How Did You Get Hooked? The Origins of Our Addiction (to Historical Romance)

  How did you fall in love with historical romance stories, as a genre? Last weekend’s “Fall Back in Time” campaign had a lovely nostalgic twist to it when people posted photos of beloved old historical romances that set them on the path to addiction –oh, wait, I mean, that introduced them to the genre.

Those included Jane Austen novels and the now-classic Kathleen Woodiwiss romances like The Flame and the Flower, as you might expect, but also a huge range of other books and authors. We writers never know when one of our own stories may serve as the “gateway” book for a new historical fiction fan’s addiction. Of course, we take a kind of evil delight when that happens. Hooked another one! Heh-heh. It’s a lovely validation of what we do.

Readers seem to fall into one of three camps with how their interest started. Where do you fit? Did you discover historical fiction first, perhaps in childhood? Or did you discover romance novels first, then the historical ones as a subgenre? Or did you find historical romance as a new type of story to love, all at once?

I fit into that first category, hooked on historical A Little Maid of Marylandfiction very early. As a young reader I devoured the “Little Maid” series written by Alice Turner Curtis (American history). Originally published in the 1920’s, those fired up my imagination and influenced some of my early attempts at writing. I was lucky to have a mom who knew about them. Despite how dated the writing seems now, I would still buy the reissues on Amazon if I had any young girls in my family! From there, I loved to read any story that was set before the 20th century.

Earthfasts coverThen there was Earthfasts by William Mayne. It mixed contemporary and historical time, fantasy and reality and the supernatural, and it is set in the Dales in England –who could resist a book like that? I still take this book out and re-read it from time to time, still plunged right into the story by Mayne’s vivid writing.

I stumbled upon Pride and Prejudice on the library shelves (I do so miss browsing, don’t you?) in 7th grade. Even though I didn’t understand half of it at the time, I couldn’t get enough. The combination of historical setting with romance mixed in was intoxicating. I started reading my mother’s copies of Mary Stewart and Victoria Holt/Phillippa Carr, and then I discovered Barbara Cartland. (I know.) I read everything. I was on a quest. But the Regency time-setting very quickly became my favorite, along with authors like Edith Layton, Mary Jo Putney, Joan Wolfe and Mary Balogh. Now my list has too many authors on it to name them all!

So, what authors got you started, and how did you start? Who were your favorites? I’d love to know. If you want to post pictures, we might be able to have some of the discussion over on our Riskies’ Facebook page, which I tend to forget about. But please comment here first, and then let us know if you are going to post there! In the meantime, happy reading!!

About Gail Eastwood

Gail Eastwood is the author of seven Regencies that were originally published by Signet/Penguin. After taking ten years off for family matters, she has wobbled between contemporary romantic suspense and more Regency stories, wondering what century she's really in and trying to work the rust off her writing skills. Her backlist is gradually coming out in ebook format, and some are now available in new print editions as well. She is working on the start of a Regency-set series and other new projects. Stay tuned!
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13 Responses to How Did You Get Hooked? The Origins of Our Addiction (to Historical Romance)

  1. Great post, Gail! Shirlee Busbee’s GYPSY LADY and several other of my mom’s historical romances were what pulled me in as a teen in the 80s. She read westerns, vikings, pirates, medievals, Regencies, you name it. But the Regencies are what kept pulling me back.

    • Thanks, Kristen! How lovely that your mom read such a variety of books! I’m sure many of us owe part of our love of books to having moms who set the example for us. I remember reading Gypsy Lady! I went through a whole phase of reading “gypsy-related” romances, and then did some “gypsy” research, too. But never wrote one. 🙂

  2. I first read Pride and Prejudice when I was nine years old. I gobbled up the rest of Jane Austen, the Bronte Sisters and then moved on to Georgette Heyer. I was hooked! Late in undergrad school I read my first Kathleen Woodiwiss – The Wolf and the Dove and fell in love all over again.

    Some of my older favorites are Gayle Wilson’s His Secret Duchess and Rexanne Bechnel’s Dangerous to Love.

    • Louisa, I think I’m jealous that you found Georgette Heyer so early in your reading career! Wonderful! I discovered her quite late, long after I was hooked on Regencies, and wondered why no one had ever told me about her!! Do you remember how you happened to read Jane Austen at such a young age?

      • I do. We moved to England when I was nine. (My father was in the Air Force.) We lived in a tiny English village 22 miles from Ipswich. The house next door was owned by two retired librarians, sisters. They had two things this little American girl adored – horses and an actual library in their home. (First one I’d ever seen in a home!) I immediately wormed my way into cleaning their stables in exchange for riding lessons. They found out I loved to read and that I loved history. I spent many a rainy afternoon in that library reading in front of the beautiful fireplace in that library. Once they realized I’d been reading since I was four and was reading history books far above my grade level they decided to broaden my horizons. One of the first books they suggested to me was Pride and Prejudice. It remains one of my favorite books ever. They had the most beautiful leather-bound copies of Austen, the Brontes and those lovely hardbound copies of Heyer. The ladies are gone now, but I will always be grateful to them for introducing me to the world of Regency romance!

