Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Do you read Historicals?

I was having an interesting conversation the other day about historical fiction, and I was genuinely surprised when I was told by a friend that she didn't read it. 

As a history nerd, I was SHOCKED. I blame my love of history on not have a television for a period as a child, which led to looking to alternate sources for stories. That, and a mother who loved history even though she failed it miserably at school. (Hi, Mum!) Because it occurred to me at a very early age that history, literally, is EVERY STORY IN THE WORLD EVER. And how is that not awesome? 

But my friend told me that she finds it difficult to invest emotionally in historical fiction, since the protagonists -- had they lived -- would already be dead now. Which I can kind of understand, but also I can't. Because If I only stuck to stories that might be real and happening now, wouldn't that restrict me to contemporary, realistic fiction? And if I did that, wouldn't I be missing out on a lot of great fiction? 

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I love history, so I'm completely biased on the subject. I"m also currently writing another historical, so yeah, I've got a horse in this race.

I love when the world-building in historical fiction is vivid, and I love when the writer gets the details right. On the flip side, I HATE it when they get it wrong. I read an m/m historical recently where there was a very big Public Display of Affection, and it threw me out of the story straight away. Because no way, just no fucking way, would two men kiss and grope each other in public in the middle of the day in Victorian London. Just no. 

You're writing history, not rewriting it. Just...just don't. 

Of course if happened. The proof is all over Victorian Gentlemen in Love. But it happened in private, it happened underground, and these men must have lived in constant fear of discovery. Let's not diminish that by jemmying in PDAs that couldn't have happened. 

Wow. That turned into a slight rant, didn't it? So let's get back to the point: Do you read historical fiction, or does it just not work for you? Whatever your answer, I'd love to know your reasons. 

14 comments:

  1. Historical romance used to be all I read--I fell out of the habit when I began writing contemporary. Now that's pretty much all I read. But I agree that historical accuracy is so important. I love Mary Balogh's regency-set stories and also the historical romances of Madeline Hunter.

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    1. I fell out of love with regency romances when I read an awful Harlequin one as a teenager, although my mother still reads them. It's probably about time I tried them out again. Thanks for the recs!

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  2. I love a well written historical, but there's not a lot in my favourite period, sadly. (That being the late Byzantine Empire). So, I wrote one. That short story did quite well, and I wasn't ready to let the characters go, so I wrote a novel length sequel that... became HUGE. I keep describing it as my twelfth century road movie book, along the Silk Road, from Constantinople to Hangzhou.

    I really, really wish there was more fiction set in Byzantium or about Byzantines. I'll take any part/period of the empire, so desperate am I to read books set then.

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    1. I don't know too much about the late Byzantine Empire, but Istanbul is one of my most favourite places on Earth. I could live there, absolutely! Just a fantastic city!

      When I was in primary school, I read the most wonderful picture book about it. All I really remember now is the changing skyline as it went through the ages from Constantinople to Byzantium to Istanbul -- which is a shame, because if I could remember the title I would buy a copy. I think it was that book that made me want to go to Istanbul.

      I love that you're so passionate about your favourite period in history. Sometimes it's like being in an exclusive club, isn't it? :) A few weeks ago our local paper ran a story about the recently uncovered WWII cell block built by the Americans to house their jailed soldiers, and I was indignant it wasn't front page news! And then I remembered not everyone is history mad...

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    2. Istanbul is such a beautiful city. I think the Hagia Sophia is one of the most stunning buildings ever constructed, even if I can never remember how to spell it right. The show "Cities of the Underworld" did an episode on what's underneath Istanbul and I swear, my gleeful squee was seconded only by the presenter, who was thrilled to have found a chunk of Constantine's original circus... now under a school!

      That picture book sounds awesome. I love stuff like that, seeing how places have changed and grown or shrunk over time. Urban exploration and abandoned places are awesome for that, too.

      It really does feel like an exclusive club sometimes! That's so true. That cell block sounds fascinating, what city is that in, if you don't mind sharing?

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    3. Hi LJ! I live in Townsville, north Queensland. It was a town of about 30 000 people before WWII. The population swelled to about 300 000 during, mostly American servicemen, as it was a base of operations for the war in the Pacific. And given our temperatures in summer, locking a bunch of men in a concrete box would have been very close to torture.

      I also loved the Hagia Sophia, and Topkapi Palace, and everything else! But the Basilica Cistern was like magic! And of course visiting Istanbul is fantastic for the food alone :)

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    4. Another Aussie! Yay! I live in Adelaide.

      Wow, yeah, that would've been hell in summer. How awful.

      Oh man, the Basilica Cistern is on my list of 'must see' places, too. I bet it was awesome.

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    5. I loved the Basilica Cistern -- so beautiful and atmospheric. I can't wait to go back to Istanbul. Such a wonderful city.

      Adelaide is beautiful too :)

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    6. Was it very expensive there? For food and general things? I'm sure the touristy souvenirs are pricey, but that goes with all the places.

      It is! Though it's pretty brown right now. I'm looking forward to winter.

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    7. In Istanbul we stayed at a place called The Mavi Guesthouse in Sultanahmet, which was literally just around the corner from Topkapi Palace. It was a cheap backpacker hostel, but very friendly!

      Turkey was actually very cheap when we went, but that was about 10 years ago now. I'm not sure if it's changed or not. And just a fantastic place to visit. I would live in Istanbul in a heartbeat :)

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  3. I like reading historicals, but in most cases I probably wouldn't know if they had the details right. I love history, but am a bit of a mess when it comes to keeping it straight. I took a Uses of History class last semester that encouraged us to rewrite history. Look what my education is doing to me!

    So, um, be nice to me when I make you check my Victorian thing for historical inaccuracies. It's gonna be scary. But you said the pterodactyls were fine, right?

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    1. As long as the pterodactyls are wearing top hats and frock coats, that should be fine :)

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  4. The thing that I love or hate in historical novels is not so much the physical details, but how well or poorly the writer seems to understand the psychology and social dynamics of the period or culture. There is nothing worse than a 12th century European troubadour thinking and acting like a 21st century American. And what really sucks is when the the story has been written to somehow vindicate that this is the "right" way for him to think and behave. It's so infuriatingly ethnocentric.

    On the other hand, a writer who can make me see that troubadour's world empathetically and believably through the lens of his culture and experience-now that's a book I want to read. And will probably read over and over again. Especially if it's romance or erotica. There is nothing more fascinating than cultural variations of how people engage and experience intimacy. I think it's one of the hardest things to write well, but those who can do it have my undying admiration.

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    1. There is nothing worse than a 12th century European troubadour thinking and acting like a 21st century American.

      Exactly! Give me warts and all history, thanks.

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