Friday, February 22, 2008

Historical Hotness or not?

By Kate Pearce

When I first moved to the USA, almost ten years ago, one of the first places I looked for was a bookstore. To my complete surprise I found a huge romance section and I realized that I’d definitely come to the right place. In the UK there is Harlequin Mills & Boon, general fiction and Black Lace. In the USA romance meets sex in a BIG way.

I devoured a gazillion historical romance novels and discovered all about fantasy rape, forced seduction, massive weeping manhood’s, tinderboxes of love and orgasms described as fireworks, waterfalls, volcanic eruptions and I LOVED it.

But a lot has happened in the past ten years and the historical romance has changed considerably. Some would say for the better-(yay, most authors use the word cock now!) some would say for the worst. Erotic historicals sell really well in the US- if they are properly marketed. The problem is that no one seems to know where the line is anymore between erotica, erotic romance and historical romance. That causes issues both for writers and for the readers who get pissed off if they buy a historical and get graphic erotic sex or buy an erotic historical and get weeping manhood’s.

Madelynne Ellis author of A Gentleman’s Wager and Phantasmagoria started out writing erotica rather than romance and finds the US distinction of erotic romance as a sub-genre less easy to pin down in the UK. A common concern that Madelynne shares is that the sudden explosion in the erotic romance section leads to “Strings of sex scenes with very little emotional context or character growth.”

Deanna Ashford also believes the lines have become blurred and wonders whether it has something to do “With the gradually changing status of women now that we’ve all become rather less inhibited about sex.” I think she has a point and I also think that historicals still allow for a lot less PCness than is necessary in a contemporary erotic romance.

Pam Rosenthal aka Molly Weatherfield who also took a writers journey from BDSM and erotica to historical erotic romance, reckons we’re on our own slow journey back to where it all began, “Starting with the prose works of the second century AD, Greeks, romance has often been erotic, raffish, déclassé and articulated by travel to erotic places, pirate kidnappings and the like.” Her only hope is that if “we’re reverting to our low-rent origins now, I’d like to keep some of the art as well.”

We recently had a discussion on The Spiced Tea Party blog about covers and whether they can help a reader decide if something is an erotic historical or a straight one. The overall consensus was that if it has a lone naked man on the cover it’s erotic, if not, it’s something else-although Pam told me to tell you that she does write very sexy even if she doesn’t get the naked male torso’s 

Jane Lockwood reckons the cover of her erotic historical “Forbidden Shores’ aka ‘Ass Bandits of the Caribbean’ did not help get the message of her book across to the reading public. It’s about the abolitionist movement and a distorted love triangle where Allen is in love with Clarissa, who is in love with March, who is in love with Allen. Not your everyday scenario and the lush cover-note no male torso- and decision to market it as straight historical romance caused dear Jane a few problems along the way.

Luckily for us, Jane devised a quiz to let us all know what we are writing/reading historically-wise.

Do you find yourself sitting on the sofa looking like an idiot because you can't figure out what you're reading? Or can't even remember where your book is? Or your laptop seems to have mysteriously disappeared into your pants?

What, exactly are you reading or writing? Here's a simple quiz to determine if your book is (a) a traditional regency, (b) a regency-set historical, (c) an erotic historical, or (d) historical erotica.

The heroine meets a gentleman she is attracted to. She:

a. Asks to be introduced to him by the patronesses of Almacks
b. Invites him to her bedchamber
c. Invites him and his three friends to her bedchamber
d. Invites him and his regiment to her bedchamber

The hero is wearing:

a. Immaculately polished Hessians, and a finely tailored coat and breeches
b. Boots, breeches and a historically inaccurate shirt unbuttoned all the way down
c. Not much, a sneer, oil, and a whip
d. Tattoos, scars, piercings, a sneer, oil, and an even bigger whip

The heroine is wearing:
a. Bonnet, gown, shawl, reticule
b. Gown, barely, and lots of hair
c. A little wisp of something from Victoria's Secret and lots of hair
d. Tattoos, scars, piercings, a sneer, a really, really big whip, and a shaved head

The secondary characters include:
a. Comic servants and saintly family
b. Comic servants and tiresome family
c. Sex-obsessed companions who may or may not be human
d. Underlings you never meet but someone has to get in the lube and leather supplies

Your hero likes to spend long hours in the library:
a. Reading poetry
b. Decoding secret documents
c. Twisting himself into a pretzel for future activities, based on an ancient tome of erotic practices
d. Oiling the rack and himself

Your heroine likes to:
a. Embroider, play pianoforte, visit the poor
b. Tame stallions, write novels, etc.
c. Practice twisting herself into a pretzel etc.
d. What? Time to do anything else? I don't think so

So now we all know what we are writing and we’re clear on the difference between straight historicals, erotic romance and erotica, yes? Although I don’t see any mention of homoerotic interactions like I have in my books there. But I’m okay with that as I edge closer and closer to Erastes, the welcoming and all-encompassing hand of historical erotic romance held out waiting for the moment when it all becomes just about love.


