How important is historical accuracy to you in historical romance?
It's a question someone asked on an Amazon thread, and it's turned into quite the robust debate, with some readers saying they don't really care about it, while others say they don't respect books that are culturally or historically inaccurate.
It probably comes as no surprise to anyone that I fall into the latter camp. I've always felt that romantic fiction can be as literarily sound as literary fiction in terms of the research, attention to writing and the quality of the stories. So I try very hard to provide all of those things, in addition to a story that focuses on love and romance. You can decide for yourselves whether I succeed at that or not. I also try to be very accurate to the non-European cultures I place in my stories, so that I avoid stereotypes and depict that culture as accurately as possible without coloring it with my own biases and cultural perceptions — not any easy thing to do.
There are some readers who feel there's too much violence or "gore" in my stories, and that's fine. I won't tell anyone what they're supposed to think. The only time I got involved in a discussion about one of my books was a time when someone accused me of being racist for my portrayal of certain Native tribes for burning people alive. It was an absurd accusation because the events were absolutely taken from history and nothing I made up at all. As someone who's reported on Native issues and has Cherokee ancestry, I know that many people view Indians through a romantic lens, lending them "sacred" and "spiritual" qualities that might or might not be there. News flash: Indians are people. But I digress...
I find history sexy. I love to watch documentaries, to read historical diaries and letters, and to do straight-up historical research, because what unfolds in my mind as I do this research are the daily struggles of people who really lived. Their tragedies and triumphs begin to feel real to me and inspire me to tell stories about them. I think of men who trudged league upon league through the forests that once blanketed this continent and I think, "Yum." There's something about the untamed wilderness, and the men and women who were willing to face it, that I find terribly romantic and exciting. It is "stirring to my blood," as Cora says in the movie.
If anyone doubts that history is sexy, she should watch the 1992 film The Last of the Mohicans. I saw the movie when it came out, and I loved it. It describes — in not-so-accurate detail — the battle of Fort William-Henry, which I recently visited. Two strangers are brought together in the wilderness and find themselves in the midst of the battle that led to the destruction of the fort and the massacre of dozens — I'm not sure anyone has an accurate count of how many — of British soldiers and civilians. These victims of war are now interred beneath a parking lot — it's own tragedy. We drove through the site of the massacre on our way to Lake George last month, and it gave me chills.
(Editor's note: The author of this blog has just talked about the need for historical accuracy and is now praising a film which is not historically accurate. Think of this what you will...)
Though the film isn't accurate in its details about the battle and the French and Indian War — there are, for example, still Mohicans, as you will see in my MacKinnon's Rangers series — it gives you a sense of what it was like back then with great attention to costume and weaponry, etc. You get a real feel for the epic scale of everyday life and the struggles for the common person who tried to build a life on the frontier.
Though my MacKinnon's Rangers series and Ride the Fire are not based in any way on this film, it certainly helped to make this period of history one of my favorite by inspiring me to do my own research. It may also account for my decision to mix the Scottish and Indian cultures together in my heroes — something I didn't think about until just this moment. The soundtrack is fantastic, and I write to it all the time while working on a historical novel.
So in honor of that, and as part of my continued celebration of the release of Untamed, the second book in the series, I am giving away a DVD of the film together with the a signed copy of Untamed to one lucky person chosen at random from those who post to this blog. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did!
Today's discussion topic: How important is historical accuracy to you in historical romance? But feel free to comment on the film Last of the Mohicans, as well.