Monday, April 03, 2006

Historicals; or why Suisan turns up her ever so snooty nose at Contemporaries.

I'm completely sure that:

a) this will be a long post, and
b) I'll call it a Smart Bitches Day post, and
c) I may not have communicated a point at the end of it.

(As us former foxhunters enjoy saying. So much more civilized that BEware, don't you think?)

In case you haven't taken the time to read my archives, let me say one more time that I loathe contemporaries. In fact, I hate them so much that I don't read them. In fact, I'm sure I've read less than ten since 1980, when I started reading Romances. In fact, I'm basically dead set against reading another.

"But Suisan," you say. "If you've never read them and you don't plan on reading more, then how do you know that you hate them?"


"You read Black Ice: you liked that. You read Futurelove: you liked that. You read Morning Glory, which may not be a Contemporary, but it's not set in Victorian England or earlier: you liked that. These were all recommended as GOOD contemporaries. Maybe you need to read more GOOD contemporaries."

"Oh, shut up. I hate you, and now I'm going to go sulk."

****Reads a few passages of Seize the Fire to cheer herself back up****

Ahhhh. That's better.

OK, but WHY is it better?

I'm not completely convinced of the answer, but I think it has to do with diction. Movies from the 1930s and 40s have a certain style, a certain word choice, a tone that sounds right. There's a flair to the language which works within the work, but would be totally bizarre if you tried to use it in real life.

"Hey there! Cabbie! Get me to Grand Central pronto! There a fiver in it for you if you do!"

So that's familiar, and it sounds almost sort of right in a movie or a book, but would you actually SAY that to "a cabbie" today in New York? Same with plays--the dialogue sounds right when you're sitting in the theater, but try it out on the sidewalk, and it sounds stilted or overblown.

When I read romances, I want that arch quality to the language. (Not purple. Please.) It needs to be a little more poetic, a little more formal, more descriptive, more lush, more unlike my everyday thoughts or speech.

At heart, I'm a cynic when it comes to stumbling onto love. The one guy I fell totally for, the one who could make my insides turn over just by moving his hand through sunlight into shadow, the one who told me I was the center of his world, turned out to be dangerous. And I don't think I've ever fully recovered--I may still be searching out the shrubbery in the evening for signs of ambush.

After him I became a terrible date: suspicious and cutting. I was always trying to figure out why the guy who asked me out thought I'd be a suitable target. I was waiting until he opened up, showed me part of his soul, so I could prick it with my sharp little fruit knife. No, really. I was not a nice person.

The one guy who broke through, basically said, "Oh, cut it out." It worked, but it's not terribly, in quotes, Romantic.

When I read romance, I still need some sort of barrier between me and the story so that I can relax enough to fall into the characters. With Historicals, I get caught up in the prose, or the funny turns of phrase in a well-written piece of Regency dialogue, and it's just soothing enough to flow right in. When I read a Contemporary, I'm on guard every moment of the journey. (He says he's rich, but how do you know it's not a con? He says he's never felt this way before, but come on, really? Oh My God. Can you not SEE that he's the owner of restaurant you're working in, you ignorant waitress?) Wrong, wrong, wrong, and my insides get twisted. I'm too busy protecting the heroine from her decisions to let her fall in love. And then when she does, I sincerely want to bitch-slap her. I think the language of Historicals is just enough of a barrier to work, but formal diction could never work in a Contemporary, could it?

Black Ice, a recent Contemporary, worked for me, I think, because the set-up was so over the top. International spy caught in a web of intrigue, trapped in a French mansion, stumbles across an elegant, virginal, heroine who must be protected without the bad guys catching on that he's planning to protect her. Midnight escapes, safehouses, assassination attempts: My advice, girly, is to hang out with big bad Bastien, the hero, until the villain's caught. Go right ahead, my warning antenna tell me that's a good plan, and once the antenna are safely shut down, I can settle back and enjoy the ride.

So if I can't rely on diction in Contemporaries, then maybe Romantic Suspense is the way to go, if I'm going to read more Contemporaries.

Yeah, but I hate 'em. I know I do.


Lyvvie said...

I feel the same, I've always been wary of contemps because I have to rely on what someone else's interpretation of today is. They all have such different lives, that it often feels really fake. Who wants to read a book that feels fake?

I like the historicals because it feels more like fiction - like it could be real, maybe, possibly. You don't know, so you rely on the characters more. Then again, I just read Sherrilyn Kenyon and really enjoyed her - it was fun and silly.

Maybe I'm just a freak. Thanks for the advice on FMLH, I really look forward to figuring the whole thing out.

Suisan said...

I like the historicals because it feels more like fiction - like it could be real, maybe, possibly. You don't know, so you rely on the characters more.

YES! That's what I was trying to say. Glad you got it in two sentences, where it only took me, what, two pages?

And re: FMLH? No prob. ;)

jmc said...

Suisan, I think we're total opposites in reading tastes :)

It doesn't come down to diction for me, but for tone and character. I've complained a bunch at my blog about how I don't lurve historicals and I prefer contemporaries. It's mostly because: 1. I hate modern sensibilities plunked down in medieval times or the Regency; and 2. I seldom believe that the rake-hero has been reformed. But I still read historicals and have some historical keepers. Beth has set me on the Kinsale path, so we'll see how that goes.

Of course, I'm just as harsh on contemporaries, too, but the rake hero and inconsistent character attitudes don't seem as ubiquitous there. I tend to avoid a lot of romantic suspense, because the suspense is so over the top ridiculous. Stuart's Black Ice didn't work for me for that very reason. Plus the bad boy hero, meh.

