This week marks the third anniversary of launching my blog!
To commemorate this occasion, I wanted to dive into the core of my writing by sharing some of the things that first drew me to the genre of historical romance.
Back when I first started writing as a serious hobby, before I had any inkling of wanting to make this my eventual career path, I hadn't settled on an exact genre. Wanting to write romance was something I felt in my bones, cliche as that is to say. It was a gut instinct. After all, so many of my favorite movies, shows, and books centered around romance in some capacity, even if was only a thread woven through the main plot and visited occasionally.
For some reason, I didn't want to write a contemporary romance. At the time, I just said this was because I didn't want things like phones, texting, emails, social media, and frankly anything else that could simplify the conflicts I wanted to work in. Setting it in what I called "Sometime Before Electricity" reduced my characters' only means of contact to letters and travel, making the themes I really wanted to explore, like miscommunication and estranged familial relationships easier to achieve.
As I started experimenting with writing a historical work, I started to realize there were so many things to love about writing in the genre.
I've put that original WIP to the side but continue to write Regency Era romances to this day for quite a few reasons. Some are things that have always pulled me into the genre, while others are newer discoveries.
You'll find just a few of them below!
Reading and writing are opportunities for escapism. Slipping into the pages of a book offers comfort and distraction from everything going on around us and the chaos of life.
The times I've written contemporary fiction has accomplished this, but almost to a lesser extent. I like to experience stories I'm connected to, but modern-day fiction has a habit of being too relatable when they touch on things I've personally dealt with or am presently working through.
It's easier for me to be swept up in a romance when I'm separated from its conflicts by a few centuries because I'm not tangibly connected to any of the problems my characters face, or at least not to the same extent. Relationship woes, familial dilemmas, politics, and so many other conflicts are bound to come up and often do, but having that distance of a few centuries between them and myself can make it easier to ease into and view the events from a (usually) less opinionated stance—kind of like going in with a clean slate, so to speak.
It's important, vital, to be aware of what is happening in the world and to stay informed as best as possible, but there are times where you need to step back and take a break from everything. Historical romance gives me that space.
As far as the specific time period goes, what initially drew me to the Regency Era was the aesthetic.
Before settling in the 1810s, I spent some time dabbling in other time periods and regions. Along with Regency romances, I read a few Edwardian, Victorian, Renaissance, and Viking romances set across England as well as a few set in the Scottish Highlands and American Westerns.
Overall, I'd say I was most drawn to the Regency early on out of these, but it wasn't until a unit focused on Pride and Prejudice in a high school English class that I was completely hooked—and a lot of that has to do with the film adaptation we watched.
The 1995 BBC version is the first I saw and remains my favorite to this day. It does such a wonderful job of capturing Austen's novel and the Regency aesthetic, and was essentially my first introduction to visuals of the era. I was instantly swept away by the intricacies of dress, the glamour of ballgowns mingling with simplified morning dresses, the architecture and scenery, the impressive dishes served at parties, dancing in gorgeous ballrooms—not to mention the complexities of inheritances and expectations to marry well, the societal protocols, subtle nuances, and so many other elements that make it such a delight to explore.
There's something about this all that still holds up, especially with the success of Bridgerton that has brought the Regency into the contemporary spotlight. As a writer, I love sinking into this world.
The Other Side Of The Coin
On the flipside of the aesthetic is the actuality of the time period.
Pop culture has undoubtedly glamorized some aspects of the Regency Era. In my experience, a lot of media focuses on the genteel class. Many heroes in historical romances are well-off and may even be a baron, earl, duke, or other rank of peerage.
I'll be the first to admit I have a habit of including characters of this ilk in my own writing. One of my absolute favorite things to see in fiction is a character who seems to have all that they could possibly want—and believes they do—until they realize the one thing they have been missing in life is love; this trope usually involves at least one character of reasonable wealth who eventually comes to see that money cannot buy everything or solve every problem.
Wealthy characters have always held a sense of allure for audiences. The lifestyles of the rich and famous, if you will. There's an element of wish fulfillment and wonderment in romances where a character in a lower societal class or of less fortune finds themselves rubbing elbows with members of society's elite.
