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Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Another Time and Another Place

One of the workshops I teach is called Another Time, Another Place, Writing the historical romance that transports the reader.

This is my idea of what a historical novel should be – to take the reader to another time and another place – to so create the feeling of the historical era that for the reader it’s like time travel. I’m one of those writers who came late to reading romance (I admit, it was those over the top covers of the early days of romance).

However, I’ve always read historical novels and one of the hand outs from my Another Time, Another Place workshop I give a list of some of my favorite historical novels that as reader took me on that time travel journey. These are some of my old favorites, in no particular order.

Gates of Fire by Steven Pressfield – as Classical Greece was one of my favorites eras to teach in my Western Civ classes, I really enjoyed this book. It recounts the battle of Thermopylae with a much more authentic feel than the movie The 300 (which was based on a graphic novel, and not history).

Another of my classical favorites is The Last of the Wine by Mary Renualt which is a coming of age in classical Greece during the Peloponnesian Wars. I actually did a paper on this novel for my graduate class comparing the novel with the primary and secondary sources for the time. The fact that Ms. Renault was a classical scholar came through loud and clear. And she wrote a compelling story.

For another classical story, again, nothing like the movie, try The Fire from Heaven by Mary Renault about the childhood of Alexander the Great..

I also recommend two novels written in the forties by Samuel Shellenbarger. Unfortunately, they read a little ‘old fashioned’ from today’s novels, but are still worthwhile. Prince of Foxes gives a glimpse of life in Renaissance Italy. I haven’t seen the 1949 movie with Tyrone Powers. The second is The Captain From Castile, the story of a young Spanish nobleman’s adventures in the New World

Several historical writers create a character or cast of characters and then take them through a series. Two of my favorite series are Bernard Cornwall Sharpe series and Dudley Pope’s Ramage series. Both are set in the same time frame. Try Sharpe’s Eagle (the first written) and march with the British army against Napoleon. Or go to sea and sail with the British navy with Dudley Pope’s Ramage and follow the adventures of Lieutenant the Lord Ramage.

And I hope if you like history, you’ve read Gone With The Wind and not just watched the movie. Of course when you have to condense a lengthy novel in to a movie that people can actually sit through, you have to lose a lot. Like one of Scarlett’s marriages.

If you liked Old Yeller about a boy and his dog, try another of Fred Gipson novels, Recollection Creek and see life through the eyes of a young boy in 1990s Texas.

One of my favorite series are the Williamsburg novels by Elsworth Thane, starting with Dawn’s Early Light. Again, the writing style can strike you as old fashioned, but it really is a romance. And then you can follow the family though the American Revolution and beyond.

My other favorite series are the Americana novels of Janice Holt Giles. Her first book is The Kentuckians, which so enchanted me as a teen, that when in my thirties I started to write, my first story took place in the Kentucky that Giles made real for me.

I wrote Kentucky Green in which my heroine was a young girl on the frontier during the time of The Kentuckians.

I later found out that Ms. Giles used a Master’s Thesis, The Life and Times of Benjamin Logan to give authentic background to her story. The main character in The Kentuckians is David Cooper and Ben Logan one of the minor characters. And of course, this story was also a romance, as David and Bethia have to find a way to be together against the background of the American Revolution in Kentucky frontier.

As a history teacher, I really enjoy and delight in novels that make the past come alive for the reader. After all, how can we know where we want to go if we don’t know where we’ve been? Have I mentioned any of your favorite historical novels? Do you have one to recommend?

14 comments:

Kathy said...

I love historicals. I cried when I read Gone With the Wind at the age of 13, I'm 58 now as of next month. I'm reading Kat Martin's Night Secrets now and recently read several Johanna Lindsey novels. She is responsible for me falling in love with romance books. I read historical or modern just takes the cover to grab me first then a good blurb.
I took a lot of history classes while stationed in Germany in the 1970's. The old saying if we don't learn from history we are doomed to repeat it is true. But I digress I love historical novels because they are about a time we can only romanticize and dream of in many ways. I do love how they sneak in certain things about the time that the hero or heroine are against that eventually were changed.

