“New Adult” Historical Fiction

I’d gotten into a research rut with my NaNoWriMo novel, Till We Meet Again, and set it aside for a few days to clear my brain of my anxieties over getting the WWI setting right. In the interim, I began a historical romance that came to me out of the blue–just the beginning scribbles, of course, since I need time to let this percolate in my brain–which was a bit of a palate cleanser. When I picked up my WIP last night, I felt refreshed and ready to tackle it again. Funnily enough, I realized that what I was writing could be classified as “New Adult” because my characters are coming-of-age over the course of the book. Angela James’s definition on the Carina Press blog solidified my suspicions:

We are looking for submissions with a strong story and fully developed, very definable protagonists, 18 and above (or at an age eligible to enter college), in their early to mid-20s. While at least one protagonist should fall in this age range, it is possible the other protagonist may fall in their upper 20s.
Story elements should be targeted to an adult, not teen audience, and should contain adult contemporary themes, frank, modern language, high relationship drama and intense conflict.

And according to Wikipedia:

The chief features that distinguish this category from Young-adult fiction are the perspective of the young antagonist and the scope of the antagonist’s life experience. Perspective is gained as childhood innocence fades and life experience is gained, which brings insight. It is this insight which is lacking in traditional young-adult fiction.

I’ve been intrigued by the concept of the “New Adult” novel for a few months because I am still in my twenties, with all of the angst and drama that comes with it, LOL. I avoided reading contemporary romances for a long time because I couldn’t relate to heroines who had their stuff together (financially, education-wise, etc) when many of my old high school friends are still in college, or are entering college after working for a few years because they didn’t know what to do. And I think the downturn in the economy, which has forced a lot of people my age back into their parents’ homes for lack of steady and lucrative employment, also plays a large part in the so-called delay of “adulthood” (why do marriage and children equal adulthood anyways?). So it’s interesting that there’s a sharp interest in characters living in that transitional stage of not-teen but not-adult at this very moment in time.

But back to my avoidance of contemporary romance. That has changed quite a bit this year (due to my enjoyment of Fifty Shades of Grey, haha!), but I’m still rather on the fence about actually writing contemporaries because that would require rewiring the plotting side of my brain. Not to say I’ll never try, but at the moment, my focus is on historical fiction and historical romance. Since the “New Adult” genre is still new and is shaped one book at a time, the concept of the New Adult historical will be as well.

Thus far, the elements I identify in my WIP are:

1) Young protagonists–my hero is 21 and my heroine is 18 when the book begins
2) High-stakes drama–my H/H deal with issues of class, sex, family responsibility, gender roles, death, etc
3) Personal growth outside of the romantic relationship–my h/h spend a significant time apart on the page
4) Time lapses–no getting the HEA within a few months; this book takes place over the course of five years
5) The shedding of youthful innocence–it’s set during WWI, where young men and women were forced to grow up fast

Whether this genre will stick remains to be seen, but I rather like what it means for novels with characters between the ages of 18 and 30. Plus, with New Adult Historical Fiction, it straddles the agendas of YA Historical Fiction (usually to teach history to young readers) and straight Historical Fiction (readers of which tend to be sticklers for historical fact), which means I’m not overly tied to keeping everything 100% accurate and filled with real life people.

Author: Evangeline Holland

Evangeline is a public historian who brings her academic skills to fiction, in order to fill in the gaps in the historical record. Her love for history permeates just about everything she does, going so far as to "suffer" for this love--as the bruises and stuck fingers from fencing and sewing costumes to understand life in the past firsthand can attest.

2 thoughts on ““New Adult” Historical Fiction”

  1. I love the idea of a possible New Adult Historical Fiction subgenre. If NA continues to grow, I’m hoping it will encompass other settings than just contemporary. Good luck with NaNo and happy writing!

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