HISTORICAL ROMANCE AT THE 2010 RT BOOKLOVERS CONVENTION GUEST BLOG: SMART BITCH SARAH

Blogger Smart Bitch Sarah reveals what went on at the popular historical romance panel at the convention.

The Historical Romance panel featured Victoria Alexander, Sylvia Day, Sally MacKenzie, Victoria Dahl and Courtney Milan discussing writing, creating historical characters, and their upcoming books.

First they discussed naming their characters in historical romance. Victoria Alexander said that she created a character who, after the character grew in depth, didn't fit her original name any more, and Alexander had to find a new one.  She uses Debrett's peerage and reference books of peerage but so many are named John, so she has to keep looking for interesting names - and hope she doesn't reuse her favorites unintentionally!

Sylvia Day starts with the character and their conflict, and the name often comes with the character. Sally MacKenzie said she uses historical references as well.

Victoria Dahl has a new series from Kensington set amid a family of two brothers and a sister. As she developed the story, Dahl thought of names for the characters, and then checked whether the names were around at the time of the story. Her characters are Marissa, Aiden, and Edward.

Dahl recommended The Baby Name Survey Book: the name listings include survey information about what people think of when they hear a particular name. This helps her avoid negative connotations with a name that she might like but that reminds many other people of something negative or unappealing. The book also lists names under major characteristics, like "shy" or "nerdy."

Courtney Milan is so bad with names, one of her character's alias changed mid-book and she didn't notice until she's editing. Milan reads historical court cases as sources for names. Jenny Keeble from her first book from a case about someone stealing ducks from a duck blind.

How important is speech and manner of speaking in a historical romance?

MacKenzie says her dialogue is probably "less historical sounding" than most, and pointed out that we don't know how people spoke in historical times, we just know how they wrote.

Milan brought up the language used for sex and the fact that it is modern readers who are reading the historical dialogue. Richness of feeling can't be contained by words that were common to the time when discussing sex, like  "tup" "tumbling, poking, rogering" and "shag." "Making love" meant flirting, not getting it on, for example.

Dialect, according to these authors, is tricky. When writing a Scots character, Dahl used a small word sparingly here and there to remind the reader of how the character was speaking. Readers in the audience said they don't like heavy dialect in their books. They can handle an occasional word but not pages and pages of dialect.

Milan mentioned that describing how someone talks can reveal the accent a character uses, without writing the dialogue in dialect. She referenced the BBC dialect survey where you can listen to different dialects from different parts of England and hear what they sound like.

Alexander said you have to keep in mind as writers that you're writing for 21st century American women. MacKenzie agreed: "You don't talk about how the characters rarely bathed, or had lice." Alexander replied, "Oh, yes. My characters never go to the bathroom."

Sylvia Day mentioned in response to a question of glossaries in historical romance that she's been told not to include one by one publishing house, as it made her book appear potentially less entertaining and more serious and academic. Other houses she's worked with had no problems with the front or end matter she wanted to include.

Walking the line between accuracy and a 21st century audience can be difficult, according to Alexander.  Milan says every author has one historical area they are very experienced and well-read within, and hers is random historical legal information, or "crap" as she called it. She knows a LOT about the role and legal status of women in historical times, for example, and these themes appear in her books.

There's a difference between historically accurate and historically average, Milan continued - a very wise statement. Most books are not about average people; you're writing about people who are exceptional in some way.

Dahl revealed an article she had read about historical sexual perspectives, one that she enjoyed, particularly because some readers do not like her heroines as they have identifiable and clearly expressed sexual thoughts and inclinations. Clelia Mosher did a sex survey in 1892 asking women about sexual experiences. It's online at the Stanford Magazine. Women at that time enjoyed sex and experienced it much the same way we do. In fact, one woman was quoted as saying that if she didn't enjoy sex, she thought that it was because the male was poorly trained.

Judging by the size of the audience and how eagerly they participated in the discussion, historical romance remains very popular - particularly because the writers who work within that genre provide such widely varied perspectives and heroines nad heroes to choose from.

- Smart Bitch Sarah, Smart Bitches Trashy Books LLC