Madelynne Ellis said...

Hm, well according to that quiz I'm writing traditional regencies, which is an out and out lie. I'm pretty sure they don't have sex scenes with multiple partners, and shovelfuls of homoerotic heartbreak... or maybe they do and I've been reading the wrong thing all my life.

Dayle A. Dermatis said...

Hee! I adore the quiz!

Janine Ashbless said...

I'm a B-lister all the way.
But you knew that.

Olivia Knight said...

Has Janine...
a) created me as a puppet-self?
b) stolen my soul to mobilise her own body?
c) been stealing my thoughts telepathically for years?
d) secretly been my long-lost twin all along?

Love the quiz - giggled and felt rather caught-out to see just what a B-lister I am - right down to decoding secret documents... (that's in The Three Riddles in Enchanted, so you'll just have to wait!)

I had a similar genre-smash over on the audio books, where someone wrote an outraged review of The Ten Visions - in which, it transpired, they thought they were reading a straight mystery novel. Erhemm. No wonder they felt the sex was a little excessive...

I think the line's as confusing for editors sometimes, who have seventeen different opinions a day on "what readers want". (The knock-on effect on authors can only be imagined. Just assume Janine and I are both sitting on top of wardrobes somewhere, hair turned pure white, gnawing in terror on a human leg.)

Deanna Ashford said...

Loved the post Kate.
I try to be as historically accurate as possible even in my erotic historical romances (that's a mouthful) but I do love the fact that I don't have to be PC.
Although I do find that sometimes it is a toss up between a sex scene or the complications of the plot, which leads me to wonder if I should try to write a straightforward historical. But maybe no one would want to read it!

Savanna Kougar said...

Good post, Kate. And the confusion continues over erotic romance and erotic and...? But with every so much more clarity. Strange, but true.

Olivia's Evil Twin said...

Can somebody please explain to me the romantic fascination with the Regency period, please? (Apart from the boots and breeches, obviously.)

I was once invited to join a Regency LARP campaign and declined on the grounds I couldn't see for the life of me what women had to do - apart from sit round in nice frocks.

When I read Pride and Prejudice (which I enjoyed immensely, to my surprise; it's funny),what struck me most was the soul-destroying boredom the middle classes had to endure. After a day of doing naff-all they would gather for social evenings and cards, with the same people they'd seen every day for years, play the same tunes on the pianoforte, sing the same songs from their limited repertoire ... No wonder they were desperate for novelty. The nadir of frustration was expressed when a female character got so bored that she announced that she would now Walk Up and Down the Room, and would One of the Gentleman Care to Join Her?

Just reading about it made me want to scream.

Olivia Knight said...

Ah, my evil twin, you're so deeply immersed in your dissipation that you just can't understand the simple attraction of purity...

Actually, I think the reason why Regency features so heavily in romances might well be down to Ms Austen - and even more so to those lavish BBC costume dramas (was a costume drama ever NOT lavish?) that so lovingly recreated her stories while entirely leaving out the wit that was their raison d'etre.

Oh, dear, another sentence got away from me. I launch into them with such confidence and before I know it the syntactical twists are diverting my thoughts into some entirely different strand at a complete tangent to the point I originally intended to make before I began, and all I can do is cling on desperately, hoping beyond hope that I'll land safely at the end of the main clause some time and reach the sanctuary of a full stop.

Sorry. Even mentioning Regency does this to me. Part of the reason I don't write it. You don't even want to know what happens when I start discussing Proust...

I think, with Regency, it's the immense repression - the frisson of the taboo is so much easier to create when you have a vast swathe of taboos to choose from. A moonlit walk can become deliciously sinful instead of just a bit twee. It's also, thanks to Madame Something-whose-name-eludes-me-french-chick-who-wrote-down-lots-fairy-tales, heavily associated with fairytales. So although the peasants may be medieval, the social set-up feudal, and the castle gothic, the prince is invariable dressed in the height of Regency.

