Plaid, Breeches…what’s next?

Historical romance gets short shrift from the traditional publishing industry. Fifteen years ago, it was selling like hotcakes, until they declared that the historical romance market was dead and promptly stopped buying historical romance from authors…which killed the market for them. (Funny how that works).

One of the earlier editions of DIANA BY THE MOON, and the first cover that Dar Albert of Wicked Smart Designs ever made for me.

As the ebook market was just starting up around that time, a lot of historical romance readers and authors moved over to the new small presses and kept writing happily, proving the historical market wasn’t quite as dead as New York seemed to think it was.

It’s been selling strongly ever since. I know, because I’ve been writing historical romances on and off since I was first published. The second book I ever sold to a traditional market was a historical romance in disguise, a Sherlock Holmes pastiche. The third book…well, I’ll come to that.

The reason I’m mentioning New York’s funny attitude toward historical romances is because of the overwhelming plethora of plaid you see whenever you go near the best-selling historical romance charts. Plaid, and breeches. When New York does unbend enough to buy an historical romance, it seems to think that Highlanders and Regencies are all anyone wants to read.

Which is ridiculous.

Oh, I have no argument that these two sub-genres are super popular, because they are. I love a good Jane Austin type movie, and I’m really (really!) enjoying the Outlander series.

Only, those two genres cover between them at most, sixty years out of ten thousand years of human history and three (or so) millennia of written history. If you throw in the next most popular sub-genre, western romances, that’s at best a one hundred year period and that’s stretching it.

That’s a lot of wars, battles, revolutions, crises, human disasters, colonies, civil wars and more where men can be real heroes and women can be legitimately rescued and not have tomatoes thrown at them for their lack of backbone.

The current edition of Diana by the Moon–cover also by Dar Albert.

Yet we tend to reach for the comfortable, known eras when we want to read an historical romance.

The third book I ever published was an historical romance, Diana By The Moon, that was set in the time of King Arthur–if such a period ever actually existed. For the purists, it is set in the last years of Roman Britain, the “Dark Ages” when written records stuttered and died and no one is really sure what went on at all. Seventy years later, the Saxons swept in and turned Britain into England, converted to Christianity and “civilized” the natives. That is, they enslaved most of them.

But it took years and years for the Saxons to gain a toe-hold in Britain. The theory among romantics like me is that a war lord called Arthur (or Arturo, as he was most likely called), wrangled the Celtic tribes into cooperating with each other to fight the Saxons and for a while, they succeeded. There is very little historical evidence of Arthur. The few sources that mention him directly have been discredited as unreliable, or plain fiction. But the hints are tantalizing.

That is why I set Diana by the Moon in that period. It was a desperate time in Britain, especially for the Roman British, who still considered themselves Roman and believed Rome would come back to save them. They would have had no time for a man like Arthur, who spoke of independence and had no intention of waiting around for Rome to arrive.

What would be more natural than to make the heroine a daughter of a Roman family, and the hero the worst possible man she could fall in love with? A Celt and one of Arthur’s lieutenants.

One of the movie versions of King Arthur that actually featured Celts, although the balance of the movie was almost pure fantasy.

The book was published by a micro-press, and has been in and out of print a few times since, until I published it myself in November 2013.

The interesting thing is, it doesn’t sell as well as I think it should and I suspect that the reason why is the setting. It’s not about highlanders or dukes.

When I first devised the story, I wrapped around it an entire historical romance series set in three or four hundred year periods stretching from ancient Britain through to the late Victorian period. Accordingly, the next book in the series I wrote was an early Medieval romance, Heart of Vengeance. It also doesn’t sell as well as I suspect it would if the hero was wearing a kilt instead of chain mail.

For that reason, I have never been able to write the rest of the series, because the other books are all set in eras that are even more unpopular than these two.

These days I put Diana by the Moon and Heart of Vengeance together in a “collection” rather than a series.

If you love historical romance and are ever ready for something a little bit different, give them a try.

Also, after the strong reaction I had to the idea of a Pirates of the Caribbean style romance series, I’ve added it to my production list. Sign up for my newsletter to hear when that is published.

What’s your favorite historical setting for romances? Maybe I can build a list…

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