Introducing Allegra Alazas

Do you ever make imaginary friends with a character from a book? I do all the time. These are often characters I have made up in my own mind—and yet I still need to get to get acquainted with them from scratch like they’re strangers. If I have done my job right, by the time the book is ready to print, the hero and heroine are my family. I love them.

Sometimes a character does not wait for her own book. She steals the show from the first moment she is introduced. Such a character is Allegra Alazas, the fiercely loyal cousin of Javier Altarejos, and the woman who plays his matchmaker in Under the Sugar Sun.

Escolta Manila Philippines Sugar Sun steamy historical romance series Jennifer Hallock author. Serious history. Serious sex. Happily ever after.

Sugar Sun‘s heroine Georgina Potter first meets Allegra in a store on the Escolta, in Manila. As she tells it:

Señorita Allegra was perfectly happy to keep the conversation going all on her own, just as she had done for the past half hour. They had met by chance at a dry goods store, and Georgie had not been able to shake the woman since. Allegra could not believe that any American would walk the Escolta without shopping, so Georgie now found herself unfolding a delicate slip of lace, pretending to consider it despite its prohibitive price. Even though Georgie was supposed to be getting married soon, she did not feel sentimental enough about the occasion to plunge into debt over it. This treasure was not for her.

Allegra kept talking. “I have to sew my flowers on dresses now, though Hermana Teresa will jump off the Puente de España before she believes it. Yesterday she says I will fail domestic labors class. Fail! So I say it is okay—one day I will hire her as my costurera. Do you hear nuns curse before? Very quiet, but they do.”

No doubt nuns cursed around this young woman a lot, Georgie thought. Allegra looked demure but was really quite untamed. Black, roguish eyes set off her fair, delicate skin. Her pink lips were small but curvy, as exaggerated as the outlandish words that came from them.

Allegra inspiration for Sugar Moon by Jennifer Hallock author of Sugar Sun steamy historical romance series. History ever after.

She sounds like fun, doesn’t she? Allegra—or Allie, as she will soon be known—was inspired by the lantern slide photo above. True story. It was the look on this woman’s face that won me over. I thought her story had to be written.

Sugar Moon teaser for Sugar Sun steamy historical romance series by author Jennifer Hallock. Serious history. Serious sex. Happily ever after.
Want more Sugar Moon teasers? I could not keep myself from posting these.

If I had to cast a movie version of Sugar Moon (and I am open to offers), I would love to see Maine Mendoza in the role:

You see the resemblance, don’t you? It is all about the attitude.

Well, I’d better get back to it, or else you will never get to read Allie’s story. I had to do a massive rewrite this past winter, and I’m about 40% through the Big Edit now. There are some complicating factors that make this book tough. The history is real, and I do not want to skim over that fact. (As author Elizabeth Kingston pointed out recently, colonialism needs to be critically examined, even in romance. Actually, especially in romance. I have tried to do this, and I will keep trying—which to me means not ignoring the difficult stuff.) Also, Ben has to be carefully transformed into hero material; he was not likable in the previous book. But he will be, I promise. Barring major problems, I am gunning for a September release. Fingers crossed.

NaNoWriMo to finish Sugar Moon part of the Sugar Sun steamy historical romance series. Serious history. Serious sex. Happily ever after.

Baseball teaser from Sugar Moon

In the Sugar Sun series, I have attempted to combine the authenticism of well-researched historical fiction with the emotional payoff (the feels) of romance. The more tragic the history in the book, the more important it is to lighten the mood when I can. Music cannot be made with only one note, nor even one movement. A really good read should be like hearing a whole symphony.

Ben Potter’s past is pretty dark: war, opium addiction, combat trauma, and more. So he seeks out the light: the capable but audacious school teacher, Allegra Alazas. And he will have to win her heart in the light—the sunlight, to be exact. It will be out on the baseball field where Ben wins Allie’s hand.

(Yes, I am not only taking on historical romance and historical fiction, but I am throwing in some historical sports romance, too. What bang for your reading buck!)

baseball colonial sport by Jennifer Hallock author of the Sugar Sun steamy historical romance series. Serious history. Serious sex. Happily ever after.
Baseball was a perfect metaphor for American colonial rule. Find out more.

The Americans brought baseball to the Philippines as a part of their educational system. The sport caught on. It even found its way into courtship rituals—feats of valor on the baseball field could replace them on the battlefield. Whereas medieval knights used to win jousts to earn the heart of a lady, now you just needed a good hit. According to sportswriter Ernie Harwell, “Americans, acting as muscle-bound cupids, often played simple grounders and easy outs into home runs so their Filipino friends could escape bachelorhood” (quoted in Elias 45).

history baseball Philippines for Jennifer Hallock author of Sugar Sun steamy historical romance series. Serious history. Serious sex. Happily ever after.
A Benguet Igorot boys baseball team, as photographed by Philippine Commissioner Dean C. Worcester.

