It’s November! I can’t believe it! And we’re down to our final Smithsonian Heritage Month! Wow. So, it’s been a process this year, and … yes. I’ve loved learning more about authors though, and I’m glad I did this. Today to kick off Native American Heritage Month we have Isobel Carr! She writes historical romances. So everyone please give her a warm welcome. Especially as our first SAIHM guest!
Native American Heritage Month. Hmmm. I always feel a bit conflicted about these things, not because I think celebrating culture is bad, but because as an “Urban Indian”, I don’t really fit into the box the world has made for me (and I don’t want to!). I find it disturbing and insulting that when I fill out the census (good thing for my blood pressure that it’s only once a decade) that I’m confronted with a definition of my “race” that has nothing to do with my actual blood (half white, one quarter Cherokee, one quarter Oglala Sioux), it’s all about whether or not I “maintain cultural and religious ties” with my tribe/s. Um, no, no I don’t. I’m thousands of miles and two generations away from either of them. But that doesn’t change who and what I *am* (at least not IMO).
Urban Indians are something America doesn’t really acknowledge or know what to do with (but if you go out to Alcatraz on Indigenous People Day (aka Columbus Day to many of you), you’ll see hundreds of Urban Indians from all over the Bay Area (and often all over the country) assembled for a mini-Pow Wow and celebration of the occupation of Alcatraz and the spark it ignited among Indigenous people all over the nation. Much of the activism from the 1970s onward was an outgrowth of those people on that tiny island, and it’s a piece of American history I would greatly encourage everyone to be familiar with.
Anyone who is familiar with me and my books knows that I don’t draw upon my heritage as inspiration for my writing (at least not directly). I write Georgian set historicals more directly related to my Caucasian roots (English, Scottish, and Welsh on that side, mostly). But I do think being bi-racial influences my writing all the same. I’ve had a bi-racial hero (Gabriel in LORD SCANDAL, who’s half Turkish like my college BFF), and I’m drawn to and very aware of all the people of color who peppered Georgian England. There were thousands of free blacks in England, many acting as servants, others making their way as business owners, pugilists, clergymen, you name it. There was a Jewish quarter in London with deep roots in the city, and which produced very important historical figures such as Benjamin Disraeli. There were Asian people of various ethnicities, inducing a Chinese dock owner in London (I’ve been trying to find out more about him!) and an established East Indian population that ran quite a few public bath houses in London and offered “shampoos” (massages), as well as many, many Anglo-Indians, some of whom were members of the ton. I try to weave all of this into my books, because as a displaced urban person of color, I think it’s important to acknowledge that these people existed and that their lives and presence were a part of the place and time in which my books take place.
About the Author: Isobel Carr is the best-selling author of the Georgian-set League of Second Sons series. She grew up participating in a wide variety of historical reenactment clubs, which has given her an unusually personal perspective on history, along with a deep knowledge of the history of clothing. Currently, she lives in the San Francisco Bay Area with her Neapolitan Mastiff, Clancy, in a 1916 bungalow that she has no time to restore. You can find out more about Isobel on her website, Twitter: @IsobelCarr, FaceBook.
One of my favorite aspects of writing historical fiction is also one of the most challenging: crafting a world that’s steeped in historical detail but still accessible to a modern reader. Creating a believable historical world is every bit as challenging in my opinion as creating a fantasy one, with the added concern that people can actually fact check your choices. So if I use the word “scrum” to describe an unruly crowd, I can be called out on the fact that I’m 100 years too early. But if you say your vampires can walk in the sun (or sparkle), people may not like your choice, but they can’t document that you’re W.R.O.N.G.
The first challenge in my opinion is becoming really well grounded in the “feel” of the period. For me, this includes reading a lot of history, both general and topic specific, reading novels from the era, reading period journals, newspapers, court transcripts, etc. Really getting to know the era backwards, forwards, and sideways.
Because if you want to craft a believable historical world, it’s not just the BIG details you have to get right (date of the battle of Waterloo, which Lady Jersey the Prince Regent had an affair with, the current countess or the dowager) it’s the minutia of their everyday lives (ale for breakfast, the subtle restraint imposed by a corset, how distance is very different when you’re traveling by carriage or by foot as opposed to train or car).
An additional concern is that some things that seem natural and normal to a modern (and often American) writer wouldn’t have been done when and where the book is set. Iced tea for example, while technically possible to create in the Georgian era, given that they had ice houses and tea, wasn’t drunk then, and really isn’t drunk in England today. It’s an error with no bearing on the plot, but it’s also a flashing neon sign declaring that the author doesn’t know their period as well as they should and possibly isn’t all that familiar with England in general.
