Monday, August 24, 2009

Susan Holloway Scott GuestBlog: History, Romance & The Books In Between

CONTEST TODAY!!! One randomly chosen commenter scores choice of Susan's new "The French Mistress" hisorical novel or one of her Miranda Jarrett historical romances!

From Susan: First I must offer the warmest of Monday morning buongiornos to the Bellas! It’s a rare honor to share your divine company again so soon. Many thanks, too, for helping Loretta Chase and me launch our new blog last week, and if any of you missed the festivities, then I hope you’ll visit us now at

Bellissima Michelle has asked me to talk a bit about what makes one book a historical romance, and the next a historical novel. Since I’ve written both (historical romances as Miranda Jarrett, and historical novels as Susan Holloway Scott), this should be easy, but it’s not. There are a few obvious things: historical novels tend to be much longer, with no clinches or naked guys on the covers. But the Bellas are Very Clever, and surely have observed this for themselves.

It’s what’s inside those covers that makes this even more confusing. A historical novel can have a hero and heroine who fall in love, marry, and remain happily together. A historical romance can have a heroine who’s a courtesan and a hero who’s less than heroic, and they don’t even have to end the book married. Both can have characters who are based on real people, or characters entirely invented. Both can include excruciating details about the past, or gloss over anything with an ick-factor.

So what’s the real difference? IMHO, it’s how the history’s used. If the historical facts take a back seat to the characters, then it’s probably a historical romance. If the history dictates the plot and how the characters behave, then it’s probably historical fiction. In my book “The French Mistress,” my heroine Louise de Keroualle is a beautiful French virgin in love with a handsome, charming, older hero who loves her above all others: true romantic elements. But that hero is the English king, Charles II, married to his queen, which isn’t romance territory at all, and the complicated political intrigues that keep Louise in danger until the non-traditional HEA are pure historical fiction. Read an excerpt here.

But perhaps the well-read Bellas can answer this question better than I. What book would you recommend as the ultimate historical romance? And which would you name as a perfect example of a historical novel?


Laurie G said...

I didn't realize that you wrote as Miranda Jarrett!! I've read most of these books and enjoyed them! Loved the Sparhawk family!!

Two of my favorites would be:

Historical novel- Dr Zhivago
Russian revolution

Historical romance-The Thorn Birds
fictional love story set in Australia

Michelle Buonfiglio said...

Buongiorno, Bellas, and welcome, Susan! I'm really psyched about today's discussion because, I'll admit, I've had in the past a little teensy wee bit o contempt for the fact that there are women who'll read historical fiction but not touch romance w/ a 10 foot pike bloodied w/ the gore fr some Restoration unfortunate.

Maybe contempt is the wrong word, a little too strong. But I really think that there are chicks who love the romance w/in historical fiction who'd dig romance if they'd give it a shot. Why do I even want them to try it? Cause I think every woman deserves the soul- nourishing qualities of the romance read. Combine that with the brain candy of the historical novel, and you've got a really well-rounded reading experience for a woman who loves to fantasize riffs on history.

If I had my druthers, anyway...

Michelle Buonfiglio said...

Laurie, how cool that you've been drawn to both styles of Susan's writing! I've not read her Mirandas yet, and was wondering where to start. It's wonderful to discover a new romance author and know that there's a ton of backlist to enjoy.

Your mentioning Dr Zhivago reminds me of my father's mother. She adored Dr zhivago, the movie version, and it's really the only work of any type of fiction I remember her speaking of. Strong stuff, indeed.

Stacy~ said...

Hi Susan! Welcome. I remember your Sparhawks, and enjoyed them very much.

I think Diana Gabaldon writes an incredible historical romance series set in Scotland. It is epic, lovely, tragic and hopeful, and at the core is an unforgettably beautiful and moving romance between Jamie and Clare. I will really hate to see it end.

As for historical novels, I admit I don't read many of them because I prefer the HEA. That's just me. But I can't wait to see what others would say for this answer.

Vanessa Kelly said...

Hi Susan! "The French Mistress" sounds absolutely wonderful.

