Although the Prince Regent spends a fair amount of time flouncing around Regency
romances in his custom-made military uniforms and the Duke of Wellington is
basically required to show up whenever the Battle of Waterloo is invoked, real
historical figures in historical romances aren’t that common, especially not as
secondary or even tertiary characters. Characters like that are tricky for writers
to pull off, because they don’t want to represent the character inauthentically (or
pull the reader out of the story with a glaring factual error).
Some writers have done it well. K.J. Charles recently put a real-life group of rebel
conspirators in A Seditious Affair, and it was an interesting way to raise
the stakes for the characters. Donna Thorland has included a number of real
historical figures in her series set during the American Revolution. One of my long-
time critique buddies Tilda Booth wrote a steampunk novel about H.G. Wells and his
actual wife called Stealing Utopia that is super fun.
Or maybe real historical figures are not so rare. When I asked my Facebook friends
for other examples, there were tons, everything from old-school romances (Bertrice
Small, Kathleen Woodiwiss, Janelle Taylor, and even Georgette Heyer wrote historical
figures into their books) to more modern authors (Loretta Chase, Astrid Amara,
Kimberly Bell, Alyssa Cole, Rowan Speedwell). Time periods range, too, from the
American Civil War to ancient Rome to the Ottoman Empire. (My own TBR pile grew
three sizes that day!)
I was hesitant to put real historical figures into my own writing, but then I had
this idea for a book set during a heat wave in New York City in 1896 and, well,
Teddy Roosevelt showed up.
In 1896, the actual Theodore Roosevelt was serving as president of the police board
in New York City. This proto-NYPD was run by a 4-man commission, not all of whom
supported Roosevelt’s ideas for reform. As police commissioner, Roosevelt went to
war against vice in the city. One of his goals was to enforce the ban on selling
alcohol on Sunday, for example, a law neither saloon-owners nor working-class men
were particularly fond of. Roosevelt also fought to weed corrupt officers out of the
police department. Corruption could be defined as taking bribes to look the other
way while someone committed a crime or simply committing adultery.
To me, that set up an interesting conflict. What if a being considered for promotion
by Roosevelt was secretly a homosexual?
It helped also that Teddy Roosevelt was such a character. I tried to get Teddy’s
speech right as best as I could based on my research. Some of the dialogue in TEN DAYS IN AUGUST is pulled
from actual police board meeting transcripts or letters Roosevelt wrote. Roosevelt
was funny and blustery and had boundless energy, something I tried to convey
whenever he shows up in the story. He’s not a bad guy, but he becomes kind of a foil
for the book’s fictional characters. And he was tremendous fun to write.
Do you have any favorite romances with real historical characters?
Kate McMurray is an award-winning author romance author and an unabashed romance
fan. When she’s not writing, she works as a nonfiction editor, dabbles in various
crafts, and is maybe a tiny bit obsessed with baseball. She is currently president
of the New York City chapter of Romance Writers of America. She lives in Brooklyn,
From the Lower East Side to uptown Manhattan, a curious detective
searches for clues on the sidewalks of New York—and finds a secret world of
forbidden love that’s too hot to handle…
New York City, 1896. As the temperatures rise, so does the crime rate. At the peak
of this sizzling heat wave, police inspector Hank Brandt is called to investigate
the scandalous murder of a male prostitute. His colleagues think he should drop the
case, but Hank’s interest is piqued, especially when he meets the intriguing key
witness: a beautiful female impersonator named Nicholas Sharp.
As a nightclub performer living on the fringes of society, Nicky is reluctant to
place his trust in a cop—even one as handsome as Hank. With Police Commissioner
Theodore Roosevelt cracking down on vice in the city, Nicky’s afraid that getting
involved could end his career. But when he realizes his life is in danger—and Hank
is his strongest ally—the two men hit the streets together to solve the crime. From
the tawdry tenements of the Lower East Side to the moneyed mansions of Fifth Avenue,
Nicky and Hank are determined to uncover the truth. But when things start heating up
between them, it’s not just their lives on the line. It’s their love
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