        • Oh, Louisa, what a LOVELY story!! Thanks so much for sharing that with us. What a wonderful experience for a 9-year-old (or anyone at any age!) Yup, I think I’m officially envious!!! 🙂

  3. Actually, I was turned off to the genre by K. Woodiwiss! I read the Wolf and the Dove as well as the Flame and the Flower and there were glaring historical inaccuracies, what I felt were unbelievable characters, and glorified rape. Didn’t appeal to me. That is why I love YOUR books!! – very well researched!!, likeable and believable characters!!, and well thought-out plots. You may recall I used to look through Mom’s library books and got hooked on cosy suspense/mysteries. These need to have humor – for gritty realism I can read the newspaper – and likeable characters, as well as being well written. I hate it when my interaction with a book is muttering over and over that they should have had an editor who could spell! I have to browse Amazon these days, since they closed our Borders and our Barnes & Noble. Just my 2 cents worth. Show me some books that are as good as yours, and I might give the genre another try.

    • Susan, thanks for commenting! But my dear sister, you put me to the blush!! I must note that you -could- be a teeny bit biased towards my books! There are soooo many wonderful authors working in this genre, including all of my fellow “Risky” authors! You could try our Risky “Sampler”, which is free. Eight of us offered the first two chapters of selected books we’d written. Or, you can still get the Regency Masquerades boxed set for 99cents, I think! (Price is about to go up.) You’re still getting a deal even though you’ve already read my contribution to it. That way you can try out a number of other authors to see if you like their voice and style.

  4. Elena Greene says:

    I started out as something of a hybrid between the 3 types you mentioned. I was drawn to books where there were strong emotional attachments–not necessarily romantic love, as I read a lot of horse books. I also enjoyed Little Men and Little Women, got a combination of Anglophile/fantasy mix from C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien. In school I read (and was one of the ones who loved) Austen and all the Brontes. The most direct pull, however, was my mom’s collection of Georgette Heyers and other Regencies.

    I loved Heyer but was sometimes disappointed by Regencies that felt too derivative of her work. Then I found authors who were trying something new: Loretta Chase, Mary Jo Putney, Mary Balogh , Jo Beverley… there are others, I’m sure. I followed them into historicals, so my first introduction to the longer historical was NOT the rape-y style that would probably have put me off the genre.

    • Elena, LOL about the horse books! But you’re very perceptive to realize part of their appeal was the strong emotional ties. I’d forgotten about the Alcott books! I read (and still have) my mother’s copies of those, too, and they certainly fueled my interest. So many wonderful books! I’m really enjoying hearing about everyone’s individual journey into discovering our genre.

  5. HJ says:

    I came to historical romance by way of historical fiction for children. Some of to wasn’t written as historical fiction; it was just published a generation earlier so seemed historical to a child. Also, I was reading about England while living in a different country, so there was that element of somewhere completely strange which one also finds in historical fiction.

    I think my first historical romances were by Georgette Heyer. I was also reading Geoffrey Trease and Rosemary Sutcliffe and I think I saw Heyer’s books as a similar sort of thing but with a little less action or adventure. I was also reading the classics such as Jane Austen and the Brontes. As I movedthrough my teens I realised I was just as interested in the relationships between the characters as in the action and history. Then I discovered Mary Stewart, which combined all the elements (I know they weren’t written as historical novels, but they were about a world which was so different that they could have been).

    I can’t remember which was my first true historical romance apart from Georgette Heyer. My love of history grew so I was reading more historical novels, and I think I discovered that there were some which focused more on the romance, and I was hooked.

    • HJ, thanks for joining in! Did you have any historical fiction favorites as child that you still recall? I haven’t read any Geoffrey Trease or Rosemary Sutcliffe –I should try them, as they sounds like books I’d like! (Oh, dear, and I “need” more books to read….right?) I think you are right about the way we transition as teenagers to become more focused on the relationships between the characters.

  6. diane says:

    How about being hooked by Nancy Drew around age 9? What I loved about Nancy Drew was that she was fearless and clever. Whenever Ned showed up, I paid extra attention, but I also loved that her adventures took place in another time, the 1930s. That was certainly a foundation for loving historical romance, I think.

    Later I devoured Woodiwiss, Victoria Holt, etc. but then when I was working, raising small children, and going to graduate school, I stopped reading. It wasn’t until my children were older that I started reading again, but I didn’t really get hooked on Regencies until I was already writing and my friend Helen told me to read Mary Jo Putney’s The Rake and the Reformer and Georgette Heyer.

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