Well - there's a handful of reasons... and then there's always highwaymen. Aren't they Regency-era?

Olivia Knight said...

Madame d'Aulnoy, that's her name. But she wrote at the end of the 17th century, and the Regency period is 1811-1820.

Only nine years? That's a helluva short time for that many dashing rakes and heaving bosoms.

And no, I'm not looking up trivia on Wikipedia as a substitute activity for starting the next scene on my novel, I have a vast and enquiring mind and I just know stuff like this. Honest.

Madeline Moore said...

Your hero likes to spend long hours in the library:
a. Reading poetry
b. Decoding secret documents
c. Twisting himself into a pretzel for future activities, based on an ancient tome of erotic practices
d. Oiling the rack and himself

Hohoho, very funny Kate. This quiz will help me when I'm perusing the stacks, looking for something to
a) turn me on
b) act as a mild sedative
c) make me whisper 'My hero' into my pillow
d) ease the vapours that threaten to immolate me
Thanks for the tips! Yes, that's tips, I'll save 'Thanks for the tits' when we're talking contemporary...

Dayle A. Dermatis said...

I'm also one of the few who doesn't "get" Regencies. I'm not anti-Regency, but I'm anti stupid societal rules, and that seems to be what Regencies focus on. Except that every one (that I've read summaries/reviews of, anyway) are all about the stuffy duke who's really a spy and the spinster (ugh) who's also really a spy or is otherwise doing something that society would consider scandalous... Was everyone a spy back then?!

I have told my Regency-loving friends that if they want to recommend a particularly good book set in the Regency era, I will read it...

Kate Pearce said...

Madelynne-you write traditional regencies...right...
I think we need to add a list of e) responses to cover the growing popularity of said homoerotic heartbreak and multiple partners, all which feature in my novels too.

Kate Pearce said...

Janine-you'll always be on my A list...

Madelynne Ellis said...

I'm not actually that sold on the Regency, I'm more into the Georgian era, the costumes are far more interesting, all that satin and lace, and that's just the men.

Kate Pearce said...

Olivia's evil twin.

I don't know why I'm fascinated with the Regency period, I think it's a combo of a steady diet of Jane Austen and Georgette Heyer as a impressionable young girl. And then Colin Firth turned up as Mr. Darcy and I knew I had to write smut set in that time period.

I love the clothes, so much easier to get on and off than the Georgian and the Victorian ones, I love the witty repartee, the threat of war and civil unrest, the whole sense of a country at war with itself both morally and socially.

I could go on...for hours but I won't

Kate Pearce said...

Dayle I am so going to send you a copy of my book! No duke, no spy noy female spy-I promise!

Kate Pearce said...

Savannah, I don't think the publishers know where the boundaries are and readers get fed up trying to work it out for themselves. It can be incredibly confusing :)

Kate Pearce said...

Deanna, do you think your visit to the RWA conference last year changed your opinions about erotic romance?

Kate Pearce said...

Madelynne I LOVE the Georgian era too-have you read any Julia Ross? She does it so well.

Dawn Halliday said...

I love Kate's writing and I loved Ass Bandits...uh...Forbidden Shores too. I have Pam's book sitting on my desk--it's next after Anna Campbell's latest. Anyhoo...that quiz was pretty silly, lol. I definitely rated as a trad Regency writer, because I'm all about being historically accurate as I possibly can. The thing trad Regencies ignore, though, and what I love about these hotter historicals, is that in history, people actually did have sex. Sometimes, lots and lots of it. :) And sometimes (gasp) it was kinky. Really. It did happen. Even in the Regency.

Dayle, clearly I need to pass you some really good Regencies at the next LARA meeting. You can borrow Jane's book, and if I've finished it by then, Pam's too (even though there's a spy in it, I think, the writing & characters should wow you enough to overlook that minor detail).

Madelynne Ellis said...

No dukes or spies in mine either, Dayle.

Madelynne Ellis said...

Kate: No, I'm not acquainted with Julia Ross, I'll look her up. I am however a die hard Poldark fan. Oh, Winston Graham, I aspire to your greatness.

Kate Pearce said...

Madelynne-I have one thing to say to you...
Francis Warleggan
God, I loved that man and I loved all the Poldark books as well.

Dawn, Anna Campbell's first book was a whole controversy in itself being termed Regency Noir with opinion hotly divided as to whether it was forced seduction or rape-a subject we have discussed here at LB in the past.

Madelynne Ellis said...

I'm a Valentine Warleggan fan myself.