I think my ultimate historical romance is Lord of Scoundrels. Whenever I read it, I feel totally immersed in the time and place, and the romance is superb. I also love Eloisa James' DD series, which uses Georgian social history very beautifully, I think.

I think my fav historical novel is The Alienist, by Caleb Carr. I also loved City of Light, by Lauren Belfer. It's set in Buffalo in 1901, and revolves around the building of the hydro-electric stations at Niagara Falls. It's an amazing book, although I did hate the ending. It ends very tragically, which I thought violated the direction the book was moving in. It's actually one of the books that drove me back to historical romance, because I so thought the heroine deserved to be happy and an unexpected event in the last pages basically ruins her life. Years later, I can still remember how angry I was when I finished it.

Becke Davis said...

I'm a long-time reader of romance but relatively new to historicals. Since I discovered how good they were about a year and a half ago, I've been frantically trying to catch up on all the wonderful books I missed. A couple that stand out: Loretta Chase's Mr. Impossible and Lord of Scoundrels, Joanna Bourne's My Lord and Spymaster, Eva Ibbotson's A Countess Below the Stairs, Anna Campbell's books (all of them), Eloisa James' A Duke of her Own, Passion by Lisa Valdez -- too many to list!

Susan Holloway Scott said...

Ahh, so nice that the Bellas recall the Sparhawk family! I did love those books. :: sigh:: They were my "tribute" to the time I lived in Rhode Island, which, to be honest, is not exactly tops on most people's lists of the world's great romantic hot-spots. But 18th century RI was a pretty exciting place to be, or at least it was for the Sparhawks. *g*
There's one more MJ historical romance coming down the pike, the completion of the "Love on the Grand Tour" series called "The Accidental Bride." Should be out next summer!
For anyone who's interested (and who likes to poke around UBS), I've got the whole list of Miranda Jarrett
books posted here:

Janga said...

Another Sparhawks fan here. I have also enjoyed all four of your historical novels, although The King's Favorite is also my favorite. :)

I grew up reading Rosemary Sutcliffe and still retain a great fondness for her books. I adored Elswyth Thane's books, although they don't seem to fit exactly the definition for either historical fiction or historical romance. Maybe they're hybrids. I also love Mary Renault's books, and Anya Seton's. More recently I've enjoyed Anita Diamant's The Red Tent and Sharon Penman's Welsh Princes trilogy. Just this month I read Erica Eisdorfer's The Wet Nurse's Tale, which I thought was an extraordinary book.

Susan Holloway Scott said...

Michelle, it's interesting that you raise the "contempt" issue. I agree, there are loads of people who'll read historical fiction but scornfully won't go near those other shelves in the store.

OTOH, there are also plenty of historical romance readers who are leery of historical fiction, too. Some worry that there'll be too many unsavory details about daily life, or that bad things happen to good characters, or that there won't be a HEA pay-off at the end.

Valid points, yes. ("Cold Mountain" still makes me furious, because there was absolutely no reason to make the hero die at the end. Spoiled the whole book for me.) But just as there's a wide variety of romance writers for every taste, there's a ton of historical fiction writers out there, too. Anyone who's reading the writers mentioned here -- Loretta Chase, Eloisa James, Joanne Bourne -- would find it pretty easy to dip a toe into historical fiction.

Writing about real people (as I do in my SHS books) means I can't rewrite history to make it happier, as much as I'd often like to. But my MJ-evil-twin is still inside my head, and I always end my historical novels on an upbeat, satisfying note for my characters. I don't write war books, or gloom-and-doom stories. I like to write about people for whom love was majorly important in their lives. I don't think I'd even choose a historical figure for a hero if he has to end up having his head lopped off!

Anonymous said...

Susan, I've not read your Miranda Jarrett offerings, but have eagerly devoured your four HF books (DUCHESS and your restoration novels). I agree that in the HF vs. HR discussion, history sits in the front seat of the HF car, and that there doesn't have to be a traditional HEA. Certainly none of Charles II's had particularly joyful endings!

HR's advantage is the ability to really get creative with characters, settings, etc. to produce very unique stories. HF's advantage is the opportunity to bring real people to life without worrying about the HEA.

