Evangeline Holland

Sweeping Drama ⚜ Larger than Life History ⚜ Exquisite Romance ⚜ Diverse Perspectives
May 24th, 2016 by Evangeline Holland

On After You’ve Gone

After You've Gone: A Short Story from Fall of Poppies: Stories of Love and the Great War

My story, in ebook form

This post is a week late, seeing as how my short story was released in ebook format last Tuesday. Nevertheless, I am excited and still thrilled by being able to see this story in particular sitting on bookshelves and available for individual purchase.

When Heather Webb tapped me for this anthology, my brain immediately raced towards possible plots. I wrote and tossed out a number of ideas–especially since I was learning, painfully, how to write short–until I realized what I wanted to do: honor my unknown ancestors who served in WWI.

It’s a long story, but I know little of my family history beyond my paternal grandmother and maternal grandmother. My mom’s dad died before I could meet him with any kind of awareness (I was around him as a baby), and I met my dad’s (estranged) father as he was dying of kidney disease. So history and historical fiction for me is an attempt to find a background of some sort, to imagine what these nameless, faceless relatives might have experienced over the course of the twentieth century.

As a result, when I sat down to write my contribution to Fall of Poppies, I didn’t want to write about upper crust Brits, but about people who might have been in my family or connected to them.

It was still difficult to write, haha. But I was never more satisfied with a piece of writing than when I sent off After You’ve Gone to my editor at HarperCollins.

I hope all who’ve purchased it or the full length anthology will read it with enjoyment. Stay tuned for an annotated post where I explain the historical details in the story.

FALL OF POPPIES: HarperCollins | Indiebound | Amazon | Powell’s | B & N

AFTER YOU’VE GONE: Amazon | Nook | Kobo | iBooks

May 23rd, 2016 by Evangeline Holland

Pistols and Petticoats: How Women Write the West

The myth of the frontier or the border, as perpetrated by male writers, has centered on the loner, the “fugitive from civilization,” (Smith 54) whose role is to clear the path for settlers and be the bridge between savage and civilization, yet whose synthesis with the wilderness bars him from the possibilities of a domestic life. Of the texts read in class, Louis L’Amour’s Hondo comes the closest to integrating the “Natty Bumppo/Leatherstocking/Hawkeye” archetype back into civilized society, and is also the most “feminine” of texts. Through the character of Hondo, one can see the germination of the work done by women writers of the West, who use the frontier setting and its accompanying myths in a uniquely feminine literary form.

According to statistics listed on the website for Romance Writers of America (RWA), the romance genre is a one billion dollar-a-year industry that makes up thirteen percent of adult fiction sold. It is a complex genre made up of multiple subgenres, ranging from Christian/Inspirational to contemporary to paranormal to erotic to suspense to historical to LGBT, and inside of each subgenre exists categories (and many combine subgenres or categories). Westerns are primarily considered to be a category of historical romance. Written primarily by women (the only known deviation from this is Howard Lowery, who writes Western romances under the genre neutral pseudonym Leigh Greenwood), this category of historical romance more explicitly focuses on the taming of the West alongside the “Hawkeye” character—and many flip this narrative, with the female protagonist as “Hawkeye,” or both male and female protagonists as “Hawkeyes.”

Overall, in the romance genre, the heroine is the hero. The West remains a masculine space in romance novels, with the archetypical stock characters and plots seen in male-written Western media, but the heroine drives the novel; she “is the one with choices to make, she is the one to take control, to triumph at the end,” states best-selling author Penelope Williamson in Dangerous Men and Adventurous Women: Romance Writers on the Appeal of the Romance. (Williamson 126) Williamson grants her heroines “the traits and qualities traditionally reserved for the heroes in other types of fiction: honor, loyalty, integrity, courage, intelligence, and good old-fashioned grit…she is a survivor.” (Williamson 128) These elements, and the woman writer’s view of the West as a uniquely hybridized space—feminine and masculine, “savage” and civilized/domestic—are present in the three Western romance texts discussed in this paper: Jezebel by Katherine Sutcliffe (1997), Fair Is the Rose by Meagan McKinney (1993), and Fall From Grace by Megan Chance (1997).

