Monday, August 16, 2010

So Just When Do We Become "Historical"? Thoughts from Regan Taylor

I started to think about this the other day when, after my muse hiding for a bit over a month, I returned to writing. I'd open up a file and feel nothing. I'd bring up a blank page to start a new book thinking it would help and it didn't. And finally, digging into revising The Photograph to prepare it for submission, my muse peaed around the corner. And instead of creating, she brought to my attention some things I needed to consider, such as when does a book actually become a historical.

To me "historicals" were stories that took place from any time in the past through the American Civil War. There were stories where clothing was quite different from what we wear today, food not quite as varied, travel a bit harder and entertainment not as readily available. Heroes were brave and cunning and always in charge. They could also be jerks such as Vikings pillaging a Saxon village before taking the beautiful princess captive and winning her heart. And the heroines would fight as best they could but were always overpowered by wide shouldered, broad chested heroes with flowing hair, narrow hips and big you-know-whats. They took place in ancient Egypt or Greece or Rome. They were adventures set during the Norman-Saxon wars or during the birth of America. For the most part, looking back now, war or some sort of dispute laid at the center of the tale. Or which side of the tracks the couple was born on caused the couples to initially believe they didn't suit.

When I first saw a call for submissions for historicals set in WWI through Viet Nam I had to stop and think about it. Historical? Viet Nam? Hard to believe it happened forty odd years ago. And how our world has changed since then. But it still doesn't feel like it is historical to me. Yet some forty years later, it is, isn't it?  The calls for submissions setting the criteria focused on beginnings and endings with war. Not Victorian innovations (except for Steam Punk), or the Roaring 20's or travel into space -- and those first Sputnik and Mercury launches would fit in that historical criteria given the years involved.

Stories set in the 20th century open the door for more intriguing stories in terms of cross-culturalism. Read many of the earlier romances, ones written in the 70s-90s and the only multi-racial mariages you find are either white women falling in love with Indian captors or a rare hispanic/white marriage. Rosemary Rogers was, in many ways, ahead of her time with Steve Morgan being half Mexican and Lucas Cord being half white, half Apache or half Mexican depending on what he believed at a given point in THE WILDEST HEART. But with the opening of the east, or rather re-opening because after all, Marco Polo did open up the east so long ago, the opportunities to explore cross-cultural marriage abound.

When I first conceived of The Photograph it was early on in my writing career and while DVDs were around, they weren't quite as popular as they are today. I'd toyed with the idea of the story but didn't write it till the past couple of years. It was one of those things I kept meaning to do and finally planted my fanny down and did. But back when I was considering it, video stores were in every town and city and who heard of Netflix? I certainly hadn't. From the time I started writing it till today we moved not only from video cassetts to DVDs, now we have Blue Rays and can download movies right on to our computers or TV sets. I've had to give thought as to whether and why my heroine would go to a video store instead of just downloading the movie of her choice on to her TV.

In the past few years I had the opportunity to read all of Tess Gerritsen's books, starting with her first from 1987. Back then smoking was common, cell phones were around but they certainly weren't common or as convenient in size as they are today. In the short span of 23 years so much technology has changed. That led me to wonder if perhaps the late 80's might fall into the purview of historical given how much our world has changed.

It seems to me writing a time travel a few years ago would have been much simpler because while our technology changed and developed, it didn't happen quite as fast as it has today. My heroine in The Photograph is an avid reader. She has thousands of books. But when I first conceived the story ebooks were a small elite community of readers. The advent of better and more affordable devices has changed our reading paradigm. The question I ask now is if I need to change her home library which features floor to ceiling book shelves needs to become a jam packed ereader. But if I did that, my hero wouldn't have the opportunity to see and aprpeciate so many books. There's something romantic (as a reader) to pull a book off a shelf and cuddle with my guy to read a particularly juicy scene and then ... discuss it. Holding a book between the two of us is a connection, a shared moment. I haven't tried it yet with a reader. At what point will having a book, a tangible book, in a story make it a historical? Given our leaps in technology, when will we set the bar to what is considered historical?

For me, I still love stories set before the American Civil war. For some reason they hold more romance, more of a connection between the heroes and heroines.


J.T. Webster said...

I agree, to think of the Vietnam War as historical is a hard stretch. I was alive then, I remember the disturbing clips on the tv, albeit black and white.
The word historical makes me think 1800s or earlier, but the 1900s were last century, so...
And I think we will have many book lovers owning stacks of treasured books for many years to come.

Marg said...

I wasn't alive for Vietnam, but for me I think the line is WWII. Anything after that is a stretch. The interesting thing for me though is that lined hasn't moved at all for me. Surely as time marches on, so should the line to delineate between what is historical and what is not.

Maggi Andersen said...

Alarming to think that if I wrote a story based on my life it would be an historical!
I would love to write about the thirties. Fascinating period.

Allison Knight said...

I agree with Maggi. I guess I'm historical. I don't remember WWI but I sure was around for II, Nam, and the rest.

And Regan, my DH and I sit together, with our readers and read, stopping to reread - outloud - a terrific phrase, an interesting character, a play on words. He reads action novels, while I read the latest romance. We enjoy sharing and it is romantic.