Sunday, September 20, 2009

A Time and Place for Love

When I started reading romance (far longer ago than I now care to admit), the choices of settings were virtually endless. In fact, many novels featured globe-trotting heroes and heroines who travelled the world in search of love and adventure.

You could find an historical romance novel set in just about any country--and just about any era. I read novels featuring heroes and/or heroines who were English, Irish, Scottish, Spanish, French, American, Dutch, Italian, Roman, Egyptian, Russian, Persian, Viking, Chinese, American Indian (of every tribe). I read books set in all those same countries as well as Canada, Mexico, Brazil, Australia, Africa, India, even Sumatra.

In fact, the only thing the books I read had in common was that each contained a romance that was central to the story. Other than that, there were no rules. No restrictions. No limits to the places and times I could go with a romance novel.

Somewhere along the way in the past 20 years, however, historical romance novels grew more restrictive. Certain times and settings became predominant. Certain others ceased to exist entirely. "Stories set in Elizabethan England (or France, or Russia, or Egypt) just don't sell," I would hear. Finally, it seemed the only type of romance that *did* sell (at least to NY Publishers) was Regency England set historicals. And then (predicatably) historicals weren't selling at all. (This is a bit of hyperbole. Historicals have always been published -- as evidenced by our Chatelaines themselves - but generally in fewer numbers - to the point that many historical authors switched to writing contemporary or paranormal romance.)

Now, hoorah! Historical sales appear to be back on the rise. And so do the appearance of times and settings outside of Regency England (Hooray again!).

My friend Carla Capshaw sold her Golden Heart winning novels, The Fox (retitle for publication to The Duke's Redemption), and The Gladiator, to Harlequin's Love Inspired line. The books are set in Colonial America and ancient Rome, respectively, and both come out within the next six months.

Another friend, Stacey Kayne, has been tearing up the Mills & Boon bestseller charts with her American western set historical romances.

Among the Chatelaines, our own Bonnie Vanak has written several novels set in Egypt, including her latest historical from Dorchester, The Lady and the Libertine (gorgeous cover!).

Chatelaine Cindy Holby has written historical romances set in Civil War America, Iowa during the homesteader days, Colonial frontiers of pre-revolutionary America. (Did I mention how much I love Dorchester Publishing for always printing the kinds of books I've always wanted to read?) Every time I look at the cover of Cindy's Rising Wind, I see Daniel Day-Lewis in a loincloth in Last of the Mohicans. Yum!

Chatelaine Emily Bryan delights her readers with humorous historical romance while her alter-ego, Diana Groe, brings ancient Vikings to life. When Emily's, Distracting the Duchess, first made it's appearance, booksellers could hardly keep it on the shelves.

Chatelaine Gerri Russell's Scottish Templars are scrumpdillyicious. (Read this excerpt for yourself and tell me you can't wait to run out and snatch up this book.)

Chatelaine Joy Nash brings the magic of Celtic history to life with her Druids of Avalon.

And Jennifer Ashley needs no introduction from me for her wonderful MacKenzie series of Scottish romances.

And while I'm thrilled that Dorchester has always published historical romances across all ages and exotic lands, as a lover of romance and history, I'm thrilled to see historical romances set in places other than Regency England back on the upswing. I can't wait to see what fabulous stories the Chatelaines and other historical romance novelists have in store for me!


How about you? Do you have favorite historical settings? Can you tell me what, in particular, makes those settings so appealing?

And if there are certain historical settings you specifically avoid, what is it about those times and places that make them unappealing? (I confess, I think a book can be dizzyingly romantic and utterly gripping, no matter where or when it's set.)

I will send a novel of your choice from any Chatelaine, to a poster selected from today's comments.


Virginia September 20, 2009 at 9:59 AM  

I am not sure I have a favorite setting. I love books set in the highlands, but also love the romantic westerns. I do switch around a lot. I always say I travel in books, so different settings work for me.

C.L. Wilson September 20, 2009 at 10:24 AM  

Thanks Virginia - and I just ammended my post, so it may look a bit different than it did when you stopped by first.

Historical romance novels made history come alive for me--and are directly responsible for all my good grades in history - and for my History minor in college.

Terri September 20, 2009 at 11:00 AM  

I love any well researched, at least semi-accurate historical with a good plot and characters. That being said, I do have favorite time periods and places. I love reading about Vikings, 16th-19th century Europe, pioneers and Austrailia. I'm not so fond of Eygpt, Roman times and Asia. Don't know why but they just don't float my boat.


