Home Forums Let’s Talk Romance Diversity in HR

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    • Nan De Plume
      Post count: 350

      Hello, All!

      There have been a lot of heated discussions throughout various AAR threads about diversity in romance novels, specifically diversity in HR. Since a number of commenters on this week’s ASK said it would be better to move big tangents over to the Agora, I thought it would be enlightening to invite conversation on this hot topic here.

      To kick this off, I’ll start by saying that I am in the camp of diverse characters in HR being treated as individuals who could have believably existed in their time and place. For me, this doesn’t mean a prohibition on minority characters in HR but their intelligent creation and integration within a real time period as opposed to blithely blowing past all the challenges they would have faced or just going full HR-fantasy without labeling it as such.

      Examples of diverse HR that worked well for me were the movie Belle, a number of HR titles by Beverly Jenkins, and The Care and Feeding of Waspish Widows by Olivia Waite. In each of these examples, minority characters are fully fleshed out as individuals rather than being carelessly thrown into the narrative for diversity’s sake. That’s an important distinction for me. One story that did not work well for me had two lesbian side characters in Colonial America who were so out short of saying “Hey everybody! We’re a couple!” that I kept waiting for them to have to spend time in the stocks. Not only did it ring incredibly false, but it felt forced like the author was trying to make a point rather than create compelling characters. Furthermore, I think it did a real disservice to pretend this blatantly obvious butch/femme couple- the former of whom was a crossdresser in public (totally illegal in early America!)- would have been widely accepted as though they were living in modern day San Francisco.

      So what do you all think? How do you think diversity should be handled in HR? For this question, I mean all kinds of diversity including race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, disability, and even outlying thinkers. I await your responses!

    • Elaine S
      Post count: 350

      I don’t know if the TV series Gentleman Jack was shown where you live, Nan de Plume. It was a BBC/HBO production (2019) with the incredibly talented Suranne Jones as the lead character, Anne Lister. I thought it was brilliant with sympathetic and powerful performances. It’s the story of a strong-willed woman, set in the 1830s, based on her diaries which recorded in secret code her life time of lesbian affairs. If you haven’t seen it, it’s worth looking for if you can. Both at times sad and really funny, I loved it.

      • Nan De Plume
        Post count: 350

        Thanks for the rec, Elaine. I’ve never actually heard of Gentleman Jack. Nor have I heard of Anne Lister. Where have I been? Thanks for the rec. I’ll have to check it out when I have somewhat fewer than a million things on my never ending TBW list. :-)

    • Carrie G
      Post count: 350

      I guess I take each story individually. Plenty of K.J. Charles’ book are set in times when being gay could get you hanged. I don’t think she sweeps that under the rug, but still manages to give a HEA to her characters. She isn’t giving HEAs to every gay person of the time period, just her characters,and it’s usually hard won.

      That said, I also like the idea of representation, even if it’s not “historically accurate.” I’m more concerned about historical accuracy in historical fiction,not historical romances,which pretty much are never historically accurate anyway. Too many young dukes, too many “independent” young ladies, the completely false idea that women were “on the shelf” at 23, etc. The fact that too many novels have no minority characters at all, when Great Britain was such a colonial power and London had a significant minority population stretches credulity. Since there is so many inaccurate assumptions made by most HR (we call them “wallpaper historicals for a reason), I think deliberate stretching of the situation in order to include minority representation has it’s place. This is fiction, we are telling made up stories, and we can dream of “what ifs.” So when Milan writes about a half-Chinese Duke, or a Charles’gay couple gets their HEA, or a black person (or Indian person) has a place in society, I enjoy it for what it is. A chance for people other than whites to see themselves in history.

      • Nan De Plume
        Post count: 350

        Those are all good points, Carrie. I definitely agree with you about the different expectations between historical fiction and HR.

        Having said that, what converted me to reading romance in the first place were solidly researched HRs that didn’t strain credulity. Specifically, my earliest experiences of HR were through the great Beverly Jenkins. Maybe that spoiled me. :-) At the time, I was searching for a get rich quick scheme and had intended to read romance novels in an act of meanspirited research. Reading HR grounded in history changed my negative attitude and drove me to seek out more for pleasure. Before I got bitten by the romance bug, historical fiction was one of my go-to genres. Learning about HR’s HEA/HFN requirement fully brought me over to the other side as too much historical fiction had depressing endings. Finding out there were historical fiction books out there with a happy ending requirement felt like an amazing revelation. Sign me up!

        But if I had started by reading the wildly anachronistic duke-marries-the-serving-girl-who-likes-to-hang-out-in-gaming-hells type stories, I doubt I would have gained such a positive experience with the genre. It’s not that wallpaper historicals are *bad,* but I think there needs to be more of an industry distinction between them and historical fiction-esque HR. The way things are right now, a lot of readers feel frustrated that they have to dig through piles of HR-lite in order to find stories starring characters who act like they could have existed in their particular era and setting versus “let’s put anachronistic characters in pretty dresses and play pretend.” Again, nothing inherently wrong with the latter category, but I think creating two separate subgenres of HR might help readers better find what they are looking for.

    • Caz Owens
      Keymaster
      Post count: 55

      I think anyone who hangs their argument for historical accuracy on “there were no black/brown people or gay people in England at that time” doesn’t know that they’re talking about. I’m a stickler for historical accuracy, yes, but never have I said or thought that marginalised people don’t deserve an HEA or that they didn’t exist. I might only be an “armchair historian” but I know enough to know that England – London especially – was a melting pot. I’m more concerned with the number of authors who can’t get bloody titles and forms of address, or rules of inheritance right – things that are really easy to look up these days. Historical romance is – like most romance – fantasy and escapism, which isn’t to say that authors should try their best to get customs and conventions right. THAT’s my bugbear!

      • Nan De Plume
        Post count: 350

        Yes to all of this, Caz. Maybe I’ve misread some criticisms of historically accurate HR, but I don’t recall anyone saying there weren’t racially, ethnically, and sexually diverse people in England- at least not at AAR. I would certainly *hope* that misconception wasn’t the case. One of my beefs is when authors push the diversity angle to the point where their stories look like a UN summit/pride parade without sufficiently developing the characters themselves or showing how they could have realistically navigated their particular era. Obviously, this is subjective criteria that has a lot to do with the writing itself.

