Historical Novels

My first romance novels as an adult were historicals. I read everything I could get my hands on by Karen Robards and Catherine Coulter. I expanded from there, and don’t even remember my first contemporary romance, but I moved away from historicals and into reading series romance and contemporary single titles. I’d still read a historical now and then, more to touch base than anything.

I don’t know which happened first – did I move away from historicals, or did my favorite authors stop writing them? Why did the costume dramas lose their appeal to me?

Out of 120 books in my TBR (way less than I thought), 41 of them are historical (way more than I thought). Yet they never seem to float to the top. Out of the 20 books on order from Amazon, 3 are historicals.

I would count some historicals as my all-time favorite books – Outlander, Through a Glass Darkly by Karleen Koen and Winter Roses by Anita Mills. But contemporaries outnumber historicals four to one on my keeper shelf. And when I finish a book and go to get another, it’s rarely a historical.

I’m still puzzling over why. Is it the sensibilities of the historical romances that no longer appeal? The potential for conflict is greater in a historical, the potential for sexual tension stronger because of the taboos on sex.

Is it the limited settings? I looked on my keeper shelf. I have a lot of Scottish historicals. Between Sandy Blair, Anita Mills and Diana Gabaldon, most are Scottish. Apparently I didn’t read too widely. In my TBR, I have Bonnie Vanak’s books. Those are set in Egypt, I believe (at least, that’s why I think I bought them.) The others are Amanda Quick and Betina Krahn and Teresa Medeiros and Pamela Morsi – authors I glommed but never finished reading. I have a few new-to-me authors in there, books I got free at National, so I’m not sure of their settings.

Is it the similar storylines? Probably not. I have a few Amanda Quicks in there, after all.

What about you? Do you read historicals like you used to? And if not, why did you stop?

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21 comments:

Anonymous said...

Loved the pic! I read historicals like you did, loved them. Then I started writing contemps and I sort of never looked back. I miss those days ...

Trish Milburn said...

I still love historicals and read them when I get the chance. I don't have anywhere near as much time to read anymore, and I read a lot of my friends' books, which are mainly contemps. But I still love, love, love historicals and really hope the buzz is true and westerns are going to make a comeback. The American-set historicals are my favorites. But then, I was a history minor in college.

Anonymous said...

Mar...I read ONLY historicals when I was young. Haven't read one in years, except for the occasional Julia Quinn. SOMETHING must have changed, but I don't know what it was. Maybe I just read the same story too many times.

This is the same reason why I read very few category books nowadays...they all began to sound the same after a few years. Give me a Bombshell, though, and I'm yours. They're different, and that's why I like them. I read a lot of paranormal, but that's a genre with a WIDE area of movement allowed, to say the least!

I agree with Trish...I did love a good western romance back in the day. I'd like to see them return.

JoAnn

Elizabeth Kerri Mahon said...

I love historicals, but I'm picky. I'm one of the accuracy police readers. Any boo-boo takes me out of the story, and I've read some where I wonder if the author even bothered to crack open a history book, it was so bad. Having said that I love a good historical, but now I mainly read historical fiction or mysteries.

Kelly (Lynn) Parra said...

I read very few historicals and the author almost has to have a contemporary voice for me to read her.

I like historicals that are sexy and not too drawn out on the setting. It's the slower pace in some historicals that I can get into, I think. =D

MJFredrick said...

Maybe it is because my friends mostly write contemp that I read contemp. And Nora. And like Trish, not much time to read anymore. I think that's what I'll do all day tomorrow.

I'm picky, too. I usually don't like American historicals (I lost interest in the Outlander series when they came to America. Oh, and that huge gap between books may have helped.)

MJFredrick said...

Interesting about the author needing a contemporary voice, Kelly. Have you read Outlander? That's one of the reasons Diana Gabaldon made it a time-travel - Claire's voice was too modern.

I used to like the really historical historicals. Through a Glass Darkly, and all of Anita Mills' books had a serious historical voice. And back then, I didn't mind the slower pace. In fact, that's why I still like to read Amanda Quicks when I want to relax.

Toni Anderson said...

I read Julia Quinn if I need comfort. Like chocolate she soothes me :)

I read hundreds of historicals years ago, Coulter, Woodiwiss etc, now I think contempories just got better.

Nationals made me want to write one--I admit it, but I'm trying to stay focused LOL!!!

Desperate Writer said...

I rad your entry today, but then I saw Gerard and everything left my brain!

Oh, okay, here I am...

I love historicals mostly, but am finding more and more contemp. stories I like...I don't know if it's the evolution of the genre that makes it easier to relate, or the evolution into being older myself!

MJFredrick said...