C.L. Wilson September 20, 2009 at 11:11 AM  

Thanks Terri. I'm not particularly fond of novels set in Elizabethan England (although I love most movies set then - go figure) and one of the best history novels I've ever read ("true history" not fictionalization) was about Elizabeth I and the Spanish Armada. The historian who wrote it was a marvellous writer (not at all dry) who tied all the pieces together and wrote a fantastic "real life" story about the Armada and why it failed.

Maybe I need to give Elizabethan England another try :)

MommyPixxie September 20, 2009 at 12:04 PM  

The settings that I look for when I look for a book would be one with a medieval setting. I normally go for the medieval books. I love that period of time. It is a place I want to disappear to (which is why I'm in the SCA ;) ) The thing that makes them so appealing to me would be that I can lose myself in it. The romance of the time is fiery. I tend to lean to the fantasy or Scottish books the most. I also love the vampire books as long as there not to gory. I also felt that I could relate to the woman in the books because I'm a stay at home mom.
For a long time I hated to read. I was dyslexic and I was such a slow reader I would get board very quickly. My sister introduced me to historical romance novels and I wasn’t able to put it down. Slowly my reading got better as well as my spelling. I love to read now. I have been known to get a lot of people in my area to start reading these types of books.
I tend to avoid the cowboy type of books because they aren't a appealing to me. I live in Ocala, Fl where there are a lot of cowboys or at least men who think they are and it has ruined the ideal for me. There isn't any time place I would avoid because to me history can be real when u read about the daily lives of someone.

booklover1335 September 20, 2009 at 12:07 PM  

My fav setting for a book is the Scottish Highlands. Doesn't matter if it is historical or contemporary.

There's just something about the harsh beauty of the land, the country and it's heritage and political strife for independance, the warring between clans, the honor and braveness their warriors displayed, but also the ruthlessness. Of course it helps that you can add celtic lore to add a mystical touch, along with vikings.

I also love snippets of the gaelic language thrown in b/c I think it is so romantic. Can't get enough of it.

One time frame that I just can't seem to embrace is the Victorian period. For some reason I just haven't really cared for the books that I have read in this time period. There was a lot of change going on (industrial revolution, women's rights...) and those tend to cloud the stories for me. It makes a historical too contemporary if that makes any sense.

Jessica September 20, 2009 at 12:31 PM  

Hmmm...interesting question. I don't think I have a true favorite setting. Any story that has great, detailed and accurate descriptions really grab my attention. As for settings that I dislike, I tend to stay away from anything set prior to the 1700s. I find that the lack of simple technologies tend to be distracting to me while reading. I will find myself wishing the store was set a few hundred years later. Personal preference I guess haha.

I go through phases where I like to read certain settings. I was just in a historical mood, but now I'm more into a contemporary mood with a paranormal twist. Give me a few weeks and I'll be back to historical or time-travel romances!

RachieG September 20, 2009 at 1:06 PM  

I love about anything really...Nothing particular special, if it has a great story, I'm all for it.

The only thing I'm not hip on all the time is the Civil War era. If it's a good story, then its fine, but I think I leave more leeway for other eras.

Happy Sunday to you guys!

Lori September 20, 2009 at 1:51 PM  

As you noted, once upon a time, historicals took place everywhere. I think that's what drew so many to them. Like traveling the world, we navigated the centuries as well as the borders and oceans.

I do suffer from a madness for medievals.

I have so many favorites. I am swept away by most of the European settings--Russian, French, Italian. I tend to set the American historicals aside at first, possibly because 200 years just seems so recent. That doesn't last though as the pull of a world without computers and phone sales calls me to pick up the book and lunge.

Invariably, I grab up anything prior to the mid-twentieth century and allow myself to ride back in time in with each turn of the page. In the end, a setting rich with detail transports me, and a potential for conflict holds me captive, waiting for a great ending... even if it's a tear jerker.

Razlover's Book Blog September 20, 2009 at 3:27 PM  

My favorite historical setting look for in a book is Egypt when the history is well researched with a good plot and characters.

I have always been fascinated with the Egyptians and hope to visit one day!

melanie September 20, 2009 at 3:49 PM  

I love stories about knights in shining armor and the regency era too. not so much the Civil War .