As is common with the genre, all three novels take place within the decade after the Civil War—1870 Texas, 1875 Wyoming, and 1876 Texas/Mexico respectively—, a period before the so-called closing of the west, or end of the frontier, as Frederick Jackson Turner and Buffalo Bill’s individual narratives at the turn-of-the-century claimed. Sutcliffe’s Jezebel conceptualizes the West as a hell on earth, an area where white Americans reside to escape the laws of civilization and society, and where they can only remake and refashion the land and the people through violence.

The male protagonist, Rafael de Bastistas, is referred to throughout the novel as a walking dead man; his narrative directly mirrors that of William Blake in Jim Jarmusch’s Dead Man in that an unexpected encounter with violence turns a meek farmer into “Hawkeye” or “Hondo.” The female protagonist, Charity Bell, has been brutalized by the West and her attempts to tame it. When the story opens, she is widowed, pregnant, and on the verge of insanity.

The initial meeting of Rafe and Charity echoes Hondo’s meeting with Angie Lowe and Johnny: Rafe delivers the delirious Charity’s son when he takes shelter from a snowstorm in her house, and is diverted from his quest for revenge when he is forced to care for the newborn. In this opening, both the landscape—the snowstorm—and civilization—a helpless newborn baby—conspire to force the protagonists to merge both elements in order to survive on the frontier.

In contrast, gender roles in McKinney’s Fair Is the Rose are flipped. Christabel (Christal) Van Alan escapes West after breaking free of the insane asylum to which she’d been wrongly committed, and her stagecoach is held up by a ruthless gang of ex-Confederates turned outlaws. Initially, the male protagonist, Macaulay Cain, is presented as a cold-blooded outlaw, but he is eventually revealed to be a U.S. Marshal. Civilization has brutalized Christal, and where Cain yearns to leave the West behind, she finds her own form of justice in the frontier. McKinney also presents a more multicultural and multi-ethnic West than Sutcliffe, as well as other texts read in class: not only ex-Confederates and ex-Union soldiers (with an on page appearance of Ulysses S. Grant), but African-Americans and Native Americans, exist in her concept of the frontier.

Chance presents the most violent West in Fall From Grace, and the romance that most explicitly falls in line with Williamson’s argument of the romance heroine as hero. Lily Tremaine is orphaned by an outlaw gang, who adopt her and mold her into a ruthless, sexless killer. The gang leader’s son, Christian “Texas” Sharpe, later marries her. There is something ironic in Chance’s narrative that Texas, a fellow gunslinger, attempts to tame Lily through such a civilized concept as marriage, and that it is Texas’s sheltered half-sister, Jocelyn, who is the key element in bringing Lily out of the frontier—bodily and mentally. At the same time, Jocelyn undergoes a transformation when her desire to experience the frontier as Lily has, draws her away from domesticity. In the end, Lily is akin to the Uncas character, while Jocelyn has become a “white Indian” through her experiences in the West.

In the Western romance, as presented by female writers for a primarily female audience, the frontier myth is strong, particularly Turner’s thesis that the West was “‘free land’ into which the pioneers moved [and] was available for the taking, and that American progress began with a regenerative retreat to the primitive, followed by a recapitulation of the stages of civilization.” (White) All three novels end in some degree on a farm, with little interrogation as to how it is be acquired, but with the implication that it—domesticity through landownership and homesteading—is necessary for a believable romantic ending.

After Rafe has succeeded in his quest for vengeance against the men who murdered his family and left him for dead, he returns to Charity’s homestead to marry her and finish cultivating the land. Christal clears her name of the murder she’d been committed for, leaves her wealthy family, and returns West with Cain. Lily leaves the outlaw gang behind after a disastrous train robbery nearly gets the entire gang killed, and after living in Mexico for a year, returns to Texas and Jocelyn to fulfill their mutual dreams of settling down and running a farm (in this novel, their outlaw habits die hard—they plan to rustle cattle to start their ranch).