Let's not forget Elizabeth Bennet's visit to Pemberley or Jack Dawson's dinner in first-class.
When we consider this in historical romances like the Regency period and others, many authors will feature a cast of these ranks to invite readers into a world of opulence full of lavish balls and parties, gorgeous ballgowns, countryside estates with sprawling grounds, fancy dinners made with the finest ingredients, and the ability to engage in nearly any activity they desire because they have the means to afford it. Being high up in society can also raise the stakes for a character who has a reputation to uphold or expectations to meet, or would fall victim to scandal should they get caught up in a disgrace.
But one of the reasons I tend to include upper-crust characters is to explore the other side of the proverbial coin. Having the context of the elegance can make the reader feel its absence when a character comes from a lower social class, especially when it establishes a conflict. Writing about a character who cannot able to afford proper medical care, for example, creates higher stakes because they don't have access to an easy solution.
Sometimes, you'll find my characters feeling more comfortable with less or ones who are willing to give up their luxuries in order to peruse a goal that is dear to their heart, harking back to the aforementioned realization that money isn't everything. I love this because of the way it bends the popular Cinderella or rags-to-riches storyline. Redefining success and what being well-off means to each individual is a theme I've explored more than once. Some might place an importance on money, but others may discover the true riches in life are things like love, family, and friendship or finding a new meaning for "home."
There are so many contrasts across Regency society with so many ways to dive into them.
Research And Rabbit Holes
Many writers enjoy absorbing themselves in the research process and I am no exception.
I have a shelf devoted to Regency nonfiction, from broad overviews to niche knowledge. And then there are texts that are incredibly specific and things I probably wouldn't have picked up if it weren't for a specific WIP of mine, like Agricultural Depression and Farm Relief in England 1813-1852 by Leonard Palmer Adams.
The number of sticky notes and flags I have sticking out of the fore edge the way feathers makes them fan out from a peacock. As was the case with my editing methods and trying to assign different colored pens to designate particular categories of issues needing to be addressed, my efforts to color-code points of interest fell through quickly because I'd find myself too excited about something I'd come across to worry about whether I needed to grab a yellow flag or a green one.
Writing works in historical settings requires an immense amount of research in order to capture that period in a way that transports the readers to what is to them another world. From the big-picture aspects of significant events and societal expectations and conventions to the smaller details like what colors were au courant in ladies' fashion or what dog breeds were common household pets back then.
Rabbit holes have a habit of pulling you in deeper and deeper, leading you to things you didn't know you needed. A few of these tangents have spun off into separate story ideas currently brewing on the backburner.
There are times where research is draining. Combing through books, documentaries, and websites in order to find that one piece of information you're hunting down can be a challenge. I'll often say I'm "researching in circles," meaning that in my efforts to find something or double-check my findings have me retracing my steps and rereading materials.
Exhaustive research can be exhausting.
But it's so worth it.
When you do find that nugget of information you've been looking for, that one detail that pulls your story idea together or propels it into a completely new direction, it's such a rush. The number of times I've squealed in pure delight over a nonfiction read to the point I'm spinning in my chair or jumping up and down is pretty embarrassing, yes, but it's almost something of a touchdown dance. It's a victory all on its own.
I've actually had someone ask me if I would ever consider hiring a research assistant or team someday, a question that came up when we were talking about literary agents and publicists, but I confess that wasn't at the top of my list. Research assistants can help make the process go quicker because you're dividing the work the way you would for any group project, but I know I would miss being as involved in it as I am while researching solo.
Even though writing is often compared to choosing to do homework for the rest of your life, especially when you get into the research process, it's often rewarding and fun—and can make your work even more enjoyable for your reader!
When I tell people I write historical romance, I know I'm setting myself up for a mixed bag of reactions. I've heard it all.
Jests about writing and "real jobs" aside, there's been curiosity about my area of interest and what research materials I'm reading or fun facts I've learned along the way, wondering why I don't write contemporary stories, why it takes so long for me to complete a draft, and so many other questions.
Historical romance may not be everyone's favorite genre. But for me, it feels like home.