On top of all the factual stuff you have to nail down, comes the trick of understanding the social mores of the time period, which can be quite hard to really grasp, and which, just like today, were not monolithic. The “rules” for how people had to behave varied by class, gender, and within those groups by the “set” you and your family belonged to. This is the area of world building which is the most fun, but also the most fraught with danger. What would the real world consequences have been for your plucky heroine offering up her virginity to a lusty rake? Or deciding she didn’t want to marry, but wanted to open a shop of some kind instead? Can you find any real world examples? Can you extrapolate from a documented mésalliance? From people’s opinions about a family whose bad luck led to them having to go into trade?
Many readers (and authors) seem to base their understanding of the Georgian/Regency world on things like the works of Jane Austen and Georgette Heyer. While both these authors are well worth reading and even studying, it’s worth noting that they have their problems as “guides”. Austen wrote about the gentry for the most part. Not a duke to be seen in her books. The closest we get is poor Sir Walter the baronet and Mr. Darcy, the earl’s grandson (who is VERY grand by Austen standards). And Heyer, whose books I adore, still has a sensibility that leans more toward the Victorian or Edwardian than the Georgian (read Making Victorian Values if you want to see what I mean). We all know pendulum tends to swing from staid to licentious and back again. Late Georgian was a licentious period, late Victorian very stuffy (but with the predictable underbelly of kink) and then the Roaring 20s came along and went right back to licentious … so whereas we often think of the Regency as a period in which one public kiss could ruin a girl, the fact was they had a party game called “Guess the Lover” that was nothing but kissing. Hard to imagine that under the steely eye of an elderly Queen Victoria, but very easy to see it at a party full of flappers.
So on my birthday, I’d like to raise a toast to all the fabulous authors out there who go the extra mile to give us historical fiction that we can lose ourselves in. Cheers!
You guys!!! Today we have awesome authors Isobel Carr and Miranda Neville visiting with us! Both of them write historical romances, and they’re awesome, and a lot of fun. Isobel has been here before, but Miranda is a first time guest! If you’ve ever wanted to know a little bit more about the genre, or get some background, today might provide some insight. I hope you enjoy!
Miranda Neville: It’s always a pleasure to chat with Isobel. We’ve shared many a good discussion about the historical basis for our books. Today I’ve been thinking about how historical reality sometimes clashes with reader ideas of acceptable behavior.
For example, Caro, the heroine of The Importance of Being Wicked, is not good with money. She’s the period equivalent of the girl who gets herself in a hole with her credit cards. She’s trying to dig her way out, but it’s not easy. Some readers have found this troubling, especially since many of the people Caro owes money to are merchants. Not Citibank or Capital One, but ordinary people trying to make a living. Caro’s attitude to money is typical of the upper classes of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. They spent money like water, regardless of cash flow, and ran up staggering debts. The records are full of unpaid bills for clothing, household expenses, even those socking great houses. (Read about how hard it was for Vanbrugh to get paid for the work at Blenheim Palace.) Of course you had to have means – or expectations – to be allowed credit. I strongly suspect that London merchants catering to the haut ton jacked up their prices like crazy, figuring those who settled their bills would cover the losses on the non-payers (kind of like modern American hospitals!)
Isobel Carr: Modern expectations and mores can be tricky when you’re writing historical characters. Since I mostly choose to write about the wilder aspects of the ton (like the Devonshire House set and the New Female Coterie) the behavior of my characters–while perfectly period–doesn’t always hit the right note with people who cut their historical teeth on Georgette Heyer or sweeter Regencies where a kiss meant marriage (I happen to think those mores are more late Victorian/Edwardian anyway, but that’s me). I also find the gaming aspect of the English culture fascinating. The betting book at White’s is filled with some amazing and odd bets. Everything from when a hurried marriage would produce an heir or which rain drop would reach the bottom of the pane first! Roland, the hero of Ripe for Seduction, is the jokester of his circle, and true to their time and culture, they all love a good bet (the bet that sets the ball rolling was inspired by a book called Round Ireland with a Fridge by Tony Hawk [no, not the skater] that I highly recommend). And once the bet has been made, withdrawing would be as bad as failing to pay a debt of honor.
Miranda Neville: The huge sums that changed hands boggle the mind and make five dollar slots look like chicken feed. The fact that a man would leave his family penniless out of some notion of honor is something this twenty-first-century reader finds hard to take. I don’t think it’s an accident that usually a pusillanimous relative (Caro’s first husband in The Importance of Being Wicked) loses the family fortune. Writing a hero like that would be tough. That said, the inciting incident of the third book in my Wild Quartet series is a youthful gaming loss.
Still, I believe the concept of honor, duty to a higher calling than self-interest, is one of the great appeals of historical romance. The reform of a bad boy hero requires an acceptance of an honorable life as well as the love of the heroine.
