Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Why Oh Why Do We Do The Things We Do?

Maven Darcy BurkeI was working in my daughter's first grade classroom last week when her teacher was reading a story. She announced that she'd be reading historical fiction. (Yes, in first grade they have learned to distinguish between fiction and non-fiction, and apparently subgenres. No, I did not explain the sub-genre of historical romance fiction.) Her teacher decided to read from one of her favorite books - Little House on the Prairie. I'm sitting over in the corner cutting out Christmas trees for an art project thinking, "Yay, Little House!" Laura Ingalls Wilder's books were among my favorites, as was the television show.

Which got me thinking. Were those the first historical fiction books I read? Perhaps. What did they have to do with my enduring love for history and historical fiction? Was it my ability to identify with Laura despite growing up in a different century? Was it the details of her historical life? Was I desperate to wear a long, pretty dress and wear my hair in ringlets like Nellie Olsen?

Probably all three. Another historical fiction book I fell in love with was called My Enemy the Queen. I looked it up because I'd love to have a copy. Not only to reread it twenty-some years later but to have that first book that I remember reading that made me love historical romance. Color me surprised that it was written by Victoria Holt! I remember reading Victoria Holt, but never realized this particular book was hers.

My love of British history is due in part to My Enemy the Queen (probably the reason I've had an interest in Elizabeth I--it's a book about Elizabeth and her cousin Lettice Knollys--since a young age and cite her as the person I'd most like to meet), but I would be remiss if I didn't give credit where it was due, namely to my British grandparents whose house was stuffed with all manner of British bric a brac, much of it detailing the 20th century history of the royal family. (Do you have a Queen Elizabeth II coronation commemorative ashtray? Neener neener.)
Are these the reasons I write historical romance? That, and because it's what I primarily love to read. History fascinates me and I can't elicit a specific reason beyond what I've already mentioned. I love, love (and have mad respect for) books that weave fiction and history so closely that you barely know what's real and what's not. I guess I'd love to do that some day.

Why do you write the genre or subgenre you write? Can you pinpoint something that led you down that path? Do you have a dream project or something you're dying to do some day?

Post-script to last week's post: I'm happy to report that my heroine from Beauty and the Bandit is holding up just grand. In fact, I wrote a scene Tuesday in which we're beginning to see the first curve of her arc. Exciting stuff!


Evangeline Holland said...

Ann Rinaldi. I fell in love with American history through her books. Then Philippa Carr (Victoria Holt's pseudonym) with her series that went from the reign of Henry VIII to WWII. Even though I didn't really catch the significance of the time periods each book was based around when I first read them, I now re-read them with a lot of knowledge about British history.

B.E. Sanderson said...

The two books I'm working on are set in dystopic futures, so I'd have to point to Ray Bradbury and Ayn Rand for those. Erle Stanley Gardner inspired me for the series I have on hold until after I'm done editing.

On of my favorite books as a teen was King of the Castle by Victoria Holt. I still have the copy I read then, and now my daughter has read it, too. =oD

Bill Clark said...

(Do you have a Queen Elizabeth II coronation commemorative ashtray? Neener neener.)

No, but I have a 1902 Edward VII/Queen Alexandra one. (Neener neener back at you!) :-)

I learned to lurve historical fiction at the hands of Samuel Shellabarger - Captain from Castille, The King's Cavalier, etc. And historical romance from Kathleen Winsor's "Forever Amber", which was racy enough to be banned in Boston (throughout the State of Massachusetts, actually).

Great post! When will you be asked to make a guest teacher appearance in your daughter's classroom?

Kendra said...

Are the Little House books fiction? I've always thought of them as rather exaggerated nonfiction. Or maybe that's another definition of fiction. My oldest daughters are working through the series. I haven't read the books in 20+ years and it amazes my daughters when they ask me a question about a scene and I know exactly which event they are talking about. I probably read each book 15 times.

I love historical and it was a historical author that inspired me to start hitting the keys. I started off writing contemporary romance with a twist of suspense, but now I write what I'd call dark thrillers with romantic elements. And that's what I read the most. I read a lot of historical but have never been motivated to write it.

Jackie Barbosa said...

Reading the _Little House_ books and visited the Wilder house in DeSmet will always be some of my fondest childhood memories. Perhaps my love of historical novels also began with those stories.

I wish I could remember what the first historical romance I read was, but I have no clue. What I do know is that I always had a big leg up on many of my high school friends when it came to the history of periods like the Revolutionary and Civil Wars because I read so many historical romances. They might not have been accurate on every detail, of course, but I had a darn sight better idea of WHEN things happened than most of my peers.

Much as I do love historicals (both to read and write), I've turned recently to writing (and reading) first person contemporary. Although I don't expect I'll ever give up historicals, I do find writing contemporary a bit easier (less research, less worrying about voice/word usage/etc.) in some ways. And first person--well, it's very liberating not to have to worry about POV at all :)!

Carey Baldwin said...

Hey Darc! Well I adored the Little House on the Prarie books and also Caddie Woodlong. And as a young girl, I'm pretty sure I read every biography of a female historical figure in my school library. I especially loved Elizabeth the 1st and Ann Boleyn and Louisa May Alcott (who had me determined to follow in her footsteps and become a kindegarten teacher and writer when I grew up). Now I'm a pediatrician and writer. Close enough!

But I write contemporary- go figure.

Darcy Burke said...

Camilla - I'm surprised I never read the Philippa Carr series. Or maybe I did and forgot. So many brain cells lost to children...

B.E. I don't recall King of the Castle, but see above.

Bill, royal family commemorative ashtrays unite! I have an astounding amount of cups, plates, etc. dedicated to the Windsors - mostly QEII and Diana. I also have a lovely Welsh doll in traditional dress. That's one of my favorites. (Gramma was Welsh.)

Kendra, that's so awesome! I think the TV show tainted some of my book memories.

Jacq, I'm still chuckling over your post. You who adamantly declared you couldn't write anything but historical. Go contemp!

India, I think we've talked about our love affair with the Tudor period. My absolute fave in British history. And you write rockin' contemp! (Seriously people, India won first place in the Golden Gateway Contest and has finaled in a gazillion others!)

J Perry Stone said...

Hey Darcy, I just got back from Wales--North Wales to be exact. Talk about gorgeous. We went to Llangollen (pronounced Hlangoh-hlen). I'm in love with the place.

And thank you so much for your wonderful response. I wrote you a lengthy response (took me 45 minutes, in fact) and then something happened. Oy. I don't trust my email now, but I wanted to let you know how much you helped me/my family.

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