Suisan said...

Funny, the points you pull out as being your main problems with Historicals, I agree with. I'm not a fan of the Medieval leman who righteously informs her lord of the rights of women and the importance of proper bathing.

But I can believe that she fell in love with him.

I just can't quite get that from contemporaries.

And it's funny that we're polar opposites on Contemp. v. Histor. I'll still be your friend if you'll still be mine. :)

Kate R said...

I like them because it's world building. Sure other people have built it but it's so much more like fiction as Lyvvie said.

I can't read those books that are mysteries with real people -- the Jane Austen, Sam Clemens mysteries. Heck, I just finished writing one that had brushes with real people and didn't like that part at all.

Bev (BB) said...

Not sure if I'm weird or not on this but I have yet to find a time period and locale that I absolutely can't read. Well, except for the Civil War South. I have a real problem with that one.

For me it's all about plot. I have to like the plot first. After that the characters. The rest is background setting BUT, and this is important, settings lend themselves to certain types of plots and consequently to types of characters.

Which is probably why I have yet to find a Civil War romance I can finish . . .

So, maybe it isn't the time period but the types of plots you're reacting to, Suisan. Of the contemporaries you've read and liked, did they also have your favorite type of plots?

And just curious, have you read any Krentz?

Suisan said...

Plot, shmott. No, really.

When there are holes the size of the Grand Canyon, then I get peeved, but for me the plot's not the thing. It's all about the hero and heroine searching each other out, getting ready to almost admit that maybe a kiss is in order.

Today I can remember exactly six Contemps I've read, so plot comparisons are going to be bizarre. One, I don't remember the plot at all (Thawing of Mara). Two, I hated so much I wallbanged it (Treading Lightly). Three, didn't have a plot--it was a cabin romance (The Evanovich I blogged about). Four, wouldn't say it had a huge plot--but I really liked the attraction b/w hero and heroine (Morning Glory). Five, Romantic Suspense (Black Ice). Six, oh, let's not go back to the circus (Kiss an Angel); I think I hurt myself when I ranted on that one.

But then in Historicals, what plots do I like? Flowers from the Storm: What is the plot? Guy recovers from stroke. Ermmmm.

I think I'm not a plot person....But the idea that I'm reacting to the world-building has merit. Hmmm. Pondering deeply....

Laura Kinsale said...

At heart, I'm a cynic when it comes to stumbling onto love. The one guy I fell totally for, the one who could make my insides turn over just by moving his hand through sunlight into shadow, the one who told me I was the center of his world, turned out to be dangerous. And I don't think I've ever fully recovered--I may still be searching out the shrubbery in the evening for signs of ambush.

This is such a beautifully written paragraph that anything I say about it sounds stupid. So Nice.

Suisan said...

Falling on the floor gasping for breath.......

Does Laura Kinsale know that she causes heart attacks along with giggling goofy grins worldwide whenever she posts a comment?

Because, YOU GUYS!, Laura Kinsale just commented on my blog and (squeeee!) she likes the way I write.

Totally rolling on the floor and hugging the very confused dog....

(And, you know, if that wasn't Laura Kinsale, but just someone who typed her name in, Thank You, but don't ever shatter my illusion.)

CindyS said...

Hmmm, can't really follow up on that comment ;) I think you revealed more of yourself than ever in that one paragraph. Now I'm trying to think of contemporaries that would get your antenna to calm.

Anne Stuart's men are always over the top but I'm surprised that their danger didn't get your antenna going.

I've never heard of the first two books you mentioned, Evanovich is not a romance writer (or at least, that is not her strenght), Morning Glory is an excellent example of a great romance and Kiss An Angel, the hero is an ass (and I like my men that way ;))

Ohhhh, Jennifer Cruisie's Anyone But You. Then again, the heroine is older than the hero and it's a huge issue in the book so maybe you wouldn't buy that they were in love. Hmmmmmm.

I'm going to say it's A-okay that you don't read contemporaries. There, everything is fine ;)


ag said...

Looks like I've found another kindred. My fave setting is eitehr Historical or Medieval. It's pure escapism for me, so who needs something from this world? I'm more interested in the tension between H/H and how it's spun out.

So, for a contemporary romance to work for me, it has to be either a little incredible or very funny, and the pace has to be right.

Kristin said...

For me, it's all about the escapism. Historicals are so distant from the real world and current life that I am taken away from troubles and stresses in my own life. I can forget about the bills and the argument with the spouse and the kids driving me batty by reading an historical romance.

But contemporaries? Too close to real life. And too easy to find a TSTL character or unrealistic situation because I am living in the same world and I know how it works. In fact, I probably experienced a lot of the real-world crap that the heroine is embroiled in and boy does it remind me a little too much of my own life...

Historicals let me get away from it all. I can pretend that romance and life was easier and simpler 150 years ago...even though the thinking part of my brain knows that deodorant and regular bathing and such things weren't around, which probably made for some pretty unpleasant living. Anyway, it's all about the escapism for me.

"Black Ice"? I hated it! Sorry, Suisan! But the whole idea of the interpreter showing up to help out with this group of international types...and then everyone suddenly could understand each other when it became necessary to move the plot forward??? ARGH! Not believable to me. Sorry. And the culminating scene that was supposed to be thrilling and scary, just wasn't at all for me. That was the second book that I read by that author, and I will never do it again.