What’s up this summer?

Jennifer-Hallock-Summer-2019-appearance-list

Author Appearances:

I have a new event! Come out to see Karen Coulters and I bring romance to the Weare Public Library. Whether you like historical stories or modern ones, distant settings or close ones, Karen and I have the book for you. Click on the image below to go to the Facebook event page. Come see us and meet the others of the Weare Area Writers Guild, including librarian and children’s adventure author Michael Sullivan.

Romance-at-the-Library-Weare-Facebook-event

Presentations:

This may be the last time I will be giving these three talks, so please come on out if you can:

NECRWA-May-19-History-Ever-AfterOver 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. Read more here.

New England Chapter RWA: May 19, 2019 from 1-3 pm ($5 visitors fee)


Schoolbenches-Trenches-Historical-Novel-Society-North-AmericaLiberate and uplift? Or conquer and oppress? The revolutionaries of the eighteenth century became the redcoats of the twentieth, fighting a war to seize the Philippines (1899-1913) as the first step toward overseas empire. Enter the American Century, complete with debates over transpacific trade, immigration, Muslim separatists, and national security—all issues that resonate for the modern reader. Historian, teacher, and author Jennifer Hallock will explain why the U.S. colonized the Philippines, how this experience still shapes both countries now, and how it creates engaging American historical fiction. Read more of the history behind the Sugar Sun series here.

Historical Novel Society North America: Friday, June 21, 2019 from 8-9 am (registration required)


RWA-Conference-History-Games

True stories inspire the best fiction. Let history help you find the usual, precocious, and maybe even dangerous heroes and heroines you need! A veteran teacher and researcher will show you how to exploit free sources online: memoirs, newspapers, magazines, advertisements, maps, photographs, clothing, artifacts, videos, and more. This workshop’s emphasis will be on historical research, especially the Regency through the Roaring Twenties, but it will include practical tips and tricks for all authors. Read more here.

RWA National Conference, Friday, July 26, 2019, from 9:45-10:45 am (registration required)

Why you should register for #NECRWA19

Sharing a table with friends Teresa Noelle Roberts and Kristen Strassel at NECRWA16.

NECRWA 2013 in Burlington, Massachusetts, was the first romance writing conference I ever attended, and I will not lie: it was scary at first. I really did not have any friends yet, I was new to the industry, and I had to learn some difficult truths—primarily that the Big Five were not interested in historical romance set in the Gilded Age Philippines. At all. No matter how much they liked my writing, either, as one agent and one editor told me after marking up my pages. Would I be interested in writing a Regency duke for them?

(They were accurately representing the dominant historical chronotope in bestselling romance. I am not defending it, but I have come to grips with the fact that my heartfelt debut story of Georgina and Javier will never be sold in Walmart.)

And yet I have come to realize that meeting with an editor or agent is a great way to get a pulse on the market. I no longer pin my hopes and dreams on traditional publication, and yet I still take advantage of traditional A&E appointments. I put together genuine pitches for what I hope to work on next, and I get ten minutes of helpful feedback. If the agent or editor wants to see a partial or full, I absolutely follow through to see where it goes. Take your ten minutes! And check out who’s coming this year:

Agent-and-editor-NECRWA-2019

(For total transparency’s sake: I am the 2019 Agent and Editor chair of the conference. You’ve been warned.)

But back to my 2013 story: do you know who got me through my initial tearful disappointment? The wonderful friends I made at #NECRWA13! Many of them had never met me before that day, but they sat with me and helped to soften the blow when the very real anvil of publishing flattened me on the pavement. In my six years of conference going, my conclusion has not changed: NECRWA is one of the friendliest regional conferences around.

NECRWA has also become more inclusive, especially in the last three years—whether inclusion means indie versus trad writers, smaller subgenres, or diverse fiction and specifically #ownvoices. Check out the workshops below:

NECRWA-2019-workshops

Finally, we have a banging book event. It’s called the T.G.I.For Literacy Book Signing, and for the low, low price of $20 per author, half of which goes to a literacy charity, you can join too! It is free to the public, and there is no book fair with a longer table of gift baskets. At least, I don’t think so. I was the emcee for this event last year, and I think we had over 60. Sixty baskets. That’s a lot of free books.

