took that mental image and filed it away under Pleasant-Sounding Impossibilities. Right between “flying carriage” and “beer fountain.”

“I'm not going to touch her," he said "She's not mine.She never will be."
"Indeed." Bruiser rolled his eyes and dusted off his hat. "Definitely no years of pent-up lusting there. Glad we have that sorted.” 

Historical Romance - For when you really want to get away from it all !  

How about you? If you write historical romance, why do you write it? If you read historical romance, why do you read it? What do you love about it? What do you hate? 'Fess up! We won't tell. 


Ali Hubbard said...

I love historicals because of the escape! I also like learning about new (or rather, old) things. If I could make a decent living as a cultural anthropologist....

And the covers ROCK.

And the hero.

And the homes. lol.

I don't have a favorite era or country, but I would love to see more Latin American historicals (ok, I admit I minored in Latin American studies as a history major, so maybe I'm biased).

As for the "genre du jour," in the 2 years I've been learning about seems there have been many. I read and enjoy all genres, so "what's hot" doesn't really impact me. But, a lot of the historical writers I meet don't want to self-publish. So, I wonder if it's an economics thing? Editors/agents are seeking out hot reads in other genres before authors self-pub them. They know the historical folks will "be there" so to speak.

I have no idea if that theory is even remotely possible because I have no data (and I'm a data hound). haha. But, I can't think of an aspiring historical romance writer I've met who is working toward self publication on a large scale.

Great post...and the historical pinterest boards are THE BEST.

Louisa Cornell said...

Thanks, Ali ! And that is a some great insight on historical romance writers. I never really thought of it before, but I think you are onto something there. I've been at this eight years and my novella in Christmas Revels is the first thing I have ever Indie published. I know I will be going Indie for the sequels to my novella, but I am admit I am still hoping to land a traditional publishing contract. I guess we historical gals are just old-fashioned to the core!

Another thing might be the covers. I am holding out for a Jon Paul cover and I know I can't afford it as an Indie!

Lexi said...

You've referenced some of my favorites here, Louisa! I'm with you all the way. Been there since the seventh grade, when I discovered Georgette Heyer!

Louisa Cornell said...

Ah yes, Lexi ! Georgette Heyer is the entry drug for many historical romance readers and writers!

Alicia Coleman said...

Awesome, Awesome post, Louisa! I have had a long love affair with historical romance since the eighth grade. I need to reread all the books you listed. And Colin Firth as Mr Darcy...*sigh*

Louisa Cornell said...

Thank you so much, Alicia! Those books are all on my keeper shelf. The one by Julia Justiss THE RAKE TO RESCUE HER just came out in the last few months and it is simply wonderful! It is part of a trilogy and all three books are on my keeper shelf.

My keeper books are the ones I read when I am having a bad day and REALLY need to get away!

Andrea K. Stein said...

I write romance because I'm in heaven when I'm writing a passage where all of a sudden the hero decides I'm not moving fast enough for him and makes me get the heck out of the way so he can get down to seducing the heroine. So what if it's the 1800s on the high seas?

The heroes I put on my covers are real guys who come whooshing down the mountain to save your butt, or who walk into burning buildings when everyone else is running out. And OMG, these guys are the real thing, drop dead hot. After Kim Killion and I get done with them, even their own wives and girlfriends are impressed.

I read *and* write romances to escape and re-charge my batteries. My own hubby is behind me on this one. He calls what I do "cheap therapy."

And last, but not least (drumroll), I get to hang out with the likes of Louisa Cornell on death defying RWA trips to places like NYC and Atlanta. It just doesn't get any better than this.

Louisa Cornell said...

LOL ! Oh, come on, Andrea! We only get into a LITTLE trouble on these trips. :)

And for those of you who haven't read Andrea's High Seas historical romances you are missing a treat! And her covers featuring real heroes are amazing. Part of the proceeds from her books goes to the training of mountain rescue dogs.

Fortune's Horizon is the story of a lady Confederate spy and a British blockade runner.

I have to agree, when a hero takes the entire thing out of your hands and says "I've got this." it is the most fun you can have with your clothes on.

Reading and writing historical romance are much cheaper than therapy and so much more fun!

Michele said...

Beautifully written post! I'm posting a link on my FB page! I wish I could have said this half as well.
All of it! That's why I write historical romance! Right here. Just what you said. Oh wow! I'm reeling.
The clothes, the WORDS, YES!

Louisa Cornell said...

Oh thank you, Michele! I'm so glad you liked it. I knew other historical romance writers would understand!

Annie Burrows said...

great post Louisa!