And readers have the real advantage because they can enjoy both!

Are you working on something new, now that you've finished up with Charles II's mistresses?


I ♥ Book Gossip said...

I would recommend Pride and Prejudice. It was one of my favorites.

cindyc725 at gmail dot com

The Reading Frenzy said...

Hi Susan - Happy Monday Bellas,
When I think of a wonderful historical novel I first think of Diana Gabaldon's Outlander series and even Wikiedia has trouble genre-izing it. So then I'll pick Ken Follett's Pillars of the Earth.
Now for the ultimate historical romance well that's much harder and I would pick any of Lynn Kurland's if you want a bit of woo-woo with your historical and I would pick Amanda Quick if you just want the good olde fashioned "bodice ripper". Now if you want a little Scottish flair I would have to choose Sandy Blair. But then I'm leaving out so many more, IT"S TOO HARD ugggg.

Monica Burns said...

Morning Bellas. Confession time. I know I've read historical fiction, but can't name one, unless one would consider The Mists of Avalon in the historical fiction category. It's been a while. Clearly I need to get back in the swing of things.

Susan, your book the French Mistress sounds wonderful. I just added it too my wish list as a reminder for my next buying spree. I added The King's Fav too. Now trying to etch out time to read. *sigh* I need to clone myself. One for reading and one for writing.

Susan Holloway Scott said...

Good suggestions so far, Bellas!

I agree, the Outlander series is a challenge to categorize. I've heard Diana G. herself say they're not romances -- yet I can't think of another group of books that are so well loved by romance readers. They really cut across both barriers.

I'm surprised that no one has yet mentioned a book by Philippa Gregory. In HF publishing, she's often considered to be a "crossover" to the historical romance market. She's certainly had the most success in the last few years.

As for oldy-but-goody HF that everyone's read -- Jean Plaidy, Phillipa Carr, Anya Seyton? "Gone with the Wind"? "A Tale of Two Cities"? "Forever Amber"?

Unknown said...

I would have to recommend Gone With The Wind because it has always been my favorite historical romance of all time.

Monica Burns said...

A Tale of Two Cities"? "Forever Amber"?

AHA! I knew I'd read historical fiction!! LOL TOTC is my most fav book evah!! I put off reading that book in highschool until Chpt 1 was due to be read Mon. Sun night I stayed up until around 1am cuz I couldn't put the book down! Totally awesome!

Forever Amber. OMG Another awesome book. Now i don't feel quite so out of the picture. LOL

Tiona said...

Hey, Bellas! Welcome back, Susan!
Posted earlier, but don't know what happened!
Anywayz, A Kingdom of Dreams by Judith McNaught is, as none of the Bellas are surprised to hear, my favorite historical romance of all time! Shawkah!
As to historical novels, don't really read much of those. I do agree with QB, though, since I love history, historical romances are great for both. Got the history and the HEA in one package. People are always surprised how much I learn from 'those' novels, hehe

Katrina said...

I just read Lord of Scoundrels this weekend based on the excellent feedback on blogs and your wonderful new blog site, Two Nerdy History Girls. I absolutely loved it!

As for historical novels, I love the French Lieutenant's Woman. But here's a question: can a novel be a historical novel if it was a contemporary when it was written? Jane Austen's novels, for example, are historical now but they weren't intended to be.

Michelle Buonfiglio said...

Great discussion today, this 'day before the kids go back to school.' I always enjoy it, cause I get a little misty and tend to forget how I've been driven crazy w/guilt for 3 months not spent infusing the minds of my kids w/anything more than Xbox and Sponge Bob.

Anywayz, Susan, I've seen a trend in historical fiction, the 'history from the pov of the non-aristo, or 'everywoman.' Like, the scullerymaid of Marie Antoinette's seamstress tells the story of the Fr Rev. What's up w/that?

Michelle Buonfiglio said...

Stacy and Janga, I'm so jealous that you guys have read the Sparhawks! I've got to get me some. Can I just say that my perfect period for a historical romance or novel would be, like, 1600s America, ok? Like, "Love in the Time of Pilgrims." So books set in Poor 'lil RI sound perfect to me.