Terry Blain said...

Ah! Another lover of historical novel. Thanks for commenting.

Kathryn Albright said...

Hi Terry,
Thanks for all the recommendations of good reads! I loved Old Yeller and so will definitely look Recollection Creek up. Even the title is "cool." I'm a sucker for coming of age stories. One historical novel that captured me early on was Ramona by Helen Jackson. She wrote it after journeying west in the 1800s and observing first hand the plight of the Native Americans in Southern California. (The book is way better than the 1940 movie.) Instead of being received the way she had hoped, and helping the Native Americans, the book was received as a romance. It is a classic now. A wonderful story.

Another favorite novel from 8th grade English is Johnny Tremaine. Loved it. Loved the old Disney movie of it too.

Thanks for a great post, Terry!

Gwynlyn MacKenzie said...

I read historicals almost exclusively. GWTW is classic, although I really didn't understand what Rhett saw in Scarlett the first time I read it (teenager.) Slap that spoiled, selfish girl upside the head and move on, man!

I usually read European history, however. Fairytale castles are hard to come by in the US. Someday, however, I would love to have one. *G*

Pauline said...

The best historical novelist of the 20th century was unquestionably Patrick O'Brian. I've read (and written) a lot and absolutely no one can put you in the middle of not only Nelson's Navy but the entire World of the early 19th century like O'Brian. Anyone who hasn't read at least one of his Aubrey/Maturin series is more than missing out.

Susie Schade-Brewer said...

Glad to hear of your recommendations for a good read. I'm due for a new good book. I shall certainly check some of them out.
Susie Schade-Brewer

Virginia C said...

A wonderful post! I read a variety of genres, but I always return to historical romantic fiction. I highly recommend "The Frontiersman's Daughter" by Laura Frantz. An amazing debut novel! Laura has two more books coming up this year, and they are highly anticipated!

gcwhiskas at aol dot com

Jeannie Lin said...

I read Gone with the Wind long before seeing the movie and I just can't stand how fast everything rushes in on you in the movie! The book is one of my favorites.

Another favorite of mine is Alex Haley's Roots. Some of the most powerful scenes I've ever read are from that book.

BTW Kathy - Johanna Lindsey is probably why I write historical romance. Her wicked rogues definitely swept me off my feet. :)

Terry Blain said...

Katherine,

I, too, liked Johnny Tremain. As I recall the Disney movie was better (at least less gritty for a teenager) than the book.

How about Third Man on the Mountain? Loved that one, too.

Terry Blain said...

Gwynlyn,
could it be because Scarlett didn't fall right at his feet? Also, I think Rhett saw the rebellion against society 'rules' that was in him.

Terry Blain said...

Pauline,

Since I read Pope before O'Brian guess that's why I like him better. But both are execellent.

Never could get into Hornblower, though.

Shannon said...

Thank you so much. Some of these books I have never even heard of, but will keep my eye out.
Nice post.

Virginia said...

I read a little of everything but historicals are my favorite! I have read GWTW several times since I was a teen ager, watched the movie again a while back, this story is the one that got me into romance! If you love the western romances try Elaine Levines debut book Rachel and the Hired Gun, I think it was the best book I read this past year!

librarypat said...

Thanks for the suggestions. These will be good reads. I may already have them in my boxes of old books. I actually like the way they read. In addition to a story about a different time period, you get a feel for the time period in which the book was written. In cases where the books contemporary works, they give you a real window that time period. We read Jane Austen and think historical romance, when in reality, she wrote contemporary novels. It makes you look at the books a bit differently.
Kenneth Roberts' Lydia Bailey was the first historical fiction novel I ever read. It was an eye opener to what books could really be.