LizB said...

Enjoyed that a lot. Read it because of the GH drug like you said. Write it because when I started writing, it felt natural to follow GH. Still write it because I enjoy the period and it's as much an escape for me as for the reader.

Elizabeth Essex said...

Wonderful post, Louisa!
I kept reading and shouting, Yes!, and THIS!
I love historical romance for all the reasons you stated, especially because I love heroines who break and rewrite the rules. And I adore the heroes who help them do just that.
Thanks so much for reminding me that however often reader or agents say I should write in other genres, Historical Romance will ALWAYS be my home. :)
CHeers, EE

Lillian Marek said...

Thank you for this post, and for all who share your views. I read (and write) historicals because it's just such fun! I love not just the hero and heroine and the romance, but all the little details about what it was like to live back then, whenever then might be. And let the imagination soar!

Louisa Cornell said...

Thank you so much, Annie! You know how much I LOVE your books!

Louisa Cornell said...

Another one fallen to the lure of Georgette Heyer. Thanks so much, Liz! And I so agree. It is as much my escape as a writer as it is as a reader.

Louisa Cornell said...

Thank you, EE, my wonderful Ruby Sister! You are such an amazing historical romance writer I can't imagine you NOT writing historical! As you said, it is our home!

Louisa Cornell said...

Thank you, Lillian! Like you, I am an avid student of history. When I am doing research and find a fascinating fact or story my imagination does indeed soar and I want to share history and romance with readers.

IslayMs said...

Oddly enough, Mr. Darcy never did it for me. Dominic, Marquis (of?) Vidal in Devil's Cub, Miles Calverleigh in Black Sheep, Jack Carstares in The Black Moth (possibly the first Heyer I read)--oh, dear.

Country homes, stately or not--the libraries, the gardens, the follies near the ornamental lake, the ginormous bedrooms (please, please, please!).

I love history, its clothing, and its language. I'm with you on all the rest. When I want escape, most contemporary romance does nothing for me.

Louisa Cornell said...

You've listed some of my favorite Heyer heroes! My very favorite of hers, however, remains Lord Damerel from Venetia.

And yes those stately homes - every aspect of them - are my favorite fantasy retreats!

Angelina Jameson said...

You listed all the reasons I also love to write historical romance. Thank you for this post. I laughed out loud a few times. :)

Cari Hislop said...

Great post! I think I love historical romances because it's as close to time travel as I'll ever get. Also, it combines my romance addiction and my love of history. Saying that, unlike a lot of people, I don't actually enjoy romances where the reader is given endless paragraphs of historical information. I prefer my history to be mostly imbedded in the story.

I write Regency romances for a number of reasons. The main one for me would have to be...I have this whole Universe of characters (who happen to live in a version of Regency, England) demanding I tell their stories. None of them asked me if I wanted to spend years of my life dictating their stories (or even if I thought anyone would want to read them), but characters are freaking insistent creatures. I too love the social rules and boundaries. I love how historicals offer an endless degrees of heat. Some people love erotic historicals. Some, like me, prefer the sex to be either at the end of the story or behind the closed door (like a Barbara Cartland minus the mountain peaks of ultimate joy) - to every known level of heat in between. I love how historical romances offer a vast canvas of possibility. I've been working on my very first contemporary romance and it's been fun. I love how I can use modern technology or music to enhance the romance, but like you I think there is more "escape" into Historicals. You can check out of "real life" and for a few hours be somewhere else where you know there will be a happy ending!

Louisa Cornell said...

Thank you, Angelina! It is always great to know there are other people out there just as crazy about historical romance as I am!

Louisa Cornell said...

Exactly, Cari! We are both held hostage by this host of characters who insist on living in Regency England! Sometimes I believe writing historical romance is like being in the Mafia. You can't ever leave! The minute you do, they drag you back in!

Cari Hislop said...

Characters are SO like the Mafia! If you try to even pretend their demands are unreasonable ALL hell breaks loose. I may need a tin-foil hat, but I'm sure they planted a transmitter in my brain...truly! ;)

I haven't been able to have children so I probably mother them too much. I was at Marks & Spencer the other day with my husband who needed some socks and t-shirts so i was in the men's wear department and I'm all thumbing through the racks thinking...So and So would wear this! No this! My poor husband thought I was looking at clothes for him...I had to put him straight...sorry honey, I was dressing my characters. ;)

Louisa Cornell said...

I love it, Cari, and it is SO the truth! I do the same thing with my characters. I see a post about ball clothes or a certain stately home, even furniture and I put it into my notebook for that character or that story. They all have very decided tastes!