Posts Tagged ‘historical fiction

10
Feb
10

The Age of Romance

Historical romance heroines have a tendency to be much younger than their contemporary counterparts. Blame it on fact (women used to get married much earlier) or fiction (it’s hard to keep a historical heroine the requisite un-self-aware virgin once she’s reached her mid-thirties), but the reality is staring us right in the face.

Regency Heroine, aged 19:

“Look at me! I’m young and headstrong and deeply in love with a hardened rake ten years my senior! Watch as I lure him with my precocity and innocence, redeeming him from his womanizing ways with the solace of my perfectly rounded and pert bosom!”*

Contemporary Heroine, aged 19:

“I am a mere foil for my older self. At 19, I made incalculable errors with the love of my life and we parted ways. Only 10 years from now, when I’m older, wiser, more experienced, and have a career of my own, will I be able to reconnect with my one true love for our happily ever after.”

Now, I’m not saying there aren’t exceptions to these rules. Some great historicals deal with women who have moved beyond their schoolroom miss days by at least a good decade, and most of contemporary urban fantasies and paranormals I’ve read have heroines in their young- to mid-twenties (it’s the ideal butt-kicking age, I imagine). But the overarching framework states that authors are allowed to have young heroines ONLY as long as it’s at least 100 years ago. A young heroine today would become part of a Young Adult novel, with sex scenes cut back appropriately.

Here’s my problem with this: I met my husband when we were both 17. We started dating at 19. We married at 21. Eight years later, we’re still very much happy and in love and planning to continue that way. By virtue of romance novel “rules,” however, such a story would most likely never hit the shelves.

  • Because it’s far too rare? Nope. My brother and several of my friends married equally young.

  • Because our story isn’t compelling? Well, yes, it’s not really all that exciting. But that doesn’t mean I couldn’t embellish and plot and make it into romance novel fodder.

  • Because we were emotionally unprepared for marriage at that age? Possibly. But we’ve worked through such shortcomings as a couple since then.

I don’t really have a grandiose closing statement bringing down the romance industry for it’s strict view of age or making a plea for more 19-year-old contemporary heroines. In fact, I probably wouldn’t read a straight contemporary with a heroine that young, and contrary to my own story, I think marriage is an undertaking best saved for at least the mid-twenties.

I just think that although we often address the romance double standard of men being allowed to be sexually promiscuous while women must remain untouched, we rarely consider that discounting young, contemporary love is equally limiting.

*I write and adore Regencies, so I mock with love. Always love.

20
Oct
09

Real Characters in Historical Fiction

PirateI’m on a bit of a Jean Lafitte kick lately. I recently came across him in Danielle, a YA romance novel I remember reading when I was about ten (the Sunfire Series, for those of you who remember; it’s been a hilarious pastime of mine lately to revisit the novels of my youth). He plays a minor character, but one who sets the backdrop for early nineteenth century Louisiana very effectively. A gentleman pirate who helped shaped a nation – what’s there not to love?

As soon as I was done reading, I remembered Mr. Lafitte also made a similar minor appearance in Zorro, by Isabelle Allende. She’s one of my favorite authors, so I picked up the book again and re-read it.

But then I wanted more. Both books only brushed the surface of the pirate’s life and escapades, and I find myself intrigued by the life he led. I could have always picked up a nonfiction book about him, but those have never really been my style. I prefer a good, lyrical retelling any day.

So, I looked everywhere for a historical fiction novel about Jean Lafitte and came up empty. I eventually put a query out on Twitter and was directed toward Siren, by Cheryl Sawyer. The book is out of print, so I ordered a used copy and am eagerly awaiting for it to be delivered.

Still, I find myself wondering why it was so difficult to find a novel wherein he plays the primary hero. There are hundreds of romance novels out there about gentleman pirates, especially in that time period. Privateers, as they were called, were sanctioned by their own governments to pillage the ships of enemy nations. They had the ultimate stamp of romance novel hero approval: they were outcasts but not villains. It’s a nice, tidy way to depict what were probably a motley, smelly crew as daring noblemen bent on swashbuckling adventures and daily baths.

So Jean Lafitte, the ultimate gentleman pirate, should be incredible fodder for storytelling. He built a successful business based on his privateering role. He employed hundreds, lived a life of rich luxury, captivated women with his charming, mysterious ways, and helped Andrew Jackson defeat the British. (This is where readers are expected to swoon. He is, after all, the ideal rake.)

Unfortunately, he did some not-so-nice things, too. Like killing people and taking part in the slave trade. Oh, and making his fortune by stealing from others; no Robin Hood was this guy. He kept his booty for himself.

For the most part, I get it. It’s hard to write a sympathetic hero with that kind of shady past. But is there something else to the apprehension? Is there too much research involved in writing a story that features a real historical figure as the hero? Do readers prefer a make-believe pirate hero whose solid core of good is unquestionable better than one who is horribly flawed (and ultimately more realistic)? Was he just not very attractive? Or is there another factor at play that I’m missing?




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