Quick post today, just wanted to let you know there’s a great series of essays at Evangeline Holland’s blog, where she’s hosting Historical Romance week.
Today we have a guest post from Michael Seeley, something I’ve been meaning to post for… FAR too long. Sorry Michael! Anyway, let’s find out how Michael suggests how historical fiction authors can balance the market away from thrillers and modern romance.
We all know that thrillers and modern romances are the biggest sellers. They dominate the markets, and it seems to be what all our friends are reading. But what if you’re not into the newest spy-chase novel and the modern romance isn’t your thing? For me, the draw of historical fiction has always been stronger than the idea of writing-for-profit in a genre that will probably sell better. But, that leaves historical fiction writers at a disadvantage.
Or does it? What can we as author of historical fiction do to balance the market for us?
Write for the Public
First off, you must try to use what’s currently popular. What do you see in movies/other popular books/popular culture? For me, a military historian, a prime example of this is works on Rome and ancient Greece. The ancient world is hot right now. It’s sexy. Films like Gladiator, 300, Alexander, Centurion, The Eagle, and many more capitalize on that. They may not be exactly factual (but neither, strictly speaking, is historical fiction), but they do increase the public’s care and concern for history. For me, that means that works on Rome and ancient Greece will sell better. In fact, I’m in the process of planning a novel set in that age.
This works for other subgenres, like historical romance as well. Look at Downton Abbey and the like. Romance itself is timeless; make money from that. If you see that the Middle Ages is catching the public’s eye, use that to your advantage. Right now, Victorianism is ripe for writing. With Steampunk (a fantastic genre that is easily mixed with historical fiction), Sherlock Holmes, and others making a dent in pop culture, take advantage of it. Tailor your work for the public.
Use Historical Fiction to Change Your World
Although the money is fun, all authors also long to be remembered in their works. They want to have a lasting impact on their world. Don’t you? I’m just finishing Mary Renault’s masterpiece, The Last of the Wine. It’s set in Athens during the Peloponnesian War and follows a young soldier and student of Socrates. The protagonist, Alexias, falls in love with an older student and another philosopher, Lysis. The book tells the story of these men’s love, their lives, and the tragedy that is war. But what’s more is that it was written in the 1950s. At that time, being a homosexual was not only unpopular, it could be ruinous to one’s career, to one’s very life. Renault wrote the work in part to paint a larger picture of the issue.
She wrote the book because, as a homosexual, she was tired of the backlash. She wanted to show that, throughout time, homosexuals were just as capable of doing great deeds, of being human. Her works all touch on this and other social issues.
So can yours.
Do you care about the environment? Look at Victorian England and the damages just beginning by the Industrial Movement. How about immigration — do you find immigration policy today unfair? Look at Ellis Island. Use your genre to shed new light on an issue you’re passionate about. The beautiful thing about the past — the thing which let Renault get away with such commentary in an age of repression — is that everything is in a different context. In the age of kings and revolutions, actions are different than today. Looking into the past gives us the freedom to be critical, to be un-shaking in our critique or our praise for once was and is now lost. Your readers will make the connection. Your book can truly change your world.
Tell a New Story
How often have you read a story that sounds just like all the others? I can’t tell you the number of times. It seems like people are becoming more and more unoriginal. But you, as an author of historical fiction, have access to thousands of years and millions of stories waiting to be told. As authors in this genre, we have the license to find the gems in the past that get lost.
Recently, I was researching a famous general from the Napoleonic Age, but he almost never made it to manhood; as a child, he almost suffocated to death by pretending to be a dog. He got stuck in his family’s doggy-door, and because he was pretending, he refused to use his voice. All he did was bark. And his parents laughed at their funny son. Until he passed out. And turned blue. Obviously, he lived, but anecdotes like this are beautiful. You simply can’t make some of these things up!
Now, I’m not telling you to steal your stories. But, unlike those spy thrillers that sound the same, we have millions of people’s tales waiting to be redone. Research. Add your own voice. Change things. But draw from that amazing well that history gives us. You can then write a new story that will capture and inspire.
So, if you’re sick of people complaining of the power popular genres, use your tools. Write to fit what’s popular, use your historical lens to change the world, and bring amazing stories from the past to life.
Then see those run-of-the-mill thrillers compete.
At an early age, Michael Seeley found himself devouring books about the past. Then he started writing his own. His first novel, The Faith, is the opening to a trilogy about revolution and regicide. His second novel, Duty, asks what might have happened if Napoleon had won the Battle of Waterloo. His collected short fiction, Men of Eagles, offers new perspectives on the wars of the Napoleonic Age. Michael has found inspiration from the winding alleyways of Paris, the tall forests of Norway, and the impressive Acropolis of Athens, but he currently resides in the Midwest with his beautiful wife, listening to the winds whisper across the prairie. Find more about his work at http://www.seeleywrites.com and http://www.amazon.com/Michael-Seeley/e/B004M6J5PO/ref=ntt_athr_dp_pel_1 .
It is so easy to wish you lived the life of a heroine from a romance novel. I know I do, sometimes, when I’m lost in a particularly good historical romance. I began to wonder, what are the pros and cons involved?
Pro: Even if you’re ugly (let’s face it, you’re probably pretty and just have bad self-esteem), you’re gonna end up with a beautiful man. No, not physically. I mean, he might be physically beautiful. I certainly hope you, as the heroine, think he’s attractive. No, I mean he’s got a beautiful soul, the type that makes you feel beautiful because of the way he looks at you.
Con: You probably had to suffer something in order to deserve such a beautiful man, like losing all your money, parents, or home, or all of those combined. Maybe you lost the affection of the duke and are having to settle for that viscount who always admired you from afar. Or let’s face it, you were never on the duke’s radar.
Pro: All the men wear suits. All the time. And they look good doing it. And when they aren’t wearing suits, they roll their sleeves up to their elbows to show off those delicious forearms of theirs. They also lose their cravats, giving you a peek at their impressive pecs.
Con: You have to wear a corset. Good luck breathing or eating or, you know, moving comfortably.
Pro: If you’re the typical historical romance heroine, you have at least one servant to help you get dressed. She knows how to do your hair so you always look good, she knows the colors that show off your eyes, and she knows when to tighten that corset to really get your man’s attention.
Con: You can’t dress or undress yourself because there are so many freaking layers to have to tie into place.
Pro: You need help getting undressed. Ask your hero. He will be glad to help, and you will be glad you asked him to.
Con: It might take him half an hour to undress you because of all those layers, so unless he’s awesome at teasing, you can lose the mood quickly.
Pro: You probably have two guys interested in you, and at the same time. However will you choose??
Con: One of those guys may very well try to shoot you or the guy you chose out of jealousy. That, or challenge your beau to a duel. Or kidnap you. Or threaten your family, if you’re one of those lucky heroines who has a family.
Pro: You often get to stand at the top of a staircase, hand on the rail, looking down at a man who is absolutely blown away by how the candles make your hair shine.
Con: It is freaking hot under those candles and the smoke is getting in your eyes and for heaven’s sake, and you have to walk down the stairs in heels without wiping out. And you’re still wearing a corset.
Share in the comments what other pro/con combinations about living in a historical romance novel! And don’t forget, I’m posting inspirational quotes, imagery, and videos at my Tumblr. You can ask me questions there and submit content for me to share with everyone. See you over there!