So, as some of you know, I’ve been reading a lot of (mostly regency) romance. I have kept it to a certain type of formulaic offering, because this is stuff I’m reading in 20 free minutes, between writing chapters. I also read cozies, but I’ve run out of cozies that balance on the fine edge of “not throwing against the wall” and “Not so riveting I’ll loose hours to finishing the book.”
My favorite regency romance authors are really historical mystery authors, just with the romance hyped a little. In fact, though the name would be different, so I can’t tell, I’d bet you a lot of them were writing historical mystery when it was decided the genre shouldn’t be published because it wasn’t selling. As usual the publisher had published a lot of crap under that name, of course, so it wasn’t that historical mystery wasn’t selling, but that there were a lot of them that weren’t. But this is Traditional Publishing Thinking TM, not to be confused with real thinking of any type. So a lot of the people who would have written historical mystery went to Romance. (Which never occurred to me, since at the time I didn’t read it.)
However, I’m trying to be frugal, and the authors I know are still traditional and expensive. So I’ve been using my KULL free reads.
And I’ve come face first into the REAL problem of indie in this field — weirdly NOT in historical mystery. My guess is because more regency romances than mysteries sell, anyway, and people are looking for a quick buck, while those who write the historical mysteries are engaged in a labor of love. — which is “OMG, READ A BOOK.”
For those who haven’t read regencies, they are highly codified romances, set about at the time of Pride and Prejudice. Yes, now they have sex in them, which is beyond absurd (in fact one I read last night with sex made me roll my eyes so much they almost fell out. It was a very short read though, as I must have flipped past 80% of the book.) BUT the setting is codified. There are things your characters can and can’t do. There are places you’ll visit and events that happen.
The Ton, in Regency England was a small set of people who were landed gentry (Or were related to. Or hoped to be.) It was, numbers wise, the size of a village. And like all villages, it had rigid rules.
I’m perfectly willing to give the dog a bite, as you know, even with the best research in the world, you’ll write a line without thinking. At least it happens to me. So, when a female character attends a funeral, say, I roll my eyes and carry on. Or if a character writes and reads in “Parchment” even though paper had been in wide use for centuries, I sort of sigh and carry on.
But the one yesterday — the 20% I actually read — and the one over breakfast (I ended up skimming a lot and not because of sex) had me rolling my eyes so hard they couldn’t focus.
Look, if you want to write a regency, you presumably have read one, or maybe two. This should be enough. Though most people who are going to read this, will probably have read dozens.
Which is when I must ask WHAT WERE YOU THINKING?
I’ll excuse the author of the “Spicy” romance (that’s what she called it at the end, though unfortunately not in the blurb, or I’d have stayed away. What I mean is, seriously, if you’re going to put at the end “read more spicy romances by” put that in the beginning. That way people who aren’t looking to read with one hand will just not get it) because I suspect she only reads the sex scenes in romances. But the other one is a sweet romance, and good LORD IN HEAVEN, what is wrong with this woman’s head?
Some errors — not an exhaustive list:
“A season in town” meant a season in London, not a season in Dunhaven or whatever the heck the author decided to name the town, so (she thought) the author could get away with not researching London or the real season.
Getting new dresses for young ladies to wear for the season was NOT the most important point of presenting them. That was just a way of signaling they were rich enough. They’re not suddenly okay, because they got a seamstress to remake their old dresses, if their family is ruined.
A duke doesn’t OPEN HIS OWN HOUSE FOR THE SEASON. He just doesn’t. He doesn’t go around removing the holland covers himself. And he certainly doesn’t clean the house himself. No, I don’t care how “broke” he is. If he’s that broke, he’d sell the townhouse. Labor was CHEAP. He’d probably bring his housekeeper and butler down with him (and maybe his cook) and set about hiring locals for the hard work. Also, if he came to town alone, he’d stay at his club, not his town house.
When a duke spends money on his renters, he’s NOT LITERALLY HANDING MONEY TO THE RENTERS. I mean, he might, but usually not. Improving the renters lives usually meant building new cottages, building irrigation ditches, etc, and this normally — in the end — brought in more money, not less.
A duke wouldn’t marry a seamstress. Not a young duke, trying to do his best for the family. Holy hell, people, a duke wouldn’t MEET a seamstress in the normal course of life. Yes, dukes could and sometimes did marry actresses and opera dancers (not a mistake on my part though a lot of these idiots do it as opera singers, because SURELY the first is a mistake) but they did it clandestinely, and were ready to repudiate the marriage at the drop of a succession. I don’t care how great the love was, there were things they couldn’t do and wouldn’t occur to them to do. Remember, Mr. Darcy, worth about ten times what Lizzy’s father had, and vaguely connected to nobility was thought to be out of her reach. A duke and a seamstress. My disbelief is gasping for air as the rope tightens.
Look, I haven’t extensively studied the regency. I simply read Heyer and spent some years writing austen fanfic for a group online. If I know this stuff, anyone passably interested in the genre should know it.
And I suspect the authors would tell me it doesn’t matter because it’s “fiction” — but it matters. It matters because — as Dave Weber taught me — ninety percent of storytelling is convincing the reader they’re in the hands of someone who knows the story he/she is telling. I.e. if you feel the author knows what he/she’s talking about, you’ll go a long way and swallow a lot.
If you’re continuously hitting me on the head with the hammer of your ignorance, I’m going to get mad and also popped out of the book. Then skimming the rest of it becomes and exercise in watching the train wreck.
BTW this same type of issue applies to Americans writing Nobility In Space. Sure, you get a lot more leeway because it’s the future and we don’t know how things will be. But anyone very wealthy will not go and open his secondary house himself or perform manual labor. It’s not a matter of pride, btw, it’s a matter of economy. I’m being reminded constantly these days that I shouldn’t do furniture refinishing. “Just buy the damn table in better condition” because the time I spend on that costs me more ultimately. In the same way a nobleman’s (if they’re administrators of a vast estate, be it in England or planetary) time is going to be more valuable than the money he shells out for a servant.
For instance, if I ever get enough money, I’ll hire someone to clean once a week, so I don’t lose a day a week to domestic stuff. I probably will then take a day off. Maybe go for a walk in the park or something. BUT that is worth the expenditure, if I ever have the money. (Not right now.)
Most of the Nobility in Space books give me the feeling of high school students dressed in costumes, in front of a painted background.
I’ll confess I find it almost charming how inept Americans-by-birth are with orders of nobility, but seriously, guys, if you’re going to write it, read a couple of books from a time/place that had such. (Heyer romances are possibly the best.)
I can imagine those indie authors sitting there, wondering if the reason they haven’t caught fire is that their writing isn’t good enough. Or perhaps they should have more/less sex or…
When in fact, as writers they’re perfectly fine and professional. It’s the research. Something that would take them a week, at most, to rectify.
I repeatedly have a conversation with older son, which echoes a meme HE posted on Facebook. “Me: I feel so odd. Brain: Caffeine is not a food group. Eat a vegetable. Sleep. Me: Oh, well, I guess I’ll never know why. Brain: Just shoot me now.” I quote this at him when he emerges from the basement before a major test going “I can’t sleep and I’m vaguely nauseated.” And it always plays exactly like the meme. “No, I ate a leaf of lettuce three days ago. I slept four hours last night. Must be something else.”
I suspect the result of this rant, if I addressed it to the two authors would be the same, which is why I’m not, but seriously: Pull from air is not a viable long term strategy for writing historicals. Do some research. Read a book!