I've got an interview w/Gabaldon I need to write, so you've given me a kind nudge. Thanks for that! It's interesting where she places her book in re romance, and her thoughts about the history of 20th C romance fiction; hopefully I'll capture some of that in the final draft.

Vanessa, do you feel like authors make the switch from the facile ending at the last minute to make it saleable in fiction? I wonder what the real inclination in the author's 'heart' is. I mean, if it's really to tear the plot up by the roots, fine, but I wonder at the motivation is all. Because there are books in which the HEA feels slapped on, too.

Tess said...

Um - did anyone see where my comment went? I posted it a couple of hours ago.

Jo Beverley's The Shattered Rose is my vote for ultimate historical romance and Elizabeth Chadwick's The Greatest Knight gets the nod for perfect historical fiction.

Michelle Buonfiglio said...

Tess and Principessa! I don't see your comments and they didn't show up in my inbox, either. blogger may be a little wonky today. I'm sorry for your inconvenience, but I"m glad you came back, too.

Michelle Buonfiglio said...

And, Tess, your name's reminded me of how much I liked "Tess of the D'Urbervilles," though decidedly not HEA. And my fave historical fict -- next to, say it w/me, Bellas, -- "Witch of Blackbird Pond," is AS Byatt's "Possession." Again, NOT an HEA.

Michelle Buonfiglio said...

and the Chadwick sounds great, Tess. Anything with "Knight" or "Rake" is a must read for me. :)

ah, Katrina, great question for the expert! And I loved the "Fr Lieutenant's Woman," too! I remember the silence in my class when I uttered aloud, "but she gave it up, then he sucked in bed anyway!"

I know, shocking.

I'm with you, Principessa. There's so much great stuff to glean from the historicals. And not just naughty words in the 'vernacular' of the period. :)

Mon, there's no way anybody believes you didn't read some historical fiction somewhere along the way. Go on w/yourself!

Michelle Buonfiglio said...

Interesting call on GWTW as romance fiction, Virginia and Susan. Cause we've had several great debates here as to whether that's the case. :)

debbie, i remember being shocked by the woo woo in the Kurland. I jsut wasn't expecting it in a Medieval. But that's what kinda made it cool. And score one for a guy, the Follett. Is that a Civil War?

And one P/P for I Heart, which we all sigh over... :)

EmilyBryan said...

For historical fiction, I really enjoy the work of Wilbur Smith. He's written a number of fascinating tales set in colonial Africa, but my favorite of his is River God set in ancient Egypt. The hero is a slave, poet, mathmetician, physician, artist and eunuch.

As for historical romance, there are too many stars in the heavens for me to pick just one!

Loved the excerpt of THE FRENCH MISTRESS!

Loretta Chase said...

I discovered historical fiction on some bookshelves in my grandparents' house: The Robe and The Silver Chalice, and some racy (well, I was a kid, and my jaw dropped) ones about Alexander the Great and Messalina. Maybe that's where the Nerdy History Girldom began. Years ago my father in law got me started on Patrick O'Brian, and I do love those books. But it was mainly historical mysteries that got my attention until Susan started her series. But oh, Michelle, you reminded me, I did love Possession.

Chelsea B. said...

Oh man, I havn't read many historical romances, so I can't really say. But I'm trying to change that!

robynl said...

Historical Novel: John William Jakes North and South

Historical romance: The Thorn Birds

Vanessa Kelly said...

Michelle, sometimes I do think that authors may slap on certain endings to make a book more saleable - that's certainly what it felt like to me with City Of Light. Or maybe there's inteference on the editorial level.

This is such a fun discussion! I'm being reminded of all these historical fiction books that I'd forgotten about, like Forever Amber and The Silver Chalice. I loved Thomas Costain back in the day.

Arianna said...

I've really enjoyed your HF books, Susan, but then I liked your Miranda HR books, too, and I liked the Fairborns even better than the Sparhawks. Guess I'll read you whatever you write!

