Rantworthy

Thursday, July 13, 2006

Over on AAR, the latest BackFence is titled: Where Have All the Historicals Gone?
Interesting reading; and you can check out the various follow-up discussions/threads here.

But this rant just blew me away. *g* Normally I wouldn't copy a whole post, but the AAR messageboards have no archives, so once it drops off the board it's gone.


Riding the historical dead horse

I am most definitely a historical romance fan, and do not read paranormal (except Gabaldon) or contemporary/romantic suspense (except Anne Stuart, God Bless her). I think that is probably because I love history first and romance is secondary. And, I am not stuck on any particular period/setting, although in the past I tended to favor British/European over American, but that is changing just because I need something to read while I wait on the next books from my favorite authors and have discovered a few writers who do American settings who can at least keep me awake. I've been treated to so many Regency AND medieval era snoozers the past 3 years I've lost count.

I have not noticed a decrease in the number of historicals lately, only in the number I would actually pay to read :~). Frankly, the decline in the number of them is not a bad thing if what IS being published is better quality. One of the reviewers here (Cheryl I think) said it all in one of her reviews: "It continually amazes me what is deemed good enough to publish" and I couldn't agree more. It would be my wish that publishers would take this kind of criticism to heart and separate the wheat from the chaff. What I am seeing, though, seems to be the opposite---more chaff, less wheat. I hope you will please forgive my acidity, though, because over the past two weeks I forced myself to read all of a "best-selling" authors' Regency era books and am in complete shell-shock. Yes, I probably should have stopped after three, but it was like going to the dentist and I was determined to get it over with no matter how painful it was. I not only will never pick up another book by this author except to throw it, I am very much disinclined to read any Regency era book again in my lifetime. I am probably going to have to pull out my Georgette Heyers to shake the bizarre 'Sex in the City combined with Happy Days' stench off the Regency.

I most definitely agree that the historical has been Avonized and *most particularly* the Regency/Victorian era books. There are too many cookie-cutter, cardboard characters with relatives crawling out of the woodwork begging for sequels. They are too light on history (atmosphere, manners and morals, even dialogue is often loaded with modern American slang). Also, I read the same inconsequential (and annoying) banter about match-making mamas and leg-shackles that someone out there (apparently) thinks is hilarious even after the 100th time seeing it. We get the same idiotic heroines with the same adolescent attitudes and issues and the same fake rakes over and over again. We have virgin widows, viriginal mounds, and virgin's giggling blushes...about the only thing that isn't virgin territory is the plot, a furrow that has been plowed, harrowed and cultivated ad nauseum. Oh, gee, another compromised miss caught kissing in the moonlight who has to marry the incredibly handsome, impossibly rich rogue who slipped his hand into her bodice, poor dear. I know I won't be stampeding Waldenbooks to hear that one again. These books have become so politically correct they are a dead bore. I had a fellow reader (granted she is very young and has not read as much or for as long as I have) make the comment that she liked Very Famous Author's book #12 in spite of the controversial theme of hero falling in love with best friend's wife. Contoversial? I guess is all you have read is the general run of vanilla pudding topped with whipped cream, fluffy, feel-good, big happy family historicals that have flooded the market since 2000, anything that pokes a tentative toe, really this is only a toenail, outside the box is deemed controversial. I know it's not her fault, poor thing, because she just started reading historical romances in 2003, but it was a WTF moment for me. I considered offering her some Kinsale, but decided that she would probably expire from shock and I would be liable.