Plot bunny! Keep in mind that Allie is an exceptional young woman, and she will not sell herself short. She will not require one run, but eight. And Ben won’t accept any help from the defense; he is going to do this the hard way. Hold onto your hats, folks!

Baseball Philippines sports romance steamy historical romance Sugar Sun series by author Jennifer Hallock. History ever after.

Living with a Puppy Emoji

Wile E. Dog of Jennifer Hallock author of the Sugar Sun steamy historical romance series. History ever after.

You haven’t been waiting for a puppy update? Gee, that’s too bad. You’re gonna get one.

Wile E. is doing great. She’s about 50% bigger than when we first got her, but she’s still a great size. Mr. Hallock is training her on the recall and how to sit for treats: the important things. She came to us nearly housebroken, though. We had trouble at the beginning with her destroying our power cords of all things, but with the right size chew toys, this problem has cleared up.

However, she may be a bit spoiled. This is our third spoiled dog in a row. I wonder why we always get the spoiled ones? *ahem*

This triptych of a bone steal gives you an idea of what I’m talking about. We were puppy-sitting our friends’ pooch, Shea, who is just a love bug. Notice how unhappy Wile E. (right) is with her small rawhide to start. But guess who ends up with the big bone at the end?

Wile E. Dog of Jennifer Hallock author of the Sugar Sun steamy historical romance series. History ever after.

Shea: “What happened?”
Wile E.: (muffled) “Wuf sa maffer?”

What can I say? She’s an only dog-slash-child. But, never fear, because after playing, playing, and playing, the two curled up together to nap on the dog bed. It was so cute. I hope the pictures give you all the dopamines they do me. Happy (belated) National Puppy Day!

Wile E. Dog of Jennifer Hallock author of the Sugar Sun steamy historical romance series. History ever after.

History Ever After: The Historical Romance Market

One of the components of History Ever After at IASPR in Sydney, Australia, will be a market study of online retailers and their potential influence on chronotopes. (Chronotopes are literary representations of time and space, a term coined by Mikhail Bakhtin). The heavy-lifting of my analysis is still to come, but my data has given me a better snapshot of the industry right now.

Let’s look at the only two major retailers that have subcategories of historical romance are Amazon and Barnes & Noble:

International Association for the Study of Popular Romance Sydney Think Globally Love Locally presentation by author Jennifer Hallock of Sugar Sun historical romance series. Serious history. Serious sex. History ever after.

Given how big Amazon is, I was surprised they did not have more variety in their categories. English history is relatively pinpointed: with Tudor, Regency, Scottish, and Victorian choices. But some of the other categories—Ancient World, Christian, and Medieval—are huge blocks of time. Moreover, calling something medieval (from the “middle age” between ancient and modern) is a Eurocentric view of history with potential negative connotations that do not fit other areas of the world. For example, the European “Dark Ages” were actually the height of the Islamic empires. China was pretty rocking, too. And, even in Europe, what does one do with a romance set in the Renaissance? And—side note—why aren’t there more Renaissance/Venetian romances?

The Barnes & Noble categories do add more variety, particularly some needed U.S. representation, including: Southern U.S., Native Americans, and Western and Frontier. Also, props for the Prehistoric category: Clan of the Cave Bear, baby! There are two Vikings options. One also includes pirates and sailors, taking it out of northern Europe and thus making it more inclusive. Plus there are some genre-crossing categories: Paranormal Historical, Suspense & Intrigue, and Time Travel. Still, there is not a whole lot of non-Western representation, if you really look at it.

Should these retailers re-examine their categories? I have been observing bestseller lists for over three months now to learn what is selling in the largest quantities. Truthfully, historical romance does not hit the trade lists very often. Contemporary (both adult and young/new adult) and romantic suspense are the biggest sellers. In the first quarter of 2018, only one book—Lisa Kleypas’s Hello Stranger—made the New York Times list.

International Association for the Study of Popular Romance Sydney Think Globally Love Locally presentation by author Jennifer Hallock of Sugar Sun historical romance series. Serious history. Serious sex. History ever after.

For those historicals that do make the retailers’ charts, they do so more often on Barnes & Noble than Amazon. This does not mean that B&N sells more overall, but a higher proportion of what they sell are historicals. By the way, those historicals are about a half as likely to include the words duke or duchess in the title if charting on B&N’s top 20 Regencies than in Amazon’s top 20 Regencies.

International Association for the Study of Popular Romance Sydney Think Globally Love Locally presentation by author Jennifer Hallock of Sugar Sun historical romance series. Serious history. Serious sex. History ever after.