One of the things I like best about HF is that the books are longer and richer, like HR books used to be back in the '80's. Remember those epic romances by Kathleen Woodiwiss, Rosemary Rogers, Laurie MacBain, even Laura Kinsale? HR today are often so short that there's no room for any history. I haven't given up on them because I do want my HEA, but I'm reading more widely, too.

Best HR: The Lion's Daughter by Loretta Chase (the Albania book)
Best HF: Henry VIII by Margaret George (SMOKES Philippa Gregory)

Isabella Bradford/Susan Holloway Scott said...

Ah, Bellas, I leave you alone for a few hours, and look at all you've written!

Great big ol' yes to "French Lieutenant's Woman", though I thought the ending was kind of a letdown, too. And to the most excellent Elizabeth Chadwick. And OF COURSE to the "Witch of Blackbird Pond." I can still remember the cover to that book....

You know once we include YA's in the mix, there's lots more historical fiction out there. Like all the "Little House" books: we all read those, didn't we?

Isabella Bradford/Susan Holloway Scott said...

Michelle wrote: "Vanessa, do you feel like authors make the switch from the facile ending at the last minute to make it saleable in fiction? I wonder what the real inclination in the author's 'heart' is."

I often wonder about this, too. Sometimes that last chapter almost feels as if it were written by another writer than the rest of a book. It's not so much an intellectual observation as a "feel" one -- like this is NOT what was meant for these particular characters.

But then, i can get wicked attached to characters if I 'm really into reading a book, and I do NOT like to be messed with when it comes to the ending. Grrr!

Isabella Bradford/Susan Holloway Scott said...

Katrina wrote: "But here's a question: can a novel be a historical novel if it was a contemporary when it was written? Jane Austen's novels, for example, are historical now but they weren't intended to be."

That's my feeling, too, Katrina. When Jane wrote, her books were contemporaries (though that term would be pretty foreign to her!) It's only to us that they seem like historicals. So while Dickens also wrote "Tale of Two Cities" a long time ago, he was writing about events that took place in an earlier time than his own. Sheesh, that sounds clunky, but I think it makes sense. Yes?

Isabella Bradford/Susan Holloway Scott said...

Oh, more yes's here -- to Thomas Costain and Patrick O'Brien and Colleen McCollough!

As for "Forever Amber" -- that was an absolute landmark book for me. I found an innocently dog-eared copy in my local library one summer while I was in middle school, and oh my what an eye-opener it was! I couldn't turn the pages fast enough, and I've never forgotten Amber St. Claire. I purposefully haven't reread it since I began writing books in the same time period, and with some of the same people, too -- didn't want to spoil that golden middle-school memory. *g*

Michelle Buonfiglio said...

Arianna, you wrote: One of the things I like best about HF is that the books are longer and richer, like HR books used to be back in the '80's.

I'm tearing up, cause it's so true, so true!

Michelle Buonfiglio said...

Christine Trent, I like your "history sits in the front seat of the HF car" (just like a big girl! is what popped into my mind and had me laughing). :) Then I wanted to add, "...and the Duke is in the back of the HR carriage w/the blushing virgin." But that's just how I think round this joint.

hi, Loretta! I love stories about what books we found on our relations' bookshelves that really turned us on to certain genres.

great goal, chelseaB!

Oh, I was kinda crazy for that Jakes one summer, Robynl.

Vanessa? Interference on the editorial level? I thought that was just an urban legend...

Michelle Buonfiglio said...

Susan, I stared at the cover of my Witch for hours wishing I were Kit. Wasn't in the cards for a nerdy Italian girl from PA...

And arianna, the George? Sounds really intriguing when you put it that way!

Thanks for the clarifications on 'historical' and 'contemporaries in history' susan and katrina!

Michelle Buonfiglio said...

Oh, and I haven't read "Forever Amber," so I'm off to remedy that. It won't be a stretch for me to channel my inner middle schooler, Susan, as you may have noticed.

Awesome that you've got another European Road Trip historical romance coming out next year! Can you tell us what you're working on now in the HF area? Someone above was asking,and I can't find her name now!

Isabella Bradford/Susan Holloway Scott said...

