Evangeline Holland

Sweeping Drama ⚜ Larger than Life History ⚜ Exquisite Romance ⚜ Diverse Perspectives
September 21st, 2013

Historical Romance Week: Erica Monroe – Darkness Brings Light

Historical Romance Week

“I write dark, gritty romances set in the London slums,” I say to a woman who owns a trinket shop in Raleigh. “So send me your prostitutes, thieves, and general malcontents.”

In 2004, PBS made a show called Regency House Party. Those servants lined up in background—yep, that’d be me if I was back in Regency England.

regency house party poster

Okay, so perhaps that’s the simplistic version of that story. I’ve yet to figure out a socially acceptable tagline for my series The Rookery Rogues, which centers on a group of people who live in the poorest neighborhoods of 1830’s London. But I think of that conversation now in reference to Historical Romance Week’s theme—pursuing the allure of the past. What allure, really, is there in a rookery? These neighborhoods were not beautiful, not clean, and certainly not safe.

Oliver Twist Illustration (1837) – Child pickpockets

But somehow, that life still appeals to me viscerally. It is not that I wish to go back in time and live that life, as one might with your more typical historical romance fare dealing with the bon ton (as who wouldn’t want to marry a Duke and live in a gorgeous palatial estate?). Instead, I want to examine behaviors back then to connect in today’s world. When I began plotting out the Rookery Rogues, I was especially drawn to character archetypes in the old London underworld that we could see in 21st century crooks as well. Thieves, be it pickpockets, house breakers, or those that pull off grand heists like in the movie Ocean’s Eleven, were very much a part of London’s rookeries. Prostitutes and human trafficking is still as relevant today as it was in the 19th century, whether or not we want to dignify that. People live in poverty every day, with a portion of our American population facing starvation.

It’s no surprise I liked these guys. Look at their fabulous uniforms.

Through telling these stories of the past, I believe we are better able to understand today’s world. We figure out where we come from when we look back into history, and it is those cornerstones that shaped our society. From an American standpoint, as a writer who spends all day stuck in British history, I see a far different side to my nation’s history than I would have been taught in school. (It’s generally not encouraged to root for the redcoats when you are in fourth grade learning about the American Revolution, but here I am with my little flag). I have found myself researching topics for my novels that I never would have otherwise—the state of the London prison system, the forming of London’s first real organized police force, and the trade in human corpses for dissection. Every one of those topics has enriched my knowledge of the world around me because now I understand what stemmed certain laws and trends.
Gustave Doré painting: 1827 – What story does this mother have?

These stories may not be easy to read, as our heroines and heroes face very real problems: murder, death, starvation, illness, poverty, sexual or physical assault, and loss of livelihood or property, to name a few. You may be thinking, where’s the romance in that? Perhaps the appeal is harder to find, when the ending of the story does not have the heroine transformed into a Cinderella princess. Instead, the heroine may come to grips with her own life, and relish in the freedom her nontraditional role provides, or realize that with the love of the hero she can face difficult circumstances head-on. The happily ever after in these darker stories of the poor can take on a socially interesting role: what changes do we really see in the hero and heroine when they reach the end of the novel? Their financial status might not have changed—they could still be faced with deep poverty. But they have most likely reached a place of emotional stability and happiness within.

A Dangerous Invitation, Book 1 of The Rookery Rogues

It is that emotional happiness that draws me most. I have always loved stories of the underdog. The ability of the human mind to triumph over the most horrible obstacles astonishes me. I hope to show in the Rookery Rogues that one set of experiences does not define a person: because a man is raised in the Ratcliffe rookeries he is not necessarily a crook; if a man is forced into stealing to support his family he may not be an entirely wicked person. There are so many facets to these so-called underworld characters that even in scratching the surface you would be amazed. I chose to make the hero of A Dangerous Invitation an alcohol abuser in recovery, so that I could show his struggles with addiction and his eventual triumph and realization of his own strength. I gave him a heroine afraid to love again, who must face her personal demons before she can truly understand the impact he has on her life.

When we got married, we promised to love each other for better or worse

I love stories of seemingly broken people—people cast out by society because of some unforgiveable sin—who find their perfect matches in equally broken people. To me, the most romantic stories are ones where two people are everything to each other. My husband and I lead relatively normal lives, and to an outside audience, we probably don’t appear all that important in the grand scheme of things. He’s into computers, and I spend my days picking apart weird bits of history. But to each other, we occupy the most pivotal spheres in our lives. He is my everything, and I his. That is what makes me write romance: I believe that every person out there deserves to be the center of someone’s universe.

No matter what your circumstances happen to be, you’ve got a story and it matters to at least one person out there. Maybe you’re not from a wealthy family. Maybe you don’t live in the best of conditions and maybe you’ve done some unscrupulous things in the past. But that doesn’t change the fact that you are as worthy as anyone else to have your story told. All stories have a place in literature, from the wealthy soon-to-be-Countess who marries an even wealthier Earl in an arranged marriage but then they fall madly in love, to the divorced woman who scandalized society by refusing to submit to her husband’s lascivious desires.

