Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Thank you.

I posted a picture of me and my girls dressed in Ren costumes, and it got me to thinking (yes, I recognize the hazards, thank you very much) about what tomorrow's writers will say about those of us living today. It's fine to attach cutsey names to particular demographics, i.e., Baby Boomers, Gen X, but what kind of legacy will today's writers leave the historical writers who follow?

When I started reading romance, the choices were few. Mills & Boon dominated the contemporary market, such as it was, and Barbara Cartland reigned as the historical genre's Grand Dame. Readers of romance became familiar with torches and boots and bonnets (Brit speak for flashlights, trunks, and car hoods) because that's what there was--until Silhouette came onto the scene. Regency romance was the province of Georgette Heyer unless one chose, as I did, to read Jane Austin or the Bronte sisters.

The pickings were slim.

Then came Bertrice Small, Rosemary Rogers, Sylvie Sommerfield, Laurie McBain, Shirlee Busbee, and Kathleen Woodiwiss, just to name a few. Historical romance as a distinct genre had no guidelines, no signposts, so these intrepid ladies made their own, defining, refining and redefining them as they went along. They are our history, the pioneers of the historical genre.

(I know, I know. I can hear fans of Johanna Lindsay, Julie Garwood, Phoebe Conn, Cassie Edwards, and a host of others asking why their faves (and a few of mine) aren't listed. The reason is simple; I'm not getting any younger, and I have a book to finish. To list all of the ladies who've influenced historical fiction would be a herculean task. Even were I to try, I'd most likely forget someone I admire, hear about it later, and feel like an idiot, so a sampling seems prudent.)

I happen to have the honor of an acquaintance with Bertrice Small. She's a lovely woman and as strong-willed as Skye O'Malley ever dreamed of being. In 2007, after the finalists for the Golden Heart were announced, Bertrice asked me about my story. As soon as I said "War of the Roses" she began telling me why Richard III couldn't have been the monster history painted him.

Such is the power of history. Five hundred plus years after the fact, people still debate the veracity of the "accepted" version. There are Richard III societies that will denounce ad nauseum Henry VII's claim to the throne.

History is, in fact, the province of the winner, so there is always another side of ANY story, but there I stood, confronted by a woman I have long admired, unwilling to debate the issue. I explained that, for the purpose of my story, the heroine took the Yorkist view, the hero took the Lancastrian, and I tried to present both sides. I'm happy to say, being the gracious lady she is, Bertrice smiled and spoke of other things (whew!)

The ladies who are our past--some of whom are still going strong--deserve our thanks. They "suffered the slings and arrows" so we might write the types of books we do. They opened the doors (windows, dog flaps, whatever it took) so we could--if not walk through--stick our toes in and make someone listen to us. Yes, many of their books earned the appellation "Bodice Ripper" which continues to haunt the genre to this day, but they were feeling their way through the dark, lighting torches so we could follow.

Thank you, ladies. Thank you for braving the wildnerness, fighting the dragons, raising the standard, and for the hours of enjoyment found in the stories you created and the characters you gave breath. You have set a sterling example of intelligence, creativity, and tenacity.

Let us hope, someday, the same can be said for those of us that follow you.

2 comments:

Lise said...

As someone who grew up reading the great ladies of romance - including Kathleen Woodiwiss, Bertrice Small, Rosemary Rogers - thank you for reminding us that before them, there WAS no genre of romance. There were Regency novels by Georgette Heyer, and that was pretty much it.

Except for the Gothic Romance which really did exist in a form all its own! The work of such writers as Phyllis Whitney and Mary Stewart contained the love stories amid the danger and I consider them to be a precursor, as well, to the romance genre as we know it today and such sub-genres as Gothic romance and romantic suspense.

Nice blog!

Gwynlyn MacKenzie said...

Being a great fan of Victoria Holt, Phyllis Whitney, and Mary Stewart myself (all of which still hold pride of place on my shelves--except for those my daughter has "borrowed"), I hated having to leave them out, but chose to go with the more mainstream (if one can call them that) historical writers of the time. Like I said, a sampling, all of whom wrote third person.

My youngest started on Phyllis Whitnery at about the same age as I did, 14, and has "appropriated" several of my books. Victoria Holt's "Queen's Confession" was a fabulous read, and Mary Stewart's Merlin trilogy is still without peer.

Thanks for stopping by and adding to the list. We have quite a legacy to which we can aspire.