Toni, Amanda Quick is my Julia Quinn. (Actually, I don't think I've read her. I have one in my TBR.) And I know what you mean about being inspired by National. Every once in awhile I'll see a movie that will make me want to write historical, but then I think that's WAY more work than I want to do.

I got back my first R from my flurry of queries last week. Form letter, but she wrote in the corner that my credentials were impressive, but they'd bought some firefighter stories and they haven't done well :( As far as Rs go, not too bad.

Peggy said...

Sorry about the R, Mary. Pooh!

I was the opposite. I only ever read contemporary and the odd historical. Now I'm hooked on historicals and have begun writing them.

MJFredrick said...

Thanks, Peggy.

Interesting. When did you start reading romance? I started in the early 90s and there were mostly historicals then.

Peggy said...

Reading? Gawd, let's see! Sometime in the 80's. There were definitely historicals but not to my liking. My sister had a few hanging around so I would read them, but never got hooked. Though I loved history and Little House was my favourite show (Almonzo, be still my young heart), LOL. It wasn't until this past year that I decided to try writing them when this story refused to live my head.

MJFredrick said...

Oh, I loved Little House, too. The books as well as the show.

I love it when a story won't leave my head. What's yours about, if you don't mind?

Anonymous said...

Dadgumit on the R, Mar. But as rejections go, at least they talked to you like you were a real person (unlike mine from HI...on the book that later sold to Trisk...hey, HI---pffhhhttt. :)

Sorry, had to let that one fly today. Better news is in the offing, Mar.

JoAnn

Peggy said...

Well, Mary, since you asked...it is the story of a woman who is forced to hide away on an all male ranch disguised as a mute teenage boy from a horrific memory she cannot recall, but from which she fears she may be the source.

Phew! That took forever to try and sum it up, but nevertheless made good practice.

As you can tell, I like westerns, so I'm with the person who hopes they are making a come back.

MJFredrick said...

Ooh, neat, Peggy! Yeah, you'd make Trish very happy with that one. The westerns I have on my keeper are Anne Manning, Evelyn Rogers and Pam Morsi.

JoAnn, I hope better news is in the offing. You're right - she could have just let it go as a form letter, but she added a handwritten note.

Maybe I'll send her Surface....

Amie Stuart said...

This is the same reason why I read very few category books nowadays...they all began to sound the same after a few years.

I gotta agree w/Joanne here. I think I stopped reading them for the same if not simliar reasons. But I used to read TONS up until, dare I say it, I got married. I think I quit reading them right about the same time some of my fave authors stopped writing them. But I've read nearly all of Karen Marie Monings books-I think it was the paranormal element that did it for me, and a bunch of other historical time travels. Maybe I just need mixed genres.

THe last historical I bought was (I htink) at nationals last year--a gothic in first person set in california so definitely different.

MJFredrick said...

Cece, you said the same thing about mixing genres in your writing, too, right? I have to agree. Straight romances don't hold the same appeal to me.

I just got an R from Avon. The bad thing about the flurry of queries going out is that you get a flurry of Rs coming back. At least the Avon one didn't cost me anything!

Colleen Gleason said...

Mary, sorry about the Rs. Hugs.

Coming in late here because I was on vacation (but had to stop in to see the Gerry pics. Sigh.)....I, like many others here, used to only read historicals.

And I think what's happened is that they stopped being fresh--which could be the cause of the "historical slump."

Two things have happened: the editors/houses have limited the time periods and locales for historicals (ie, if it's not Scottish Medieval or Regency England, forget it), and many of the good historical authors have gone to write contemporaries.

Think about this, too: some years ago, maybe five or so, RWA conducted a reader market survey, a very in-depth one, about what readers wanted. It was so fascinating to me that readers wanted historicals, and they wanted them set in different times and places. I believe Colonial America was one of the most sought-after time periods.

I thought for sure this would open the editors' eyes and they would start to acquire more of these "different" times and places...but, no, if anything, they've become more limited.

I do still read historicals, but on a limited basis. I don't really like ones that are sex, sex, sex...I like ones with high sexual tension, and some good love scenes, but not ones where the hero and heroine fall into bed together every other chapter.

Having said that, I must say the historical authors I love and easily recommend for being fresh and with good, solid plots are Liz Carlyle, Diane Perkins, and Eloisa James. They are automatic-buys for me.

The thing I love about Liz Carlyle in particular is that she takes clicheed setups/premises/scenes and writes them so fresh and so unexpectedly that you think you know what's going to happen, and then you don't!

Colleen

MJFredrick said...

Hi, Colleen! Welcome home! I've never read Liz Carlyle or Eloisa James... must try. And I remember that survey! Don't remember what I put, though!

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