Love is global. One gift my writing has brought me is a connection with several awesome Australian reviewers, including Kat Mayo at Book Thingo and Dani St. Clair at Romancing the Social Sciences. (Check out these two awesome sites!)
I missed Kat at #RT16, but she told me about a different kind of romance conference that was happening in Sydney in June 2018: the International Association for the Study of Popular Romance’s “Think Globally, Love Locally?”
But, whoa, academia. I chose to stop after my master’s degree and teach high school instead of university so that I could avoid the pressures of “publish or perish.” (And publish what I wanted to publish, i.e. romance.) But this conference! This looked cool, and I applied. Lo and behold, they accepted my presentation, “History Ever After: Fabricated Historical Chronotopes in Romance Genre Fiction.” Now I have to put it together.
Here is the gist of my investigation:
Over eighty percent of bestselling historical romance books published in the first half of 2018 were set in Britain, either during the 19th century or the medieval period. These two fabricated chronotopes are selectively accurate to history and narrowly focused on high ranks of the nobility—in other words, they are “escapism.” This presentation will consider what escapism means in this context, who it serves, and who it harms. While any reader can enjoy a good duke Regency every once in a while, the net impact of the most popular chronotopes may be to corrode our understanding of history, marginalize anyone writing from a wider palette of settings and characters, and exclude authors of color.
Just warning you, I am probably going to pick your brain in this process. I might be making a survey. I certainly will be talking to as many people as possible.
I especially need to crowd-source some book recommendations. If you know of historical romance books that may be of interest to this project, please add them to one of these two Goodreads lists:
For books outside of 19th century England (Regency/Victorian), Scotland, and the American West, click here.
For books (in any historical time period) that include political, military, or socio-economic conflict or complexity, click here.
Thank you for your help! You’ll be hearing from me.
[Background image of girl in white shirt by Jerzy Gorecki, used with permission under the Creative Commons CC0 Universal Public Domain Dedication 1.0 license. Image of the Sydney Opera House by J. W. C. Adam, used with permission under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.5 Generic license.]
Do you notice how sometimes there are events that pull all the random brush strokes of your life into one cohesive painting? I felt like that this weekend. Thread number one: my historical romance novels were available for purchase in person for the first time at the Book Signing for Massachusetts Literacy Foundation, a part of the Let Your Imagination Take Flight Conference of the New England Chapter of RWA. (Edited to add: I sold out of my copies of Under the Sugar Sun! Hooray!) With me were two of my very first NECRWA friends, Kristen Strassel (@KristenStrassel) and Teresa Noelle Roberts (@TeresNoeRoberts) (see photo above: Kristen is in the middle and Teresa on the left).
Kristen and I joined NECRWA the same exact month, and though she has out-published me by a factor of at least thirteen, she has always been the most supportive, most helpful friend-slash-mentor a gal could have. While I hemmed and hawed, she ventured into the indie publishing world with gusto, starting with a delightful rock star vampire romance called Because the Night. Now she also writes about shifters, reality tv stars, country music stars, and more. She’s unstoppable. And Teresa won’t toot her own horn, but she is one of the best at characterization I’ve read, especially with her science fiction (kinky) romances. Despite whole new worlds, strange-looking creatures, and some odd names, the reader is never in doubt about who is who because everyone is just SO THEM. Try Thrill Kinky (Chronicles of the Malcolm, Book 1) to see what I mean.
If these authors are new to you, take a look through their booklists and pick the first thing that grabs you. It will not disappoint. Their work is fresh and full of great characterizations—and feels!—but they are not as beholden to the same formulaic pattern seen in so many American romances. Some play with story structure, like the parallel universes in Carla de Guzman’s Cities or the flashback structure of Mina V. Esguerra’s My Imaginary Ex. Or they toy with global settings, like Bianca Mori’s One Night at the Palace Hotel or (again) Cities. Yet no matter how innovative, they get you in the gut every time.