Isobel Carr: I can easily see the reform of a gambler working too though. He’d really have something to repent of, and he’d have the added battle of what could well be an addiction (and the additional struggle to resist the pull of the social order, where gambling was very, very common). A drunken, youthful folly or way of life that go out of control would be great back story.
That was sort of what I was playing with in Ripe for Seduction. A bet that gets out of hand. The original idea for the bet itself was a real life indecent proposal that a young and dissolute peer made to a starchy widow. She was the daughter of a duke, and had made a very bad marriage. There was abandonment, imprisonment, refusal of marital rights, and eventually litigation and legal separation. After her husband died young and unlamented (at least by her), a noted rake had the temerity to send her a missive suggesting she become his mistress. Furious, the young widow went directly to his parents and announced herself as their future daughter-in-law, daring the offending young man to contradict her and thus force her to show his parents the letter he’d sent her. She eventually relented and broke off the engagement, but I always loved that she routed him so thoroughly and so effectively, and it was such a delicious set-up for a novel.
I had a great deal of fun writing a happy ending for that sad widow (who didn’t get much of one in real life) and for the abused bigamous wife from my last novel (I couldn’t leave poor Lady Olivia without an HEA, believe me, I got letters!). I love taking real stories and spinning them out into happy endings. It’s like resetting the world for good.
Miranda Neville: I haven’t had a chance to read Ripe for Seduction (I’m writing this on release day) and now I cannot wait. I’m thrilled to know that it was based on a true life incident. One of the side benefits of aimless historical research is finding inspiration. Actual events often fall into “you can’t make this stuff up” territory. I felt that way when I read the 1796 dirty book that I quoted from, verbatim, in The Amorous Education of Celia Seaton(which, p.s. – the kindle edition is only 99¢!). I mean seriously, do you think I imagined a phrase like “deluge of spermy rapture?” Yet I think it came as a real surprise to some readers when they discovered in my author’s note that I’d been quoting from an eighteenth-century book.
Another area in which we have to adapt to modern sensibilities is social attitudes towards ordinary people. These aristocrats we love treated servants and social “inferiors” in ways we would find totally unacceptable. By the standards of 1800, everyone’s a liberal these days. I wrote a hero who owned a coal mine and to show his progressive views I had him voluntarily stop employing children under the age of nine. It was the best I could do as a compromise between historical accuracy and twenty-first-century decency. The awful thing is, the parents of those kids probably missed the money.
Isobel Carr: Don’t get me started on the “maid as the heroine’s BFF” thing. It makes me stabby! Servants were often little more than furniture, or something to brag about if you had say the fastest footman (yes, they ran races like horses, sometimes naked, even in the parks in London; imagine your heroine encountering that!). And unlike our ideal of the old family retainer, most servants moved about quite freely and no woman who wanted to keep anything secret from her husband would trust her maid (firstly, the maid knew who paid her, and secondly, they were very often the main witness called in crim con trials).
The whole idea of privacy as we know it was absent as well. People didn’t live alone. They often didn’t sleep alone! It was not considered strange to bunk two male or female guests together during a house party and have them share a bed.
Miranda Neville: That could put a damper on some of those secret trysts – though handy if one writes menage.
Isobel Carr: Overall, the late Georgian/Regency period is both close enough to feel familiar and remote enough to be utterly alien depending on how you come at it. My motto is “the magic is in the improbable but possible” and I aim to make the people I write about both true to their period and accessible to a modern reader. In the end, people are people, then and now, with the same desires, drives, worries, and needs. Getting to play with history on top of all that is just an additional bit of fun.
Miranda Neville: Well said, Isobel. Now let’s ask our readers if there are any common historical tropes that bug them – either because they seem too modern, or too weird for the contemporary stomach. There are no wrong answers – only an enjoyable discussion. We’ll each pick a random commenters to win a copy of our latest books, The Importance of Being Wicked and Ripe for Seduction.
I’m really curious about what tropes have caught your attention as well. Or, if you have any questions about the genre, facts, general life, etc. I mean, hey, if we’ve got Isobel and Miranda, who are founts of knowledge, why not pump them for information? ;D And to add some incentive… these are the books up for grabs:
The rules of society don’t apply to Caro and her coterie of bold men and daring women. But when passions flare, even the strongest will surrender to the law of love . . .
Thomas, Duke of Castleton, has every intention of wedding a prim and proper heiress. That is, until he sets eyes on the heiress’s cousin, easily the least proper woman he’s ever met. His devotion to family duty is no defense against the red-headed vixen whose greatest asset seems to be a talent for trouble . . .
Caroline Townsend has no patience for the oh-so-suitable (and boring) men of the ton. So when the handsome but stuffy duke arrives at her doorstep, she decides to put him to the test. But her scandalous exploits awaken a desire in Thomas he never knew he had. Suddenly Caro finds herself falling for this most proper duke…while Thomas discovers there’s a great deal of fun in a little bit of wickedness.
