Monday, July 26, 2010

Looking Back on My Love Affair With Historical Romance by Regan Taylor

This summer I decided to treat myself to something special that would last me all season long. Because of things going on I wanted something that would take me back to a simpler and happier time in my life. I wanted romance and passion and to be swept away. My answer came in the form of pulling out all my old Rosemary Rogers' books, starting with Sweet Savage Love.

Ask any long time romance reader and the two names they seem to always say started them on their romance reading career are Rosemary Rogers and Kathleen Woodiwiss. For me, they set the bar in what a romance was. The genre has changed in the last forty years or so, but in terms of a timeless romance, I think most readers would agree, they are among the most memorable.

I read and re-read and re-read Sweet Savage Love again and again for years, often switching it off with Ashes in the Wind.  Cole and Alana in Ashes in the Wind were the perfect balance with the tempestuous relationship Ginny had with Steve in the Morgan series. I hadn't read either book in at least a dozen years and thought I remembered them in precise detail. When I began to read Ginny and Steve's story once again, some parts came back to me right away and others I'd forgotten. Some of the forgotten parts rewoke memories of not only the story for me, but what I was doing during the years I read the book, finished it and began it again.

As a reader I never noticed things like point of view or subtle references to events and incidents that caught my attention with this most recent reading. Maturing and learning a bit more of the world also clarified some things that I noticed in the early readings but wasn't quite so sure about. Now I get those things. Ms. Rogers shaped my romance life as a reader. I can clearly see her influence on some of my writing. And I can see something that would not only send some editors running screaming, but would probably have the book sent back to her for some re-writing. I could almost see a few places where perhaps Ms. Rogers earlier books would not have seen the light of day. I for one am glad they did.

It wasn't until this summer I actually looked Rosemary Rogers up as an author. I devoured her books as a reader, but until recently didn't consider the person behind the books. Her characters were so vivid, so full of life, I didn't need to know about her. With a new book due out this October I knew I hard to learn more about the person behind these well-loved characters. She truly is a self-made woman and she definitely rose about trying circumstances in her own life. Her biography is an amazing tale of a talented woman with the determination to succeed. Not at all unlike Ginny Morgan.

Based on the books I see today and have experienced myself, chances are Sweet Savage Love would probably not be published today, at least as it is. My most recent copy (I re-read it so many times that this is my fourth copy of it) is a bit over 600 pages and with very fine print. If normal 12 pitch were used I imagine it would be close to 800 pages. More likely than not, someone along the way would suggest separating it into two books, breaking the story perhaps after Ginny's marriage to Steve and picking up after their dual arrests. That wouldn't be an issue; after all, it is a series that takes you through their lifetime together through the other books in the series.

I've never been a point of view purist and in reading this book I can see perhaps why. As I said, she shaped my view of romance reading and to a point, my own writing. There are any number of places where there are dual points of view in one sentence, let alone in one paragraph. Each character's point of view, their thoughts, feelings, needs and desires, are offered one right after the other, most of the time in separate paragraphs. I personally like that. I don't want to have to wait for a new chapter to find out what the hero thought when the heroine engaged in a certain behaviors or activities -- and I don't necessarily want her impression of what she thinks he felt. I can see why it was such a struggle for me to comply with the rigorous one point of view per scene rules we have these days. I grew up with books that offered the fuller perspective of all of the characters in a scene contributing their thoughts -- and it didn't confuse me.

Ginny begins as a wily nilly flirt who's main concern is what dress she is going to wear on a given day. As the story unfolds her own innate strength begins to come through and she survives some of the most horrific experiences a woman can go through. While some may see her as the poster girl for Stockholm Syndrome, without naming this modern day emotional reaction, she herself wonders why she has such tender feelings for Steve. In the end, it is her own self-learned strength that puts her on the path to winning the man she loves. I felt the horror when she is brutally attacked again and again. I wanted to clap when she kills one of her antagonists.

If Steve Morgan walked the streets today, doing what he did in the book, he'd be arrested as a sexual predator if not a serial rapist. Yet by the end of the book he, himself, comes to terms with why he has been so careless with Ginny's life, physically, emotionally and mentally. He too has his moment of epiphany.

There were parts, as I said, when I first read the book that I thought maybe I got, but wasn't too sure. Dr. Cabrillo was one of those characters. If Sweet Savage Love were written today, more likely than not he would have forced Steve to comply, not at all unlike the way man after man raped Ginny. I kind of missed the innocence I had the first times I read the book; but applauded how Ms. Rogers' handled not only the scenes with Steve and Dr. Cabrillo, but how Steve confronted his own demons about what the man did to him in retaliation for his refusal to submit.

Steve's return to the prison where he almost died was another eye opener for the more mature me -- having a masters in counseling, living my own life experiences and being more worldly in general I could appreciate his reactions going back down into that dark world that almost ate him alive.

For me, the story brought to life a period of time I didn't know much about. We didn't learn about Juarez and Porifino Diaz where I went to school. I don't even remember even a passing mention of the events taking place in Mexico after our own civil war in the United States.

