A Changing View of History

In our week of focusing on "unusual historicals" we knew that we had to chat with someone who pushed the boundaries of the moment in time when historical romances become contemporary stories set in the past. Author Elizabeth Lane has written several stories set at the edge of this moment. Now she reflects on how “the time line” has changed over the past sixteen years of writing historical romances. And be one of the first to see the cover of Lane's upcoming March release, The Widowed Bride, which is revealed at the bottom of this post!

For as far back as I can remember, the traditional cutoff date for historical novels was the end of the 19th Century. Happily, for authors and readers, that definition seems to be changing. Stories set in the early 1900s are increasingly being written, published and read. My own writing career is a case in point.

The early 20th Century has always been my favorite period – new technology, new ideas, new roles and challenges for women. So much great material! In my work with Harlequin Historicals, I’ve been pushing that envelope for a long time. My first book to sneak past the time line was a 1994 release, Mackenna’s Promise, which took place in 1901. The catch? It was set in Africa, under primitive conditions. And because of the historical background (the building of the Mombasa-Nairobi Railroad) that date was set in stone. My next post-1900 book, On the Wings of Love, was a much harder sell. My New York editors turned it down, explaining that while there was nothing wrong with the 1912 date, anything with airplanes and cars was “too modern.” Several years passed before I tried again and was able to sell the story to the new Harlequin Historicals editors in the UK office and see it published in 2008.

These days, publishers are much more open to 20th Century historicals. For a time the cutoff date was moved to the beginning of World War I. My 2009 book, His Substitute Bride, set against the background of the 1906 San Francisco earthquake, fit this time slot perfectly. But when I set my 2010 release, The Horseman’s Bride in post-war 1919, nobody raised a whisper of objection.

My March 2011 book, The Widowed Bride, is set in 1920, at the beginning of the Prohibition era. My hero is a U.S. Marshal who comes to a small western town to break up a bootlegging ring. My heroine is his landlady, a comely widow with a mysterious past. The book has all the elements of a rip-roaring Western, but with telephones, automobiles and electric lights added to the mix.

So who’s to say what qualifies as history in a novel? As we move forward in time, the field of history continues to expand. Events that I remember – the first moon landing, the Kennedy assassination – are just pages in history books to my grandchildren. Personally I’d love to see more books set in the World War II era, a time of heroism, sacrifice and high emotion if ever there was one.

Whatever the time setting of a book, some things remain constant – human emotions, conflict, courage and mostly happy endings. As for history, it’s becoming more and more a matter of definition.

- Elizabeth Lane

You can watch Lane push the boundaries of “the time line” in March 2010’s The Horseman’s Bride and then mark your calendars, Lane's The Widowed Bride will be available on March 1st, 2011!