18 January 2007

Friday Discussion Question

In the "About The Hinterlands" section of her website, our girl Karen Mercury rhetorically wonders about the romantic potential of her novel's premise. Human sacrifices? Graveyards? Benin City???

I see a distinct lack of swashbuckling in books -- perhaps the Regency/Austen style setting does not lend itself to high action -- and I'm not alone. Just read the first paragraph of this review by Jayne of Dear Author. An unusual setting helps define the potential for action and romance in a novel. By my taste, Karen's premise is certainly not out of bounds, romantically speaking, and offers a refreshing alternative to tea time and pistols at dawn. (I'll get around to reading it sometime this year -- promise!)

So, our Friday Discussion Question is: what makes a great romantic setting? Why do some places fire up your imagination and others leave you cold?


Kim Iverson Headlee said...

Aha, thanks to the Yahoo group link I can be the first to post, for a change!

Oh, wait, it's not Friday yet ... is that going to get me in trouble? (ha)

ANYWAY, to answer the discussion question, it's not so much the place setting or time period that leaves me cold so much as the cliche'd characters...and certain historical subgenres seem to lend themselves more readily to cliche than others. Personally -- and not intending to step on any toes, but it is my opinion -- I tend to stay away from Regencies because most of the ones I have read have left me thinking, "Lifestyles of the Rich and Boring." [And if writing Regency IS your thing, I challenge you to write one that doesn't fall into that category!]

RE: Swashbuckling (or lack thereof). I suspect its presence or absence has more to do with the author's preference than the preferences of target editors -- one notable exception being the author of The Black Dragon, who responded to her DearAuthor review by saying she preferred to buckle swashes, and that she had originally written the manuscript at a time when "less was more" with regard to the high-action scenes.

Which leads me to offer a bit of advice: if the story you want to tell happens to jive with a target market's specifications, great. Otherwise, if you sweat bullets trying to make it fit, by watering down scenes or adding stuff you don't feel very good about, then ultimately you may not feel as proud of the overall effort...and that subliminal feeling tends to work itself into the resulting text.

Marjorie Jones said...

Ms. Mercury's use of unusual setting and location are a great move forward for romance, imho. While her book is listed as an Historical Fiction, I think that's a good too, because I know of the sweat, tears and research she puts into her work to make it as realistic as possible and positively genuine. Take our readers to interesting new places and times is a feat when we consider that the editors sometimes have very little vision to the future (or the past if it doesn't involve a Duke and his untoward betrothed), so we all must plod ahead and make our mark in the bizarro world of romance where we've chosen to write.

Ummm... what as the original question? LOL.

Marjorie Jones said...

Oh, okay, I read the orginal question LOL...

A great romance setting depends entirely upon the CHARACTERS, not the location. Two really boring people in a fabulously romantic location (cliche, but like a deserted beach with just the right sunset and all the right adventure) can be horrible, while the RIGHT two people meeting and falling in love in a Diner in Minnesota (remember that movie with Christian Slater and Marissa Tomei?... Something Heart? I can't remember off hand) can be intensely romantic.

So in my opinion, we can write a book set in an unusual location, but we have the added pressure of making our readers believe in it by creating just the right characters for that locale.

Medieval Britian still floats my boat if the story is unique and adventurous. I still like to write them, I still like to read them.

I never thought for a second that I would enjoy reading an historical set any later than say... 1830... but now I write them. For me, it's all about the circumstances and the adventure and the love... not the year or the country.

jennifer said...

Okay so I'm getting so many stories out there that i have to watch what i say. I just picked portugal solely on the basis that i hadn't written a story there. one of my favorites a WW2 spy story in scotland i picked just because i hadn't written WW2 and had this vision of a woman staring at a ceiling she didn't recognize and asked how would she have gotten to a room she didn't recognize. I'm not sure why but South America hasn't really drawn me much as for why i can't say. I'd love to do morocco but no story has presented itself. i can give lists of places that draw me and as for turning me cold i don't know that's the way i would put it more that i just havn't thought of a story yet. I'm only 32 and have a lot of years left to fill with stories maybe i should make it a goal to have one for every country in the world. ahh every state in the country too, just for good measure.

and Kim I don't think my regency is boring so there.

Anne Whitfield - author said...

I too, will read a book in almost any setting as long as it is a good story.

I just finished reading Elizabeth Chadwick's The Champion, a medieval story set in 1190/1200 in mainly what we now know as France, but with some England and Wales. I loved the story and have read others from this author who I know from other writing groups. She researches the periods she writes about very well and gives them such a medieval flavour that i feel I'm right there.
Her book The Falcons Of Montabard is set in medieval eastern Europe, Jerusalem 1121, etc. I thoroughly enjoyed it.
Sharon Penman's Here Be Dragons triology is set in medieval Wales and I really enjoyed reading of the castles and keeps hidden in the dark mountains of that wild country.
They are books to sink your teeth into! LOL

Delia DeLeest said...

Give me good characters I can sink my teeth into and I don't really care too much about the setting. I do like to read about unusual places, especially when the book gives an accurate account of the customs, traditions, etc., it's like getting the benefits of reading non-fiction while still having the fun and adventure of fiction.

Eliza said...

Give me some dark, dirty crime to fight or a good, old fashioned gothic novel (complete with a creepy old building) and I'm interested, if not hooked. I'm a sucker for noir.

Lisa Yarde said...

I love any setting that has rugged landscape or wide, open spaces. Northern Wales comes to mind easily. Sharon Penman's Here Be Dragons inspired me to make a trip there, although family had been begging me to come for years before. I also like exotic settings. I loved Bertrice Small's This Heart of Mine because I thought she brought 16th century India to life. It's actually the only book of hers that I liked, but of course, there she repeated the "woman trapped in a harem" theme that runs through most of her earlier novels.

carrie_lofty said...

I admit that I am a setting snob. I love reading a back flap and finding something new there. The IDEA of a new setting, a new time that I've never considered before, charges me up and claims my interest. However, whether the novel becomes a keeper or not has to do with the author's ability to sustain my interest with characters and a (relatively) believable storyline. The whole package. But whereas some people are snagged by covers, for me it's always the history :)

As for writing, I think I'm along the lines of what Jennifer said -- some places just grab me more than others. I don't know why. I have an interest in tzarist Russia but not in the Caribbean. Go figure! I just get feelings from places, and those feelings create the story, the characters who might live there -- or better yet, be at odds there.

Morag McKendrick Pippin said...

The characters and how the story is presented. If the author puts me there then the cats and hubby best feed themselves cuz I'm not coming for air til I've read the last page.

Karen Mercury said...

Oops, forgot to comment on my own post. :) When first trying to sell the Benin (Nigeria) book, I had a hell of a time selling the setting. "Sounds good, but strange setting."
That was only 3 years ago and I think the market's much wider now thanks to writers like Morag and Marjorie.

As for what I like to read, I'm with Marjorie in that I automatically put back/skip over anything that says "Regency" on it. I skip over most books that say "England" unless it's Victorian.
The first thing I do when I get my RT is scan through the settings, and I only read the "unusual setting" reviews.

Oh and Jennifer, I was just reading last night about Moroccan history. Sounds like it was full of pirates and spies.