        Take The Vicar and the Rake, for example. I was skeptical from the beginning how the author would do a successful HEA involving a clergyman and a duke in Regency England. Now, I like m/m, but there’s only so much suspension of disbelief I can handle before I say, “This is not in any way, shape, or form ‘historical’ except for some popular tropes and window dressing. This should be classified as fantasy/alternative history.” Granted, I’m well aware that HR has a fanciful “what if” element to enable characters to find happiness even in dire circumstances. But for something with the word “historical” in it, I expect some believable grounding in historical fact. A huge part of the draw of HR for me is watching characters of their time and place overcome obstacles in a period appropriate fashion rather than 21st century time travelers in costumes.

        Of course, I’m sure a lot of readers like the 21st century time traveler angle. That’s totally fine! I think there’s room for both kinds of stories. But I think publishers should do a better job labeling the two genres so readers know what they are going to get in advance. It’s kind of like how I don’t like the tendency to mix science fiction, fantasy, and horror in the same anthologies. Yes, they are all speculative fiction, but each form of storytelling is different. Romance publishers separate CR and HR into different sections for good reason; they are different subgenres of romantic fiction. Maybe speculative HR or HR-lite needs to have its own shelf too.

        • Caz Owens
          Keymaster
          Post count: 55

          If readers want to Time Travel as you put it, then fine. But if they’re time traveling back to actual Regency England, then Sir John Whotsit should be correctly addressed as Sir John and not Sir Whotsit! People should walk on pavements (not sidewalks), sit with cushions (not pillows) at their back, turn on taps (not fawcets), go into shops (not stores) etc. Which is true for stories in a contemporary setting, too.

        • Nan De Plume
          Post count: 350

          Oh, I totally agree, Caz. Those blunders can really take a reader out of the story, especially if the reader is actually from the UK! I’ve said it once, and I’ve said it before: how hard would it be for HR and CR editors to keep a laminated cheat sheet of titles and Britishisms to check submitters’ work against? Heck, Harlequin should do a blog post on this topic and provide a permanent link to it on their HR submission guidelines page.

          Funny side note on this topic: There were some complaints on Amazon that Fifty Shades of Grey, which allegedly takes place in Seattle, WA, USA, is littered with Britishisms instead of Americanisms. It made me think of all the blunders in Regency HR you mentioned. I thought, “Yep. What goes around, comes around.”

        • Nan De Plume
          Post count: 350

          That should read, “I’ve said it once, and I’ll say it again.” My brain today…

        • Carrie G
          Post count: 350

          In K.J. Charles’ Society of Gentlemen series the stories are steeped in time and place with the history being well researched and written. She also manages to give her m/m couples their sort of HEAs. The fact is, gay/lesbian people have been around forever and they have found ways to exist. Yes, we see what it did to Oscar Wilde, but he was also well known even at the time. People living in obscurity may have had an easier time living quietly together. Women certainly wouldn’t have had the same problem as men, since unrelated women sharing households was common. But I feel sure gay men also found ways to live.It’s up to the author to be creative enough to imagine a scenario that could work.

          And the fact that we see zero Indian or black characters in most historical romances makes them as much a fantasy as people living openly gay lives, in my opinion. And personally, I’d like to see more representation in HR, and I don’t even mind if that representation is on the outside of historical accuracy. When people gobble up the “duke marries a serving girl” tropes (which made me laugh–see below**) , I don’t understand when they balk at the Indian nabob at the society gathering.

          **I have to admit, I loved Faro’s Daughter by Georgette Heyer, which is totally a “man of stature marries a girl who works in a gaming house” trope! LOL! Plus Heyer is known for both getting historic details right and whitewashing Regency England, all at the same time.

        • Nan De Plume
          Post count: 350

          I realize I am totally remiss not reading KJ Charles yet (braces self for being scolded by Caz).

          “The fact is, gay/lesbian people have been around forever and they have found ways to exist… But I feel sure gay men also found ways to live. It’s up to the author to be creative enough to imagine a scenario that could work.”

          Absolutely! For me, a lot of the fun of reading queer HR is watching the scenario unfold, wondering how the heck the leads are going to make their arrangement work in a time and place that demanded secrecy. And make no mistake, I *want* them to have their HEA/HFN. But like you said, that requires the author to be creative. I am pleased that a number of authors like Cat Sebastian *do* make that hard-won HEA work in a fashion that seems plausible for the genre. When it falls apart for me is when authors get cavalier, letting their characters be so open that it becomes alternate reality rather than a period-appropriate happy ending. To me, The Vicar and the Rake is a perfect example of how *not* to write queer HR. Besides the author applying certain tropes without any originality, the characters behave in a rather heteronormative 21st century fashion to the point of being cringeworthy- especially the thoroughly modern ending that would have felt a bit much even for a CR.

          Whereas with It Takes Two to Tumble by Cat Sebastian, I could totally buy the widowed sea captain and the vicar getting together without causing too much suspicion. Granted, it’s an HR and I’m willing to stretch suspension of disbelief a *little* bit. But pairing someone who was previously married with three children with a vicar he hired as a tutor for those children created that plausible opening for an HEA. I closed that e-book thinking, “Yeah, they totally could have made that work given their circumstances.”

          “When people gobble up the “duke marries a serving girl” tropes… I don’t understand when they balk at the Indian nabob at the society gathering.”

          I can totally see your point there. For me, I’ve never been a huge Regency or titled character fan partially because of the huge amount of suspension of disbelief that goes along with it. In a way, I understand though. Regency HR is a bit like Westerns in that both genres are typically based on a mythos rather than actual history. Which is unfortunate, I think. Both time periods have a lot to offer that could be more historically grounded *and* diverse. But I think doing so means looking outside of the ton for inspiration. After all, there are so many professions, time periods, and places to explore!

