The Allure of the Americana Romance
(November 13, 1997)
Stephanie Mittman is the author of several acclaimed romances. She first came to my attention when The Marriage Bed received a 5-heart review from Meredith Moore at The Romance Reader. Meredith is a very tough reviewer; a 5-heart review from her is a big deal.
I’m not much for Americana myself, but the premise of The Marriage Bed was so unique that I read it myself. Now I’m a fan of Stephanie Mittman too.
I asked her to talk about the allure of the Americana setting for historical romances. Read on – she certainly put me in my place!
A quilting bee.
A barn raising.
White wicker rockers on gingerbread porches and tall sweaty glasses of lemonade.
A general store where the proprietor knows you well enough to “put it on your bill,” and your bill is paid in eggs and jars of jam.
A warm meal placed lovingly on the doorstep when there’s illness in the house.
A doctor who knows the name of every child in town because he delivered them all.
Coming home to nothing more than a hot meal and a clean bed after an honest day’s work.
And you ask me, “What is the allure of the Americana Novel”?
Breathes there a woman with soul so dead that she doesn’t long for a simpler time? A time before car pools and Lucille Roberts and the myth of Supermom?
Is there a woman who isn’t moved by the image of a man coming in from the hot fields and stripping to the waist to wash his neck with a ladle of cool water from the well? Is there a mom who wouldn’t travel six miles out of her way to be able to lift her child on her hip and show her an array of glass jars, each teeming with penny candy from her own youth?
And you ask me what the allure of the Americana Novel is?
Prairie grass waving.
The smell of Apple Brown Betty fresh from the oven.
A haircut for two-bits and a shoe-shine for a dime.
Town meetings and ice cream socials and church on Sunday.
A reader once told me that she didn’t just love my characters, she wanted to be them. She wanted a town to rally around her when times were bad and cheer for her when she made it to the altar with Mr. Right. She wanted siblings who lived nearby and came to Sunday dinner with a hoard of children. She wanted to love a man who didn’t weigh his integrity against the price of a power boat.
The Americana Novel offers a world that’s just beyond our memories. We’ve strolled through enough old houses. We’ve wandered the fields, picked apples from the trees, and we can imagine that we aren’t really all that far removed from that simpler time. There is a warmth that exists just beyond our fingertips, a civility that’s just outside our grasp, a softness that has yet to be focused by centuries of distance.
In our house I have a pair of nearly worn out boots from the late 1800s. I know they belonged to one of my heroines. I can touch them, even put them on, and feel the places they have been – down the road to church and back again, to the mercantile, to pay a visit to someone in pain. They’ve danced in barns and town halls. A loving husband has pulled them from feet swollen with expectancy. They’ve gotten wet while washing diapers and they’ve dried in the sun on a picnic blanket beside a stream. They’ve gone all the places I have ever longed to go.
We armchair travelers can surely go anywhere we please. We can share a leg of mutton with Henry VIII. We can peek into a harem on the desert, or go off to sea and be set upon by pirates.
But when we read Americana, it’s to be a homebody in a cosier, simpler home than the one the present can provide us with. Oh, there surely is a time to meet with Lords and Ladies, just as there’s a time to go off and join a Wild West Show or even head for Outer Space.
But at twilight, when the crickets begin their songs, and the cool breeze catches a stray lock of hair – when a fellow comes a courting and asks me to come set a spell on the old porch swing – I can’t think of another place in all the world I’d rather be.
And you ask me about the appeal of an Americana! Heaven’s to Betsy, child! Don’t you have the sense you was born with?
Here is Stephanie’s backlist:
- Bridge to Yesterday, 1995
- A Taste of Honey, 1995
- The Marriage Bed, 1996
- A Christmas Miracle. 1996
- Sweeter than Wine, 1997
- Outlaw Love, 1997
- The Courtship, Dec 1997
Stephanie has a web site and hopes you will visit her at http://www.stephaniemittman.com