NECRWA-2019-Book-Fair

Are you sold yet? You should be! Please come join us next month. Find the registration links on the NECRWA homepage. And come introduce yourself to me in person—I’ll be one of the conference committee wearing a tiara. (Haha, if you know me, you know how funny that is. I coach American football FFS.)

Upcoming Workshops: Spring/Summer 2019

I am so pleased to be offering a smattering of workshops all over the East Coast this year. Here they are, with descriptions:

history-ever-after-historical-romance-chronotope

First, I will be reprising my study of historical romance at the New England Chapter of Romance Writers of America on May 19, 2019:

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.

I originally gave this talk at IASPR 2018 in Sydney, Australia. I will expand my comments a bit because I have more time, and I will answer any questions the NECRWA folks have. Guests are welcome (for a nominal $5 fee to the chapter).


My other speaking engagements this summer will be more focused on history itself and historical research:

Schoolbenches-Trenches-Historical-Novel-Society

On Friday, June 21, 2019, bright and early at 8am (!), I will be presenting at the Historical Novel Society North America conference. My talk is entitled, “Schoolbenches and Trenches: The Philippine-American War Setting”:

Liberate and uplift? Or conquer and oppress? The revolutionaries of the eighteenth century became the redcoats of the twentieth, fighting a war to seize the Philippines (1899-1913) as the first step toward overseas empire. Enter the American Century, complete with debates over transpacific trade, immigration, Muslim separatists, and national security—all issues that resonate for the modern reader. Historian, teacher, and author Jennifer Hallock will explain why the U.S. colonized the Philippines, how this experience still shapes both countries now, and how it creates engaging American historical fiction.

I have given this talk to libraries and school groups in both the United States and the Philippines. Here’s an interesting twist: my Manila audience knew they had been an American colony—putting them ahead of far too many Americans!—but they had not been taught about the Philippine-American War itself or many of the controversial policies the Americans used to pacify the islands. If you want to know more, check out my history posts on this website.


History-Games-Research-Workshop-RWA

Finally, I will be a part of two workshops at the Romance Writers of America national conference in New York City, this 24-27 July 2019. In addition to being invited to take part in a Gilded Age panel (more on this to come!), I will be giving my own researching workshop:

How do you write authentic characters who are nothing like you? Through lots of research, of course. But beware—flat descriptions from encyclopedias won’t cut it because they reflect only the most common experience. The best characters are the outliers: the unusual, precocious, and maybe even dangerous heroes and heroines. Learn how to find inspiration from free sources online, such as books, memoirs, documents, newspapers, magazines, advertisements, maps, photographs, clothing, artifacts, personal papers, and videos. Though this workshop’s emphasis will be on historical research, especially the 18th through early 20th centuries, it will include tips and tricks for all authors. Just like the Hunger Games series used allusions from ancient Greece to Vietnam, true stories inspire the best fiction, no matter what genre.


I hope to see you this year at one of these conferences or workshops. If you would like me to bring one of these closer to you, please contact me at jen at jennifer hallock dot com. And happy writing!

Jennifer-Hallock-2019-Workshops

History Ever After: Fabricated Historical Chronotopes in Romance Genre Fiction

I was honored to be able to present my research and ideas about the fabricated historical chronotopes in romance genre fiction at the 2018 IASPR conference in Sydney, Australia. My talk, broken into two pieces, can be found below:

history-ever-after-historical-romance-chronotope

Part one looks at how the bestsellers in historical romance are disproportionately: (1) set in Great Britain; (2) overpopulated with nobles; and (3) selective in their historical accuracy.

history-ever-after-historical-romance-chronotope
Part two looks at how the aggregate impact of these chronotopes can be harmful to our understanding of history, to the romance market as a whole, and particularly to authors of diverse books.

