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I once heard a reader complain about an author (not me) who wrote about a fictional house in Bath at an address that would have placed it in the river. I suggested to the reader that the author may have used a nonexistent address to avoid conflicting with a real house with its own history, also that very few readers would know Bath in enough detail to care about something like that. This sort of exchange that makes me think about the boundaries between history and fiction. We are making this stuff up, after all. At what point can it be called “historically inaccurate”?

I think it’s a matter of scope and what is common knowledge.

Regency authors frequently invent English villages. I’ve done it several times myself, though I always based my fictional villages loosely on real ones in the county of choice. If one invented a new city to rival London or Bath, that’d be edging into alternate history territory; there’d have to be a good story reason to do it.
I have read some romances which featured fictional small countries, when the author wanted to write about a royal hero or heroine. This sort of verges on alternate history, but on the other hand, there really were quite a few little principalities and duchies. Inventing the Regency period equivalent of Liechtenstein seems OK to me if the story justifies it, as in Julia Ross’s MY DARK PRINCE.

Another issue of scope could be military rank and achievement. Romance heroes are often captains or perhaps majors; going any further up the chain could start to conflict with real history. It took influence as well as performance to move up as fast as Wellington did–and who wants their hero to compete with that reality? Yet I’m OK with heroes who (like Sharpe) play a significant role in historic events. There I think we’re in Author’s Note territory.

One borderline area we’ve discussed before is the plethora of dukes in romance. There really weren’t that many of them and fewer who came into their titles young enough to be typical romance hero material. To me inventing a new duke is like inventing a new country; it makes sense only if it’s really going to drive the story. Otherwise, I think a lesser title or even (gasp!) none at all would be more realistic. After all, Mr. Darcy didn’t need a title just to be hot. 🙂
What do you think? When do authors go too far in creating places and characters? When do you think an Author’s Note is required and when does work cross over into alternate history?

Last week during Megan’s post on historical accuracy Cara and Kalen both talked about errors regarding horses, like the Bionic Horse that can gallop for hours nonstop. It got me thinking about some of the other howlers I’ve read.

Here are just a few.

Errors in terminology. The heroine who referred to the strap that held the saddle on as a cinch. That would be OK if she were a cowgirl but in English riding it’s called a girth. The words phaeton and curricle used interchangeably for the same carriage. A phaeton (left) has four wheels; a curricle (below) two.

But these are really minor gaffes compared to the abuse of terms for horses themselves.

Confusing a pony with a baby horse. A baby horse is called a foal (or colt if male, filly if female). This is a foal. No one in his right mind would put a child or small adult on its back.

Ponies are a type of horse that are small even at maturity. They are generally longer-lived and hardier than horses. This is a pony. As you can see it is not a baby. 🙂

(Image from RIDING ACADEMY, by Norman Thelwell.)

Sex changes. Yes, I’ve read more than once where a mare turned into a gelding or stallion during the course of a ride. It’s as if the authors just looked in a thesaurus to find alternatives to “horse”. Even if these were mistakes of the oops variety, where were the copy editors?

Testosterone gone wild. Most male horses were and are gelded, to make them more manageable and to preserve only the best for breeding.

Still I can’t deny there are few more virile and beautiful images than that of a powerful stallion and I understand why so many historical romance heroes ride one. Stallions can be extremely trainable and responsive mounts. While I was in England I was lucky enough to see Jennie Loriston-Clarke riding her glorious stallion, Dutch Courage. The rapport between those two was a wonder to behold.

However, stallions generally do require more expert handling than other horses. So I couldn’t help raising my eyebrows on reading about a hero giving the heroine her first ever riding lesson on his stallion or about the hero who kept teams of black stallions stabled along every major roads in England. My feeling is these authors are trying a little too hard with the sexual imagery!

OK, time to share. What are your favorite horse bloopers from Romanceland?

And which authors do you think get horses best?

My favorite has to be Julia Ross. The best horse scenes I’ve ever read are from her MY DARK PRINCE (read more at


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Recently, I asked a much-more-knowledgeable-than-I friend, “Doesn’t it kinda make you sick that I’m writing Regencies, and yet I have no clue about some of this basic stuff?” It was during one of those frequent moments when I feel like a fraud for doing what I love. The plight of a lot of women, but that is not the point of this post.

Her reply, being a friend and all, was that no, it didn’t matter if the writing was good. And knowing me well, she went on to assure me that my writing is good.

And I’ve been thinking about that since, especially since I have asked both her and my dad (my research partner–hi Dad!) to answer some research questions for me: Towns and inns along the Great North Road, titles, Church of England common talking points, and a good first name for my villain (we settled on Elisha).

When I was in college, I took a course titled America Since 1945 (I minored in political science and religion). I came out of high school without a clue as to how to study, so when it was time for the first exam, I frantically memorized dates and events. But when the test came back, I did poorly. Why? Because while I knew the dates, I didn’t understand the why behind the dates. The dates themselves didn’t matter, it was the progression of history and various moments of cataclysm that mattered. I learned a lot that day, which might be why I am so laissez-faire about my own research; yes, getting it right is important if you’re writing historical fiction, but it’s not as important as getting the feeling right.

So while I am occasionally embarrassed about my mistakes, I feel as if I have the tone right, the feeling of the period oozes through every word of my writing. And I might never know the right way to address the daughter of a peer (Lady Megan Frampton, I think, whereas the married-into-it address would be Megan, Lady Frampton), but my characters are inspired by the time, which in my opinion trumps perfect historical accuracy every time.

Of course there are sore points for every reader; I roll my eyes when I read a book where the titled lord can decide to whom his title will fall when he’s dead, like he’s bequeathing a toaster or something (Carla Kelly does this, but I still LOVE HER WRITING). Others can’t deal with marriage details (special license inaccuracies? Guilty as charged).

What are your sore points? Do you fault authors who don’t get it right, or do you turn a blind eye if the writing is good? Have you pre-ordered the fabulous Carla Kelly’s Beau Crusoe yet? And which authors get everything right? Loretta Chase springs to mind; who else?


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