Evangeline Holland

Sweeping Drama ⚜ Larger than Life History ⚜ Exquisite Romance ⚜ Diverse Perspectives
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.