Thread number three: here with me at this NECRWA conference was my high school classmate Joanna Shupe (@JoannaShupe)! I even got to moderate her workshop on “Dirty Deeds Done Right: Take Your Sex Scenes to the Next Level,” which was fabulous. She is funny as all get out. How two suburban girls from Ohio ended up on the East Coast writing historical romance set around the same time, I’ll never know. Maybe it was fate. Joanna’s new Knickerbocker Club series starts in 1888, only a decade before Americans arrived in Manila Bay. (And if you think the rise of New York’s Gilded Age elite is unrelated to America’s grab for empire, you would be wrong. It’s the economy, stupid.) The first full-length novel of her series is out this week: Magnate. Get it! I love a man who rolls up his sleeves and gets to work. Or takes his whole shirt off. That works, too.
Thread number four: I like sports. You might know that. I coach football in the day job, I run marathons (well, half-marathons these days), and I have a weakness for sports heroes after dating a baseball player in high school. It just so happens that my other great NECRWA friend Jen Doyle (@jendoyleink) has just written a wonderful, fun, and sexy contemporary baseball romance: Calling It. It’s smart and snappy, so pick it up! And we’re going to the Red Sox game tomorrow night—my first time at Fenway! We had seats close enough to oogle the catcher’s butt, which you will understand when you read Calling It. And, as Jen said, say what you want about ARod, but the man has some nice thighs. Oh, and I enjoyed the game, too. Yep, the game. That was what it was all about…
Thanks to the NECRWA folks who made this weekend possible, and thank you to the great workshop leaders I saw in action, especially the always informative and entertaining Penny Watson (@PennyRomance), the master of the novella. [Holding wine glass.] This one’s for you!
In short, it’s been an awesome weekend. This is living. #MabuhayLove!
*Mabuhay means “long live” and “welcome” in Filipino.
The best thing to come out of writing my Sugar Sun series—other than getting these characters out of my head and onto the page—has been connecting with the #romanceclass community. This is a group of Filipino contemporary, new adult, and young adult authors brought together by the indie publishing pioneer, Mina V. Esguerra (@minavesguerra).
When I first picked up the December 2015 issue of Romance Writers Report, it hit me right in the face: “Romancing the Globe: Filipino Romance,” by Alyssa Cole (@AlyssaColeLit). Cole profiled four authors: Esguerra, Marian Tee (@authormariantee), Ines Bautista-Yao (@Inesbyao), and Bianca Mori (@thebiancamori). I cold-called all of them (or “cold-Facebooked”…whatever), and they were soooo nice. They spread the word in their very well-connected web of writers and readers and, all of a sudden, I had a network of people who understood why I was so obsessed with a Filipino sugar baron and an American schoolmarm. (And a priest, too, but he’s book three. That apple will take some time to fall from the tree.) I also developed a very long TBR pile, at which I am still chipping away.
Just because these writers are nice, though, don’t underestimate their ability to get things done. Just as five women founded RWA in 1979, so Esguerra created #romanceclass in 2013. Eleven of her first 100 students published full-length novels. Soon #romanceclass grew into a lifestyle. The group now puts together classes, publishing support, podcasts and videos, book fairs, book launches, live performances, a stock photo service, meet-ups (last Sunday was April Feels Day), book signings, poetry readings, and so much more. Mina has even organized a full scholarship for 12 students at the Philippine Normal University! (She meant to sponsor two, but generosity from the larger #romanceclass community rounded that number up to a full dozen.) In the midst of organizing all this, Mina manages to write, as well. I’m not sure how, but here’s a Dear Author review to prove it.
With American readers clamoring for more diverse reads, I wanted to spread the reach of these talented writers. For some, their primary market is already in the United States, but you may have missed a few of the others. And, if so, you are missing out. To prove that, with the generosity of #romanceclass authors, I’ve assembled a Mabuhay Love basket giveaway at the New England Chapter of RWA’s Let Your Imagination Take Flight Conference next week! That’s April 29-30, 2016, at the Boston Marriott, in Burlington, Massachusetts.