Kate Pearce said...

yes indeed Madelynne, I think I might have inadvertently, cough, cough, been thinking of him when I wrote Simply Sexual and had my own Valentin appear.

Deanna Ashford said...

Yes my visit to the RWA did change my opinions, Kate. I really wasn't aware how popular it was in the States. Also historicals which aren't avctively encouraged by publishers in The UK (Both Madelynne and I know that) are hot in your neck of the woods.
Alos I met some gerat erotic writers, including you of course.

Deanna Ashford said...

I can spell really. I was watching some hot guy on TV and pressed post instead of preview.

Unfortunately I'm easily distracted where handsome guys are concerned.

Kate Pearce said...

I was wondering who exactly who those 'gerat' writers were, Deanna :)

Sweet Samantha said...

This is so true! When I first picked up an erotic novel and read it I was like, " Okay. What's the difference? " I totally didn't get how it was different from my other romance books except that it had 2 more sex scenes and wasn't nearly as interesting (in terms of character).

[I was also a bit miffed. I'd waited 2 years to be of legal age to buy an erotic book. And they didn't even card me! Ugh. Same with sex shops. As soon as I turn 19 I'm going to test the liquor store. Thay had better card me dammit.]

Jane Lockwood said...

why the Regency, olivia's evil twin asked?

Blame it on Georgette Heyer who invented that particular corner of Romanceland and also Barbara Cartland who invented another (pinker) version thereof.
Go about ten years in either direction from those nine years, though (which most writers do--"Regency" for writers really means Georgian)--and you've got a lot more happening than the ton gadding about--revolution, war, abolition, radicalism, reform. Even the clothes were better around 1800. (And the clothes are damn hot, men's and women's, not a whole lot of corsetry for women. Also I'd suggest you try Mansfield Park, Austen's sexiest book.)

Not that you see a whole lot of history in most regency-set historicals. Now I find myself asking why could this particular story only take place in this period? Quite often, the answer is a sort of void.
It's like the generic medievals where the heroine murmurs, as they all seem to do, sooner or later, "forsooth, I must have a bath," and all historical veracity goes out the window.

What you're reading, in fact, is Mr. and Ms. Middle America in fancy dress.

But back to Kate's question. I felt that erotic romance could be a great breakthrough, a time to throw off the sillier conventions and tired old cliches of sex in romance. I'm not so sure it has happened or will happen (I don't read enough to know, to be quite honest.) I know when I first started writing, sex in romances always confused me. It was nothing like sex (good, bad, indifferent) I'd ever had, and virtually all romance characters seemed to need masturbation lessons (in some cases that would have solved the whole conflict of the novel).

I also feel there's a lot of hiding behind the "It's all about the luurve" justification rather than an admittance, by both readers and writers, that erotic romance should turn you on. How did this happen? Can't you have both? Was it a sort of lemming-like rush away from any hint of writing porn? (I'd be thrilled to know I'd been responsible for a stranger's orgasm, if you know what I mean.)

Editors and publishers seem to know. They're not letting the rest of us know, which is a pity.

And isn't it interesting that homoerotic invariably means male-male, not female-female? Why?

Olivia's evil twin said...

Thanks Jane! Love that explanation. I have a friend who is a big Heyer fan - she keeps trying to persuade me to read them and I make excuses - got to milk the cow, plait some sand, bring about world peace etc etc...

Kate Pearce said...

I know when I first started writing, sex in romances always confused me. It was nothing like sex (good, bad, indifferent) I'd ever had, and virtually all romance characters seemed to need masturbation lessons (in some cases that would have solved the whole conflict of the novel).

Yes Jane, yes! Me too-all that I'll die if I don't get sexual release soon seems so...unnecessary when we all have um hands, fingers, toys. i always got into trouble with Mills & Boon when I submitted stuff because my sex scenes were too graphic (read realistic) for the delicate sensibilities of their readers.

Olivia-you should try Heyer, Try Venetia, The Nonesuch, The Grand Sophy, An Infamous army. There is so much humor in her books you'll probably like them.

Jeanne said...

Loved the quiz and the blog posting.
My upcoming release for Loose Id is an erotic historical m/m paranormal set in the 1860s and the present day.
Covered all the bases!
No secret codes ;-)

Jeanne said...

"I am however a die hard Poldark fan. Oh, Winston Graham, I aspire to your greatness"
Squee! A Poldark fan!
Oh, man I adored that series on PBS and it made me run to the library and read the books!