"Vanessa? Interference on the editorial level? I thought that was just an urban legend..."

Yep, like all those baby alligators in toilets. Exactly like that....

Mitzi H. said...

When I was young, my favorite Historical Romance was Jane Eyre.

Now, my favorite Historical Romance is Outlander Series by Diana Gabaldon. I know she doesn't considered romance, but the romance between Jamie and Claire takes center stage...along with the history, mystery, time travel and lots more.

I recently read The Bronze Horseman series and loved them. If it takes place during WW2, is it still Historical Romance???

Becke Davis said...

After reading these comments, I realized I do read historical fiction, I just didn't classify them that way.

Michelle Buonfiglio said...

Isnt that always the way of it, becke? I'm so anal about categorizing, at least w/HF we don't have to worry about blended genres. except for gabaldon. And the new Leanna Renee Heiber. and... d'oh!

ooo, great question, Mitzi, cause the date of when 'historicals' begin necessarily gets pushed back, right? Except for those of us who are ageless, as all of us are here at RBTB, darlings...

Isabella Bradford/Susan Holloway Scott said...

Becke, you're right -- it's the classifications that make it confusing. Who needs 'em?

Mitzi, I have to confess that "The Bronze Horsemen" is new to me. Who's the author? And yeah, I'd say WW2 is probably historical by now. It IS the last century, after all!

Isabella Bradford/Susan Holloway Scott said...

Yes, Michelle, we ARE ageless. Totally.

You ask what's next for me, book-wise, and I keep forgetting to answer. Duh.

My next heroine is Catherine Sedley (1657-1717). The only daughter of poet and playwright Sir Charles Sedley, one of the wildest of Charles II’s courtiers, Catherine grew up into a pretty wild lady in her own right. She was considered shamefully plain by her contemporaries, but she was blessed with a quick wit and bawdy sense of humor. She was also rich and well-connected, which made her much-sought-after as a wife, yet she refused to marry and let any man take control of her life. Instead she insisted on scandalous independence, becoming mistress to a king because it amused her, wife (at 39!) to a general because she loved him, and a countess in her own right.

The short version: a not-pretty wise-ass heroine who still gets the guys. You can see why I've had a blast writing about her! Title's THE COUNTESS & THE KING, due out next summer.

Mitzi H. said...

The author of The Bronze Horseman is Paullina Simons.

There are 3 books in the series:
The Bronze Horseman
Tatiana and Alexander
The Summer Garden

They are incredible books!!!

Mari said...

My favorite historical novel is Sarum, by Edward Rutherford, about the history of Stonehenge.

My favorite romance which is set in a historical period is Skye O'Malley by Bertrice Small.

runningmatey at hotmail dot com

Isabella Bradford/Susan Holloway Scott said...

Mitzi, I just looked up the Simons books, and they look fantastic. Talk about an under-used setting: Russia during WWII! You've made an addition to my towering TBR pile.

Mari, I attended a writer's conference this summer where Edward Rutherford was supposed to be the keynote speaker, and I couldn't WAIT to meet him. Alas, he had to cancel at the last minute. He is the current master of the "huge historicals" -- don't know how he can keep track of so much detail. Thanks for adding him to our list!

Jin said...

I haven't read many historical novels but the excerpt for The French Mistress has got me hooked. It's now at the top of my list of books-to-buy for my next bookstore shopping spree *g*

Isabella Bradford/Susan Holloway Scott said...

Thank you, Jin -- hope you stay hooked! :)

And THANK YOU to all the Bellas, and to Michelle for inviting me here to your palazzo. You are the BEST!

mrsshukra said...

Michelle, thanks for featuring Susan Holloway Scott here, new author for me and I'm always looking for new authors!

I've become very picky with historical romances that I read... can't really pick one because I'd like to think I haven't read the ultimate historical romance yet!

Anonymous said...

Enjoyed reading the commnets.
My favorite historicals are Gone With The Wind,Pride and Prejudice, and the Skye O Malley series by Bertrice Small.

Asylumgirl said...

I'm gonna go with Jean Auel's Earth Children series.