Unlike James Fenimore Cooper, who struggled to make Natty Bumppo into a hero of a romance, Western historical romance novelists of the 20th and 21st century do not necessarily work hard to place the white Indian/Hawkeye/hunter character in a romantic narrative. It could be the distance of time—1870 is far from 1997, and especially far from 2015, when compared to Cooper writing about the 1750s in the 1820s.Or, as I believe, it is the changing role and experiences of women that plays a part with this ease. Contrasting the Michael Mann adaptation of The Last of the Mohicans (1992) to the 1936 version reveals that the increasing agency the heroine (Cora Munro) and the audience’s changing perception of women on the frontier, makes Hawkeye’s position as a romantic hero easier to write.

The agency of the heroine, and the construction of the hero as open to love and domesticity, turns the frontier into a hybridized space in the Western romance. More recent texts, such as Genevieve Turner’s Las Morenas series, and Beverly Jenkins’s Destiny trilogy, further hybridize the frontier through a multiethnic cast of characters (both series’ take place in turn-of-the-century California, with a Mexican-American family and an African-American/Mexican-American family, respectively), thus increasing agency for marginalized communities and restoring them to their place in the frontier myth.

This isn’t to say there are no problematic elements similar to those seen in Cooper or L’Amour, or in the myths perpetuated by Turner and Buffalo Bill. Similar imagery—covered wagons, dangerous Indians, white women in peril, fears of and the presence of miscegenation (Hawkeye’s constant declaration of being a “man without a cross” and the futility of the pairing of Uncas and Cora), etc, are passed down through time and disseminated across many Western romances. However, the adherence to a hybridized space in the West purposefully molds this imagery and the myth of the frontier to create a satisfying romantic ending that often pulls the protagonists out of an historical reality to formulate its own myth about the West.

In the hands of women writers, the West is where Hawkeye type characters are allowed a domestic life, whether they be female or male. In most—if not all—Western romances, the fugitive from civilization is the most acceptable romance protagonist of all. “Hawkeye” redeems and is redeemed through love and romance, and s/he actively yearns for domesticity. For women, the frontier myth is not masculine and white/European. Women and ethnic groups are permitted to undergo the transformation into “true Americans,” while preserving the hybridization that allows them to escape the “urban wormdom [that] seemed the inevitable destiny of most Americans.” (White) It also isn’t restricted to male/female romantic relationships, as seen in Chance’s novel. Ultimately, freedom, independence, and autonomy, as conceived by women writers in Western romance, is not built solely through the experiences on the frontier, but built through love.

Works Cited

Chance, Megan. Fall From Grace. New York: Harper, 1997. Print.
Krentz, Jayne Ann, ed. Dangerous Men and Adventurous Women: Romance Writers on the Appeal of the Romance. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1992. Print
McKinney, Meagan. Fair Is The Rose. New York: Island Books, 1993. Print.
Ramsdell, Kristin. Romance Fiction: A Guide to the Genre. Santa Barbara: ABC-CLIO, 2012. Print.
“Romance Industry Statistics.” Romance Writers of America. RWA. 2014. Web. 13 June 2015.
Smith, Henry Nash. Virgin Land: The American West as Symbol and Myth. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2007. Print.
Sutcliffe, Katherine. Jezebel. New York: Jove, 1997. Print.
Wendell, Sarah and Candy Tan. Beyond Heaving Bosoms: The Smart Bitches Guide to Romance Novels. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2009. Print.
White, Richard. “Frederick Jackson Turner and Buffalo Bill”

February 10th, 2016 by Evangeline Holland

Romance for Newbies

It’s obvious to readers of romance that the genre is comprised of endless variation. To outsiders, every book looks the same: naked chests, clinch covers, sometimes flowery titles, and sometimes uniform color schemes. So let’s break it down:

Sub-Genres

These are the basic umbrellas under which romance falls:

  • Contemporary Romance
  • Historical Romance
  • Paranormal Romance
  • Romantic Suspense
  • Erotic Romance

These sub-genre umbrellas can often overlap: for example, Kristen Callihan’s Darkest London series is paranormal historical romance. Kate Pearce even tackled Tudor vampires.

