In episode 9, Melissa and Jeni talk to author Amara Royce about writing strong heroines in historical fiction.
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Welcome to the Indie Chicks show! I’m Melissa Koberlein, an author and professor of publishing and she’s Jeni Chappelle, a freelance novel editor.
Indie Chicks celebrates and supports independent women in publishing. We’re a place for writers at all stages of the publishing process. So, whether you’re on the traditional route to publication or self-publishing, you’ve come to the right place for advice.
On this episode:
We’re talking about writing strong heroines in historical fiction
End with an author tip of the week
This week we’re joined by Amara Royce. She writes historical romance set mainly in Victorian London. She focuses on the mid-nineteenth century (the 1850s) and later. She has a PhD in English literature, specializing in 19th-century British novels. In her other life, she’s a community college administrator so historical romance writing is a creative and entertaining way to make use of her academic background.
Here's the Q&A
So, I’m dying to find out about how you got started writing in mid-nineteenth century historical romance. Spill.
It was sort of a perfect storm. I’d started out writing literary fiction, but everything I wrote tended to be heavy and depressing. I was writing historical fiction set in this same period, but it was moving toward a tragic ending, and I found myself dreading the writing and feeling increasingly insecure about fiction writing in general. I’d been a fan of romance novels in my youth, and around 2009 I started reading a new romance author after following her literary agent’s excellent blog about the publishing industry. So, mired in a pit of writerly despair, I decided to give myself permission to write anything I wanted to write, as long as the writing was fun and joyful. While writing any novel has its challenges and difficulties, I found myself enjoying writing again as I followed the story where it led and asked myself questions about the characters and the plot obstacles that they faced. I was also intrigued and delighted by the two cardinal “rules” of romances--that they have a central love relationship and that they end with a “happily ever after” (HEA) or at least a “happy for now” (HFN). And what came out ultimately became my first published historical romance, Never Too Late. I’m still open to writing whatever genre calls to me, but I find that writing historical romance brings me a distinct lightness and pleasure I don’t always get in writing other genres.
How do you combat historical accuracy, or, I should say, the perceived historical facts about women from the Victorian era with writing strong, independent heroines in your novels?
First, I’ll be the first to say that I’m sure I could always be more historically accurate in my writing. I know there have been historical details I’ve gotten wrong, and I’ve learned from my mistakes. When it comes to writing strong, independent heroines, though, there are a number of historical examples to work from. While the widespread conventional wisdom of the time was that there were “separate spheres” for men and women in society (men = industry, public, etc. / women = domestic, private, etc.) and that generally women couldn’t own property, attend college, or vote, there were examples of women who defied many societal conventions about what women should do and be. And while this was the time period in which “advice manuals” held that a woman’s most vital role in society was as The Angel in the House, creating the ideal home environment for her husband and children, this was also the time in which renowned women authors like George Eliot, the Bronte sisters, and Elizabeth Barrett Browning flourished . It was also the time of philanthropist Angela Burdett-Coutts, nurse Florence Nightingale, businesswoman and nurse Mary Seacole, the first woman doctor--Dr. Elizabeth Blackwell, paleontologist Mary Anning, astronomy Mary Somerville, and others. And during this period, many working class women had to work to support themselves and their families.
So, I’ve read Never Too Late. What a great tagline- “Expect the unexpected, especially in a room filled with books. . .” Nora is a very strong, independent heroine. She runs her family’s bookstore. What inspired you to write her?
Thanks so much! I’d been reading historical romances voraciously a few years before starting Never Too Late, and I had noticed that the heroines (at least of the ones I’d read) tended to be young debutantes or socialites. As much as I enjoyed these novels--and as strong as some of these young heroines seemed to be, I felt compelled to write about a woman who didn’t fit this “mold.” So the first things I knew about Honoria were her name and her relative age. Then I had to ask myself what positions Nora could have that would enable her to support herself financially...and, as I researched the period, I stumbled up booksellers, including an image of “her” bookshop (but with a different name, of course). As I considered what her character was like, it made sense that, if she had to support herself and run the family business, she had to have many strong qualities, including intelligence and business savvy.
What advice do you have for new romance writers in regards to creating believable heroines in historical romance?
As we learn more and more about historical details and seek more information about who existed where and when and what accomplishments they achieved, I think we find that there are many women who have been “forgotten” by history or have recently been “recovered” through historical and literary scholarship. While I wouldn’t recommend violating the historical accuracy of details like Victorian law, etiquette, attire, modes of transportation, etc., I would encourage other writers, romance and otherwise, to dig deeply into the less familiar figures of history! It can be both inspiring and enlightening to find out the complexities and nuances behind believability!
Tip of the week: Vellum. If you’re an indie author, you need Vellum in your life. It’s a lifesaver for interior layout and formatting.
On our next podcast, Jeni and Melissa are talking with Sarah Neville about the artist-writer connection. We will also have another Tip of the Week.
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Indie Chicks out.