I have never in the past selected my reading material based on publisher, but recently have put Avon at the very bottom of my list because they seem to be cranking out more wallpaper, "lite" historicals than anyone else. Years ago, the only thing I had against Avon, really, was the blurbs they used to put on their books "America loves Author X" which always made me think "Yeah, and it loved Gilligan's Island and Laverne and Shirley, too, so there you go." Nonetheless, in the past, I had quite a few Avon authors that I bought on a regular basis, but now they all sound so much alike and there is so very little to distinguish them from each other, that I wonder if the books are written by committee so that the author whose name is printed on the cover gets drowned out by the chorus. And, I have noticed also that good authors who leave other publishing houses to sign up with Avon seem to turn overnight into just another Avon lady. If I do a head count, there is probably an increase in the Berkley/Signet/Pocket area for me because many of the writers I still enjoy have left Avon and gone to these publishing houses. I have always generally liked Zebra and that continues to be fairly static and so does Harlequin. Aside from publisher, like you, Anne, I have banned phony royalty in any time period (I have NEVER liked it...if you love history, what is the payoff in reading fairy tales?), and also Regency spies, Scottish books with selkies, medievals featuring heroes with bird names and etc that I'm weary of. I think publishers (and perhaps authors as well) have success with a theme/plot contrivance/whatever, and decide because it made them a dollar to run it into the ground. I also put back on the shelf any book that even smells like it will result in a series that goes beyond a trilogy. I love Jo Beverley's Mallorens and MJ Putney's Fallen Angels, but not very many authors have what it takes to sustain my interest in what usually starts sounding like a daytime soap opera by the time you get to book 4. I drank a blender full of frozen margaritas recently just to celebrate the demise of a couple never-ending stories and if the authors dare decide to extend them, they will proceed without my book dollars. I know it's a "hook", but I'm not taking the bait any more. And, I'm not the only one wising up, either, to hear most of my reading friends' complaints.

My assumption about readers of historical romance is that they, like me, love history and are reasonably intelligent people. I am tired of being dished up costume drama/comedy that has been "dumbed down". I am also very annoyed at the incessant girly-girl tone and insulted by the portrayal of women as being stupid and incapable of anything beyond snagging a rich Duke to buy them pretty dresses. I am an adult, not a 15 year old, and I really can't relate to heroines who are supposedly in their 20's or older who act, think, speak, giggle like adolescents. If an author cannot write something that makes me think, as Kinsale and Beverley do, then at the very least, since they purport to be romance writers, they could make me *feel* something besides disgust at being ripped off for $7.99 again. Yes, perhaps we women really are stupid, after all, as we are portrayed, if we keep paying for that cr*p.

But, I am not sure how much of the blame for what is going on belongs where. Is the average modern reader just as brain dead as the Regency heroine and does not realize they are reading the same book over and over with characters' names changed (not much either, Lord Sins, Devils and Lucifers abound)? Are the writers required to crank out 3-4 books a year so that quality suffers? Are the publishers making assumptions about what readers want that are simply mistaken? Maybe the historical is not dead, but it definitely lies bludgeoned and bleeding IMO, and I'm not sure what will help it. Perhaps publishers could win back readers of historicals if they throw out the "rules"/formula, and can some of the editorial function and let authors have the creative process back. What I have been reading while I wait on the next book from authors I especially like are no longer new releases---I gave up on most of those two years ago---and it is amazing how engaging the books from the early 1990's (many of which I somehow missed when they came out because I was not reading as much then) seem compared to anything from the past 5 or 6 years. And, part of the freshness of the older books is because the characters, and their problems, seem believable and real because the authors were allowed to break the rules if they wanted to. Real life isn't a bed of roses, men are not perfect or made perfect in the requisite 327 pages, families are often dysfunctional, Almacks is not the center of the universe, bad things happen to good people, good people sometimes do bad or less than admirable things. Ick factors and hot buttons are screwing up the landscape because now there are too many scenarios that can't be in books...if you try to eliminate all the things that the general public find distasteful you have a censorship that results in a lot of repetitious, boring books and, eventually, no books at all. We all have our pet aversions, myself included, but if I am offended by an author's work, I simply do not read him/her instead of expecting him/her to change to suit me. I can find a great deal to be offended by, actually, if I go looking for it, but shoddy work bothers me most of all, and that seems to be tolerated very well by the general public if the bestseller lists don't lie.

