Friday, July 28, 2006

What do you really want in a historical?

Recently, there’s been yet another discussion about accuracy and “wallpaper historicals” on a forum, so I thought I’d tell you my story.

I wrote a book called NOBLESSE OBLIGE (well that was the title it ended up with!) about a shy man and the lady he fell in love with, a lady’s companion. The duke in the story isn’t a go-getting alpha, but a nice man, the kind you marry after dating the other kind for a few years. The heroine wasn’t 'kick-butt,' but knew where she stood in life and what she had to do to make a living. I liked her, because her practicality went much further than mere defiance. Her mistress was a wealthy slut, and as soon as the hero hove in view, the woman went after him, using my heroine as her go-between.

The story was set in Yorkshire, beginning in Scarborough, continuing to York and going on to a stately home remarkably like Castle Howard, but set a few miles further North, near Harrogate.

I sent this book off to a US publisher who was very interested. Only, they asked me, could I make the hero an alpha, and give him a mistress? Could I also set it in London, while I was at it? And how about giving the heroine a title, making her not the daughter of a country vicar, but the daughter of, say, a duke?

Well I tried, I really did. But in the end I couldn’t do it all. The hero turned before my eyes into the cardboard love-em-and-leave-em alpha, the heroine, while not the daughter of a duke (I just couldn’t do that!) turned into the kind of woman who wouldn’t have lasted five minutes as a lady’s companion. The subplot with the mistress turned into the usual stuff about jealousy and misunderstanding.

I couldn’t stand it.

However, the publisher helped me with one thing. The editor told me to ‘up the sexual tension’ and although I know that is one of the knee-jerk requests they often make, I looked carefully at it, and they were definitely right in this case. So I teased a little more.

Well, I couldn’t do the revisions they wanted, so I sent the book elsewhere.

So if you wonder why there are so many books which have the alpha duke meeting the feisty titian-haired heroine, and a plot that stumbles over big misunderstandings, to a background of riding in Hyde Park, going to balls at Almack’s and London mansions (huh? London mansions?) this is probably why. Until recently, that’s what they liked, so that’s what they got.

By the way, I’m very glad Champagne Books decided to take the book as it is, Yorkshire, reticent lady’s companion and all. I’m proud of it, and it’s a treat to see it on the virtual shelves. Soon it will be on the bookstore shelves as well.

Lynne Connolly/Lynne Martin


Anonymous said...

It's funny how some publishers seem to underestimate readers. I was reading on a particular website that many readers are growing bored of reading the same old story with the same old characters and that the books are beginning to blend together.

Anonymous said...

I have been reading historicals since high school, and I can tell you that the books which stand out after reading THOUSANDS are always the quirky ones, with true-to-life heroines, believable conflicts, interesting sub-plots, and- yes- heros who are not typical run-of-the-mill 'wicked marquis' men. (Love Cartland, but can you ever tell the heros of the books apart? Has any one of her men ever stood out as a true individual?) I look forward to reading your book with great pleasure.