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Why is historical fiction such a popular genre?

For discussions of historical fiction. Threads that do not relate to historical fiction should be started in the Chat forum or elsewhere on the forum, depending on the topic.
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MLE (Emily Cotton)
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Interest in HF: started in childhood with the classics, which, IMHO are HF even if they were contemporary when written.
Favourite HF book: Prince of Foxes, by Samuel Shellabarger
Preferred HF: Currently prefer 1600 and earlier, but I'll read anything that keeps me turning the page.
Location: California Bay Area

Post by MLE (Emily Cotton) » Wed February 16th, 2011, 12:37 am

[quote=""fljustice""]That's what first struck me about the question. I've always thought of HF as a niche genre attracting a distinct minority of readers. I went to Google to see if I could corroborate my hunch and didn't find much. The closest I came was this set of statistics from RWA 2009:
(source: Simba Information)

* Romance: $1.36 billion
* Religion/inspirational: $770 million
* Mystery: $674 million
* Science fiction/fantasy: $554 million
* Classic literary fiction: $462 million
These are sales not number of books published or sold, but HF isn't broken out. It is certainly a sub-genre in romance, mystery and fantasy. I'm not sure what "classic" literary fiction is. Austen and Dickens or any literary fiction?
[/quote]

Those numbers are fascinating. I knew romance drives the trade book business, but I had no idea inspirational was number two. Maybe we should have an HF inspirational section?

The other problem with those numbers is, what category does inspirational romance go? There's a LOT of that in the inspirational genre, and as I am no fan of genre romance, it colors my view of inspirational generally. Is it counted twice?

We have a historical romance section on the forum; also, straight HF books like EC's to Defy a King are shortlisted for a romance award. So how much of that $1.36 billion romance number is actually Historical Fiction? After all, any writer who covers a chunk of history in their novel would be hard-pressed to avoid a romantic element-- that's how the species continues.

Some answers in those numbers, but more questions.

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Misfit
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Post by Misfit » Wed February 16th, 2011, 12:57 am

We have a historical romance section on the forum; also, straight HF books like EC's to Defy a King are shortlisted for a romance award. So how much of that $1.36 billion romance number is actually Historical Fiction? After all, any writer who covers a chunk of history in their novel would be hard-pressed to avoid a romantic element-- that's how the species continues.
Romance is such a tricky genre to categorize, everyone has a different opinion as well as a different definition of bodice ripper. I go nuts when people judge some of those older books by their covers, surprisingly a lot of them have little sex at all, and more history then your *everyday romance reader* would care for. Clearly some people consider female written HF to be romance if there's a strong love story.

As for my use of *everyday romance reader*, even that's subject to interpretation. I mean no insult whatsoever, but there are readers who prefer the wall paper variety and complain when they get say a Roberta Gellis and there's too much historical info. But, the same goes for HF. There are wall paper historicals with pretty dress up characters and then there's the Penmans, etc. To each his own.

NOTE: I am not knocking the wall paper HF's, to each his/her own preference in reading so please don't bash me again. As long as you're reading that's the important part.
At home with a good book and the cat...
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Michy
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Post by Michy » Wed February 16th, 2011, 2:19 am

[quote=""Misfit""]

NOTE: I am not knocking the wall paper HF's, to each his/her own preference in reading so please don't bash me again. As long as you're reading that's the important part.[/quote]

Did someone bash you? That's not nice. :( And besides, you haven't said anything wrong.

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Misfit
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Post by Misfit » Wed February 16th, 2011, 2:35 am

[quote=""Michy""]Did someone bash you? That's not nice. :( And besides, you haven't said anything wrong.[/quote]

Ack, I am tired or I would have clarified. The basing wasn't here, no worries.
At home with a good book and the cat...
...is the only place I want to be

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EC2
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Post by EC2 » Wed February 16th, 2011, 9:43 am

[quote=""MLE""]T

We have a historical romance section on the forum; also, straight HF books like EC's to Defy a King are shortlisted for a romance award. So how much of that $1.36 billion romance number is actually Historical Fiction? After all, any writer who covers a chunk of history in their novel would be hard-pressed to avoid a romantic element-- that's how the species continues.
[/quote]

Just to clarify that in the case of the RNA main award, It's not so much for romances where the love story has to be the main focus, but it's for mainstream fiction of any genre that has a broader romantic element. Philippa Gregory's Other Boleyn Girl was a past winner (although she says she doesn't write romance), Susan Kay's Phantom. Rosamund Pilcher (can't remember title). Dorothy Dunnett has been a shortlisted author (didn't win). It's meatier stuff than pure romance. There is a separate prize for the novels that have the romance fully up front.

Totally agree with the conundrum of how you separate out the material.
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Vanessa
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Currently reading: The Farm at the Edge of the World by Sarah Vaughan
Interest in HF: The first historical novel I read was Katherine by Anya Seton and this sparked off my interest in this genre.
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Post by Vanessa » Wed February 16th, 2011, 10:00 am

I think a lot of books have a love interest in them, whilst not officially being classed as a romance. I like that in a book. Well, it is what makes the world go round......
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Kveto from Prague
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Post by Kveto from Prague » Wed February 16th, 2011, 10:39 am

Is it popular really? To me it seems more of a subcatergory of other genres. HF can almost always be "something else" as well. And the only people I know who like HF are on this site.

I like HF because I like history and I like learning about history. So I read NF history but sometimes that lacks the story or personal connection. HF is a bit like teaching while entertaining for me.

thats all i can think of.

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sweetpotatoboy
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Post by sweetpotatoboy » Wed February 16th, 2011, 11:49 am

[quote=""Kveto from Prague""]Is it popular really? To me it seems more of a subcatergory of other genres. [/quote]

That's how I think of it. You can have a historical novel belonging to any of the standard genres. Sometimes I think there is more in common between a contemporary and a historical in a given genre, than between two historicals in different genres.

But in any case, the whole 'genre' thing is a distraction and often more a disadvantage than a benefit. Sure, many novels are written very specifically to match well-trod parameters of a given genre for commercial reasons - and habitual readers of that genre are happy with that: they know what they're getting. But so many other novels are just written to be great novels and could theoretically be categorised in many different ways or in none.

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Madeleine
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Post by Madeleine » Wed February 16th, 2011, 12:05 pm

[quote=""Kveto from Prague""]Is it popular really? To me it seems more of a subcatergory of other genres. HF can almost always be "something else" as well. And the only people I know who like HF are on this site.

I like HF because I like history and I like learning about history. So I read NF history but sometimes that lacks the story or personal connection. HF is a bit like teaching while entertaining for me.thats all i can think of.[/quote]

I think that sums it up perfectly :) , and is the best way to learn something. I liked history at school but it was a bit dusty, just loads of facts; some major events, like the Irish Potato Famine, were only given a couple of paragraphs in our books :rolleyes: :p !
Currently reading: "Longstone" by L J Ross

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Margaret
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Interest in HF: I can't answer this in 100 characters. Sorry.
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Preferred HF: Literary novels. Late medieval and Renaissance.
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Post by Margaret » Mon February 21st, 2011, 2:59 am

You can have a historical novel belonging to any of the standard genres.
Totally true. It's why I don't think of historical fiction as a genre, although it can be useful sometimes to treat it that way. But you just can't classify two novels as different as, say, Marion Zimmer Bradley's Mists of Avalon and Alfred Duggan's The Conscience of the King as the same genre, even though they're set in roughly the same time period.
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