Historical Settings

Norse_Jewel-300 px wide jpeg
A Viking romance by Embracing Romance author Gina Conkle

I grew up reading historical romance during its heyday in the 1980s. I happened upon one of Jennifer Blake’s books while babysitting and I was hooked. Most of her books were set in New Orleans, but in one the heroine ventured all the way to the Ottoman Empire. I also read medievals by Jude Deveraux, and pretty much any other historical I could get my hands on. All of the romance I read into the 1990s included quite a bit of historical detail, which I loved, and the settings were quite varied. Though I didn’t notice it at the time as a reader, the varied locations and historical content of the books began to gradually shrink to the point where I was only reading Regency set romance. I didn’t mind so much because I love Regencies, and I was busy working and starting a family, so finding the time to read anything was a treat.

Embracing Romance author Sarah Ballance's most recent historical set in Salem, MA
Embracing Romance author Sarah Ballance’s most recent historical set in Salem, MA

When I decided to try my hand at writing historical romance, the first thing I wrote was a Regency, which was natural for me because it was what I had been reading, and it ended up being the first book I sold. But I studied Russian from the eighth grade through college, and also majored in international affairs with a minor in Russian history. So in addition to the Regencies I’m still writing,  I plotted out a series set in Imperial Russia during the reign of Alexander I, which coincides with the English Regency. Though I have not formally submitted the first book in the series to any agents or editors, I have spoken to several of them about it, and was dismayed to discover that they weren’t excited about it. Some said they would probably be willing to take a chance on it for their digital line, but they would never publish it in print. They almost all universally suggested that I should write it as historical fiction rather than romance.

Embracing Romance author Violetta Rand's Viking romance
Embracing Romance author Violetta Rand’s Viking romance

After I got over my shock, I realized that as a reader, I’ve never really differentiated historical fiction from historical romance (aside from being embarrassed by the old bodice ripper historical romance covers while reading in public). Nearly all of the historical fiction I read has romance at its heart, like The Bronze Horseman by Paullina Simons or the Outlander series by Diana Gabaldon. Though I love the history, the relationship between Claire and Jamie is what keeps me coming back to the series over and over again.

I recently finished edits on my upcoming release (a Regency), and was unhappy when my editor cut out half of a chapter I wrote in which the hero and heroine are at the British Museum. It had taken me more than a week to research and write. Though she is also a history buff and said she hated to cut it, it had to go because it Just-A-Kiss_500slowed the story down and wasn’t relevant to the romance. This got me back to thinking about my Russian set historicals, and how because it’s an unfamiliar setting for many readers, it would require a lot more detail and description to ground the reader in the setting. So have I discovered the reason that non-Regency historicals aren’t as popular right now? Because contemporary romance is selling better than historicals, do we have to stick to familiar locations and very limited historical detail to attract readers?

What do you think? Should I take a chance on writing my Russian set books as romance, or write them as historical fiction? Would it matter to you?

Romantic Pursuit Question: What country do I want to set my next series in?

Follow Victoria Vane:

Romance Novelist

VICTORIA VANE is an award-winning author of smart and sexy romance with works ranging from wild comedic romps to emotionally compelling erotic romance. Her books have received more than twenty awards and nominations to include the 2014 RONE Award for Treacherous Temptations and Library Journal Best E-Book romance of 2012 for The Devil DeVere series. She lives the beautiful upstate of South Carolina with her husband, two sons, a little black dog, and an Arabian horse.

13 Responses

  1. dholcomb1

    I’d love to read it as historical romance–sounds like a wonderful (and untapped) setting! If they won’t publish it the way you want, you may want to consider self-pub.

  2. gypsy999

    My favorite genre is scandi crime thrillers {nordic noir?} and what I love about them is the feeling of place, the locations, the details about the area,the cultural norms, even the local eating habits. Yet some authors in this category focus only on the crime solving aspect and those stories could be set anywhere on earth. All of that said, I think the historical details are fascinating and add depth and it sounds like you enjoy writing & researching so go for it!

    • allybroadfield

      Thanks for weighing in! Like you, I love the details of the setting and descriptions. And “nordic noir” gave me a good laugh. I think you’re onto something there. 🙂

  3. Barbara Monajem

    I prefer plenty of historical detail, and if the way to keep it is to publish the series as historical fiction, I think that’s what you should do. One of the reasons I got hooked on historical romance was the detail–and quite often I find today’s historicals disappointing in that respect, even if they’re excellent in other ways.

    I hope you saved the half chapter that takes place in the British Museum. I would love to read it. Maybe you could publish it one your website (‘bits that were cut’ or something of the sort) or on a blog.

    • allybroadfield

      Thanks, Barbara. I save each version of my manuscripts, so I have all of the cut scenes. That’s a great idea! I am leaning toward historical fiction, but it will take a lot more time (and research) to do that.

  4. ginaconkle2013

    Hi Ally,
    You make some great points. I hope you saved that deleted scene. Did you know that Harlequin Junkie has a section on their website devoted to deleted scenes? I think it’s worth a share and stirs up reader interest for sure. I love what you said about Outlander. I have yet to read the book but enjoyed the TV series thus far. When I went to the book store to buy my copy of Outlander, the clerks couldn’t agree if it was romance, historical, or general fiction (as far as what section to shelve the book). I’ve seen it shelved in a variety of places. Makes me smile.

    As to your Russian set book, why not write it however you think best for the story? I’m sure you’ll have strong romance elements, maybe even a major chunk of the book. Could be your book needs a different publisher to appreciate the story.

    Take care-

    • allybroadfield

      Thanks, Gina. You’re right. I need to figure out the best way to tell the story. As for publishers, I haven’t submitted it yet. I’ve only inquired about Russian set historical romance and received negative reactions.

  5. Violetta Rand (@ViolettaRand)

    Hello Ally–I agree with the other commenters. Write in whatever genre feels natural for the Russian theme. I enjoy a variety of settings, from Greek epics to Regency. As long as the hero and heroine feel natural to the time, I’ll read it. Self publishing might be the answer. Just read an article today that supported the idea of traditional and self pubbing at the same time. Good luck. 🙂

    • allybroadfield

      Thanks, Violetta. In that case, I need to get traditionally published and self-published! 🙂

  6. hollybushbooks

    Write what speaks to you. Write because there’s a hero in your head that won’t be dislodged. Write the scene and setting you can see and flesh it out with details. Write what the hell you want to write because that’s where your PASSION is. Readers will recognize passion. I guess the Gods were smiling on me when they denied me a publishing contract for all those years I tried to get one because I have a feeling that I’d never been able to write my stories. But self-publishing is just my path, mind you. There’s lots of terrific writers here on ER who are traditionally published and write great books and have much success, so you really have to examine your writing process and your goals, and decide which direction you’ll take or if you’ll merge the two. But self-publishing does open up some doors that may be closed, or are closed, to certain stories, themes or settings. I say write the Russians!

    • Ally Broadfield

      Thanks, Holly! There’s no issue with getting digital first publishers to take them, so my big decision hinges on whether I want them to be in print. Lots to think about!