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Writers Who Crossed Over

Several readers told me that they believe the Regency Romance became in recent years the equivalent of the contemporary series romance both in content and in cover. Certainly the man and woman shown on Kelly’s cover are virtually identical to the ones shown on the covers of series romances. When you look at those covers, you get the same teenage audience feeling. Regencies are also short in length like the series romance. They were the “proving grounds” as well for writers like Putney, Chase, Beverley, and Balogh for their crossover into single title romance historicals. Just as Roberts and Howard “graduated” from series romance to single title contemporaries, Paula Detmer Riggs, Suzanne Brockmann, and Elizabeth Bevarly, are more recent “graduates.” Many of the newer series romances deal with more controversial and/or “different” subjects. We can find a parallel in the Regency Romance sub-genre with authors such as Elisabeth Fairchild and Karen Harbaugh. The listing of authors who began their careers as Regency Romance writers and later moved on to full length romances includes such newly favored authors as Alina Adams (Annie’s Wild Ride) and Stephanie Laurens (author of the popular Bar Cynster series).

Thus, it wasn’t just authors who wanted to put lots of sexual scenes into their books who came to write single title historical romances set in the Regency. For example, some authors who had been rising Regency Romance stars crossed over to these historical romances. They had specific stories, issues and characters they wanted to create which were outside of the Austen-Heyer model. However, they didn’t necessarily want to jettison everything they’d learned from writing Regency Romances either.

Mary Jo Putney recently showed how fluid the barrier between the two sub-genres could be by revising one of her most popular Regency Romances, The Rake & The Reformer. She made two big changes to convert it from a Regency Romance to an historical romance: the addition of explicit sexuality and the reworking of excessive dialogue into interior monologue. This book was re-titled The Rake and given a new cover. The structure of the novel was left intact so one could tell it was the same book that had been expanded. I’ve read this novel and I felt it was a hybrid of these two sub-genres. It has many things that I always liked about the Austen-Heyer model yet also added in controversial elements. One of these is that the hero is an alcoholic who has to come to terms with his disease and quit drinking. Both versions of the novel contain this premise, which was daring for either sub-genre because Putney dealt so realistically with it (in this she very much wrote a Reality Regency).

The Rake’s cover could be of a mainstream book. It is of a red textured textile with a still life image of a writing quill, ink bottle with seal and ribbon upon it, objects used in the novel. This tells readers it is a historical and, apparently, the publisher is counting on Putney’s name telling them it is a romance (a good bet). This same cover could be used on a novel of historical fiction. So we see the abandonment of both the Regency cover image and the embracing, half-clad hero and heroine cover historical romance image. Does it fit the book? Absolutely. This is a very insightful, intelligent novel written by a well-known romance author – and the cover shows it. Most men would even find this cover acceptable to carry around.

Forbidden Magic by Jo Beverley has the same publisher, Topaz, as Putney. The two covers are very alike but for Beverley’s peach and green color scheme. This time it is a green figured textile with a still life of a peach flower, pouch and jeweled dagger, all objects used in the story. Both the color scheme and the flower make it less likely that a man would carry it around.

The novel itself is a paranormal historical romance set in the Regency. Beverley thus added one element beyond what Putney did by using a magic statue to give the heroine certain powers for changing her future. The novel also has explicit sex and some very funny comedy in it. Putting this book into any specific niche is a problem since it covers so many sub-genres. Does it all work? Yes, every bit as well as Putney’s works. This novel also has many of the sparkling conversational scenes of the Regency Romance plus its wonderful society trappings. I call it a hybrid just as I do the Putney, but I know others are going to disagree.

Both Putney’s and Beverley’s books prior to this had step-backs of the hero and heroine. A step-back is another cover image which is inside the front cover of the book. It shows the hero and heroine or sometimes only the hero with usually some or his entire bare chest showing. Some readers were disappointed that the step-backs were missing. I kind of missed them myself. I did not miss these /wp-content/uploads/oldsiteimages being on the front or back of the book, however. Putney was given a lot of good covers prior to this but Beverley had some dreadful ones at Zebra/Kensington before she went to Topaz. Thus, I wasn’t surprised to hear that she liked losing the pictures of the leads since the artists usually didn’t get hers right anyway. I’ve got all of her books and can attest that she has put in her time in Cover Hell. I’m always glad to see her new classy Topaz bookcovers whenever I walk into Borders. She deserves them for writing such classy books.

In 1998, a new writer came out, Adele Ashworth, with the wonderful novel, My Darling Caroline. What is it, besides being up for the RITA? Good question. Well, it is set in the Regency, also after the wars with France. It features a brilliant hero and heroine who are both known for their scholarly pursuits. He was also a spy while in France and sired an illegitimate deaf daughter with a French courtesan. This daughter lives with him but runs wild. Ashworth forces a marriage upon the hero and heroine shortly into the book and the action and dialogue proceed from there. A greenhouse on his estate beckons to the heroine as her most fervent desire is to be a botanist. She has already created her own hybrid of a new rose much like Ashworth created a hybrid romance novel. There is even a beautiful speech at the book’s end between the hero and the heroine’s father, both aristocrats, about how, unlike the English aristocratic preference for male children, they’ve preferred siring girls. This novel reminds me of no one else’s work in either Regency Romances or historicals set in the Regency. The same goes for its cover, a gorgeous piece of design and art.

My Darling Caroline’s cover is at once both delicate and vibrant. The greenhouse and the gorgeous roses are in the very center of the cover image in a full color painting, probably in oil. However, the rest of the cover is of the new hybrid rose in a very delicate washed watercolor. The cover is thus one painting inside of another painting and the two paintings do go together and make one big painting. This is a very big look in the current art world. I would certainly be pleased as an artist to display this work of art anywhere, if I were its artist, which I can’t say for any other romance book covers. The book really stood out for me on the romance shelves as nothing else looked remotely similar. My hand whisked it right off of the shelf. Have you ever noticed your fingerprints on all of your glossy cover romance books? The artist/designer for this cover even used a matte finish on the cover which gives it a different look plus makes it easier to keep off marks.

Sadly, the publisher apparently has not known how to market this terrific book and author, and sales have not been as high as they should have. Though the cover is terrific, perhaps a more generic cover for this anything-but-generic romance would have drawn romance readers to it?

So where are the Regency Romances and the historical romances set in the Regency going? The market remains very hot for the historical romances but continues to languish for the Regency Romances. Part of this is just current taste which often runs in cycles. Will there be a resurgence in popularity for the Regency Romance in the future? Since Fawcett stopped publishing Regency Romances at the end of 1998, there are only two publishers currently publishing Regency Romances every month (Signet and Zebra). If more authors are allowed to “cross over” as has Mary Balogh, and publish, in essence, longer-lengthed Regency Romances, perhaps the answer will be yes. But many aficionados of this sub-genre believe it is a dying art. Could better covers help? I think perhaps so, if they more accurately reflect the books’ contents and are done by good artists. Publishers should burn any and all covers that look like Kelly’s.

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