        • Carrie G
          Post count: 350

          I had a nice long reply written and my computer decided to shut down my browser. ::sigh:: I gotta run right now but may be back later to rewrite it. :-)

        • Nan De Plume
          Post count: 350

          Ugh, I hate it when that happens! Technology, right? Sorry you went to all that work only to have it disappear. I’ll check back later. :-)

        • Carrie G
          Post count: 350

          Ok, now for me to recapture all the masterful eloquence of earlier. Since it’s disappeared into cyber-wasteland, it’s safe for me to say (and not be refuted) that it was definitely my most profound writing to date and I will forever mourn it’s passing. ;-)

          Onward! For a great look at historical accuracy and a less common character in a love story, Stella Riley’s The Black Madonna is an excellent example. Her historical research is meticulous and her ability to seamlessly weave fictional characters into historical events is unrivaled. In this book, her protagonist is an Italian Jew who is a goldsmith. He is on a mission to find out who accused his father of treason and got him hanged. Neither Jews nor Italians were well liked in England at the time, so writing a believable love story was a challenge, and Riley succeeded in spades.

          But I also want to see more representation even if it isn’t “historically accurate.” Representation matters, and just because minorities, the disable, homosexuals, and others had a more difficult time, they were still present in history and deserve to be seen. It doesn’t really matter if “this probably didn’t happen.” The fact is we don’t know all the stories that DID happen, and it’s worth exploring the could-have-beens and the might-have-beens. It’s fine if some people don’t want to read those stories. I don’t want to read mafia fiction. That’s a personal taste thing. What I don’t understand is the push against these kinds of stories, as if they shouldn’t exist because someone feels they are false narratives. ALL of these books are fiction, and in a fictional world we can dream dreams. But even more than that, we can imagine stories that actually could have happened that we simply don’t know about. Ones that were never recorded.

          I don’t go on rants about how no one should write mafia fiction or books with assassins as the hero. I have all kinds of problems thinking they make sympathetic heroes,but that’s fine. Other people want to read it and that’s grand. I feel the same way about having representation in historically set novels. I want those stories and I hope more authors will write good ones. I love how K.J.Charles has a trans person as a minor character in her Society of Gentlemen series. We know trans people existed, and it’s good to see them in stories.

        • Nan De Plume
          Post count: 350

          And I shall mourn the loss of your magnum opus comment along with you, Carrie. Although I will say your revision is pretty darn good. :-)

          First, are you trying to make my TBR list collapse under its own weight? I haven’t heard of “The Black Madonna,” but it sounds awesome. I’ll have to check it out.

          Second, I totally agree with you about the personal taste factor. Beyond that, I think a lot of the criticism of HR that presents diverse characters in a way that probably couldn’t have happened for the time period is a problem of marketing. Take the kerfuffle about “The Bridgertons,” for example. My problem- and probably the problem of other critics- was not that there is a series that blends anachronistic music, costumes, decorations, and colorblind casting per se. My beef was its marketing as a Regency HR instead of historical fantasy. Honestly, I think you can tell any story you want to, but let’s not pretend it’s historically grounded beyond some window dressing. It’s historical fantasy fiction, which is fine. But why not be more open about this being the case, especially when this is one of the first mainstream examples representing the genre of “HR?” I get that HR has a fanciful element inherent to the genre, but I think there’s a difference between working within the framework of plausibility for a particular era- the zeitgeist, if you will- and totally throwing all that to the wind and still labeling it as being somehow historical. As far as I’m concerned, those are two different subgenres of romance- just as fantasy and science fiction are two different subgenres of speculative fiction. Neither one is necessarily *bad,* but mislabeling things annoys a lot of people.

          “I don’t go on rants about how no one should write mafia fiction or books with assassins as the hero. I have all kinds of problems thinking they make sympathetic heroes, but that’s fine. Other people want to read it and that’s grand. I feel the same way about having representation in historically set novels.”

          I totally get what you’re saying. And I agree we should all read and write what we please. As for representation in historically set novels, I think the same courtesies should also apply to readers who like the comfortable, familiar whitewashed Regencies that once exclusively defined the genre. There’s room for both kinds of readers without the consumers of such literature being automatically slapped with the label “racist.” I concede that some of them might be, but then again, I don’t automatically accuse ardent fans of Italian mafia stories of being anti-Italian either. A lot of it just comes down to taste.

          “I feel the same way about having representation in historically set novels. I want those stories and I hope more authors will write good ones.”

          I want well-written diverse historical fiction and HR too. I know some of my comments on other threads have left a bad taste in people’s mouths because of my wording. Basically, I want characters to be created believably and intelligently. Now, for some readers, representation via cameo appearances is enough. It’s not enough for me. I want characters to feel real, warts and all, rather than a mere political bullhorn. That’s true of any character for me. If I can sniff out the author making a point with a character rather than fleshing out that character as a well-rounded person, that’s not a story I’m going to enjoy. But it’s okay if others think that’s enough. We’re all different.

          “We know trans people existed, and it’s good to see them in stories.”

          You might enjoy “Confessions of the Fox” by Jordy Rosenberg, if you haven’t read it already. It’s an interesting kind of #ownvoices dual narrative story where a transmale professor stumbles across a manuscript that presents the historical thief Jack Sheppard as a transman. Normally, I don’t like reimagined history that changes the races, sexes, and other canonical facts about real life people, but it worked beautifully in this book because the professor is trying to authenticate this document. Is it the real story we never heard, or a piece of hopeful fanfiction? Interesting stuff. I enjoyed it.

    • chrisreader
      Post count: 350

      Carrie G said “ . When people gobble up the “duke marries a serving girl” tropes (which made me laugh–see below**) , I don’t understand when they balk at the Indian nabob at the society gathering.”

      I had a big post I did yesterday that disappeared into the ether as well and never posted. It had Wikipedia links and everything but I’ll do a condensed version.

      There certainly were people of color who mingled in society at the highest levels, particularly during Queen Victoria’s reign. She “adopted” or took as goddaughters or godsons people like Princess Victoria Gouramma of India , Sarah Forbes Bonetta of Africa and Majarajah Duleep Singh who had his own beautiful country estate and spent time with the Royal Family as their guest.