You can also download a flyer with some of my charts and my bibliography by clicking on this image:

history-ever-after-historical-romance-chronotope

 

Finally, here is a place where you can help me crowdsource books that fall outside this popular fabricated chronotope:

historical-romance-chronotope-original-list

Thank you for reading!

History Ever After, Part I: The Fabricated Chronotopes

fabricated-chronotope-historical-romance-bestseller

Diversity of geography, time period, and representation exists in historical romance novels, both traditionally and independently published. However, mainstream bestsellers are disproportionately: (1) set in Great Britain; (2) overpopulated with nobles; and (3) selective in their historical accuracy. These three criteria define the most popular chronotopes.

Before we break down these three observations, it’s definition time. The Literary Encyclopedia says that a chronotope is: “A term taken over by Mikhail Bakhtin from 1920s science to describe the manner in which literature represents time and space.” I am adding geography and ethnicity to this construct. Therefore, this study examines historic, geographic, racial, and ethnic diversity within English-language romance sold in the United States and written at least fifty years after the events described.

the British setting

historical-romance-bestseller-charts

I began with bestseller data for the last six months, relying first upon Romance Writers of America to identify the bestselling books by member authors and then doing my own investigation to determine whether these romances were historicals. This past April at the New England Chapter of RWA’s annual conference, Cat Clyne, editor at Sourcebooks, called the historical market “soft.” And this is partly true: in conventional print bestseller lists, historical romances by RWA-member authors are at most 11% of bestselling romances. They have the largest market share on the Barnes & Nobles Top 20, but in total sales that may not be much. As we will see later, the role of historical romance has a larger impact than sales on the overall romance industry.

bestselling-historical-romance-setting

But let’s look at these 2018 bestsellers: 4/5th of them are set in one of only two periods: (1) 19th century England and (2) Scotland, in any period. Regency romance is almost half of the industry. The Regency, when Prince George ruled in proxy for his incapacitated father, George III, lasted only from 1811-1820. However, the era’s “style” may extend a decade or two on either side. Queen Victoria ascended to the throne in 1837, a date that should be the firm beginning of the Victorian age. Publishers still play with this date, though, depending on how they want to market a book. For example, Devil in Winter by Lisa Kleypas—a book that earned the title of #1 romance of all time in the All About Romance readership poll—is marketed as Regency, even though it is set in 1843. (More on this poll below.)

reader-favorite-time-periods-historical-romance

The obsession with the Regency is backed up by my own survey in February and March 2018 of 336 self-identified historical romance readers. Respondents could choose more than one favorite, and over 90% of them chose Regency, with Victorian romance following closely behind at over 70%. More revealing, actually, is the fact that when asked if there were more periods that they would like to see used in romance, 25% said no. They are perfectly sated by the dominant chronotopes that exist. (However, 8% would like to see anything non-Western, a statistically-significant number because this was a write-in response chosen independently by 27 readers.)

new-time-periods-historical-romance

Critical reception follows the 19th-century British trend. All About Romance periodically identifies the top 100 romances of all time through a readership poll, and though this survey process was problematic from a social science standpoint, they do provide us with a current read on a longer-term market. Of their ranked top ten, six out of ten are historical, which skews high as compared to current sales data. Five out of these six are set in the 19th century. (The other is a time-travel Scottish romance. Ahem, Outlander.)

AAR-top-ten-romance-poll-historical

The British Peerage

AAR-top-ten-romance-peerage

Another characteristic illustrated by the AAR poll is the obsession with the British peerage: five out of six historicals dealt with peers or lords and their heirs. Only KJ Charles has a relatively elite gentleman without a family title. Moreover, her book breaks class and sexuality assumptions that exist within the chronotope. This proves that alternatives do exist, and they do garner critical and reader attention—but note that this book is still not available in paperback and therefore will have a hard time making the conventional bestseller lists. And keep in mind that this is the only one of six that broke the mold.