So I write historical romance because in the end, I believe in the power of the human soul. Because I believe we need a little darkness to show the light, and I believe that magic can happen with every day people.

Biography: Erica Monroe writes romantic suspense set in regency London. Her debut novel, A Dangerous Invitation, Book 1 of the Rookery Rogues series, will be out in December 2013. Erica can also be found blogging every other Saturday at Teatime Romance. When not writing, she is a chronic TV watcher, lover of pit bulls, and shoe fashionista. She lives in the suburbs of North Carolina with her husband, two dogs, and two cats. She can be found at ericamonroe.com, on Twitter as @ericajmonroe, on Pinterest, and on Facebook.

September 20th, 2013

Historical Romance Week: Erin Satie – Chicken or Chess

Historical Romance Week

A lot of craft discussions focus on how to amp up the tension in a novel. What’s the recipe for delicious angst? Ask someone else. I’d like to argue that the appeal of historical romances derives, to a substantial degree, from the release of tension.

Lisa Kleypas Dreaming of You When one of Lisa Kleypas’ heroines prefers an ‘uncouth’ self-made industrialist to a pedigreed aristocrat, I don’t have to worry that she’s making a terrible decision. I don’t fear, as the heroine must, that her descendants will regret her fall from grace. On the contrary, I can feel as smug about her choice as Biff from Back to the Future, multiplying her profits over time. Good call, heroine. Good call.

The future is unknown, and terrifying. The past is inert, and soothing. In some sense, the only true HEA is an HEA set in the past. It’s the only way that the author can be sure her protagonists end up exactly where they are most likely to prosper in years to come. (I wonder how many contemporaries during the dot-com boom ended in Silicon Valley?)

Jane Digby Here’s another really satisfying, relaxing thing about history: whatever story you’re looking for, you’ll find it. Like Hogwarts’ Room of Requirement, only with real people and events. For example, have you ever heard of Lady Jane Digby? An aristocratic beauty born in 1807, she married a courtesy baron, later an earl, who divorced her for infidelity in 1830. She bounced back from the public scandal and made her way across Europe, marrying three more times—to a Bavarian baron, a Greek resistance fighter, and finally a much younger sheikh—before finally settling down in Syria.

I’m fascinated by Victorian travelers, and Victorian women travelers especially, but most of their biographies read like tragedies. Not Jane Digby. She’s the needle in the haystack.

And so I like a ‘modern’ heroine in historical romances. An ‘independent’ heroine. Why not? Jane Digby was real. And, of course, it is soothing when fiction reinforces beliefs that I already hold. In this case: even though women can be conditioned, pressured, and bullied into submission—we have always come in all kinds, and there is always evidence.
Do I sound tongue in cheek about this? Because I am, a little. But not entirely. When we write in the present about the not-now (the past or the future), the books are inevitably referendums of the present.

So why choose the past over the future? What’s the difference? The past is known. And that makes it like a petri dish. Set a plot thread down into a dish of agar and develop it. Whatever grows in that neutral, jellied ground will stand out clear as day. It can expand, unimpeded, to fill the whole landscape.

Cecilia Grant A Lady Awakened I mean, for example, the way that Jo Beverley questions the idea of the alpha male in An Unwilling Bride, or Sarah Maclean asks why a woman must be embarrassed by spinsterhood in Nine Rules to Break While Romancing A Rake, or Cecilia Grant separates sexual skill from sexual pleasure in A Lady Awakened. Yes, this is possible in any genre or sub-genre. But it’s so crystal clear in a familiar, controlled environment.

Reading over what I just wrote, I’m tempted to keep going until I’ve contradicted every point I made. But I wanted to at least jab at one of the more irritating aspects of the genre, which is the sameness of its environments.

I do wish that historicals weren’t so stuck in the Regency. I do see the genre’s problematic elements—the phrase ‘escape into privilege’ has haunted me since Merrian Weymouth (@MerrianOW) first typed it on Twitter—and I wonder, sometimes, if ‘undermining’ those problematic elements is a symbolic gesture, more insult than evolution.

I’d like to see the genre change. But, to put my argument in another way, here’s why it shouldn’t die: setting a story in the past transforms a game of chicken into a game of chess. We know the board, we know the pieces, and that allows us to concentrate on the play.

Biography: My life is pretty quiet these days. I live on a farm in Kentucky and write books. In the past, I’ve lived in places like New York City, Paris, and Cairo. Much more exciting. When I’m not writing, I’m thinking of all the places I’d like to go and haven’t been yet. I don’t like to stay in one place for very long, but now I have a dog, so that might change. And, anyhow, quiet is pretty interesting for a change of pace. Visit Erin online or follow her on Twitter @ErinSatie.

September 19th, 2013

Historical Romance Week: Genevieve Turner – Why Historical Romance?

Historical Romance Week


Why historical romance?

If you were to go to the museum devoted to the life and discoveries of Marie Curie, you’d learn that her cookbook is kept in a lead box.