      Not that Queen Victoria’s motives were kind and pure, she was interested in “Christianizing” their countries and wanted to use their conversions as “good examples” to help do this. But the fact remains that it’s certainly not anachronistic to have a person of color at a society gathering. I’m not saying 19th century England was a warm fuzzy melting pot of good feelings and equality, but people can’t use the excuse that “there were no people of color” to try to whitewash other people’s novels.

      As many people know, Jane Austen (who is held up as the last word on Regency manners, mores and etiquette) included Miss Lambe, a woman of color and incredibly rich heiress Lady Denham wants her titled nephew Sir Edward to marry in her work Sandition. If she didn’t think it was “anachronistic” to include her in her books that we look at as a mirror of society during that time, why do people quibble with authors who do so now?

      • Nan De Plume
        Post count: 350

        All great examples, Chrisreader!

        Speaking of Queen Victoria, I thought it was cool they included Sarah Forbes Bonetta in one of the episodes. I had never heard of her before, so naturally I had to look her up at the end of the show. Fascinating person.

        I hadn’t heard of Jane Austen’s unfinished novel, Sanditon until you brought it up. Thanks for bringing that to my attention.

        “If she didn’t think it was “anachronistic” to include her in her books that we look at as a mirror of society during that time, why do people quibble with authors who do so now?”

        I think there are a few reasons for this. A big one, unless I’m mistaken in my knowledge of history, is that there were definitely black aristocrats but not black dukes, kings, and queens in Regency England. I know that stirred up a bit of controversy on the Bridgerton thread, particularly in regard to Queen Charlotte. Despite the claims that the real Queen Charlotte was “black,” we have to keep in mind old England’s liberal classification of the term for anyone darker than they- if it was even brought up at the time. From what rudimentary research I uncovered, it is possible Queen Charlotte had Arab, Maghreb, and/or Berber heritage. But Sub-Saharan African? Probably not. I don’t say this as a criticism or a dog whistle or whatever someone wants to call it. I mention this because I think the critics of a black actress being cast as Queen Charlotte have a legitimate point. Just as I think critics would have a point if a blond haired, blue eyed Nordic type were cast for a real-life woman who had probable Middle Eastern/North African heritage. It really depends upon where you stand on the issue of colorblind casting.

        Having said that, I understand Carrie’s point about viewers and readers who want to stretch past the bounds of believability in order to see diverse characters in HR. But that doesn’t work for me personally. Just like I would be turned off by anachronistic music, period-inappropriate costumes, and distracting modern day language in something touted as “historical.” I have often said that if a Shakespearean production keeps the late 1500s/early 1600s language but has the characters dressed up in 19th century costumes, I’m not watching it no matter how good the actors are. It’s just too distracting for me on a visual level.

        • chrisreader
          Post count: 350

          I was thinking more of Carrie’s quote about people not accepting in novels there were people from India present at society events rather than the Bridgerton TV adaption (which is its own thing entirely).

          I think there are a lot of people in general who comment negatively on things in historical novels or romances they they just think is anachronistic because they haven’t heard of it, but don’t take five minutes to google before complaining about it. I’ve heard it about everything from people’s names to haircuts to clothing let alone ethnicities of people.

          I think people have set ideas of eras like “all Victorians did this” or “everyone in the 1950’s did this”. I know Happy Days used to annoy my mother when I was a kid because she would catch part of it and say “You know we weren’t’ all running around in poodle skirts ” and “I didn’t know anyone who did that”. We often have a kind of caricature idea of what certain times were like.

          One of the reasons I enjoyed Mad Men so much is because of how they showed the slower way people’s lives change over time. We don’t throw out our house full of furniture every year, discard our clothes for new styles every season or wear every new hair style as it comes along. They even researched the different ways women applied lipstick from the 40’s vs 50’s and 60’s so the older women would make their lips a slightly different shape when they wore it on the show. I love those kinds of obsessive details.

          My quibble with Bridgerton, as others have noted, is that they didn’t do a good job with the backstory. They gave a quick mention to how things were integrated that wasn’t well thought out and didn’t make sense time wise. They should have either not addressed it directly or handled it more thoughtfully and thoroughly. Because of the artistic liberties they took across the board and its kind of fantastical nature of music and clothing and settings it’s clear they weren’t trying to make a 100% accurate version of Regency England unlike the BBC production of Sandition which used very correct clothing, no visible makeup and appropriate settings so they didn’t even have to speak about it. I hope that in season two they will present it more coherently if it’s addressed.

          (Disclaimer: I did not end up watching Sandition despite being excited for it, as I found out from British reviews that it ended on a kind of a cliffhanger because they wanted a second season which was not picked up. So there would be no resolution. I knew it would just bother me to watch an unfinished project of an unfinished novel!)

        • Nan De Plume
          Post count: 350

          Ah, I see. That’s a good point about set ideas of eras. It sounds like history needs to be taught a lot better in schools than it is now. And for heaven’s sake make it interesting and relevant. Like anybody actually cares or needs to know what year Charlemagne was born… ;-)

          “I knew it would just bother me to watch an unfinished project of an unfinished novel!”

          I can totally relate to this. I don’t usually watch miniseries, but I was enthralled with Mercy Street, a public television Civil War hospital drama. And it got cancelled after 2 seasons! Boo hiss! So it just sort of trailed off without a resolution. I’m sure there are a lot of inner workings regarding finances and stuff, but couldn’t they do 1 farewell episode for cancelled shows rather than leaving them hanging in the air like that? Ugh…

        • Caz Owens
          Keymaster
          Post count: 55

          I have a daughter with a first in Medieval and Early Modern History who is now an MA student of Heritage Management – history teaching in UK schools is often criticised for not being comprehensive enough, but in our defence we have rather a LOT of history to choose from as to what to teach! The English Civil War, for instance, is hardly covered, and there are so many other gaps.

        • Carrie G
          Post count: 350

          In the US we do such a poor job with history, especially any history prior to the Mayflower. We essentially teach “the firemen is your friend” type social studies through elementary grades, then switch to variations on American history with one year of world history in high school. With that in mind I used a different approach teaching my kids. We started in elementary grades with the study of the ancient world and moved forward from there. Our schooling was history based though the use of a text or two, but mainly through historical fiction and biography. We learned myths and legends of other cultures,too. While our school was still western centric, we did have a year dedicated to the Eastern Hemisphere .