RITA-2018-duke-regency-chronotope

The 2018 RITA finalists showed a similar result: out of the seventeen finalists in historical categories, including historical novellas, 71% were set in the Regency and 24% were set in Scotland (with some overlap between those two). That is a total of 88% set in these two chronotopes. Note that 35% of these finalists have duke or duchess in the title—not in the book, but in the title.

peerage-book-titles-historical-romance

Neither the AAR poll or the RITAs are outliers: in the past six months, over one-third of the top 20 Regency and Victorian romances on Amazon’s bestseller lists have included either duke or duchess in their titles. If you extend that count to marquess and earl, the numbers jump to one half. In my industry producer survey, one author called this the 10,000 dukes problem.

dukes-everywhere-historical-romance

Several other authors reported that they had been asked to change the settings of their novels to Regency, and often specifically to dukes. One wrote: “Hero had to be a duke (again) to improve marketability. This is ridiculous. There were at most a couple dozen dukes running around Regency London at once, and they were not all tall, dark, grouchy, and in want of female companionship. Try telling my trad house editor that.”

real-duke-list-1815

This author was on the money: there were 24 non-princely dukes in 1815, out of a British population of 19.2 million. These dukes averaged over 50 years of age, and if you have ever seen The Supersizers Go “Regency,” which is recapped at Just Hungry, the period diet would not quite leave one with chiseled abs. You may remember the era of baron romances, so where did all this peerage inflation come from?

security-blanket-duke-romance

Mary Lynne Nielsen suggested this may be a symptom of rising wealth inequality in the US. The appeal is not just the power that comes with money, but the perceived security that this money brings. It is a similar phenomenon to billionaire books in contemporary romance, though it is easier to run into an American billionaire today (1:598,889) than a Regency duke in Britain (1:800,000).

duke-billionaire-romance

Despite the fact that Pride and Prejudice earned the 5th place spot on AAR‘s survey, Jane Austen is not really to blame for this duke obsession. First, while some claim their love for the historical romance genre stems from Austen’s work, she wrote contemporary novels. Some would argue, moreover, that these are comedies of manners with romantic elements rather than romance genre books. But, most importantly for our peerage discussion, Austen only mentioned one duke in the most passing of ways, according to the Jane Austen Wikia. Fitzwilliam Darcy was the nephew of an earl, the closest Austen ever comes to a peer hero.

jane-austen-non-peerage-historical-chronotope

Georgette Heyer, on the other hand, was much more interested in peers, especially in her Regency novels. 43% of Heyer books have duke, marquess, or earl (or their issue) as heroes; and if you consider all peerage ranks (down to baron), 68% of Heyer’s heroes are peers or their issue. According to Laura Vivanco, the bestselling authors who shaped the modern standard of Regency—including Stephanie Laurens, Mary Balogh, and Mary Jo Putney—cite Heyer as their inspiration. Everyone claims to love Austen still, but do we love a Heyer-istic or chronotope remake of what we expect Austen to be, possibly based on our film and television adaptations of her work?

Georgette-Heyer-peerage-heros

Historical Selectivity

Let’s look more deeply at our Regency heroes and where they got their wealth. One author in my survey commented:

For bigger picture things, I hate that there’s so little acknowledgement in historical British-set stories where wealth comes from. They might have a throwaway line about ‘sugar’ or ‘land in Jamaica’ or ‘sent to India to make his fortune,’ but there’s absolutely no acknowledgement that this wealth is built on the backs of slaves or violent oppression. I don’t want every historical I read to be a history lesson on the evils of slavery but this refusal to even nod to the realities of historical fact completely erases entire continents and populations from their place in history.