The League of Second Sons
A secret society of younger sons, sworn to aid and abet each other, no matter the scandal or cost . . .
After the scandalous demise of her marriage, Lady Olivia Carlow knows the rakes of the ton will think her fair game. So when a letter arrives bearing an indecent offer from the incorrigible Roland Devere, she seizes the opportunity. Turning the tables on the notorious rogue, she blackmails him into playing her betrothed for the season. But no matter how broad his shoulders or chiseled his features, she will never fall prey to his suave charm.
When Roland boasted he’d be the first into Lady Olivia’s bed, he couldn’t have imagined that behind those brilliant blue eyes lurked a vixen with a scheme of her own. Still, Roland is not about to abandon his original wager. If anything, learning that the lovely Olivia is as bold as she is beautiful makes him more determined to seduce her into never saying “never” again.
So spill. What tropes bother you? Or what might you want to know more about in historical romances? Questions and answers welcome here!
Hi friends! We’ve got author Isobel Carr sharing with us today. I kinda had a lot for her to address (too much), so then told her to ignore me and write what she wanted to. 😀 (I’m kinda stuck on the “marriageable age” for heroines in historicals. Everyone ” ” says they have to be so young and once they’re 21 they’re “so far on the shelf” but apparently that’s not true – and it’s what spawned this post, one of those conversations with Isobel.
Paranormal authors have to create their worlds from whole cloth. This can be incredibly challenging, but not, in my opinion, as challenging as creating a believable historical world. No one (sane) can come back at you with “facts” countering the supernatural rules of lycanthropy as imagined by you, but if you screw up a title, primogeniture, or some other factual aspect of history, you’re going to get crucified. Harder than solid facts, is getting the “feel” of the period right, especially as each author has an individual vision of that period, created by everything from their favorite novels, mini-series, and the research books they’ve chosen.
I’m an avowed research wonk. This means I have a lot of rather dry non-fiction on my shelves, and that I read—and re-read—a lot of my books. I want to absorb the nuances and ideas they contain so I can synthesize them into my understanding of the period in which I set my books.
I’m drawn to the naughtier, raunchier, wilder people I stumble across in my re-search (as anyone who’s read my books knows, LOL!). So my favorite biographies are books like The Lady in Red (about a great heiress who became an infamous divorcee), Courtesans (featuring the likes of Sophia Baddeley and Elizabeth Armistead), My Lady Scandalous (about a socialite turned royal mistress and eventually spy). But what this means is that *my* vision of late 18th century England might not conform with that of someone who’s main influences are Austen and Heyer and Our Tempestuous Day.
I know that many of us *believe* that during the late Georgian period women married when the word “girls” still applied and that by twenty-two said woman was “on the shelf”. But the data outlined by Stone in The Family, Sex, and Marriage doesn’t support that. Stone says this: “Daughters married on average at about twenty in the late sixteenth century, rising to about twenty-two to twenty-three in the seventieth and eighteenth.” So if they were making their debuts somewhere between seventeen and nineteen, they weren’t expected to marry in their first (or even their second) season. Stone further states that the date shows that close to twenty-five percent of daughters of the upper class never married (compared to about fifteen percent of sons).
Given these numbers, especially coupled with the high mortality rate of pregnancy, women must have been remarrying in fairly high numbers as around 15% of men were married more than once [thus making up for their bachelor brothers]). I find this especially interesting given the social pressures on both sexes not to remarry (as detailed in The Rise of the Egalitarian Family). Trumbach gives several reasons for this pressure, chief among them concerns about preserving the inheritance rights of the children of the first marriage. But even in cases where the marriage had produced no children, widows were often discouraged from remarrying due to families (both hers and her deceased husband’s) feeling that by doing so she was alienating her natural heirs (who they generally believed to be either her or his immediate relations).
How does this all play into my world building? Well, it helps me come up with plots that I hope are original and surprising, but still historically plausible (even if reviewers don’t always agree!). My upcoming book, Ripe for Seduction, was sparked by the story of Lady Mary Coke and Lord March. March as a young man couldn’t seem to stop himself from making indecent proposals to every pretty girl who crossed his path. When Lady Mary returned to town as a widow, he made one to her. Furious, she determined to teach him a lesson. She promptly presented herself to his parents as his betrothed, knowing full well the only people whose good opinion March cared about were his parents. March did eventually manage to secure his freedom … my hero of course will figure out that freedom is the last thing he wants.
I went by title and linked what I thought they were, so my apologies to Isobel if they’re wrong! I’m curious as to what you thought though. I find this fascinating, and accuracy/realism does affect my reading enjoyment!