It is fiction with the embellisments you expect from a fictional account. Yet the story brings the time to life as well as the changes and growth each of the characters experiences. Neither Ginny nor Steve would fit in our modern world and their story could not be told with as much passion and enduring love if anyone tried. She would be in counseling and he would be in prison. They are characters for the turbulent time which were created for. A time long past for us modern readers and writers. Yet we as writers can evoke the same intense emotions be it in historical, contemporary or futuristic tales as these women who shaped our genre did. Both characters surmount their own internal demons as well as those they evoked in each other. They blazed a path for us to push our boundaries, to explore the what if's of our chosen periods, to tell our stories.

Sweet Savage Love, as well as the other books in Ms. Rogers' series and later Ashes in the Wind, set the tone for me as to what a historical romance should be. I may never write a saga such as the Morgan books, but I aspire to evoke the emotions in my readers Ms. Rogers has long evoked in me.

What romance was your first?

Does it still set the tone for you in what a romance should be?

Did it set the bar for what all other romances should be?

As an author, did it give you a goal to aspire to?


PJ Dean said...

thank you, Regan, for that blast from the past. The first historical roance I ever read was The Flame and the Flower by Kathleen Woodiwiss. I was in 9th grade and reading it tucked in my copy of Tess of the D'Urbervilles during English class! The nun who taught the class was not happy about my literary choices when she snuck up on me while I read it intently. That book set the bar for me. Good writing. Good grammar. Gripping plot. And those "Avon" ladies could fill a page with gorgeous prose. My first written book was a historical set in France and I purposely crafted it to resemble one of those Avon classics. Regan, you brought back memories.

Penny said...

My book too, PJ was Kathleen E Woodiwiss The Flame and the Flower

I read it when I was about 14. It was my mom's and I snitched it LOL I have read it over and over, the last time about a year or so ago I am guessing


Victoria Roder said...

Hi Regan,
What a great post. I remember hiding what the teachers refered to as "smut novels" in school. I couldn't put down Galye Roders Nakoa's Woman.

Maggi Andersen said...

Sounds like a very serious and dramatic romance novel, Regan. I began by reading my mother's Georgette Heyer novels, and combining them with her other favorites, Mary Stewart and Agatha Christie, plus my father's thrillers, influenced what I enjoy reading and writing today. I like adventure, intrigue, suspense and even the odd murder in my stories.

Laurie Ryan said...

Ashes In The Wind by Kathleen Woodiwiss is my first historical. To date, it's also still my all time fav story. I even named my daughter Alaina after the heroine. I haven’t read it in ages, so thank you for the reminder to put it at the top of my TBR list.

Ciara Gold said...

My first was also a Woodiwiss book, but it was Shanna and I think I've read that one at least 13 times. I was twenty at the time and in a marriage that wasn't all that great. Romance filled a void for me and I devoured books after that. After Woodiwiss, my other faves included Jude Devereaux, Johanna Lindsay and Lavyrle Spencer. I did read and enjoy Rosemary Rogers but her edgier style didn't appeal to me as much as the style of these ladies.

Indeed, this was a great post. Now I need to read Shanna again. LOL.

margaret blake said...

Hi Regan, Lovely to see you here.
I loved the book too, it completely swept me away. I agree with all you say, I can remember sitting in a tent in France and not being able to stop reading this novel. I liked The Wolf and the Dove too by Kathleen Woodiwiss but I can never forget Rosemary Rogers passionate historical romance.

Anonymous said...

My first historical romance (I was 10 years old) was GONE WITH THE WIND. I could care less about POV. For me, it's always been story first. Suck me into a story and I'll follow an author anywhere.

Anonymous said...

I really enjoyed your comments since that is one of the 10 books on my keeper shelf.
I read Forever Amber and Gone With the Wind in high school but what really got me into the romance book reading was Kathleen Woodiwiss book Shana. I devoured all of the books by LaVeryl Spencer and Johanna Lindsay and Natasha Peters.
Good love stories are timeless and in fact, some of those printed in the 80's are more enjoyable to read than some of the "bedroom books" I have recently read. These are long on the sex and short on the story.

Deborah Swift said...

I'm with Maggi, most of these writers are new to me. I grew up with Georgette Heyer,Daphne du Maurier and Anya Seton as my role models, along with the odd foray into John Wyndham (sci fi) and Agatha Christie (crime).

Deborah Swift said...

I'm with Maggi, most of these writers are new to me. I grew up with Georgette Heyer,Daphne du Maurier and Anya Seton as my role models, along with the odd foray into John Wyndham (sci fi) and Agatha Christie (crime).

Jen Black said...

Better yet were the Angelique novels from the French authors Serge and Anne Golon. Did no one read those?

Dawn Edwards said...

I absolutely agree with you. I actually finished reading SSL a couple of days ago and I must say that it one of the best books I have read so far. I enjoy reading historical romance books but this book in my opinion is the only that showed how it was back then. The violence and things that the characters went through makes the book more realistic. Oh my I just loved this book and I am looking forward to reading the whole series.