Wednesday, March 28, 2018

Guest Post with Erin Kane Spock: Courtly Scandals + Historical Accuracy!

Erin Kane Spock's latest historical romance, Courtly Scandals, came out earlier this month from Crimson Romance (RIP, Crimson). Today Erin is going to talk about finding the balance between historical accuracy and fictional entertainment.

Historical Accuracy vs Entertainment

My name is Erin Kane Spock and I am honored to be a guest here. Because I am both a history teacher and a historical romance writer, I chose to write about a subject I struggle with: the balance between historical accuracy and entertainment in writing. Whether you’re a reader or a writer of historical romantic fiction, you can probably think of examples of moments of too much versus not enough history within the scope of the story. I personally struggle with too much history and always have to pare it down. Deciding what to lose and what to keep is always tough, but the deciding factor for me is the story itself.

Please note that all of my examples will be using the Elizabethan era because it’s what I write. That’s just how I roll.

Let me begin by saying history is important. If you are writing historical fiction of any kind, it behooves you do the research and not make it old-timey as you see fit. That does a disservice to the reader who is trusting you. Not cool.


If you look too closely at any period using the lens of today’s values, you would see norms that will make your readers cringe. Compared to modern norms, Elizabethans are xenophobic, homophobic, racist, sexist, intolerant, ignorant, hypocritical, self-righteous, violent, filthy slobs with a superiority complex. If you take the time to track the evolution of these values and how they changed over time, it’s easy to understand them as a symptom of the era. You may even see them as enlightened compared to their predecessors. But if you’re looking at quick snapshot of life out of context, they’re a bunch of pompous asses who deserved the pox so many of them had… and this does not lend itself well to writing sympathetic characters.

If I wrote scholarly monographs I could cover these social norms in depth… but I don’t. I write romance. The story has to come first and the setting is just the setting. Is it important? Yes, enormously. Should I put due diligence into making it correct? Absolutely. Do I need to focus on the fact that a lady of the court couldn’t wipe herself in all the layers of clothing? Nope.
Call it sugar coating or even a lie of omission. My approach is that if it doesn’t have bearing on the story, it doesn’t need to be addressed. While I love to think my readers will learn a bit about the history of the era based on the way I use the setting, if the story isn’t tight, none of that will matter. The story is the key.

This is where entertainment takes precedence. I like to think I don’t sacrifice accuracy to entertainment, but I do turn a blind eye to it when pacing is an issue. For example, there was no such thing as privacy. In Courtly Pleasures, Frances’s ladies would have, most likely, slept on a pallet in her room. I chose not to do this because it would make sexy time really awkward. I made my Elizabethans have excellent hygiene (also in deference to sexy time). Some points I just glossed over, like the fact that it would have taken about a week to travel the distance between Nottinghamshire and London, or that the dresses would have been hand sewn and taken more time to have made and delivered than worked for the pacing of my story.

On the flip side, I highlighted some historical norms as plot points. A woman was the property of her father and then the property of her husband—he had the right to her body. Homosexuality (specifically the crime of sodomy) was punishable by death. Childbirth was dangerous and “modern” medicine was one part science-ish, three parts superstition, and ten parts random (for an arbitrary total of fourteen parts that still would probably kill you). These historical details feature in the story and promote the entertainment factor while still being accurate (not counting my fouteen parts of medicine, that was just me. Sorry).

Although I write with the full intention of representing my era accurately, I do apply modern norms to make sure the characters are relatable. Sometimes that means pushing in a theme that may have been foreign to the era or finding a theme that mirrors something that modern readers will find familiar. In Courtly Pleasures, Frances asserts the right over her own body. This would have been controversial (and I said so in the story) and only works with the history because Henry was willing, as a husband, not to demand compliance. Here is a historical social norm that clashes with a modern sentiment about consent. In Courtly Scandals Mary has a gay friend and does not reject him as perverse. Her attitude toward Girard may not have been the norm (and I said so) but it also wasn’t a huge, glaring historical inconsistency (when you look at art and literature from that age). This went toward showing Mary as a kind woman, someone who loves unconditionally. Here is a historical social norm that’s a bit muddy (law says one thing, people do another) that doesn’t actually clash with contemporary values of tolerance and respect for diversity. Themes that parallel in our modern world may make the character that much more relatable.