Anonymous September 20, 2009 at 4:06 PM  

I prefer historical books to be in areas I understand, where they speak English mostly. The problem with setting the story anywhere else, like Asia, Middle East, or Africa, is that along with the area comes a completely different culture, language, and way of doing things, particularly around romance. I find that in many cases in order to place a story in these areas an author will twist and change the culture of the area to fit it. That is okay to a point but alterations tend to get out of hand. Don't get me wrong; the story might be good, but it is always in the back of my mind that the story might as well be set in the USA because of all the changes.
Sometimes I feel that the only reason an author set a story somewhere was to have an exotic cover.

so I like stories set in English speaking countries. Any time is good. :)


Lyoness2009 September 20, 2009 at 4:20 PM  

After reading this post, I suddenly realized I didn't enjoy books written about ancient Egypt. No idea why I havn't enjoyed them, but it's an area I tend to stay away from.

lyoness2009 AT hotmail **dot**cOM

Pam P September 20, 2009 at 7:49 PM  

I'll read just about any period or setting and glad to see historicals on the rise again with more variety as to settings.

Love the medievals, Druids (Joy's are favorites), Highlanders and Vikings (loved Emily's as Diana Groe). I like turn-of-the century heroines. Another interesting was one was reformation Germany (TJ Bennett's series).

Mari September 20, 2009 at 7:50 PM  

I enjoy books set in the Regency era, the medieval period, and the revolutionary war period in the US.

I enjoy westerns set in the 1850's onward and I'm happy these are making their comeback also.

I also like Tudor England, with cameos from the royals!

Patricia Barraclough September 20, 2009 at 8:07 PM  

I can't think of a setting I don't care for. I will say that men in kilts and cowboys are favorites. Early Scotland has a sense of untamed independence and loyalty to family/clan/country that appeals. The social restrictions found in England are not as strong. The American frontier, whether it be the time frame of Last of the Mohicans or the settlement of the West embodies much of the same characteristics: strength, loyalty, independence, honor. Women could play a wider role in society. It is too bad the stories of early archeologist in Egypt or the traders in India were pushed aside. The more exotic venues add flavor and spice to the romance stories.
You ladies are doing a great job bringing us wonderful stories. Keep up the good work!

Janet September 20, 2009 at 9:39 PM  

Victorian England was my first love of historical romance settings. Then I found scottish historicals and that wonder scottish brogue. They are still my favorites. (also helps that I'm of scottish descent).

I am less fond of Native American historicals. Even though I greatly enjoy the culture and settings, (when well described), most seem to carry the same them. NA captures woman and keeps her. HaHa

C.L. Wilson September 21, 2009 at 3:45 AM  

MommyPixie - I was in the SCA very briefly. I really enjoyed it but life got in the way and I stopped going. Pouting on Fla cowboys who ruined the image for you. Try 'em from TEXAS! LOL. Or Montana :)

Booklover1335 said about books set in the Scottish Highlands:

There's just something about the harsh beauty of the land, the country and it's heritage and political strife for independance, the warring between clans, the honor and braveness their warriors displayed, but also the ruthlessness. Of course it helps that you can add celtic lore to add a mystical touch, along with vikings.

You nailed it perfectly! That's completely what it is. That sense of independence. Loyalty to clan. Fierce, untamed warriors. :) These are the same qualities I built into my Fey warriors. Ha! They're Scots and I never truly knew it :p

EmilyBryan September 21, 2009 at 6:35 AM  

Hi CL! Great post and a topic near and dear to my heart. You're so right that we used to have such a wide variety to choose from. Connie Mason's adventurous romances, for example, were set all over the globe (I've heard her next one LORD OF DEVIL ISLE will be in 18th century Bermuda!) But Connie's an exception rather than the rule.

How I long for the exotic! Thanks to great writers, I have lived the lives of a 19th century Chinese woman (Jade Lee), a half-caste Indian princess (MM Kaye), and a time-traveling WW II nurse in 18th century Scoland (Diana Gabaldon). I love it when an author takes me out of the ordinary!

That said, the market has shrunk so that now Georgian/Regency/Victorian/and a little Edwardian England settings gobble up 95% of the shelf space. And I confess to having drunk the Regency Kool-aid myself. Business is business, after all.

But within those confines, I'm always trying to give my readers out-of-the-box characters. Still, the subversive part of me is always dreaming up stories set in British India or Tahiti or the Yukon.

Ah, but could I sell them? There's the rub.

kimmyl September 21, 2009 at 2:49 PM  

My favorite setting is historical Scotland. I love the way the scenery and people are decribed. Especially the castles and the clans. What I like most about it is the detail that historical romance writers put in their books about the history and the characters.

etirv September 21, 2009 at 3:41 PM  

I love historical romances set anywhere... but my # 1 favorite setting is the highlands... I can imagine its natural beauty... but really, it's not the setting that does it for me primarily... it's the highlander as a hero! My least favorite setting is America... romance just feels more magical outside America!


Katharina September 22, 2009 at 5:24 AM  


I don't know if I really have a favorite setting for romance or fantasy. I like very much middle age fantasy, but also urban fantasy. I like them in modern day USA as well as middle age Europe. Romance in India during colonial times or the highlands...

