Wednesday, June 25, 2008

A bluffer's guide to... Historicals

by Olivia Knight

With the beautiful new Black Lace covers came three new lines: paranormals, contemporaries, and historicals. Last Wednesday, Madeline Moore introduced contemporaries; the week before, I did the same for paranormals. Today, historicals are in the spotlight.

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Top facts:
• Black Lace line: historicals
• Colour: red
• Committed Lusties, past and present: Deanna Ashford, Kristina Lloyd, Madelynne Ellis

In a nutshell
Historicals means place comma date. Russia, 1917. London, 1875. Paris, 1935. These are the authors who know what people ate in ancient Mesopotamia, what women wore under their dresses in the Renaissance, how long it takes to get from Rome to Egypt by horse and ship, and how to take off Elizabethan clothes. Plus the names for everything and what a ‘reticule’ is.

The heroes
Who wants to fuck peasants? Eww. Lords, Princes, Comtes, Marquises, and Earls are so much cleaner. You can have a slave, if he’s a nice washed well-educated Greek one, but not one of those nasty barbarians – unless he turns out to be from a pristine Druidic tribe in whose ancient and nature-embracing rituals… but I digress. If you prefer machismo to depraved aristocrats, then army captains, gladiators, and knights abound. Historical heroes are contrary creatures: he’ll either rescue you from debauchery then debauch you himself, be engaged to you and refuse to touch you, or make do with you occasionally but pine for your fiancé. Occasionally he’ll love you straight out – but he just has these pesky wars to fight / cities to conquer / manacles to break / lions to slay in the arena…

The heroines
These are the polar extremes of femininity. Whereas paranormal heroines get in some action between running their kingdoms and slaying mythical beasts, and contemporary heroines are lively, normal up-for-it girls, the historical heroines are either blushing virgins (well, at first…) or scandalous nymphomaniacs hosting secret societies of vice behind their gracious, period façades. Here, the contemporary brain-twister – how to keep her innocent – is the no-brainer. Peeling away the innocence is the fun part – deflowerment is always so delightful the second time around. More challenging is how to keep her in society post-deflowerment.

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The best bit about writing historicals
• Ever said “I was born fifty years / a hundred years / twenty centuries too late”? Get in your Tardis and go back there!
• Built-in plot: it’s suddenly a lot easier to create tension when people really aren’t allowed to sleep together, when there really is a war on and no-one can accuse you of making it up for convenience, when characters really might die, in startlingly visceral ways.
• Holidays are reclassified as research: if you’re going to sweep the reader to another time and place, there’s just no avoiding that month in Greece, week in Rome, or weekend wandering the Left Bank in Paris. But let’s be honest: for historicals, there’s no escaping research, even if you escape the country for a bit.

The best bit about reading historicals
• Slaves! They’re big, they’re built of brick, and they have to do what you say. Plus they wear little white skirts.
• Naughtiness! In contemporaries, the only way left for us to transgress is to say wildly politically incorrect things like “Anal sex is just disgusting.” In paranormals, whatever your characters do is read as normal, in their world. If you want to get really naughty, back in time is the best place to go.
• Sex! It may seem anachronistic for a pair of Victorians to be at it like bunnies, but we’re all here – proving that people throughout history have been getting it on and taking off (or discreetly readjusting) some interesting clothes to do it.

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Top tip: chronology
Shakespeare may have got away with his anachronisms, but if you put clocks in ancient Rome, readers will squeal. If it’s a turn-of-the-century ball, the chickens might be fine – though unexpected. The plane, however, will not be.

What not to say
• “She slipped on a pretty lace reticule and darted down the palladium to open the door.”
• “What the hell is a ‘kirtle’, anyway?”
• “But if it’s historical, don’t they have to be real people? I’m not sure it’s all true.”

What to say
• “She slid her fan out of her reticule and waited for the servant to open the door.”
• “It’s not porn, it’s educational.”
“The notion of what’s transgressive in other societies and times can shed significant light on our own, contemporary prejudices.”

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Over to you...
• What period should you have been born in?
• What's your favourite historical-hero type?

22 comments:

Kate Pearce said...

I'd be hard pressed to decide between the classical era-Spartans and Romans and the Regency period (of course) I so wanted to dance at Almacks and feature in a Jane Austen or Georgette Heyer novel!
So I had to write my own versions-much naughtier of course, but that just adds to the fun :)
Lovely post and great covers!

Madeline Moore said...

Three cheers for Olivia and the 'Black Lace lines' series. What series shall we do next?

What? No plane? Tattoo will be so sad...

Like most people, I imagine myself as 'the Queen' or 'The Empress' or 'Head Mistress of the Harem', not 'filthy peasant with the pox' or 'mother of 12 in a mud hut' when I imagine myself back in the past.
I'd hate to have missed the summer of love but...maybe the Regency period. Only if I'm a beautiful Princess, no, THE MOST BEAUTIFUL princess in the land.

Well done O.

Portia Da Costa said...

Historicals are fun to read, but I could never write one. Not a full length, anyway. I'm sure I'd cock up the research and commit some terrible blunder.

Also, thinking back to Erastes' recent post on historical hygiene, I only really want to write about people who are clean and have nice teeth! :)

Mathilde Madden said...

Great post, but was anyone else really distracted by that cover with the naked woman in high heels. Um, a naked woman's arse on a BL cover...?