When it comes to setting the scene, I think honest representation of history is what really makes it come to life. When you read historical fiction and can see, smell, taste, hear, and touch all the elements that make that place in time lush, the story becomes that much deeper. It makes history accessible and real. Both Courtly Pleasures and Courtly Scandals have examples of Elizabethan courtly revelry. I love showing just how opulent and over-the-top the entertainment could be. One of my reviewers said she’d pay a lot of money to attend just one of the parties in the book. While these particular events are fictitious, they are rooted in historical accounts of some of the entertainments organized for Queen Elizabeth. From the food, the music, the costumes, the players, all of it goes toward creating historically accurate backdrop for both Frances and Mary’s experiences at court.

The balancing act between historical accuracy and the entertainment that comes from historical romantic fiction is tricky, but ultimately the key word here is fiction. Being true to your chosen period won’t matter if no one reads the book, so keep it real but, even more so, tell your story.

Both Courtly Pleasures and Courtly Scandals are available in ebook and print on demand through most major booksellers. Visit my blog, find me in Facebook, or follow me on Twitter.

~ Erin Kane Spock

Courtly Scandals by Erin Kane Spock
Publisher: Crimson Romance (March 19, 2018)
Series: Courtly Love, 2
Genre: Historical Romance

Amid the revelry of Queen Elizabeth's court at Christmas, scandal after scandal finds a spirited young woman who learns to defy society, own her actions, and fall in love.

Pleasure takes priority during the twelve days of Christmas in Queen Elizabeth's court, and newcomer Mary Montgomery jumps in with abandon. Unfortunately, such joie de vivre also leads to accusations that she has stabbed an earl, impersonated the Queen, and punched a countess in the face.

Despite the gossip swirling about her, Sir Charles, a knight and member of the Queen's Guard, is drawn to her vibrancy. After all, scandals are nothing new at Queen Elizabeth's court. Unfortunately, Mary does not have the wealth or rank to survive them unscathed and soon finds herself on the outside of society's good graces. And though his loyalty taints his own reputation, Charles continues to stand by Mary's side.

He knows his intentions and where his priorities lie—he just isn't sure how she'll react when she finds out that the man who ruined her reputation is his half-brother. Indeed, before she can accept his affections, Mary must not only forgive herself for her past but realize she is worthy of love.

Sensuality Level: Sensual

Where to Buy*:
More Info:

My name is Erin Spock and writing is my joy. Courtly Pleasures, a Tudor era historical romance, was my first complete novel. It came out in eBook in December of 2017 and has received excellent reviews.

Courtly Scandals is scheduled for release in March of 2018 and Courtly Abandon is set for July 2018. I look forward to going to my the Romance Writers of America's national convention in Denver this year with three published novels under my belt.  

While my Elizabethan historical romances are fun and my primary focus, I have also dabbled in writing something darker. Possessing Karma is a supernatural romantic thriller. It is a ghost story set in modern day New Orleans that overlaps with the lives of a sadist but charming plantation owner and his quadroon mistress. Possessing Karma was available temporarily on Inkitt for two months. During that time it was a consistently trending book in both the romance and thriller genres. At the point I removed it, it had had over two thousand reads.  I look forward to sharing this title with interested publishers

I became fascinated with the Elizabethan era after my high school drama group attended a Renaissance faire. I received my  BA from CSU San Marcos with a major in History (I focused on the social history of the Renaissance). When I am not writing, I am a history and art teacher for middle grades at a local charter school. I no longer participate in Renaissance faires, but my costume experience there has evolved into making Irish solo dresses for my daughter's dance competitions.

I started writing supernatural a few years ago and found I loved it. So far I've dabbled in writing ghosts and elemental spirits. In real life I'm really, really creeped out by hauntings. In order to broaden my repertoire of vocabulary and setting I've been reading horrors and watching scary movies. Needless to say, I haven't been sleeping well.

I am a member of Romance Writers of America and would recommend this as a resource to any who wish to pursue writing romance professionally. It has been a supportive community of like minded writers and I would not be where I am without them.

I live in Southern California with my husband, two daughters, an elderly border collie named Portia, and a lab-ish puppy named Lucy.

Where to Find Erin:

Thanks for stopping by, Erin!

What are your thoughts/experiences on historical accuracy in your romance novels? Do you notice everything and pick it apart or are you one of those who joke that inaccuracies don't phase you unless the characters are suddenly pulling out a smartphone (and it's not, you know, a time travel or anything)? [I tend to lean more towards the latter for the most part lol]


Until Next Time,

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