One thing I would like to see more of is books set in the often ignored period from 1500-1800, regardless of setting...I don't care if it's France, Italy, England, Russia. Good Lord, here is a rich and vibrant 300 years that has barely been touched. Yes, there would probably be research involved. A lot more more could be with the English Civil War, the Restoration, The Elizabethans, Stuart/Georgian England, cavaliers, musketeers, French revolutionaries. The Regency and medieval periods are very, very dead horses as far as this reader is concerned. I will read them if they happen to be written by the ever dwindling number of authors who are still my auto buys, but when someone recommends a new writer of Regency/Medieval (including Scottish) to me I so often am disappointed that I've just started to thank them for the recommendation and promptly put it out of my mind. I find myself wondering if I am especially hard to please now that three out of four books that get pretty decent reviews have me scratching my head or banging the wall with them.

Well, I didn't mean for this to be a rant, but after a glut on one of Avon's finest, I'm just plain furious and if I hadn't bought most of the books used, PTL, I'd be taking them back to the place I got 'em for a refund.

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10 comments:

Karen Scott said...

That was one LONG-ARSED-RANT, but she had some good points.

Jorrie Spencer said...

Thanks for posting that, Jaye. Lots of interesting stuff I would have missed.

Off to AAR I go.

raine said...

Wow. That is one disillusioned reader.
I only read a choice few historicals, but I have heard this complaint from people before. They still want historicals, but they're tired of cookie-cutter stuff.

Anne Whitfield - author said...

As a historical mainstream author I am always sad to hear of historicals getting a rant, however, I've got to agree with a lot of what was said.
Readers who feel the same should start writing to the editors of the publishers and have their say.

I guess that's why I read mainstream historicals with romantic elements and it's what I write too.

Readers need to try small publishers like Vintage Romance Publishing and Samhain Publishing and Highland Press. These publishers don't want to edit the history out of historicals novels.

I write Victorian novels set in England and Australia and will hopefully be writing an English Civil War novel.
There are good historical novels out there, you just have to search that bit harder because some authors don't always want to be published by Avon, etc, ,and instead head for the small press where they have scope.
Just my thoughts.

Jaye said...

Karen - lol. I took 2 breaks just reading it. But, I agree with her on many points.

Jorrie, you're welcome. I keep checking back on the messageboards there's quite a bit of good/thought provoking discussion going on.

Raine, I've heard (and made) this type of complaint many times before. And not just re Historicals. There's already been some grumbling about paranormals (especially vamps) and romantica. The more things change, the more the stay the same.


Anne, I'll have to check out your work. I tend to read across all genres, and that helps with the 'stale' cookie-cutter factor. But when I really want a Historical Romance, it's very frustrating to find that nothing appeals.

Kate D. said...

The fact that people are ranting about publishing houses rather than specific authors troubles me. I can't imagine authors like the ever-tightening strictures, either.

But how does one take on the system, and win? (I mean that honestly, not rhetorically.)

Anne--"The Causes of the English Civil War" was one of my favorite books in college. (Conrad Russell) This is probably because I'm a gigantic dork, but the fact that you're contemplating a story set in that era makes me want to gush about the Star Chamber.

Please, let the Damned Scribbling Women know when you publish that book! I'll be the first to buy a copy.

Anne Whitfield - author said...

Thanks so much, but it'll be a while yet. I've an Australian colonial novel to sell first, then I can crack on with the English Civil War story. LOL

Thanks!

Jaye said...

Kate, you've highlighted a troublesome point. I was more focused on the 'sameness' charge. Trying to deal with the system would almost be a non-win situation because the publishers will follow the money. If folks start voting with their wallets, there's the distinct possiblity that less and less Historical Romances will be published. :-/ Because publisher will read that trend as waning popularity, rather dissatisfaction with what's being offered.

Larissa said...

I agree with a lot of what she said, but I'm also one of those readers who actually likes a wallpaper historical now and then. For the most part, I want meat, accuracy, and originality, BUT every once in a while, something lighter and a little more fantastical is fun.

The problem is that there seems to be more of the lighter, cookie-cutter stuff out there.

And yeah...I'm starting to hear similar arguments about paranormals!

Jaye said...

Larissa, I don't mind 'wallpaper' either. Some people have a deft hand with detail. Others down the pacing/characterization under a deluge of minutia.

But.... The cookie-cutter stuff sux. That sense of ennui, oh-hum-nothing-special-here, read-this-all-before-written-in-a-similar-way really sucks when you're dying for a good read.

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