Most bestsellers—no matter which list they are on—are Anglocentric. In the first quarter of 2018, 46% were Regencies, 23% were Scottish (any time period), 18% were Victorian, 5% were Georgian, and 2% were English medievals.

International Association for the Study of Popular Romance Sydney Think Globally Love Locally presentation by author Jennifer Hallock of Sugar Sun historical romance series. Serious history. Serious sex. History ever after.

Note that some books listed across two categories, such as Victorian and Scottish, and they were counted in both. Also note that the “Twentieth Century” category is inflated by the appearance of a book entitled White Rose, Black Forest. This romance of a German dissenter and Allied spy during WWII was published by Amazon’s own imprint (Lake Union). Amazon gave it away as a Kindle First read, which means any Amazon Prime member could have downloaded it in the month of February (but it technically wasn’t free). Great for that author, but not so realistic a picture of twentieth-century romance’s market share.

I have also noticed that Amazon stats are heavily impacted by paid newsletter services, like BookBub. I am starting to compile some statistics on just how much. (Stay tuned.)

What about award winners? Looking at 2018 RITA nominees, Regency and Scottish romance are even more heavily represented. Only two historicals on the entire list were not one or both of these categories:

International Association for the Study of Popular Romance Sydney Think Globally Love Locally presentation by author Jennifer Hallock of Sugar Sun historical romance series. Serious history. Serious sex. History ever after.

All nominees receive that recognition because they have written a great book, which took a lot of hard work. I will be looking at the last few years of historical winners to see if 2018 was an aberration, but certainly we can say that—paired with the market data—it is a reflection of reader preferences (and, in this case, author preferences, since authors were the judges).

In the end, what do readers want? They want it all. Here’s a wishlist of sorts from the survey I conducted in February 2018:

International Association for the Study of Popular Romance Sydney Think Globally Love Locally presentation by author Jennifer Hallock of Sugar Sun historical romance series. Serious history. Serious sex. History ever after.

The best sellers may be the most traditional time periods, but there are readers out there for everybody. Or, at least, that is how I choose to see it.

 

Negligées in the Morning: Army Life in 1901

I just revised my Sugar Moon flashback scenes from Balangiga, a horrible incident that Ben Potter barely survived. While I was doing that, I went down a teensy-weensy research rabbit hole. Again.

I wanted to know what a typical morning looked like in the Army in 1901. That’s sort of tough because the Spanish-American War and Philippine-American War were not written about nearly as much as, for example, the Civil War or the Great War. But Google Books and the Rural New Yorker to the rescue! I found out from the (incompletely excerpted) article below that there was an awful lot of bugling:

Army Balangiga Samar Ninth Infantry survivor in war of Philippines and America in Gilded Age by Jennifer Hallock author of Sugar Sun steamy historical romance series. History ever after.

If you have gone to summer camp, you know what reveille sounds like:

Army Balangiga Samar Ninth Infantry survivor in war of Philippines and America in Gilded Age by Jennifer Hallock author of Sugar Sun steamy historical romance series. History ever after.

What about the others? The twenty-first century U.S. Army came to the rescue here. The day of a soldier has not changed much in 120 years, it seems.

Here is the tune to assemble for roll call:

Army Balangiga Samar Ninth Infantry survivor in war of Philippines and America in Gilded Age by Jennifer Hallock author of Sugar Sun steamy historical romance series. History ever after.

After attendance is taken, soldiers were led through basic calisthenics. What did that look like in 1901? Thanks to the Manual of Physical Drill by the U.S. Army (1900), I know it went something like this:

Army Balangiga Samar Ninth Infantry survivor in war of Philippines and America in Gilded Age by Jennifer Hallock author of Sugar Sun steamy historical romance series. History ever after.

I find it fascinating that the manual states to: “Never work the men to the point of exhaustion.” I think my active duty and veteran friends would laugh heartily at that one. And I think we all would find something to be desired in the instructions for how to dress for exercise:

Army Balangiga Samar Ninth Infantry survivor in war of Philippines and America in Gilded Age by Jennifer Hallock author of Sugar Sun steamy historical romance series. History ever after.

Negligée? I have all sorts of images in my head there. All. Sorts.

And I do not think any of us are going to exchange our moisture-wicking nylon for flannel. Egad.

After the exercises were over, the mess call would be blown:

Army Balangiga Samar Ninth Infantry survivor in war of Philippines and America in Gilded Age by Jennifer Hallock author of Sugar Sun steamy historical romance series. History ever after.

What happened after that? Well, you will have to wait for Sugar Moon to find out! (Or head on over to my Balangiga page for some serious spoilers. Hint: It doesn’t go well.)