Celebrating Women’s History Month at Read-A-Romance!
Since some of my favorite books are set in a variety of historical time-periods, I thought it would be fun to check in with some great authors in romance and women’s historical fiction, and explore their connection to history. Since the female perspective in history and fiction has been ignored so often, for so long, I find it heartening to see so many books representing romance and/or women’s history, telling such mesmerizing stories against the backdrop of some of the most intriguing and pivotal moments in time. I hope you find these essays as fascinating and fun as I do. You can see the full calendar here.
Exploring the Women’s Journey
My first introduction to the joys of herstory came when I discovered Catherine, Called Birdy; Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry; Island of the Blue Dolphins; Lotta Crabtree: Gold Rush Girl; and the engrossing, but OTT Sweet Valley history sagas. Being young, I had only vague conceptions of history; in fact—with much irony—it was the SVH sagas that helped me to configure the existence of a past and of present-day. As I consumed more historical fiction, ranging from American Girl Doll companion books to Scholastic’s Dear America to the works of Ann Rinaldi, it dawned upon me that girls (and women) before me shared my hopes and dreams. And learning more about them through fiction and non-fiction increased my appetite to understand how they navigated the past.
Making the leap to historical romance wasn’t a long one. This time, there was a dashing, swaggering, handsome man along for the ride. As adults, the heroines of historical romance could explore the full gamut of womanhood—and could go more places and do more things!
I may take periodic breaks from historical romance, but the element that always reels me back in, is the sub-genre’s commitment to exploring women’s journeys through the lens of the past. Whenever I do experience a little bit of a burn-out, I can still turn to the works of Roberta Gellis, Laura Lee Gurhke, Piper Huguley, Judith Ivory, Jane Feather, Jeannie Lin…(let me stop before I start listing every author on the keeper shelf!).
As long as historical romance—and women’s historical fiction—exists, I am assured that the existence of our stories, herstory, her stories, proclaim loudly that women were there. That we are here. That our fears, dreams, hopes, romances, broken-hearts, and achievements are just as important as the men who wielded swords or enacted policies. And that the act of writing and producing these stories is an act of resistance against those who would marginalize women’s voices and agency.
Tiny Little Thing by Beatriz Williams – www.beatrizwilliams.com – if you want sweeping, deeply romantic historicals, Beatriz Williams delivers it to you, and how. This book is set against the backdrop of 1960s politics and the Vietnam War. I especially loved the relationship between Tiny Hardcastle (nee Schuyler) and her sister Pepper—sister relationships are always my book catnip. (Read Beatriz’ HerStory post here.)
Filthy Lucre by Sharon Cullars – www.sharoncullars.com – a sexy, gritty interracial historical romance set in the 1930s, with the right touch of historicity. Teddy is one of the best heroines I’ve read in the romance genre, period. A few real-life characters play a prominent role in the plot.
Tell us about a moment when you felt a deep connection to history.
Maps are my particular thing. Even as a child, I was the one who navigated family road trips, because I could look at the map spread in my lap and immediately tell my mom where we needed to go. My unusually excellent memory fails me for some reason, but when I began history blogging, I ended up on eBay, bidding on Baedeker guidebooks from the early 1900s. My most expensive purchase is a copy of the rare, highly-sought-after 1914 edition of Baedeker’s Egypt. It was and still is in astonishingly fantastic condition, and when I flipped through the pages and pulled open the maps, I wondered about the guidebook’s original owner—did they actually go to Egypt, or were they like me, pouring over the routes to Cairo and exploring the pyramids at my armchair? Another Baedeker purchase was an extraordinary treasure trove of ephemera from the 1930s, which is when the owners traveled to Great Britain. Newspaper clippings, handouts from churches, letters, and pieces of other guidebooks were stuffed between the brittle, aged-yellow pages, which enabled me to follow their reasons for their trip and where they went.
Do you have a specific place or sound that makes you feel connected to history? Why?
I usually get obsessed with a particular topic around the same time I get obsessed with an album. For example, when I first began delving into WWI, I was also listening to Rihanna’s Unapologetic 24/7. When I read a slew of books on Belle Epoque France a few years ago, I was listening to Nelly Furtado’s Loose non-stop. Madonna’s Confessions on a Dancefloor will snap my mind back to all of the books I read about Gilded Age New York. Little Boots is associated with the Orient Express. So if I need to return to a particular headspace for a particular setting, I know what album to begin playing.
What is your (or a) favorite historical era or event?
There have been a few articles published over the past three or four months about who writes history. Why are women marginalized in writing the subject? Is our focus on domestic and women’s issues less serious than wars, generals, and kings? It shocked me because I love war (in an historical way…I don’t love war in a reality way). I love politics. My favorite historical event is the build up to the First World War, whether it be discussing the balance of power in Europe, espionage, treaties, double-crosses, the armaments race, Dreadnoughts, etc. I find the period between 1871 and 1914 endlessly fascinating for the “what ifs” and “could have beens” of why the war was inevitable—IMHO.
Is there a moment in your research when some specific historical moment or event came to life for you? Tell us about it.
Sometimes I fear I’m not a true creative because I have to pin my work to a real event or a real person for it to feel “right.” Yet, I somehow always manage to find an answer to my “what ifs.” My hard drive is home to hundreds, if not thousands, of digitized books I’ve collected over the years. When I began brainstorming a WWI novella inspired by one of my favorite classic films, I was stumped by what my heroine did in the war. Most of the information out there about African-Americans in the war focused on the men, with women being an afterthought. The informational about American women in WWI tended to gloss over the presence of black women, if not ignore their war work altogether. I was browsing through Kelly Miller’s History of the World War for Human Rights when I came across a chapter on black “Yeomanettes” (workers for the Navy Department). A Google search yielded the only page online devoted to what little is known about these fourteen women. But it was enough for my novella idea, because then my hero’s war experience fit perfectly with hers. The moral of the story is: keep looking!
And for fun ~ Tell us about your Favorite Historical Crush. ;o) (This can be either a historical or fictional crush.) Why?
I’m really embarrassed to admit this, but I have the biggest crush on Raymond Asquith. I’m not embarrassed because he’s long dead, but because everyone else who met him either worshipped or fell in love with him. I feel kind of ordinary! I first came across his name when reading a research book about his step-mother, Margot Asquith, and her social circle, The Souls. He was praised as the most brilliant mind of the Edwardian era, and they weren’t lying! When I got my hands on a copy of his letters from his late teens until his death in WWI, the faculty of his mind and dexterity of his pen had me *heart eyes* I do love a sharp, clever, and biting way with words. By the time I got to his last letters before being killed in action in 1916, I was literally shaking my fist at the sky over the unfairness of his premature death. Not that I could have met him—if he’d lived a normal lifespan, he would have still died before I was born! But that is my historical crush.
Evangeline is generously giving away two ARCs of Fall of Poppies (U.S. only, apologies to international readers). To enter the giveaway, leave a comment below or on the Facebook post you’ll find here (or both – Share the Love!) ;o) by :59 pm PST . Good luck!
Evangeline Holland is a public historian who brings her academic skills to fiction, in order to fill in the gaps in the historical record. Her love for history permeates just about everything she does, going so far as to “suffer” for this love–as the bruises and stuck fingers from fencing and sewing costumes to understand life in the past firsthand can attest.
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