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Why is American History Shunned in HF novels?

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Why is American History Shunned in HF novels?

Post by Divia » Mon September 15th, 2008, 3:29 am

So I was reading the super cool Reading the Past blog and there was an interview with author Christine Blevins. It was stated at the last HNS conference that agents discouraged people from writing HF set in America.

My question is WHY?

I know this country isnt that old compaired to others, but surely America has some interesting events in it. Are we that dull? Is it becuase we dont have kings and queens and castles so people believe we arent interesting? What is it that makes agents and publishers shy away from American HF. As a person writing a manuscript (ahem to actually. And one day they will be done ;) ) I'm a little turned off by this. I know American history. I studied it both women's and slave history. And while I know about Europe I'm no expert.

So why do publishers shy away from American HF?
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Post by SonjaMarie » Mon September 15th, 2008, 4:20 am

I guess from my point of view, I've really found American History boring. Maybe it was because it just seemed so male-centric, and yes I know European history is very male-centric, but it has a lot of women who made history and American just doesn't seem to have that many or any that catch my imagination!

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Post by JMJacobsen » Mon September 15th, 2008, 4:23 am

I wonder if, in context, the remark meant that they are shying away from American hf at this time. Like any other genre, hf tends to have it's "fads" and right now the fad is apparently Tudor England, give or take a few centuries. I swear, you could throw together the worst manuscript ever written but if it was about some aspect of Tudor history, it'd be published these days.

I suspect that all it would take is one best-seller written on Colonial America and then that fad would take off.

Of course, I've been wrong before..... ;)

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Post by Ash » Mon September 15th, 2008, 4:23 am

You'll have to ask them, I suppose. I don't think it has to do with dullness, or lack of age. This country is so large, and has had so many significant (and quirky) events in its young history that there is a ton of material to work with. For agents to reject a whole country's history out of hand seems strange. For readers, I'm sure it depends on interes; personally I haven't seen a lot that sparks my interest. I am not interested at all in Western/pioneer type stories which seems to be a large part of the books I see; very uninterested in the American Revolution, tho find the colonial times of interest. I find the Civil War very interesting as well as the turn of the last century, so I tend to find those books.

Thing is tho, what are they considering historic fiction? There are many books out there that take place during specific time periods and could probably count as historical, but might not be marketed as HF.

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Post by Alaric » Mon September 15th, 2008, 5:32 am

A lot of historical fictionauthors - especially the big names - are British. By and large I think it is fair to say that a British author is more than likely going to write about something European related than they are something American related. That's probably a by product of Europeans generally having a greater appreciation of their history than Americans (just my opinion). That, and it's probably more profitable for the publisher as there are far more events in European history than American so they promote it as such.

There's also a certain romanticism to European history that all the other continents lack, partly because ours (I say ours because I've always considered myself European) is documented for so many centuries and has had such a volume of work already written. American history has no King Arthur figure (of which a lot of fiction is modeled on), no Caesar, no Alexander the Great, no Henry VIII and no Napoleon. Your major historical figures aren't so well known outside of Washington and Lincoln. Everyone knows who Caesar and Napoleon are whereas 90% of your presidents are in-and-out so quickly they barely leave a mark on the rest of the world.

Myself, I don't find American history particularly interesting. I'm a total Europhile when it comes to history. But another thing you've got to remember is that there are plenty of people in this world that rather rightly or wrongly dislike America and Americans. You don't have a particularly great reputation around the world. The thought of being forced into reading something about America would piss plenty of people off simply because it's about America. Of course, that's ridiculous and narrow minded. But there are a lot of people that simply dislike America and Americans to the point where many books about them/it would be unprofitable for publishers outside the US, so they don't bother, and because so many authors of historical fiction aren't American there's not as much demand for it.

I hope that made some sense. :confused:

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Post by Vanessa » Mon September 15th, 2008, 7:36 am

I think it's basically because European countries are older, so there are more eras/periods in time to write about, more interesting, intriguing and sometimes revolting characters! America is relatively new compared to Europe. It is fads, too, what's fashionable at the time to read and watch if you like - Henry VIII does seem to fascinate people! :eek:

There is an abundance of excellent contemporary novels set in America and I can think of quite a few hf ones, too. Water for Elephants is a favourite of mine about the circus (I think it's classed as hf?).

I loved Gone with the Wind - I think it would be a hard act to follow for it's time period, it's a famous book and will always be famous.

I have the John Jakes' North and South trilogy on my TBR pile - I remember watching the TV series years ago and I loved it, hence the books!

As long as the story is good and it keeps me wanting to turn the pages, I enjoy reading books set anywhere really.
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Some American-themed historical novels

Post by Catherine Delors » Mon September 15th, 2008, 8:09 am

are been huge successes. Think of The Alienist, for instance.

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Post by donroc » Mon September 15th, 2008, 11:36 am

Can't Win Department.

While trying to sell Rocamora from 1994-2007, too many agents told me one or the other:

1. "No one is interested in the history of other countries."
2. "Historical fiction is a tough sell these days."
3. "Most readers are women and you have a male MC. Tough sell."

If U.S. historical novels are a tough sell, it may well be caused in part by our educational system which probably afflicts negatively the agencies and publishing houses and Hollywood.

U.S. History is a 1 year course in our high schools taught usually by non-U.S. History majors under the blanket of social studies. So the teacher may be an econ major, sociology major, or even coach who has a S.S. minor. They will had had no more an another year of U.S. History in college.

Also, U.S. History was a 1 year course in high school when I was in high school during the 1940s and when my parents were in school during WWI. It cannot be taught comprehensively in one brief year.

There may be a bias against anything positive about the USA from some in the business who have been indoctrinated leftwards at our universities, but that is for another thread.

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Post by Divia » Mon September 15th, 2008, 12:48 pm

Well then I guess I am screwed then because Im not that in love with european history to write about it. I am so sick of Tudor crap being shoved down my throat and all I know is American history. I want to read stories set in this country but they are far and few between. Its annoying and frankly I am getting frustrated.

Christ on a cracker the Tudors werent the only people in history. :mad:
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Post by Leyland » Mon September 15th, 2008, 1:12 pm

A very interesting bridge exists directly between late Tudor and then Stuart history regarding the founding of the New England colonies and the huge Virginia colony. Such wonderful stories have been set in both Britain and the early colonies the way Anya Seton (Devil Water and The Winthrop Woman) and Karleen Koen have done. I'm very much a fan of these novels. How many HF's feature Elizabeth I's seadogs and explorers?

South Carolina could be a bonanza for a cross Atlantic novel setting. So many Huguenot families were founding families there. The French Wars of Religion era and the Revocation of the Edict of Nantes era would both make very interesting European settings.

Failed French and Spanish colonization at Charlesfort/Santa Elena (http://www.cas.sc.edu/sciaa/staff/depratterc/newweb.htm) occurred in Carolina before the English succeeded. Jean Ribaut's expedition in 1562 brought him to a base in Florida on the banks of the St Johns River and then upward to Port Royal SC. France claimed Florida, but that didn't go so well! Imagine the adventure and drama involved in these very early attempts. I'd love to read a well told fictional account about the entire voyage and settlement from the viewpoint of multiple characters and their backstories.

How could agents and publishers resist? :)

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