Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Carola Dunn on Regency Romance

I wrote my first book in 1979, as a way to postpone getting a "real" job. I'd had many and various temp and part-time jobs, from construction to writing and editing definitions for a dictionary of science and technology. Then, after moving constantly, we settled down and bought a house. It was time to get serious.

At least, it was time to look as if I were getting serious. I sat down at the kitchen table with a pad of lined paper and a ball-point and started writing.

Why Regency? I'd reread Georgette Heyer's often enough to know what was coming on the next page. I wanted more, so I started reading some that were written around that time—late '70s—and they were so awful, I reckoned I couldn't possibly do worse. I didn't really expect to write an entire book, still less to get it published (Warner), let alone for it to lead to a 35-year career and still counting.

In case the term "Regency" means nothing to you: Strictly speaking, the Regency was the period between 1811 and 1820, when George III was mad and his son became the Prince Regent. Jane Austen's books were being published. It was a time of rapid change in Britain, as improved roads and carriages made travel easier, and simple fashions allowed women more freedom of movement. The 20th century Regency genre was the creation of Georgette Heyer—light-hearted romances, mostly with strong-willed heroines, sometimes dramatic and occasionally melodramatic but without explicit sex or violence.

Because the genre encompasses a short period (about 1800 to 1821, in fact), Regency lovers—who often don't read any other kind of romance—tend to learn a lot about the history, mores, and language, and to jump on errors. Having failed history at school, I had to dig in and master the details of life in the early 19th century.

I was lucky enough to have flexible editors who didn't confine my heroes and heroines to the drawing-room and the English countryside. Most were set in England but I also ventured to France, Belgium, Russia, Italy, Turkey, the Balkans, and even Costa Rica. Among my 32 full-length Regencies and dozen novellas, one was time-travel, one had a character who was a ghost, three were rewritten fairytales, magic and all, and many had elements of mystery/adventure/suspense.

And no, my heroes are not all dukes, or even lords, though there are a fair number of the latter.

I enjoyed writing Regencies, I knew I could sell them, and I might have gone on writing them forever, but within six months of each other, both my publishers (Walker and Harlequin at that point) dropped their Regency lines. I'd been thinking for some time that I'd like to try something different. That was the kick in the pants I needed.


Thus was Daisy Dalrymple born.

Carola Dunn is author of the Daisy Dalrymple Mysteries, Cornish Mysteries, and multitudinous Regencies.

17 comments :

  1. As a teenager I used to love Regency Romances: Heyer and Cartland were favorites. As an adult, I prefer mysteries. Sometimes, change is good.

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  2. I'm the perfect historical fiction reader because I know absolutely nothing about the 'truth' of the times. Authors can make countless mistakes and I'll never know. On the other hand, when I'm reading police/mystery/suspense books, I'm overly sensitive to mistakes which can spoil a read.
    Terry
    Terry's Place

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  3. Hi Carola, When I was in high school I thought that if you couldn't get a job as a garbage collector, you became a social studies teacher. Speaks volumes for my lack of historical knowledge, so I thought your fact about when the Regency era actually was quite interesting. Eager to hear more about your new direction in future posts—love the Daisy Dalrymple name and cover!

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  4. That Regency era is quite fascinating. I read a few authors who were writing them back in the late 70s and early 80s. I think I always liked the history and interesting social mores as much as the rest of the story. I have not read any in a long time, having switched to mysteries, but I do understand the Regencies are making a comeback as e-books. A number of authors I know are re-releasing backlist books and getting a nice response from a new batch of readers.

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  5. I love that cover for Daisy Dalrymple! As a lover of mysteries, I feel the need now to go check out the series.

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  6. I got hooked on Regency reading Carola's Lavender Lady when it was on special promotion. One thing I quickly picked up on - you won't find better dialogue than in Regency romance. Any author wanting to sharpen their skills there should read this genre. You will learn how to move your story forward just through sharp and witty conversation. Don't you agree, Carola?

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    1. Sorry for the above - I clicked 'post' before I should have! Anyway, here's what I meant to say:

      I know a fair bit about English history, having been entranced by the Tudors before I was a teen. Eight years ago, I accepted a contract to write a murder mystery game taking place in the Regency period simply so I had an excuse to learn more about the era!

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  8. I must admit, I haven't read many true romances, Regency or otherwise. But mysteries are another story. Your Daisy books sound like fun, and the covers are perfect of the period in every way.

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    1. Polly, I'm a big fan of the Cornish Mysteries! The reader is "right there" in this series, like taking a little trip across the pond. I love that.

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  9. You learn something new everyday ... I doff my chapeau to you, Carola.

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  10. I loved reading about your journey as an author -- from using your writing "as a way to postpone getting a 'real' job" to pursuing it as a "real" career. One who has never sat down to write a novel and actually completed the project has any inkling how much "real" work goes into that process. Now, having learned about your books, I quite imagine that I will be buying and reading them very shortly. It's high time for me to get back to my "real" job as a writer. Thank you for inspiring me to remain focused on that "realistic" goal; it's much too easy to get sidetracked along the way. :-)

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  11. I love Carola's books, all of them. Regency is very hot right now, probably because the times mirror ours without getting too close to the mirror, but all are not equally created. I got hooked on Daisy. It was the quality of writing in those books that got me started reading Carola's Regency romances. Never thought I would read those, but when you find a good writer, you stick with them, even if they're waiting for a real job to come along :-)

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  12. Thank you, Cyd. I hear from quite a few readers who run out of Daisy and Cornish mysteries and decide to give the Regencies a try while waiting for the next. They have a different flavour from most romance novels. As Dani says, dialogue is vital, to keep the story moving, to provide the period feel, and to illuminate the characters. Besides, I like writing it.

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  13. I'll try again--my previous comment didn't post. First, thanks, Cyd!

    Dani is right, the dialogue in Regencies is very important. It has to convey a sense of the times, move the plot along, illuminate character, and with luck and--in the proper place--amuse the reader. Besides, I enjoy writing it, whether Regency, 1920s, or 1970ish.

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  14. Interesting. I've done just the opposite, Carola. Gone from writing contemporary romances for Silhouette Desire and Bantam Loveswept and Fanfare to writing historicals, including five Regencies. Ah, the writing life. If we're not crazy when we start, we'll be crazy when we finish!

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The Blood-Red Pencil is a blog focusing on editing and writing advice. Some of our contributors are editors, some are authors, and some are writing sheep. Yes, sheep.

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