Monday, July 21, 2014

What Time Periods are Part of Historical Romance?

This summer, the Seattle Public Library is challenging its adult readersto read widely across the romance genre. To aid this process, the library blog has created a hand-dandy detailed checklist of subgenres and sub-subgenres.

The subgenres included are: contemporary, historical, paranormal, inspirational, romantic suspense, young adult, new adult, and a miscellaneous section.

The contemporary subgenre, for example, includes these sub categories: Straight Contemporary, Cowboy, Cop, Military, Sports-centered, Tattooed, Pets and Vets, Small Town, Firefighters, Medical, LGBTQ, and Multicultural/multiracial. You can also write in your own.

When I looked at the historical sub-subgenre categories, at first glance, I thought it was very inclusive: Regency, Rome, Middle Ages, Victorian, World War II, 1950s, Men in Kilts, Asian, Flappers, and Pioneer/Cowboy/1800s American West. Some might consider this sub-list to be not very inclusive since, for example, LGBTQ and Tudor among others are not listed and neither are many international categories, such as Egyptian, Middle Eastern, etc.

Then again, some readers might consider the list to be a little too inclusive, since historical romances are considered to be stories set in time periods prior to the Great Wars.

Since I was on the fence there on what exactly went into the historical romance bucket, I threw out the question to the authors, readers, editors, and agents on my Twitter list to see what people thought of this. Here are some of their responses:

‏@IsobelCarr I think Mad Men, Masters of Sex, & tons of BBC/PBS shows have shown ppl like 40s-60s as "historical"

‏@Miranda_Neville WWII & later seem really popular in hist fic - or mainstream fic

@esisogah will say that I know of several hist rom that are Downton insp. from NY publishers

And there were other such responses. What it seems is that while publishers of other fiction are pushing the boundaries on historical fiction, there's no consensus on what romance publishers are willing to publish.

Readers are television viewers, too, and at least in that medium they are branching out of the strictly "Before the Great Wars" line for historical dramas. So there's very likely a demand for romance novels set in those same time periods that are not currently being catered to by the publishing industry.

As we move further and further into the twenty-first century, we will even see the 1970s-era culture coming under the historical umbrella. (Ahem, that means, I will officially become historic. My children already consider me prehistoric.) I wonder if and when romance publishers will follow suit.

[Edited 7/25/14: The new rules for the RITA award by the Romance Writers of America states that historicals are those written about time periods prior to 1950.]