For all the reasons mentioned above, it is unfair to pick on Mr. Darcy—except for the fact that Jane Austen gave us a figure: £10,000 a year. This may have been an exaggeration, but it is a number to start with. How much does this mean in modern terms? Well, it depends on how you measure the purchasing power of the money, but it could be a princely sum. Where did he get this money? Tenant farmers? Coal mines? Sugar trade in the Indies? Why don’t we ask?

jane-austen-darcy-worth-source

The chronotope is selectively inaccurate when realism endangers the happily-ever-after. Can you have a happily-ever-after with a slaveowner? (Yes, there was a 2015 RITA finalist with a Nazi concentration camp commandant, but I do not accept this story as romance because of the inability to consent in such a situation. I borrowed the book from the library to try to read it and could not get past the descriptions on pages 11-13 of their first meeting when she, knowing of the medical experiments the Nazis were performing, and afraid the hero was here to collect her to use in those experiments, still manages to swoon over his squared jaw and vibrant green eyes. Or maybe that wasn’t a swoon, but just her malnutrition. Ugh.)

doorknob-regency-accuracy

The popular chronotope of 19th century Britain avoids such issues by erasing these uncomfortable aspects of history from the story. And yet the authors I surveyed claimed that accuracy was extremely important to them, and in impressively specific ways. For example, when was the doorknob invented? Ella Quinn will tell you that it was not until June 8, 1878, that Osbourn Dorsey filed the patent for a turning doorknob. There were no doorknobs in the Regency. Some readers who are sticklers will pan a book for a doorknob, waltzing before the scandalous dance was introduced, decorating a German-style Christmas tree in Regency England, or using peerage titles incorrectly.

syphilis-hero-rake-regency

And yet no hero has syphilis. Of course not because it is a reality that does not fit the romance genre requirements. There can be no HEA with syphilis. Until penicillin was widely introduced in the 1940s, the recovery rate was 1%. After a latency period (3-15 years), the disease caused seizures, internal bleeding, physical deformations, loss of motor functions, organ failure, dementia, aneurysm, and death. We know that taming the Regency rake is a common trope—and where does one become a rake other than with a mistress, or at a gaming club, or brothel, where it had to be easy to contract syphilis through sexual contact. Honestly, though, it was easy to contract syphilis anywhere: between 8 and 15% of the general population was infected with this disease in the 19th & early 20th centuries. And because of the latency stage, you often did not know you had it. Doctors would often not tell their patients that they had syphilis, nor would they tell a man’s wife about his diagnosis, even though he was 92% likely to give it to her within the first year.

syphilis-by-class

And being wealthy or a duke did not protect you from this scourge. In fact, you were more likely to die from the disease than your textile workers, coal miners, or tenant farmers. Being young didn’t help either: based on records of Chester, England, 8% of our heroes should be contracting syphilis before age 35. But they don’t, and this is why the Regency chronotope works.

Advantages of the Regency Chronotope

Let’s stop talking about syphilis. Let’s be historically selective for the purposes of a happily-ever-after, character-driven story: this is “escapism.” One blogger called this chronotope a “Never-Neverland mash-up that’s been dubbed ‘The Recency’ or ‘Almackistan.’” I have also heard it called a “wallpaper historical,” a ”costume drama,” or a “Disney Regency.” It is a cleaner, safer, prettier, better-smelling, and happier world than the real Regency ever was.

regency-world-historical-chronotope-romance

Best of all, there are low barriers to entry, for both readers and authors. A reader can jump into a new duke Regency as easily as an episode of a favorite television program. It takes only a little marginal effort to start a new book, or a new author, or a new series. Because the history and rules are already known before the reading begins, the author can dive right into character development. The key research for the author is reading more of the same. One author, Maggie Mackeever, advised prospective authors to ”Immerse [themselves] in Georgette Heyer” and to “Read until [they] have the era fixed clearly in [their] head[s].” In other words, Regency dukes are commodities. We can buy and sell them easily on the free market—in novel form, of course.

Where is the harm in this? A good book is a good book, right? In moderation and with an audience who understands how this world has been fabricated, any reader can enjoy a Regency duke story. No single book, author, publisher, or reader is wrong. Read it all! But there are problems, in the aggregate. To find out what the are, read part two of History Ever After.

(To go back to the History Ever After content page and find the handout flyer, click here.)