          The best outcome of putting history at the center of our schooling has been that my kids see history as the foundation for everything, including our current world problems, conflicts, and political issues. They all know how to research and find out info for themselves. Before COVID I was in a coffee shop with four of my kids one morning listening to them discuss the geographical and political origins of the Great War, which was an offshoot of a conversation about the evolution of tanks through the wars. It made my little heart sing.

        • chrisreader
          Post count: 350

          Caz, that was also my field of study for my undergrad degree as well. And I concur with what you say about the wide choice of areas of historical study.

          I always find it interesting how we group periods of history. We study modern history by decades or even by monarch’s or president’s active eras but cram a thousand years under the same label as “Medieval”. And there is obviously a great deal of difference between life in the 6th century vs. the 13th century.

          I’ve always found the English Civil War and the Restoration period to be so interesting. I don’t think there is anything sadder than a civil war and the changes it had upon British Government and life were so profound I’m surprised it’s not covered much in UK schools.

          I can thank good old Jean Plaidy for introducing me to the exciting world of 17th century Great Britain.

        • Carrie G
          Post count: 350

          I remember the movie A Knight’s Tale based on a Chaucer story starring Heath Ledger had a modern dance scene in the middle of the movie. I don’t remember it getting a lot of criticism the way the Bridgerton series did. It was just deemed fanciful. I agree that perhaps the producers of Bridgerton could have done a better PR job letting people know they were taking allowances with the material and time period, but I still don’t get the hate. Like you said, it’s obvious they weren’t trying for historically accurate. I thought it was just rather tongue-in-cheek and, well, fanciful. And what I heard most about here and other places was the upset over the colorblind casting, not the modern music and period inaccurate costumes. It seems to me, that once anyone saw the costumes and music, they would know this was not trying to be anywhere near “historically accurate,” whatever that means. No one can seem to come to an agreement on what that is anyway. Quinn’s books can’t honestly be called “accurate” to begin with, which begs the question about what people were really upset about. I think it’s much more about having something you love messed with than any real concern over historical accuracy.

          (A new drinking game: a shot for every time Carrie uses quotation marks, or says “(in)accurate” or “accuracy”or “historical.” Yes, you can count those quotation marks.)

        • chrisreader
          Post count: 350

          I personally think a lot of the anger about the Bridgerton adaption came from two groups:

          1.) people who adored the book series and had very, very specific ideas about how the characters should be and what they should look like and

          2.) people who saw it as “rewriting history” and I think mentally tied it to the current events of renaming monuments, schools, and countless other things as people reevaluate historical figures and even history as it was traditionally taught.

          I think there were a lot of people who took personal issues or anger about other things and applied them to what was supposed to be a piece of fun, escapist entertainment.

        • Carrie G
          Post count: 350

          Chrisreader, I think you nailed it with those two groups who were the most upset. I can understand disappointment and disagreement over whether the show was subjectively “good” or not, the anger was surprising to me. Although looking back, I guess it isn’t so surprising in light of other things going on in the world.

        • chrisreader
          Post count: 350

          Hi Carrie, it was actually the comments of yours about the anger people had that made the lightbulb go on over my head.

          I agree that it was puzzling how overwrought people got over a fluffy TV show so I started thinking about why. Then a news article I read about a renaming controversy regarding a school or something struck a chord and I made the mental connection.

          I’m the first to admit when I am a big fan of a book I have very specific ideas of how characters should look and I know others are the same but there are limits. As I said, Colin in the show isn’t my cup of tea but it doesn’t make me angry. I didn’t love all the changes to the plot, especially regarding Anthony, but it certainly didn’t ruin my night to watch it.

          I’m sure the pandemic is making people crazier as well but every time I go on Facebook and see people arguing or calling each other names over things like the Zack Snyder cut of Justice League or something equally silly I just want to tell everyone to chill out.

        • Nan De Plume
          Post count: 350

          Chrisreader, I second Carrie’s comment about you nailing it. Without getting into divisive politics, this is definitely a time of upheaval for many. I think your analysis about the anger toward The Bridgertons sums it up quite well.

        • chrisreader
          Post count: 350

          Yeah, it’s been a tough year and when you pile the pandemic, social distancing/isolation and politics on top of the pile it’s a pretty volatile mix.

          Some people need to take up meditation or watch some ASMR videos or something. Fluffy pop culture shouldn’t be enraging people to that extent.

    • Carrie G
      Post count: 350

      Chrisreader I basically agree with everything you said. :-)

      Nan, we disagree a bit, but I understand where you’re coming from. I think the key point is this, “that doesn’t word for me personally.” That, to me is the crux of it all. If something doesn’t work for one individual, then it’s so wonderful we have all kinds of books and other entertainment. There will always be something for everyone. The problem with the Bridgerton thread was the vehemence a few showed in hating the production because they cast a black person as a duke and as a queen. They didn’t just say, “I really prefer historical accuracy in casting, and I don’t like the modern music,etc.” Which I think everyone on the thread would have said, “Ok, I see that.” or “I loved it.” and then gone on with their day. It was clear in use of words like “disgraceful” and “horrible” and “shouldn’t be allowed” that set up other people’s backs. I might enjoy non-accurate historically set stories that provide representation. You might not. But I don’t think I’m hearing you say they shouldn’t be allowed or that they’re disgraceful.

      • Nan De Plume
        Post count: 350

        Thanks, Carrie, for replying to me.

        We do disagree a bit, and that’s okay. I try to find common ground where I can, which is why I started this thread about diversity in HR in the first place. I thought some opinions could use some clarifying in a less inflammatory manner than some of the AAR comment sections that have gotten out of hand both recently and in the past.

        As for the people who are using words like “disgraceful,” “horrible,” and “shouldn’t be allowed,” I agree that’s a bit strong and harsh. Certainly “shouldn’t be allowed” would get my dander up when it comes to telling writers what they should and shouldn’t create. Were the people necessarily racist who made those remarks? It’s hard for me to make that judgment based on a few irate comments. I would definitely argue there was a lot of anger and frustration that got out of hand on that thread. And I admit that I got annoyed and frustrated too when it came to expressing my opinions on art. I know some of my statements have a tendency to come off badly or belligerent when they aren’t intended as such.

