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Sandi Shilhanek | What Do You Think Makes A Book A Historical

Sandra Brown



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Powell's Books


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November 2009
On Sale: November 3, 2009
Featuring: Ella Barron
256 pages
ISBN: 1439172773
EAN: 9781439172773
Add to Wish List

Also by Sandra Brown:
White Hot, December 2020
Thick as Thieves, September 2020
Outfox, August 2020
Outfox, February 2020


This week I have been reading Rainwater by Sandra Brown. By Wikipedia’s definition historical romance is anything set before World War II. As I’ve read Rainwater I couldn’t help but feel that I was not reading a historical book, but one that could just as easily happen today.

I almost passed on reading Rainwater because of the historical label that it has…I don’t mind historicals, and have in fact read a few in my day, but no longer read them as a part of my regular reading pattern. Had I passed on this title I would have missed a book that I have been enjoying.

Since I felt like Rainwater was fairly contemporary I couldn’t help but feel if you and I as readers have our own definition of what a historical romance is.

For me I almost feel that if I know someone who lived in the time frame that I’m reading it’s not really a historical….that would mean that things from say the 1920’s to present are in my mind contemporary regardless of an official definition. What do you think?

Until next week,

happy page turning!

Sandi Shilhanek

Sandi Shilhanek

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30 comments posted.

Re: Sandi Shilhanek | What Do You Think Makes A Book A Historical

Sandi, I totally agree. To me,
historical is anything that
occurred before the 1900's.
Like you said, if you feel
like you could know one of the
characters in our time (i.e.,
they could still be alive
today), then it isn't really
historical to me.
(Margay Roberge 10:43am December 13, 2009)

I also think that a historical is anything before 1900. In a historical the main mode of transportation has to be by horse or ship.
If cars and airplanes can be involved in the story I think of them as being more modern.
(Gigi Hicks 12:37pm December 13, 2009)

I agree with Margay & Gigi... historicals for me are in a time and place in which I can be amazed by the characters lives, not see the story through modern ideas and technology.
(Colleen Conklin 1:03pm December 13, 2009)

I don't know that I agree with that. Two friends have recently published or are soon to publish books set in the 1930s and 1940s (Rebecca Cantrell's A TRACE OF SMOKE, June 2009, and Kelli Stanley's CITY OF DRAGONS, early 2010) and both are firmly historical works. Both authors have done a bang-up job of nailing their time-periods, which may have something to do with it. Those books could not have been set now, but are very well rooted in their respective time periods. I think the problem may be less in the time the book is set, and more in the author's execution. I don't write historicals, but I've always been told that some of the difficulty is in creating characters that are firmly of the time period you're writing about, and not modern men and women dumped into a different time. If you can't do it, maybe time travel is the way to go...
(Jennie Bentley 4:15pm December 13, 2009)

I too was thingking that historical was anything before 1900. Anything between 1900 and say 1960 is tough though and a grey area- not quite modern and not quite historical. That's a tough one.
(Sara Edmonds 4:25pm December 13, 2009)

My mother was a fifth grade teacher. As a writting assignment, she asked her students to pretend they were Rip Van Winkle and had just awakened after a twenty year sleep. They were to tell what was different. Among others, the students thought the men hunted for meat for their families, there were no cars or telephones, etc. This was a lead in to say that I agree with Jennie. If the author nails the time period, I can believe. And, like these students, if I believe it, it is so :>)
(Karin Tillotson 4:47pm December 13, 2009)

Thank you for your post, Sandi.

For me, a story set before or during World War I is automatically a historical. That's because in terms of our society and culture, WWI marks what I consider the most significant watershed.

But a story set since then can be a historical if the main theme, plot, and characters are closely tied to the events, lifestyles, and zeitgeist of its setting. And if they aren't, I wonder what's the point of setting it in that period rather than making it an "eternal present" contemporary story.
(Mary Anne Landers 4:55pm December 13, 2009)

I don't read many historicals but in my mind it would be before car's and airplanes were made. Otherwise it just feels to morden to me.
(Julie Harper 5:12pm December 13, 2009)

I agree with Sara Reyes, in that anything set before 1950 is historical. Since I was born at the end of the 50's, this era is my cut-off point for period settings.


(Lynn Rettig 5:26pm December 13, 2009)

I agree with you Sandi.
(Joyce Mandle 6:29pm December 13, 2009)

Interesting question. I have to agree w/ Mary Anne, there are some stories set in the 60's focusing on civil rights and events of those years that couldn't be set in any other time period and altho' I was young at that time, I guess it is history and would have to consider it historical. I used to automatically consider anything before I was born, meaning WWII and earlier.
(Pam Nolan 6:48pm December 13, 2009)

I guess I judge history by the age of my family members; with my mother being 95, I don't tend to think of the 1900's as historical. I do look forward to reading the book though since I've always like S. Brown.
(Ilene Pedersen 7:13pm December 13, 2009)

I only read historicals, and what I read is really anything set before 1900. The 20th century is an era of its own, its when the "historical" became 'modern' in my eyes. I have read books set in the 20's and WWII and while they may be categorized as historical I really don't see them that way, to me, they're a category of their own, not historical, not contemp. Does that make any sense?? LOL
(Shauna George 7:15pm December 13, 2009)

I don't think that it has to be based on anything prior to the 1900's to be considered a Historical Romance. I think it just makes us feel younger to put distance between now and the time that is discussed in a book targeted as Historical. Truth be told,in History classes some of the topics that are being discussed have happened within the past five years. In the case of Rainwater I think it was called historical because of the topics of race,government,and economics at that time. Yes, the same topics that we are dealing with today. Just goes to show that history does repeat itself sometimes.
(Leni Kaye 7:22pm December 13, 2009)

