Thursday, August 3, 2017

Some things to consider when thinking about penning historical romance without mainstream, main characters

I write both science fiction romance and historical romance. When I create in those two sub genres, I make all my heroines black. Why? Because there are too few black heroines in those sub genres.  My science fiction series is a little easier to write than my historical series. But not much. For this post, I’ll concentrate on the items one should consider when creating a historical romance containing not-the-usual landed, titled suspects. I believe these tips could apply to any character who is not the requisite straight, Christian, blue-eyed, lady or duke of the Regency period. Since my books follow black heroines I will stick to the things to consider when penning them.

In my Love Vanquishes All stand-alone, historical series, there are two books so far. Kindred, An American Love Story and Dissent. Both follow vastly different heroines from vastly different eras. I’ll be discussing how I created Kindred, the main character from book one. I drew up a list of six important questions I had to ask myself (though many more popped up as I got into the actual writing) before I set out bringing her, and her world, to life. Question one was, “Why do I want to write her?” Question two was, “In what setting will I place her?” Question three was, “How will I depict her?” Question four was, “How will I go about it?” Question five was, “Do I have an interesting story to tell?” Question six was, “Will I be adding anything new to the field?”

The first question was easy to answer. I wanted to write her because I wanted to add to the roster of black, historical heroines out there. Yeah. I needed to add my take to the ranks. There is room for everyone. The second question was easy to answer too. For my first foray into writing historical romance, I wanted to stick to the country in which I reside - the U. S. A. Plus, I’d been none too thrilled with some of the depictions of black heroines from America. I knew they could be more than subservient. And since many that had been written, had been written as subservient, that meant them not having much agency. Nope. I wasn’t going to add to that. I chose colonial New York of America because I knew it would be rich ground to dig around in to unearth the woman I knew I could write. Blacks, Whites, and Native peoples crossed paths every day during that period and took part in forming the U. S. A. And I could place Kindred in a place of agency since as she’d possess a skill (herbalist/nurse) everyone would need to survive. She could act instead of re-act in her environment. Which brought me to question three. My depiction of Kindred would not entail drudgery, would not lack happiness, and would include an air of playfulness and independence and seductiveness (but not the tired exotic label). And since it was America of a certain period, I pledged that she would be a freedwoman, NOT be a slave. Of the black women who existed back then, not all were slaves. If one desires to depict the different, one must think differently, and dig to find the examples. That led me to question four. I researched like hell. I read books. I went to libraries. I took… time. What I’m saying is, if one is truly serious about writing the multicultural historical, one must give it the same, if not more, attention, effort and care as the historical romances with the default characters because they are different.

Now, if a writer goes in knowing they want to depict non-White characters in a historical romance, but only set in some alternate history, then anything goes. The writer can concoct all manner of stuff. Those books are available. I am not saying those kinds of books are easier to write. I am saying there is no history in them, past that which is necessary to place it somewhere in that alternate universe. Which sort of defeats the purpose of writing a historical romance. But to each his own. So, if one wants to create something which informs and entertains, and has a good plot, one must do the research. No fudging. No wink and a nod.

When writing Kindred, An American Love Story, I read history books pertaining to how black people lived in the colonial era, and how they were permitted to live. That was important because, one just cannot plunk a non-White person down into a certain situation because one wants the person there. Now, it’s another thing if the writer’s readership doesn’t know or care. But I always say, the writer should care. A writer must know, whether, the black character had the permission to have participated in said situation, and if so, what was the black character’s capacity. I read books on how people dressed. I read books on how people prepared what they grew and gathered. I researched the modes of transportation people used. Let’s just say I read a lot!

So, dear writer, when you think about writing that historical romance, not starring the usual Regency cast, ask yourself if you are willing to ponder those six questions? The answers? If so, go for it!

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