[Aidee here!] Courtney Milan generously answered some questions I had following the release of her most recent novel, After the Wedding. I have not yet read this book, and this mini-interview contains no spoilers. After the Wedding is the second full-length novel in the Worth Saga, which begins with Once Upon a Marquess. Milan writes historical and contemporary romances; the Worth Saga is her current historical series. What I enjoy most about Milan’s books is the humor and the way she subverts common tropes. Without further ado, here is the mini-interview!
First, I’d like to know how you think authors can change romance’s centering of England in the historical genre, aside from not setting the story in England?
Historicals used to range the whole wide world and I think one of the reasons this stopped is because people very awkwardly realized that there were massive issues with unproblematically glamorizing certain portions of the past. Like there used to be a whole genre of southern historical romance novels that just…glossed over the issues with slavery? Yeah. Or the entire spectrum of historical titles involving stereotypical Native Americans, sometimes with racial slurs in the actual titles? Eeeeek. It seems almost horrific to me that those exist, and yet there were probably hundreds, if not thousands, published over the years.
I think one of the reason historicals set in an overly nice England won out is because historicals in which people of color were erased was the best of all options that were then available, and one that didn’t force anyone to confront any awkward truths about our past. And it’s not just England that is centered—it’s a very sanitized version of England, one in which everyone’s a duke who happens to be abnormally socially liberal, nobody dies in childbirth, people take regular baths, and the lack of public sanitation is mentioned not ever.
I think we’re hitting the point, though, where we’re confronting some kind of awkward truths as a society.
So this is a really long-winded way of getting there, but I think my answer is that I wouldn’t worry about it. I think that England has not always been centered in historical romance. I think that it got centered for very specific societal reasons. And I think that center is going to shift, because I think if there is any one thing that is a given, it is that attention does not stay in the same place. It’s going to stay and stay and stay and suddenly we’re going to look around and it’s going to have changed.
And you know, I don’t think it’s going to be so much that the currently most popular authors will change what they’re writing, but that we’re going to see a new crop of authors come up and trailblaze with something that hits it out of the park.
What is a trope in historical romance you would like to do away with?
This is not specific to historical romance, but I’m personally done with the whole Mean Girls Who Are Mean Because Girls are Mean thing. Don’t get me wrong—I love playing with the concept of girls who appear mean. I had a set of supposedly mean girls in The Heiress Effect and they had a clear motivation and you find out that they’re really not mean at all about halfway through. And I think women can make excellent antagonists.
But I personally don’t like reading books where girls are the enemy and there’s nothing to it except their being mean and stupid.
What is one you think can be explored more than it currently is?
Okay, look—girl dresses as boy is one of my favorite tropes in the whole entire world, but I’d like to see this done without the crappy takes on gender or sexuality, because the thing I love about girl dresses as boy is that it gives the girl in a historical the chance to do some typically masculine things and do them well, but the thing I hate about it is that half the time, the guy thinks things like “UGH how can I be attracted to a man” and, well, it would be nice if he didn’t actually wonder about that both because some men are attracted to men and don’t wonder about it, and also because the idea that a person’s lust-radar can somehow magically and unconsciously detect gender somehow through five layers of clothing and a disguise…really doesn’t hold up to scrutiny and has some pretty ugly implications.
So I’d like to see this explored in ways that turn the ugly, gender-essentialist parts of the trope on their heads.
What is your favorite scene in After the Wedding? Why?”
There’s this woman named Mrs. Martin, and she is an old, blunt, foul-mouthed lesbian who is pretty sure that Adrian and Camilla are trying to run a scam on her.
She critiques their scam and casts aspersions on men, and she was an absolute delight to write.
I’m delighted that Milan took the time to answer these questions. I’m looking forward to reading After the Wedding now more than ever. I love cool older ladies in stories. I’m also looking forward to seeing how the historical romance genre changes over time.