        It still bothers me, for example, that a number of publishers and media magnates are starting to implement diversity quotas in various genres. As I’ve said before, I welcome diversity in context but not if it’s squeezed out of writers via lists of “thou shalts” and “thou shalt nots” or by a person whose job is to enforce percentage counting. While I sort of understand where that’s coming from, I don’t want to see minority characters reduced to percentage points and blatant tokenism because an author was forced to be inclusive in order to be published or become eligible for certain career-boosting awards like the Oscars.

        I know I’ve been accused of “casting asperations” for making this point, but a lot of it has to do with a knowledge I possess of the inner workings of being a published author. While I am not traditionally published by a major company, I have had works published under other pen names by small presses and so forth. Plus, I keep abreast of other authors’ challenges. I can assure you that authors are routinely told, “Do this, don’t write that, make this character a woman, throw in an accidental decapitation, etc.” That’s nothing new, but it has been getting a lot worse. Add to that a growing tendency for publishers to drop their authors at the slightest whiff of online controversy- when they probably made the author implement significant changes in the first place- and there’s very good reason for alarm. In regard to calls for greater diversity at all costs and the resulting pushback, it may be a case of the straw breaking the camel’s back. I think it would be unusual for the average author today to be totally opposed to writing minority characters. It’s more a question of authors getting tired of being told what to do and then being told they’re “racist” when they don’t do what they’re told to somebody’s liking. Careers have been ruined over these matters, so a lot of authors get scared and stick to making all their characters white to avoid losing contracts and getting lambasted online. In the long run, this limits the number of complex, diverse stories in HR and elsewhere, which is a shame.

        • Carrie G
          Post count: 350

          Publishers have always had very rigid rules for publishing under their labels in romance- length, HEA, must have this, can’t have that, must have this kind of love scene, must have two, etc. I am not an author, but was in a book club for years with several published authors, a couple who are well known, plus was able to attend intimate romance workshops, mini-conventions with more well-known authors. One frequent topic was the “rules” publishers put down for romance books.

          I’m not necessarily saying I think the rules about writing minority characters are always helpful, but publishing is a business and if they think it’s what the average consumer wants, then that’s what they are going to require, just as they required certain situations in romances in the past. The fact that hold power to rather arbitrarily make or break authors isn’t really a new thing. I agree we’re seeing more and more representation (mostly in contemporary novels) and that the trend is likely to continue without rules, since those books are doing well.

          Where you and I disagree is that I feel that sometimes past wrongs and slights need to be addressed, and sometimes that means not just leveling the playing field, but actually assisting through actions that seek equity, not just equality. That means, for a short time hopefully, those who benefited from the privilege of the previous system may be adversely affected. Affirmative action in hiring was a way to achieve equity by hiring minorities/women/disabled for a percentage of the jobs because they had been excluded from those jobs for too long.

          I’m not sure if I’ll continue on, because I’ve pretty much said what I feel. I thank you for the respectful, pleasant discussion. I look forward to more lively discussion. :-)

        • Nan De Plume
          Post count: 350

          Thank you for your respectful insights as well. It has been a pleasure interacting with you on this topic at the Agora. I’m only sorry we couldn’t get more AAR regulars- or newbies!- to join us. Perhaps I’ll have to start another thread when a hot topic arises.

          Kindest regards,

          Nan

        • Marian Perera
          Post count: 350

          Hi Nan, thanks for starting this interesting topic!

          I didn’t comment before because I felt I’d said everything I have to say about diversity in HR in other discussions, but I did enjoy that article by Mark, and I don’t want you to feel there’s a lack of comment from readers. :)

          Personally, as a PoC and as both a reader and a writer of historical romance, I love to see diversity in HR when it’s done well. I like to feel the characters fit in with their time period, and I especially appreciate nuanced, three-dimensional diverse characters. Let them have interesting flaws, and let them make bad decisions that complicate the plot. It’s also great when other characters’ reactions to diversity is nuanced – basically, when I can’t predict going in that the villain will be against women getting the vote while the hero will support this.

          That’s about it from me for now, but I look forward to reading any other responses to this.

        • Nan De Plume
          Post count: 350

          You’re welcome, Marian! I was hoping you’d chime in. I know we’ve discussed this topic a lot on other comment sections at AAR, but I thought it would be nice to bring it all to one place. As I’ve said in a lot of other comments on this thread, there were definitely times where the fur was flying, and it gave me the idea to create a hopefully pleasant area to explore this issue.

          I agree with everything you said in your post. That’s a great point about nuanced portrayals, so I’m glad you made it here where others can easily see it. Will we ever get to read an HR where the hero is a decent fellow but is skeptical about women’s suffrage? Or a villain who couldn’t give two wits about whether or not women have the vote but is determined to break up the couple for his own personal gain? Like you, I think exploring these avenues as a writer and reader is fascinating. Unfortunately, there’s a lot of pressure from both publishing houses and the wider world to keep characters in neat, corporate-approved boxes.

          That’s nothing new, of course. Leslie McFarlane, who wrote about 20 of the original Hardy Boys mysteries, said in his memoir, The Ghost of the Hardy Boys, that adventure magazine villains were more fun to write than the priggish heroes. Unlike the heroes- whom the magazine forbade from fighting dirty, drinking, smoking, gambling, or having sex- the villains got to have all kinds of fun before they met their comeuppance. Moreover, he complained about the enforced racism of the era which basically forced writers to make most of the villains at least vaguely foreign. And the bad guys could never, ever be Scottish because they were the ones who ran the magazines. Anyway, if you have a chance, I highly recommend the out-of-print book for its fun behind the scenes stories of what it was like being a freelance writer from approximately the 1920s through 1950s.

          But you would think in the 21st century, authors would get more leeway to create nuanced, complex, and controversial characters. I think 1970s media came closest to my ideal in a lot of ways. There are so many movies from that decade that make my eyes go big from the ways they dared to push the envelope. It didn’t always work out, but when it did, it was glorious.

