Thursday, November 13, 2008

Romance novels: Better than history books?

My first Chatelaine post!! :-)

Ok, so my biggest challenge with this blog so far has been to figure out how to spell it. Chatalanes? Chatelines? Oh, yeah – Chatelaines!!!!!

Thank God and Microsoft for spell check.

So this is about history. The title "Chatelanei" – (oops! sorry!) – Chatelaines, and the cute banner a the top of the blog, sort of implies medieval history, but we're not limiting ourselves to any one time period. As far as I’m concerned, history can be anything up to…three seconds ago. Prehistoric history, ancient history, medieval, renaissance, American history, family history, the story of my life, what I had for dinner last night—it’s all relevant.

Confession time: History was NOT my favorite subject in school.

In fact, I hated history class. I mean hated, hated, HATED it. To me, history class was one long litany of dates to be memorized, with an emphasis on boring dead presidents and mind-numbing war tactics. Not one teacher I had ever talked about what the regular people were doing.

And then I discovered romance novels.

And I can tell you that I’ve learned WAY more history reading romance novels than I ever learned in school. And some of it was about wars, by the way. Culloden? British Civil War? Peninsular Wars? The Siege of Fort Pitt? Never heard of any of them until I read about them in romance novels. So guess what?

Romance novels are WAY more educational than history books!!!!

Because what’s most interesting about history is not what’s happening on the big world stage, but what’s on the small, intimate stages of people’s lives. And that’s exactly where a romance takes you.

As a historical writer, I research the big stuff—so I can imagine what the little people were dealing with. And then I’m confronted with what the regular history books leave out--the everyday details of people's lives. So I have to dig deeper into the historical record that the school history textbooks often ignore.

What did people wear, eat, brush their teeth with? How did they light their candles before matches were invented? What did their houses look like? How did they cook, mend, make a living? What everyday tools did they use? Weapons? What about entertainment? And let's not forget birth control! And then there's the emotional aspect. How did women and men think and feel at certain times in history? Same as now, or different? What did they believe that we don't? And how does it all affect my particular characters and story?

The questions go on and on and on…and I love them!

When people find out I write historical novels, they often ask - "But...doesn't that mean you have to do a lot of research first?" They often utter this in the same tone as they'd say "But...doesn't that mean you have to get a lot of root canals first?"

But other historical authors and readers understand:

Once you get hooked, history is a *very* interesting place to live.

All the best!



Cindy Holby November 13, 2008 at 10:51 AM  

Joy, you've made me flash back to American History and Mr. Kaylor, who was no doubt the most boring teacher in the history of the world. We used to prop our books up and take naps behind them. His class was right after lunch and we always fell asleep. If he caught you napping he'd give you an F for the day.

I love history now. Especially when you see the personal side to it. I grew up on a battlefield in Point Pleasant WV and have always felt the pull of the story. So much so that I wrote Rising Wind which features the battle.

I love walking in places where I know my Cherokee ancestors walked and wondering about the things they saw. I would love to look down someday and find an arrowhead. And its a big dream of mine to go to Ireland, where the rest of my blood comes from and feel the magic of the land.

I totally get sucked into the time I'm writing about and love doing the research. I've learned so much about medieval history just by reading Roberta Gellis's Roselynde chronicles, and about Scotland and Culloden from Diana Gabaldon. Yet its not the facts I want to read about, its the people and how they lived their lives. People ask me how I can write historical and scifi and I always reply that people are people no matter what time they live in. They live, they love, they want, they need and they die, sometimes tragically.

Bonnie Vanak November 13, 2008 at 11:57 AM  

Nice post! I like finding out historical trivia.

Did you know that some of the first condoms were sheep intestines?


Terri November 13, 2008 at 12:23 PM  

Okay, I love history. I even have a BA in history (mostly colonial history). I hate remembering dates and I'm terrible at it but I love learning about how the everyday person lived. I love living history museums...Williamsburg, VA, Sturbridge, MA, St Mary's City, MD. I couldn't care less on what date the Stamp Act was passed and inforced, I want to know what that meant to the local butcher, baker, homemaker!

History is fun if taught with relavance and not dates.


Leah November 14, 2008 at 7:00 AM  

I love historical romances that make me feel like I'm learning something along with enjoying a great romance. The day that I answered a Jeopardy question and could say, "I learned that from a Diana Groe book," was just icing on the cake. ;-)

ddurance November 14, 2008 at 8:43 AM  

Yes, history is definitely interesting, full of juicy tidbits and undiscovered treasures. Also, from writer's standpoint, it's totally open to interpretation since we don't truly know beyond the shadow of a doubt how things went down back then.


Cindy Holby

Gerri Russell

Joy Nash

Bonnie Vanak

Emily Bryan

C.L. Wilson

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