There’s also the Inspirational/Christian romance market, which, encompasses all major romance sub-genres; however, since these books are forced to follow specific content guidelines, they are often treated as a genre in and of itself. Some Inspy authors exist outside of this rigid market (Piper Huguley and the ladies of Black Christian Reads, or “edgy Inspirational” author Deeanne Gist).

Sometimes Western/cowboy romance can exist in its own bubble (Genevieve Turner, Amity Lassiter, and Francis Ray, to name a few).

Science Fiction romance is sometimes lumped beneath the Paranormal romance sub-genre: see The Galaxy Express, the mother of sff romance Linnea Sinclair, Ann Aguirre, Cathy Pegau, and Alyssa Cole’s Off the Grid series.

Should we consider LGBTQIA+ romance its own sub-genre? Either way, it exists: Rebekah Weatherspoon, KJ Charles, and Joanna Chambers are some great authors to begin with. Riptide Publishing is another source for great works.

Covers

These sub-genres of romance shout who they are on the covers, which is why non-readers never “get it;” they aren’t attuned to the specific language these covers express.

A shirtless man in breeches and a lady with a ballgown about to slide down her back is–you guessed it–historical romance.
the-tattooed-duke

Got a sword? A tattoo? A broody color scheme? Tough looking characters? Paranormal or SFF romance.
Archangel's Shadows

A couple in contemporary clothing, gazing deeply into one another’s eyes–contemporary romance, of course!
zuri day

Romantic suspense is where things can get murky. Usually, if there’s a man or a couple on the cover, the book is going to be about 60/40 of romance to suspense. If it’s just a woman and the cover seems kind of vague, the suspense plot is going to dominate the story.
karen rose

pamela clare

Fifty Shades of Grey’s simple, textured book covers made a huge impact on how erotic romance was packaged. You can clearly see the before and after with the cover for Sylvia Day’s Bared to You.

bared to you

Tropes

Romance readers discover what they like to read like everyone else: by reading. Some love road romances, while others loathe them. Some readers will read anything that features a marriage in jeopardy, while others prefer characters to be strangers when they first meet. Military heroes may be your catnip, while for another reader, they only want blue collar handymen.

All About Romance has a long-running list of popular books by trope, but thanks to Amazon, you can type in whatever trope you like and find a variety of books to purchase.

Language

Non-romance readers love to mock the genre by reading snippets of the prose. Taken out of context it does sometimes read breathy, overwrought, and hit-you-over-the-head. But the function of romance prose is to immerse the reader in intense sensation: you feel the hero’s anguish when he’s lost the hero. You feel the heroine’s triumph when the man of her dreams lays his heart at her feet. Romance is supposed to stimulate your emotions as well as your mind.

Sex

Don’t worry if you squirm while reading sex scenes–some authors have admitted they squirm whilst writing them! Yet, their existence is consistent with the genre’s adherence to creating intimacy between the reader and the text.

And can you honestly sit there and say you haven’t ever perched on the edge of your couch while watching TV, urging your ‘ship to Do It!!?

Readings

Lest you think the romance community gulps down what it sells uncritically, and that it isn’t a “serious” genre, I point you to the amazing scholarship being done in Popular Romance studies. For a more accessible overview of the genre, Sarah Wendell and Candy Tan of Smart Bitches published Beyond Heaving Bosoms: The Smart Bitches’ Guide to Romance Novels in 2009. Top romance authors of the 1990s published the still readable and thought-provoking Dangerous Men and Adventurous Women: Romance Writers on the Appeal of the Romance.

And hey, if you want to watch something, find (or set up) a screening of Love Between the Covers, starring Beverly Jenkins, Eloisa James, Celeste Bradley, et al.

Looking for African-American romance? Try Romance in Color and Girl Have You Read?. Saris and Stories are a group of Indian-American romance writers.

Happy Reading!