Like most of you, I have little stacks of to-be-read books teetering around the house, and waiting patiently on my kindle and nook. For the past few years, the breakdown by genre looks a lot like this pie chart. Historical is obviously the favorite, with other romance genres lagging way, way behind. I’ve tried contemporaries, but I find them less enjoyable to read, as I’m always inserting my cynical, day-to-day reality into them.
If you’ve ever wondered why you like a particular romance genre, the answer isn’t really all that easy to come to. When I tried, here’s what I came up with…
There’s Loads of Time for Heroes to Brood
My newest historical romance, Discovery of Desire, is set in the mid-Victorian era (1851) and is the story of an English explorer and a shy, but determined, Derbyshire woman, who sail by steamship from England to Bombay, and back. Seth Mayhew and Wilhelmina Adams make the perilous journey for different reasons: Seth to find a lost sister, and Mina to wed a civil servant stationed in India. (Spoiler alert: Mina’s plans are gonna change.)
In 1851, that journey takes over three months, with caravan travel across Egypt before getting back on a boat at Suez. 165 years later, Seth could fly to India in 9 hours with a $600 round-trip ticket.
Travel took a lot of time, never mind overseas travel. In-country, the carriages moved at three to six miles per hour, and then there was all the stops and horse re-freshing at the posting inns. Today, we demand speed, and coffee in a cardboard cup, and constant entertainment. I can’t help but think: what’s a contemporary Heathcliff going to brood over if there’s Pokemon Go in the world?
No First-World Problems
My hero, Seth, is tormented by not knowing where his lost sister is. She could be anywhere in the whole of Asia, or she might have succumbed to cholera or hypothermia or bandits. And there’s no google maps, or navigators, or epi-pens or safe anesthesia. A contemporary hero’s answers could be one text message away.
Contemporary writers possess a whole other dimension of creativity that I don’t. I’m limited in thinking up complications for a modern-day hero and heroine. The big, existential struggles are always there, of course, but I can’t help but think what else would there be? Would they be miffed that their Whole Foods was out of stock of their gingerberry kombucha? What angst couldn’t be soothed by a day of zip-lining or maybe a pumpkin spice latte?
Men Didn’t Wear Flip Flops (and other un-sexy accoutrements)
19th century men didn’t wear…
- Adidas shower shoes with tube socks
- sports jerseys
- skinny jeans made from imported, Japanese denim
- tennis shoes priced higher than my mortgage
Seth Mayhew wears a coarse, second-hand coat that was sewn by hand, and carries survival stuff like rifles and hatchets and whiskey for disinfecting cuts. There wasn’t a Fitbit tracking his 30 mile-per-day treks. And I really am old fashioned, because there is something decidedly unattractive about people who have their noses in their smart phone. I really ought to pretend they’re reading a book (but they’re usually not).
One writer I know said historicals are adult fairy tales set in England, and that has always rung true for me. The 19th century was real, and yet unreal. We can study the past, read diaries and letters of our ancestors, but can never really know it. It’s possible but also a little fantastical, like science fiction. The world seems simpler, though reason tells me it certainly wasn’t. It’s that remove from the everyday that I expect and seek out.
Reading historical romance is, for me, an escape from all that’s disappointing in modern life, so I’m so grateful there are so many wonderful historical writers out there producing my adult fairy tales.