        • chrisreader
          Post count: 350

          I agree with all of this Marian. I think the one common thread of visitors here at AAR is we are all looking for that book that is particularly well written or poignant or even just different than the run of the mill wallpaper stuff that is often churned out.

          I think anyone who enjoys history knows that fact is stranger than fiction and there is no shortage of interesting and diverse people who could inspire some romance novels.

        • Nan De Plume
          Post count: 350

          “I think anyone who enjoys history knows that fact is stranger than fiction and there is no shortage of interesting and diverse people who could inspire some romance novels.”

          That’s why I love when HR authors include a page spread in the back to discuss their research findings. Beverly Jenkins in particular is excellent about giving a mini history lesson at the end of her books with resource lists for readers who want to know more. She said in an interview that she felt like she unfortunately *had* to justify a lot of the lesser known aspects of history because she doesn’t write whitewashed Regencies. On the one hand, I can understand her frustration. But on the other hand, I think more HR writers should consider concluding their stories with real-life references they used.

          Mary Jo Putney included a fascinating tidbit in one of her HR stories, Once a Scoundrel.The plot concerned the sea captain hero having to pay a ransom to rescue the heroine from going to a harem in addition to transporting a menagerie of exotic animals to save a sultan’s wife from that same harem. On the surface, it seemed like a really pie in the sky story, but Putney had the good sense to point to an actual account in history that inspired her HR- menagerie-based ransom payments, harems, and all. She further stated that the sea captain hero in her story got off easy because the real-life captain he was based on had to agree to point the front of his ship toward Mecca five times per day for prayer! In her version, the captain basically had to put his foot down or they would never be able to deliver the ransom in time. Plus, it would create a narrative slog. But if Putney hadn’t detailed her research in the back of the book, a lot of readers- including me- would probably say, “Puh-LEEZE! That never would have happened.” Well, apparently something like that did happen, and I learned something new. Talk about a win win!

          Tying this into the topic of diversity in HR, what do you think about writers including their sources of inspiration at the backs of their books? Does it help inform readers who might otherwise roll their eyes due to a perceived lack of “believability?” I know I love reading authors’ behind the scenes research stories.

        • chrisreader
          Post count: 350

          Like you, I enjoy it when an author references their inspirations and I am that geek who will always read the author’s notes at the back of the book (when I have enjoyed it).

          Lisa Kleypas is an author who does that as well and she has even included recipes of food referenced in her novels. One time I think it was blancmange and the other was “Winterborne’s favorite peppermint creme candies” which was quite cute. I can’t vouch for the recipes though as I haven’t tried them.

          For “Hello Stranger” she included biographical information on the 19th female doctor she based heroine Garrett on. She borrowed the true story of her educational journey of going to France and doing her entire medical education in French in order to have access to the learning she wasn’t allowed in England.

          It’s a nice way of preempting those comments that say “Oh that would never happen”.

        • Caz Owens
          Keymaster
          Post count: 55

          I’m a great believer in that old adage about truth sometimes being stranger than fiction, especially when it comes to history.
          As my historian daughter would say “there was a lot more kinky shit going on in the past than we think!”

          Conversely, I’ve read author’s notes which say “I know this could not have happened but…” which really annoy me, because it’s like they’re saying “I know I got this wrong, but hey, at least I’ve owned up, so now you can’t complain about it!”

          Um. Yes I can.

        • Nan De Plume
          Post count: 350

          “Conversely, I’ve read author’s notes which say “I know this could not have happened but…” which really annoy me, because it’s like they’re saying “I know I got this wrong, but hey, at least I’ve owned up, so now you can’t complain about it!”

          Um. Yes I can.”

          Ha ha! I’ve read those kinds of notes too. Although, thankfully, the one’s I’ve read haven’t been too outlandish. I remember one, for example, that explained the author’s decision to use the word “badminton” rather than “shuttledore” (or whatever it was called). But I thought at the time, “If you were worried about readers being confused, couldn’t you have put a note in the front saying, ‘In X year, badminton was called _____, which is the word used in the text’?” Then there are some notes declaring that the author fudged anachronistic stuff by a year or two. Again, I would prefer the author to express frustration at not being able to use X fashion or Y activity because it was a year off rather than saying, “Eh, close enough.” But at least when they fess up to something that was wrong, I know it was because the author made a conscious decision to run roughshod over history rather than making a blunder.

          So yes, we can still complain. But now instead of complaining about ignorance, we can complain about the author throwing history to the wind in favor of playing pretend. :-)

    • Mark
      Post count: 350

      Years ago, I gave my take on historical and other accuracy, which appeared as part of one of the old Back Fence columns (scroll down in https://allaboutromance.com/at-the-back-fence-158/).
      I expanded on the list of levels of historical accuracy in posts on the old AAR message boards, which became a long essay arguing for better labels for genre fiction (available
      at http://www.ccrsdodona.org/markmuse/reading/genrelabels.html since the old message boards crashed).
      These are the suggested levels of historical accuracy defined in the essay:
      Hidden history
      Altered history
      Accepted history
      Alternate history (and superseded history)
      Mythic history
      Alternate history + reality
      Altered reality
      Alternate reality
      Fairy tale
      Deliberately anachronistic history
      Deliberate hodgepodge history
      Fictional reality
      My plea for better genre labels is based on the premise that a reader who has a better idea of what to expect from books can avoid those that would bother them, and approach those that they do read with reasonable expectations. Don’t read a Garwood mythic historical expecting historical accuracy. Don’t read a Regency-set Heyer expecting magicians or Fae. Etc.

      • chrisreader
        Post count: 350

        Wow Mark, I went back and read your “History Is In The Mind of the Beholder” from the link and it was great! I think you managed to cover every possible circumstance, including what I was trying to say above.

        I hope that AAR republishes it, as they do with older articles every so often. It is really relevant to a lot of the discussions that crop up here, not only with Bridgerton, but so many books over and over. Your breakdown was so clear and concise.

        I was looking at your list above. What makes the distinction for you between altered reality and alternate reality?