I think anything that is not in the present and is a past event based on something that was a recorded event would be considered Historical.
(Barbara Ryan 7:22pm December 13, 2009)

Very interesting thought... I guess I would agree with some of the others that historical is before 1950, although the 60's definitely would be historical too. I happen to love historical novels, love history, have a degree in it and so, am probably biased as to what is historical. That being said, I bought a used book this summer, "Warrior's Woman" which had "historical" written on its spine and it was actually futuristic! So I guess the term "historical" is in the mind of the author and the plot she/he develops.
(Trudy Miner 7:29pm December 13, 2009)

I would have said before the 1900s, but
now that we're well into the new century I
might consider moving the date up a
(Sue Ahn 9:25pm December 13, 2009)

I agree that historicals should be set before 1900.!
(Martha Lawson 9:28pm December 13, 2009)

My definition of a historical is one where the writer tries to depict accurately the customs and mentality of a specific period in time. The plot (of the story) allows us to learn how the character(s) deals with the social conflicts of that era.
(Rosemary Krejsa 9:32pm December 13, 2009)

I suppose I have a much broader--or narrower, as the perception may be--of what is contemporary or historical.

Contemporary, for me, is anything that is written at the time that it takes place. Historical is anything that takes place with an actual date before the publication of a book. I even count quite a bit of the 20th C. as "historical." Our times are changing so rapidly and knowledge and technology have changed so drastically that the 1950s, for example, seem very long ago. Many, many changes have come since then.

The strictest sense of "historical" for me means before the time that I know anyone who is still living. That would be starting with World War I.

I also make a distinction between historical novels and historical romances. The "novels" are those that feature actual people and events that can be found in history and do not focus mainly on a love story. This is the type I first read before the historical "romances" became so popular in the late 1970s and 1980s. Historical accuracy in manners, dress, and to a certain extent, language are a necessity. I'm just reading a book set in 1193 in which "spiel" is used. I'm trying to find out when this word was first used in English to mean "a glib plausible style of talk." (The Free Dictionary on-line) It comes from German via Yiddish and is centuries old (noun - a game, verb - to play), but not with the meaning it now has in English and Yiddish. It struck me as an anachronism this book.
(Sigrun Schulz 2:18am December 14, 2009)

I don't have a set time-frame for historical. Sometimes it is a certain feel to a story. If pushed I would say before my birth. So go back at least 50 years.
(Mary Preston 2:31am December 14, 2009)

Hmmmm. Interesting comments, everyone. I've never really thought of putting a date on "historical" before. I very seldom (never) read historicals, so I probably really shouldn't even be commenting. To me, anything I won't read are the stories where the women still wear long bulky dresses -- though that one's debatable -- and where the main mode of transportation is by horse and buggy/covered wagon. I love cowboy stories, but they need to be the modern ones, where at the end of the day they jump into their 4x4 and go home, sort of thing.
(Donna Breitkreuz 10:53am December 14, 2009)

Well, we learn something new every day. I didn't realize historicals were considered before WWII. Like most of the comments, I based it more of pre-1900 and more along the lines with what Donna just said, story-wise. And, for me, just in the romance category. I haven't read one since I was a teenager, as they aren't my fav. But I'm a huge Agatha Christie fan, and I never thought of them (especially her earliest books) as historical. Of course, that could be because a murder is always committed for basically the same reasons, and you just have to figure out the who. Or maybe, as was pointed out, it was a contemporary for the time it was published.

Thanks Sandi. This was an interesting question!
(Amanda Reeder-erdly 1:30pm December 14, 2009)

Just as the word brings to mind, history is something has happened in the past. It can be last week and that is still history but if you read a historical novel then it is usually something that happened a long time ago in another life and another era. We make history every day but it isn't historical till in the future. That sounds all jumbled up but hope it is clear.
(Diana Smith 3:38pm December 14, 2009)

I like the one comment about it having to be before 1950 to be historical. Well I must be historical because I was born before then. HA! Another generation. Good one.
(Diana Smith 3:40pm December 14, 2009)

Technically, a historical novel is one which was written by someone who was not alive during the period she (or he) is writing about. They don't remember the time period; they have to do research on it to be able to write the book. This makes Georgette Heyer's Regency romances historical fiction, but Jane Austen's books, written during the Regency period, fiction.

I found this out when I researched a module on historical fiction for my class. I remember when one of my students, who are graduate students, wanted to read a book set in the Sixties as historical fiction. I thought to myself, that's not historical! but to her, I guess it was. I believe I told my students it had to be WW II or before to count as historical.
(Frances May 6:23pm December 14, 2009)

To me, history is things that happened yesterday. This could and should be considered historical.
(Lisa Glidewell 9:42pm December 14, 2009)

when stories are written that are true to the facts of the time the story takes place
(Deb Soula 12:30pm December 15, 2009)

This is a very interesting topic Sandi!

As far as I am concerned, anything that happens before the last 20 years is historical. History is the past. I'm 36 years old and as far as I'm concerned, even the 80's is the past. It's a different time period, a different generation. The music heard, the way people spoke and interacted was very different that it is today.

So, yeah, I definitely think that something that occurred in 1920 would still be a historical.
(Carrie Hinkel-Gill 1:30pm December 15, 2009)

I agree with Gigi-anything before
1900 is historical and transportation is
wagon, horse or steam engine. I too
almost passed up Rainwater by Sandra
Brown. I opened it and started reading
it and decided to buy it. I was glad I
did.I guess it depends on the who the
author is and their style of writing as
to whether I will pick it up.
(Nancy Alexander 10:40am December 16, 2009)

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