Thursday, March 6, 2008

Historical Fiction 101- Part 2

My apologies for not posting the Spotlight yesterday. My sister was kind enough to bring home a nasty cold and share it with her siblings. (don't slip in the puddle of sarcasm...) I could barely keep my head on straight enough to work, much less write a coherent blog post.

Time Periods

There is actually quite a bit of confusion out there as to what the different time periods are that make up historical fiction. I'm going to give a pretty basic list and not go into a whole lot of detail. This is 101 after all.

Biblical- This is the sub-genre that covers Genesis through the 1st century Christians in Rome. The series that most CBA readers will think about for this period is Francine Rivers' Mark Of The Lion series. Also, the Thoene's AD Chronicles series falls into this sub-genre. There's not a lot out there in the CBA market that goes into the later years of the Roman Empire. I would guess that the reason has something to do with the pagan culture of ancient Rome, as well as the pagan cultures the Romans encountered during their conquering of much of western Europe. The Roman period sort of segued into the Byzantine/Ottoman Empire, which also seems to be a taboo period right now because of the emphasis in this period on the creation of Islam and the Eastern Orthodox church.

Medieval/Middle Ages- This period also is not very popular in the CBA. A big part of the reason is that Christians at that time were 95% of the time Catholic. For some reason I don't understand, many CBA publishers seem to have a hang-up about novels with Catholic characters--historical or contemporary. At one point many years ago, there was an editor who didn't think it was possible to be a real Christian before the Reformation. Which is utterly absurd. The thoughts on medievals in CBA seems to be changing though. Love Inspired launched their historical line with a medieval, The Briton, and Lisa T. Bergren's medieval set trilogy has been getting fantastic reviews.

Elizabethan/Renessaince/Reformation- Think Leonardo, Michaelangelo, Martin Luther, the Sistine Chapel, Venice at its height of glory. This period is also a hard sell, but you have more belief system options for your characters. Catholicism was still the way of much of the western world, but the Church of England was emerging at this time, as were the Puritans and the Pilgrims. This period also gave birth to the greatest Christian allegory ever written- The Pilgrim's Progress.

Awakening/Georgian/Colonial- Also a hard sell for some strange reason. The 18th century was generally known in England as the Georgian era, and here in the Colonies it was the time of the Great Awakening, a huge spurt in popularity for non-Calvinist denominations, and the seeds of revolution were planted all over the Western world. You have the American Revolution, the French Revolution, the rise of Napoleon, the downfall of England and the beginnings of the Industrial Revolution all happening in the same stretch of years. It was a very busy century, and one that most publishing houses won't buy. Kinda sad in my opinion because there was so much going that is absolutely crucial to the reasons why the Colonists were so dead set on overthrowing British rule.

Regency/Empire/Federal- This period is enjoying a huge moment of popularity thanks to the 2005 version of Pride & Prejudice, the new Jane Austen movies made by the BBC and Disney's "Becoming Jane" starring Anne Hathaway. This span of time covers about 1795-1830. In England it was the Regency, in France it was the Empire, and in the newly formed USA it was the Federal. This period is most noted for its simple, comfortable clothing and clean lined furniture. The 1830's don't really fit in anywhere because they were so vastly different from the preceeding and following decades. The 1840's were just as gloomy and dark as the 1830's were gaudy and brash.

Victorian- This is actually a HUGE span of time and many other periods fit into it. Technically speaking the Victorian era stretched from 1837-1901--the years that Victoria reigned as Queen of England. Women were all about copying Victoria. Her tastes in furniture, clothing, books and music ruled Western society for nearly 3 generations. Her reign is often seen as England's Golden Era, and it's also my favorite period to read about. She encouraged innovation, experimentation and family devotion. The American Civil War falls into this category, as does Reconstruction and Antebellum fiction, along with a host of other stuff like British India and British Africa.

Edwardian- Not to be confused with Victorian! Edwardian started in 1901 and went until about the time of the Titanic. Anne of Green Gables is set in the Edwardian period, as is the American Girl doll Samantha Parkington. The Gibson Girl is usually associated with the early Edwardian period with her sweeping updos, angelic face and leg o' mutton sleeves, but she actually had her start in the 1890's.

WW1- After the Titanic disaster, the world started gearing up for war. World War One, or The Great War as it was called by the people of that time. Again, it's a hard sell in the CBA. My personal thoughts on that is because the war didn't have a clear rallying cry. There was no central "evil" to fight. It was just a bunch of kings and arch dukes playing with their toy soldiers. This led to the Russian Revolution and the overthrow of the Russian monarchy, the dissolution of the Ottoman Empire and the rise of communism.

Roaring Twenties/The Depression- The Roaring Twenties are most known in the US for jazz, Prohibition and the mob. Also a hard sell in the CBA because of the very loose societal morals of the day. While felt the most in the US, the effects of the Depression stretched into every corner of the modern world. It was a time when Communism was very appealing with its promises of food for all and world peace. Nobody knew then how much of a lie it was and how many millions of people were dying in Russia because of Stalin's paranoia and a government induced famine.

WW2- The first truly global war with battles fought in all hemispheres and on nearly every single continent. With a good, gripping story that hasn't been told yet, you can sell a WW2 story easily in the CBA market. Judith Pella sort of blazed the way for Cold War spy novels with the last book in her Daughters of Fortune series, and I for one would love to see more of those types of stories. Guess that's why I'm writing one...

And that's pretty much where historical fiction ends right now. Some houses consider the Korean War as historical, some don't. Ditto for the 60's and Vietnam. Those two are a very difficult sell because of the culture you have to write about. I imagine in another 10-15 years, the line for what is a historical novel will move forward a decade or two.

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