“Well,” you might think to yourself, “that makes sense. It is an artifact of her life and should be preserved from the elements. For posterity.”

But that’s not why it’s locked away.

Geiger counter If you’ve ever worked with radioactivity, you know that it is a pain in the neck, especially the clean up. Biologists usually only work with very weak radioactivity, baby radioactivity, stuff you keep behind plastic shields. Not lead.
But still, even baby radioactivity needs to be handled properly, and as you’re cleaning up your bench space after a radioactive experiment, you run the Geiger counter over it to ensure nothing got overlooked. The counter is on the lowest setting, because this is just baby radioactivity. You wave the wand, hearing the tick of cosmic rays hitting every few seconds, the tick-tick-tick of a universe inching towards its heat death, a universe that does not care if you’ve properly cleaned up your radioactivity.

Then the counter picks up something, chattering like an angry squirrel as you hit a spot that you missed, an unseen hot spot. And while the universe may not care if you’ve properly cleaned up your radioactivity, the safety officer will. So you grab some towels and some radiacwash and start scrubbing, being careful to put everything in the radioactive waste.

But even baby radioactivity can be dangerous.

You recall the time that the messiest person in lab, the person most likely to splatter things everywhere and just leave them—that person announces he’s going to do some radioactive work.

And your heart stops.

Because you’re pregnant. And it’s too early to tell anyone, and you never want to tell your adviser, because this will be one more mark in your failure column, right next to the other pregnancy, and while one child is tolerable, two is unacceptable.

But it’s your baby, and you find yourself blurting, “You’ll be really careful about cleaning it up, won’t you?” And as he looks at you, you can tell he knows, because why else would you have said that?

It’s only baby radioactivity.

If you took that Geiger counter, put it to the highest setting, and held it to Madame Curie’s recipe book, it would scream.

Pierre and Marie Curie Why historical romance?
Madame Curie was married to Pierre and had two daughters. She also won two (two!) Nobel Prizes for her work discovering radioactivity and radioactive elements—the first person to do so.

When Marie and Pierre met, he had planned to be a life-long bachelor and she planned to leave France and return home to Poland. But as often happens when love enters, plans changed. You can even now see their intertwined handwriting in their experimental notebooks, the intimacy of their personal and scientific partnership laid bare.

If this were a romance novel, this would be where the curtain falls, the reader assured that they will have their happily ever after. But in real life, the universe marches on—it has an appointment with its heat death, you see—and after eleven years of marriage, Pierre is killed in an accident. After his death, Marie feeds his blood-stained clothes to the fire with her own radiation-scarred hands, unable to bear anyone else touching his things.

Why historical romance?
Because it lets me cheat the universe. In my story, there is no accident. Pierre lives to a ripe old age, alongside his Marie, and in the epilogue, the two of them, a little older, but still quite in love, watch proudly as their daughter, Irene, is awarded the Nobel Prize for her own work.

Because while the universe may not care, I do.

Back to Marie’s recipe book, and a time when Pierre was still alive. At the end of the day, Marie would leave the shack in her backyard where she performed her monumental work, a shack she’d converted to a lab because the French authorities wouldn’t give her one—in fact, wouldn’t do so until after she had won her first Nobel.
She would head to the house to prepare dinner, because no matter how many Nobel Prizes you have, everyone still needs to be fed at the end of the day.

Her hands would be coated with her work, with those elements she had discovered, the elements that would win her two Nobel Prizes. The mystery of those elements would be solved by another woman, who would see the credit—and the Nobel Prize—for that discovery given to her male collaborator. The unveiling of that mystery would set in motion the largest scientific effort of the modern age—the Manhattan Project.

Marie Curie At the end of the day, Madame Curie’s hands would settle on her recipe book, those elements leeching into the pages, the elements that are still there to this day, and will be for thousands of years, setting off the Geiger counter with each random decay into an entirely new element.

She would open her cookbook and begin the timeless work of making food for her family, work that has been the purview of women since history began.

Perhaps if you look at Madame Curie’s recipe book, all you see is a piece of trivia, the banal, a bit of the unimportant women’s work she had to do. Nothing that could be compared to the important work she did in that shack.

But put a Geiger counter up to it, and suddenly you see the Atomic Age coming for us all.

Why historical romance?
Because when you take history, even the most mundane history, and loosen the seams just a bit, you can see modernity peeping through, all the things that have made us, all the things that are still shaping us. And you can see love, most especially in the trivial bits—the dinners that were made, the plans that were changed, the lab notebooks that were shared.

Why historical romance?
Because with historical romance, you can see where we’ve been and where we’re going. And you can fall in love along the way.

Biography: Genevieve Turner is an aspiring historical romance writer. In a previous life, she was a scientist studying the genetics of behavior, but is now a stay at home mom studying the intersection of nature and nurture in her own kids. (Hint: Nature is winning!) She lives in beautiful Southern California, where she manages her family and homesteads in an indolent manner. You can find her on the web and on Twitter @GenTurner5.