RT Booklovers Convention 2011: Keeping Your Historical Romances Fresh

This afternoon historical romance writers (and a sprinkling of readers, too) got a treat with the workshop "Tackling Historical Realities in Today's Historicals". Captained by Renee Bernard, the panel was also made up of Victoria Alexander, Cheryl Holt, Julianne MacLean and Sophia Nash. From the glittering ball rooms of the ton to the harsh beauty of the highlands, all five of these authors are renowned for bringing their historical romances to life with detailed settings and characters who act according to the social norms of the time. 

We were thrilled to be able to catch up with Captain Renee Bernard for a quick chat about what inspired her (and her band of merry authors) to create this workshop:

The panel's "official" description is "How to cope with the grit, grime and germs of a time period without upsetting a modern reader's sensibilities--or more importantly, how to carry over and address those critical modern questions in historical context without losing your sense of timing.” You want the story to ring true, but sometimes the danger are in the details, so we talked to some experts about how to keep your wagon wheels firmly on the ground without bruising your payload.

The idea for the panel came about because in every conversation I had with other historical romance authors about research, we were all facing the same issues of truth in fiction. The historical realities of disease, hardship, etc. are often omitted, but we brush up against them for "authenticity". A great example is Elizabeth Hoyt's Maiden Lane series. Her characters are orphaned (now adults) and enjoying what can only be described as fantastic adventures of mystery and romance. But in reality, no babies survived London orphanages in that time period. Zero.

So it's a dance of fact and fiction, and the devil is in the details. It was a fun discussion about where we see ourselves and our goals as writers on that curve.

As for the genre, there are two schools of thought in my opinion. One is to blend in more and more fantastical, paranormal elements to "refresh" the genre, but the other is to stay truer to the history and the time periods and make them even more real so that readers can truly relate (since our lives don't lack for grit, drama or fear sometimes). I think history is a fantastic medium for looking at our own lives/challenges and a great story can entertain us but also teach us something about ourselves when we're not even looking for a lesson.


One of our favorite moments of the panel? Definitely when the authors started to talk about the attention that the publishers pay to market research in terms of what readers are looking for. The general consensus is that publishers know alot about the market and it's important to find the publisher who is right for your project.

If you missed this panel be sure to look for the audio recording at www.ConferenceRecording.com. And if you are looking for more historical fun, check back for our coverage of Thursday night's Venetian Masquerade. If you are in the LA area and would like to join us for the party, you can find out more here and you can register on site at the Westin Bonaventure!