1/10/08

Contemporary/Historical Label Researched

In response to this post, Tristi asked:
I don't see how 1974 isn't considered historical. Isn't the Vietnam era historical? Isn't anything that happened in the past considered historical? If not, this blows my current WIP out the window -- it's Vietnam era and I've been calling it historical. Silly me.
Rather than replying in the comments section, I'm talking about this here because Tristi brings up a good point. What do you call your novel? You need to be clear about this because that classification will determine where you submit the novel for publication. So.

Remember the fuzzy line I mentioned? A story about the Vietnam Era is right in the middle of that fuzz. It happened less than 50 years ago, yet there is definitely a historical aspect to it.

So how do you decide what to label it? Research!

Research is not hard, especially if you use the Internet. I found an answer in less than 10 minutes, and I suspect Tristi already knows what that answer is because she writes historical fiction and therefore, is no stranger to research. But for writers who have never done this type of research before, the idea of it can be daunting. I hate it when I have to do something new and I don't even have a clue of where to begin. So, because I am so kind (and also because I'm procrastinating getting started at work today), here's what I did.

First, I know that Tristi's previous novels have a large medium dollop of romance in them, so I'm looking for historical romances set in the Vietnam War.

I went to Amazon.com and looked up vietnam romance. I also went to ask.com* and typed in historical romance vietnam. I did some clicking around in both places and came up with two important clues.

#1: Tree of Smoke, by Denis Johnson, is an espionage thriller set in the Vietnam War. It was published September, 2007. It won the fiction category in the National Book Awards. Amazon classifies it as Thriller; Genre Fiction: War; Genre Fiction: Historical. This is a good hint that the Vietnam War era is considered historical.

#2: At historicalromancewriters.com, browsing by time period, I found the Vietnam War era listed. Good sign. It lists two books in that time period—one by Danielle Steele and one by Lindsay McKenna. I don't know who Lindsay McKenna is, but everyone has heard of Danielle Steele. If her romance set during the Vietnam War can be classified as a "historical romance" then we're on the right track.

You could do more research if you wanted to, but based on this, I think it's safe to call a novel set during the Vietnam War a historical novel—especially if the war is an intrinsic part of the storyline and not just a fluffy backdrop.

*In some situations, Ask.com is a better search engine than Google.

4 comments:

Tristi Pinkston said...

Thank you! (feeling justified)

Oh, and I'd say my books have a medium dollop of romance. :) The romance isn't the driving force, the history is.

Not to be splitting hairs, but if you go into one of my books expecting a romance, you'll be disappointed.

Paul West said...

Okay. Now I'm in a real quandry, so I hope you can help.

I've been considering my two novels and the time periods they're both set in. I've been talking to lots of other writers and am beginning to think you and they are right. They all are in accord that if my novels are to sell, being set in their respective time periods, the time period needs to be meaningful, i.e. a part of the plot. For example, if I'm setting my stories in the mid-1960s or the early 1950s, as I am, there needs to be a reason for setting them in that time period (i.e. the social unrest of the 60s, or post WWII issues, etc.). In other words, I need to tie the stories into what was happening, historically at that time. Otherwise, they are just ordinary, somewhat edgy, coming of age stories, that could, and probably should, be set in modern day.

So, I've come to the opinion that I need to do one of two things:

1) Rework the stories to tie into the social/historical elements of the time period, or

2) Rework the stories to be contemporary (or timeless).

I've been working on one of my novels for many years now and I'm tired of revising it. Yet I know I need to. But which direction should I go?

I know you can't answer that directly, but if you have any advice, I'm open to it.

Thanks,
Paul

Rebecca Talley said...

The 70s historical? Does that mean I'm an historical figure? :) Am I THAT old?

I would classify the Vietnam era as historical. Even as a very, very (get it? very) young child I can remember the war and the many things that surrounded it. I remember when Nixon resigned, wasn't that historical?

I think that to make an historical novel work, you do need to tie it into the time period. "Gone With The Wind" worked because the Civil War wasn't just a backdrop, it affected the lives of the characters in crucial ways. The story wouldn't work without the war.

You're right, LDSP, research is always the best way to go when in doubt and a little research can go a long way.

Don said...

Paul, I think you made an interesting point when you said "contemporary (or timeless)." The problem with trying too hard to make a story contemporary is that in just a few years, it falls into the "fuzzy" space.

I've read too many novels that tried to be in the "here and now," but since I'm cheap and buy used a lot, they come across as "there and then."

It sounds to me like "timeless" is the way to go.