I’m hungry-- for varietyNot for food, of which I get far too much, but for variety in my historical fiction. I want to read about more places, different people. But today's historical romance rarely ventures away from the British Isles, and even there clings to the romantically glistening cities of the English aristocracy, London and occasionally Bath. For variety, it crosses the border into Scotland and steps back a few centuries to capture a dangerous but kind-hearted Scottish chieftain in his battle of wits that makes up his arranged marriage with a feisty English heiress.
Not that I don't enjoy those stories. I do. But for heavens sake, couldn't we have a little variety?
Writing about times and places away from Regency England has been chancy for the last ten years or so. Personally I'm not convinced more exotic stories won't sell, but a number of editors are, and they won't buy them, so they don't get published, and if nobody publishes them, well, it's obvious they don't sell.
Mary Jo Putney is the champion of the romance of exotic places. In The China Bride, her half-Chinese, half-Scots heroine, Troth Montgomery, marries a soon-to-be executed Englishman who sends her to England alone, where life is difficult for her. But Mary Jo Putney is an icon. I only wish I could write like her. I only know one MJP, and she has many readers like me who know her stories will always thrill, no matter what the setting or who the characters are.
Personally I love more exotic stories and my current editor is encouraging me to look at developing them. But I have not yet figured out exactly what it is other readers of historicals want in their romances. If they want the glitz and glory of Prince Charming marrying Cinderella, then probably they don't want to step beyond the familiar and comfortable Regency and maybe Victorian periods. But if adventure is a major factor for them, and I think it is for many, then there should be more market for exotic locations and times.
And then there's the slightly tarnished and a little bit warped theory about ethno-centrism. Is it possibly true that we only want to read historicals where we can imagine we might have been if we'd been our own ancestors? A large portion of the female book-buying public in North America has British Isles roots, and the closest they can get to becoming Cinderella marrying the Prince is with the British aristocracy. (I can sure see this changing in the next century!)
In America's Superstore economy, we appear to have an enormous variety available for purchase. But I'm afraid that's as superficial in the book-buying field as it is with shampoos and shoes. Shampoos? If you read the labels, there's almost no difference at all except in color and perfume. Shoes? Those of us with narrow feet are left to wallow in shoes too wide and pinching at the toes just to get something close to a fit because narrow shoes don't sell well. Particularly since the prices were so jacked up we couldn't afford them.
Books are the same. Only the books with the highest volume sales potential will be marketed. The people who don't find what they want either settle for pinched toes in the shoe that doesn't fit, or go barefoot. If they're allergic to shampoos, they learn to rinse a lot, because they have to wash their hair. But book buyers rarely read what doesn't interest them. They take up knitting or learn to ski instead. So my guess is, the people who would be likely to love the exotic stories I'd love to write gave up long ago and are no longer going into book stores. They've discovered World of Warcraft, or they're off scuba diving in the Caribbean.