        • Mark
          Post count: 350

          Chris:

          My definitions for the degrees of divergence are a little way down from the top in the second link. For the two you asked about:

          Altered reality: history as we know it with overt (not hidden from the culture at large) magical or paranormal elements added (or some other non-magical element such as a species not living on our Earth that changes the setting from the world as we know it).
          Small kingdoms that don’t exist in our history can place a story here if not in altered history. I would tend to put them here if the setting is an island and in altered history if they are in the middle of a continent, but others could argue differently.
          Examples:
          Sorcery and Cecelia and the sequels The Grand Tour and The Mislaid Magician by Wrede & Stevermer and Mairelon the Magician and the sequel Magician’s Ward by Patricia Wrede. These stories are all Regency plus magic.
          The Temeraire series by Naomi Novik (His Majesty’s Dragon, Throne of Jade, Black Powder War, Empire of Ivory, Victory of Eagles, Tongues of Serpents, Crucible of Gold, Blood of Tyrants, League of Dragons).
          I categorize all of the Vanza/Zamar books by Amanda Quick here.

          Alternate reality: stories that contradict in some way the currently accepted world-view of modern physicalistic science and world-view of the reader. This does not say that the reality they depict is in fact unreal or untrue, just that it is outside the limits of the current physicalistic paradigm. Alternate reality usually has its own very different history because of the different reality. Alternate reality often includes non-human intelligences such as Abominable Snowmen, Aesir, afreets/afrits/afrites/efreets/ifrits, angels, basilisks, banshees, Big Feet, brownies, cacodemons, cherubim, daemons, demigods, demons, devils, djins, dragons, dryads, dwarves, elementals, elves, faeries, fairies/fays, fauns, genies, ghosts, giants, gnomes, gods, goddesses, golems, Halflings, immortals, imps, incubi, jinni, kobolds, lamias, mermaids/men/folk, Minotaurs, naiads, nixies, nymphs, ogres, pixies, pookas/pucas, Redcaps, revenants, salamanders, sasquatch, satyrs, selkies/silkies, seraphim/seraphin, shapechangers, Sidhe, sprites, succubi, sylphs, talking animals, titans, Tritons, trolls, undead, undines, unicorns, vampires, wee folk, werewolves, wraiths, xerafeen, yeti, or zombies.
          Psychic abilities (as distinct from working magical powers) can put a story in alternate reality if the reader doing the categorizing does not believe they exist in real life. If the reader accepts psychic abilities as normal, the same story would belong in one of the earlier categories.

        • Mark
          Post count: 350

          I decided to try to give shorter definitions, without the alphabet overkill I indulged in back when I wrote the essay.

          Altered reality takes history as we know it and adds an overt magical or paranormal or alien intelligence element, even if that addition should have produced a very different history.

          Alternate reality takes the currently accepted world of modern physicalistic science and makes a change, usually producing a very different history because of the different reality.

        • chrisreader
          Post count: 350

          Ok I think I have the distinction now.

          I’m very impressed with the amount of thought and work you obviously put into this as well as with the clarity of the presentation. I’m now mentally creating lists of what books would fit under what.

        • Mark
          Post count: 350

          With fiction, I generally simply read straight through, not trying to analyze or pick apart or otherwise turn pleasure reading into work (except I can’t turn off the mindo & typo spotting). Many stories quickly fade from thought, but sometimes I will think about story details or other issues, and over the years that has led to a few essays.

    • Mark
      Post count: 350

      This is a second attempt. I posted this (below) yesterday in response to something that I read as describing only two kinds of HR, and it never showed up.
      Years ago, I gave my take on historical and other accuracy, which appeared as part of one of the old Back Fence columns (scroll down in https://allaboutromance.com/at-the-back-fence-158/).
      I expanded on the list of levels of historical accuracy in posts on the old AAR message boards, which became a long essay arguing for better labels for genre fiction (available
      at http://www.ccrsdodona.org/markmuse/reading/genrelabels.html since the old message boards crashed).
      These are the suggested levels of historical accuracy defined in the essay:
      Hidden history
      Altered history
      Accepted history
      Alternate history (and superseded history)
      Mythic history
      Alternate history + reality
      Altered reality
      Alternate reality
      Fairy tale
      Deliberately anachronistic history
      Deliberate hodgepodge history
      Fictional reality
      My plea for better genre labels is based on the premise that a reader who has a better idea of what to expect from books can avoid those that would bother them, and approach those that they do read with reasonable expectations. Don’t read a Garwood mythic historical expecting historical accuracy. Don’t read a Regency-set Heyer expecting magicians or Fae. Etc.

      • Nan De Plume
        Post count: 350

        Mark, that’s extremely comprehensive and I love it! Like you said, it would help readers avoid things they don’t want to read in favor of those they do.

        Interestingly enough, I think speculative fiction has gotten pretty good about breaking down their categories. Just think of all the “punks” there are: steampunk, cyberpunk, dieselpunk, solarpunk/hopepunk, retropunk, biopunk, etc. Not to mention alternative history, time travel, slipstream, first contact, artificial intelligence, clones, and whatever else you can think of.

        On the surface, it seems overwhelming, but I think romance publishers could take note and whittle down their categories as you have done. I don’t think it’s unreasonable to say that any niche in romance, no matter how small, will find an appreciative audience.

    • Nan De Plume
      Post count: 350

      Speaking of diversity in HR and other romance genres, I just received a newsletter from The New Smut Project. They are seeking short story submissions for their fourth erotic anthology. They are especially interested in diverse, inclusive, body-positive, queer content that takes place in any time period past, present, or future. This particular historical suggestion got my attention: “write an epistolary story collecting the steamy letters a 19th century abolitionist sent to his boyfriend.” Sounds intriguing!

      Since there are a lot of AAR readers who are seeking diverse love stories, maybe someone here would like to try his/her hand at this anthology call. I made the longlist for their last anthology, and the editor was super nice. So, if you have a diverse, steamy HR idea that can be encapsulated within 6,000 words, I’d really encourage you to give it a shot. Deadline is September 1st.

      Submission guidelines are available on The New Smut Project’s Tumblr page (sorry, can’t post a link!). The name of the project is “Cunning Linguists” (tee hee), so you can Google it.

      I hope some of the writers and literary hopefuls here at AAR will take advantage of this paying opportunity!

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