I’ve always been a sucker for historical romances. They were the first “grown-up” novels I read and through them, my deep love of history grew and expanded to include lots of different time periods. Over the years, I’ve researched and oftentimes become obsessed with the American Civil War, the Revolutionary War, the French Revolution, the Regency Period, Georgian England, and the list goes on. Naturally, I began to write fiction set during those different historical periods.
Oddly enough, however, I didn’t consider World War II to be much of a personal draw. Where were the gorgeous hooped skirts and horses and carriages? Pretty much nonexistent. I steered away from reading any historical novels set during that time period for a long time.
Then something changed. People have asked me when my interest in World War II began, and the nearest I can pinpoint it is to when I watched the Hollywood movie, Memphis Belle, about the B-17 bomber and her crew. That film sparked my interest. I would occasionally read historical fiction set during World War II, but I wasn’t “in love” with the time period yet. Years later, after I’d married and started a family, I decided to go to graduate school and earn my master’s degree in history. At first, I planned to compare women’s roles during the American and French Revolutions. I only had one problem: I didn’t know French, and to do any worthy research, I’d have to learn it. There simply wasn’t time for that (not with small children at home and a hopeless tin ear on my part when it came to learning language).
I wasn’t sure what to do, but then I decided to take a course in Nazi Germany. Suddenly, everything started clicking. I had a voracious appetite to learn anything and everything I could about World War II. I wanted to understand how this horrible conflict could have happened, how a country like Germany, infused with such a rich, vibrant culture, could be capable of putting a man like Adolf Hitler in power. I wanted to learn not so much about the battles, but about the men and women fighting those battles, whether they were nurses, soldiers, doctors, reporters, or war artists. What drove them? What compelled them to fight? How did the war shape their present and their futures? How did the people left behind on the Home Front react and cope? How did the wife go about her day-to-day life wondering if her husband was dead or alive? How did a soldier cope with receiving a “Dear John” letter right before he was sent to clear a nest of Japanese snipers?
Those are a historian’s questions, to be sure, but they are also a writer’s questions. Writers write about human drama, and there is certainly no shortage of human drama when it comes to World War II.
And there is definitely not a shortage of romance. The marriage rate in the U.S. alone skyrocketed after the attack on Pearl Harbor. All over the world, romances bloomed between the unlikeliest of candidates. Some of them fizzled and died after the war ended; others endure today. How can we not want such gripping historical romance fare?
Yet for some reason, historical romances set in World War II are few and far between. But this appears to be an American phenomenon. Great Britain has a healthy, robust market for World War II romance. One could argue that this is because Great Britain was far more involved in the war than we were. After all, U.S. cities were not bombed every night for days on end as the British were. Neither did we have to worry about thousands upon thousands of Allied men coming to our shores to prepare for a massive invasion of the Continent. It is only natural that World War II should remain so vivid within their collective conscience.
I wish I could offer a few theories as to why American publishers are reluctant to “take a chance” on World War II historical romances, but I honestly don’t have any. There’s a plethora of straight historical fiction set during the war, but as far as straight historical romance, or historical romantic fiction, we’re lagging behind our British friends. A few historical romantic fiction novels have been trickling in here and there – Kristina McMorris is one who is bridging the gap – but we need more. In fact, I’d argue that publishers desperately need to open their minds to many, many other time periods. Offering readers a wide variety can only be a good thing. But perhaps that is another discussion for another day.
For my part, I intend to keep writing my World War II novels. I doubt I’ll ever run out of ideas, and though I also have ideas for novels set in other time periods (I’d love to do a lush, historical romance set during the American Revolution), I’m committed to seeing my World War II historicals traditionally published here in America. Why? Because I believe with all my heart that World War II is the perfect venue for the historical romance.
What do you think? Am I banging my head against a brick wall that will never break, or do you think the tides are beginning to turn when it comes to opening the door to different time periods in historical romances?
Biography: Melissa Amateis Marsh holds a BA and an MA in history with an emphasis on World War II. Her work has appeared in America in WWII magazine, Nebraska History, and several historical encyclopedias. Marsh is working on a history of the POW camps in Nebraska during World War II that will be published in 2014 with The History Press. You can find her on Twitter @WW2HistoryGal, Pinterest, and on her personal blog.