What happened there? Some mix up with Nexus?

Janine Ashbless said...

I'm constantly grateful that I was born into a date comma place with antibiotics/anaesthetics/contraception/hot water on tap/feminism/literacy/easy international travel (not in that order). We have it real good right here, right now.

On the other hand you might be able to tempt me into being a Spartan woman. They were pretty cool.Being a woman in any other era I can think of was generally a bit shit. Unending pregnancy and childbirth? - No thanks.

If I had to live in a previous era I'd want dibs on being a bloke. I'll risk war-wounds to avoid the childbirth and the chattel status.

Madelynne Ellis said...

I'm with Janine in that if I have to live in the past I'd insist on being a bloke. They had all the fun.

Era - think I'd have to go for Georgian (that's pre-Regency BTW). Let's see, riding, hunting, dancing, gambling, and drinking completely excessive amounts of port because the water's unclean... Yup, sounds great to me.

Erastes said...

What lovely covers!

You all know I'm a big fan of historical romances. Such a shame that BL wouldn't take m/m and now if they do, it'll be too late for me.

I'm not sure about a time zone. Possibly a RICH roman in a family that has no beef with any emperor...

I do like antibiotics. It worries me that even a toothache or a chill could kill you before them!!

Great post, Olivia. Nothing nicer than armour and pretty clothes to put on, and take off.

Deanna said...

Really wonderful post Olivia.

Portia, I know that it maybe takes more work to write a historical because you have to do lots of research. Not only into life at that time, but the nit-picking stuff like if they wore undearwear, and what it looked like. What they actually ate, if they did wash, even stuff like did they have sheets on their beds or just blankets.

I must admit I don't find it a pain I actually really, really enjoy the research.

When I embark on a historical, I read loads of books on the subject. I rarely use the internet, which can be unreliable,unless of course I can confirm the facts on a number of decent sites. Most of the information never ever finds its way into the book but it gives me a feel of the period.

Also,as Olivia said, holidays can often therefore be counted as working - well as far as the tax man is concerned anyway.

Victoria Janssen said...

I don't want to LIVE in the past, but if I could visit, I'd like to see pre-classical Greece. My favorite type of historical hero is the post-Napoleonic-Wars angstful type. But Victorian Explorer Stifled by Return to Society is also up there (that one can be hero or heroine, I don't care).

Olivia Knight said...

Oooh, Victoria, have you read A.S. Byatt's Angels and Insects? Victorian Explorer Stifled by Society to the T! (Admittedly, she's not Black Lace, but she gives us a run for our money at times...)

north said...

What a lovely site!
I recently published some of my own erotic scribblings on a blog and would really appreciate your opinion. Looking forward to hearing from you :) -hanna in austria

Janine Ashbless said...

riding, hunting, dancing, gambling, and drinking completely excessive amounts of port because the water's unclean
Have you been watching the "Supersizers Go..." historical gastronomy series? Absolutely hilarious and Giles Coren does the louche thing in breeches something wonderful.

Deanna said...

There are a number of men I'd like to see in breeches, and a loose, preferably wet shirt. Thinking of Colin Firth in P and P here. I think there is something very sexy about Regency male clothing.

I love writing about the Romans. Their culture and lifestyle is so fascinating. Togas, don't do it for me, however, but slaves and gladiators usually wore far less which helped to fuel my fantasies.

Not sure I would have liked to have lived in any of those periods, because of the lack of decent medical care and everything else we take for granted in this modern world, but it would be fun to just pop back there and visit for a brief time to see what it was really like.

jothemama said...

All you realists, with your plumbing and medicine. It's not about when you want to live your whole life, it's about when you want to visit and have a hot shag.

With ,uscly, wild haired Celts, and big jewelery, maybe.

Madeline Moore said...

Good point jo. For a good shag, I'd probably choose Rome and do as the Romans do. wa hoo.

Erastes said...

*laughs *

jothemama - I know, but it's a sickness, I swear. I find myself in the throes of a hot sexy scene, my hero has just ripped the cravat off his intended shag, pushes him backwards over the...

AND I grind to a halt. Over what? A Chesterfield? When were they invented? A chaise? What would it be upholstered in?

Hopeless.

Madeline Moore said...

Of course, I'd want to be Cleopatra...

Madeline Moore said...

Interesting point, Mathilde. Apparently Nexus books aren't carried by a lot of stores because of the covers, so if there's a LOT of nudity, like a naked woman's arse, it can be counterproductive to sales.

Madelynne Ellis said...

AND I grind to a halt. Over what? A Chesterfield? When were they invented? A chaise? What would it be upholstered in?

I once spent an entire evening researching Georgian chair arms in order to make sure a particular scene was properly authentic.

Then I rewrote it so that the chairs were irrelevant!

Forgot to mention earlier that my preferred hero is of course the rakehell, and I don't mean the wussy pretenders who reform at the drop of a hat. I mean the unrepentant sort.

Erastes said...

A woman after my own heart, madelynne.

And your rakehell would have smashed the chairs and not cared, anyway.

Madelynne Ellis said...

Hm, they utilized the wainscotting instead :-)

Don't think they've smashed any chairs yet, just a fair bit of crockery and some bottles (well, and noses and knuckles.)

Janine Ashbless said...

Okay, if it's just for a brief visit -
Romans too. They knew how to party.