What I know for sure is that I don't like settings which are to close to my home in Germany. If a romance takes place in Munich or Berlin I relly hate it.

C.L. Wilson September 22, 2009 at 6:14 AM  

Jessica - A woman of eclectic tastes :) Good for you! (Though the pre-1700 dislike surprises me. No Clan of the Cave Bear fan, huh?)

RachieG ~ I hear you, although I've read (and loved) several Civil War set novels, it's not my favorite era. Having a hero be a confederate - knowing his cause will be lost - changes the dynamic of the story. (And though I would never write a Civil War era hero who believed slavery was justified, I could easily write one willing to sacrifice everything in the fight for State's rights.)

Lori ~ You and I are on the same page :) Although I'm happy to read pre-1900 American-set historicals. I have to be in a different frame of mind to read 1900-1940's (though there are plenty of great stories to tell in those times).

Razlover - I'm very partial to Egypt, probably because my mother is a Egyptology lover. I grew up with picture books and stories about King Tut, the pharoahs, the pyramids, you name it. FASCINATING culture. I'm probably less fond of post-pharonic egyptian tales.

Have you ever read Anne Rice's Ramses the Damned? I adore this book, and I've always wished she would have written a sequel.

C.L. Wilson September 22, 2009 at 6:22 AM  

Renee said
The problem with setting the story anywhere else, like Asia, Middle East, or Africa, is that along with the area comes a completely different culture, language, and way of doing things, particularly around romance. I find that in many cases in order to place a story in these areas an author will twist and change the culture of the area to fit it.

I agree with this to an extent. Clearly certain things (language, for example) need to be modified so the modern reader can understand. Certain cultural norms might need to be softened / or addressed by a hero/heroine who opposes them (just because modern readers would not find support for those norms heroic/sympathetic) - i.e. civil rights / humanitarian issues.

Have you ever read The Kadin by Bertrice Small? It's one of the rare true-to-culture harem romances that I've ever really liked. Which means, basically, that Bertrice Small is a genuinely gifted novelist.

C.L. Wilson September 22, 2009 at 6:42 AM  

Lyoness ~ I feel challenged to write a hot, sexy, gorgeous pharoah just to see if I can change your mind. :p (okay, I would avoid all the "marry my sister" stuff practiced by the pharoahs - same if I wrote an ancient Hawaiian novel) - or perhaps I would have to pick some other person besides a pharoah to be hero. Hmmmmmmmm.....

Pam P & Mari ~ thanks for weighing in!

Patricia B ~ well said!

Janet - lol on the man-captures-woman-and-keeps her theme of NA romances. It's a proud tradition, however. Have you ever read Ghost Fox by
James Houston? While not a "romance" it is romantic. And a gripping story of survival and human connection. Set in the Last of Mohicans timeframe. Very true-to-age. OOP now, but if you can find a copy anywhere, read it.

Emily ~ don't get me wrong. I love Regency England. But I love other places and times too. Aas a reader, my number 1 desire (besides a well-written book) is variety. It is, after all, the spice of life - or so I hear :p

kimmyl and ertiv ~ ahhh, the Scots. ok, confession. Gerard Butler in a leather kilt would have made me fall in love with Scottish heroes even if I already wasn't. :)

Katharina ~ interesting that you don't like romances set near your hometown. Why is that, I wonder?

Cindy Holby September 22, 2009 at 8:24 AM  

Wow, I'm excited to see that readers like medievals as my next release, Breath Of Heaven is a medieval with a touch of fantasy. It will be out in June and I will post the cover as soon as I receive it.

Carla Capshaw September 22, 2009 at 2:54 PM  

First of all, Cheryl, after reading the comments, I totally believe you could write a sexy pharaoh and I challenge you do it. Right. now. :-)

Thank you for mentioning my books coming out soon.

I'm with you, loving all sorts of romances and time periods. I used to read historical romances along with my history books in school. The romances made the time periods come alive. How I've missed the 'good ole days' when you could explore the world with a good romance.

How heartening to read your blog and see all the books set in rare time periods. Bravo! I can't wait to read them.

C.L. Wilson September 23, 2009 at 3:51 AM  


and the winner is....RazLover's Book Blog!


Jennifer Ashley/ Allyson James / Ashley Gardner September 24, 2009 at 10:56 AM  

Thanks for posting about Carla Capshaws books! I adore ancient Rome! Will check that out.

Cindy Holby

Gerri Russell

Joy Nash

Bonnie Vanak

Emily Bryan

C.L. Wilson

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