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Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Travel the Fictional Globe

by Dina Sleiman

When you read, do you like to travel to another time and place? I do. In fact, fictional travel is one of my favorite pastimes. I’ve traveled all over the globe to almost every time in history, and whether I’ve met with an African slave, a Roman noblewoman, or an Arabian sheik, it’s always an enlightening adventure. With no jet lag or intestinal maladies by the way. Most of what I know about history, I’ve learned from fiction books.

So I was surprised to discover that at least in Christian publishing, historical books set in America are far more in demand than those set in other countries. The most popular are the so called “bonnet books.” No offense to those American books, I’ve read and enjoyed many of them, but I’m ready to branch out and broaden my horizons!

It’s not so much that Christian publishers don’t want to support books set in other countries, it’s just that at the end of the day they are businesses, and businesses produce what sells. Evidently, in the Christian market readers are looking more for comfort and familiarity than exotic adventures.

Why do you think that is?

I know plenty of adventurous Christians. Are they adventurous enough that they’re reading secular books and not looking for Christian messages, or have they simply looked elsewhere because Christian publishers weren’t meeting their needs? I can’t help but think they would enjoy reading Christian novels if the types that interested them were available. Sounds like it may be a bit of a vicious cycle.

When I sat down and pondered the setting for my debut novel, the first thought that crossed my mind was, I want a time before the Reformation, a time when everyone was Christian, yet Christianity was set in an entirely different context. I decided on England, because it was the country in Europe I’d spent the most time visiting and because I have family roots there. Once the plot came to me, I realized I needed a time when feudalism still lingered, but cities and the middle class were emerging. Finally, I needed to open in the year of a famine. I landed on Southern England 1315.

So years later, I have a great book and discover that there’s not such a great market for it. Yet when you look at the Christian book awards, you find many international settings. Could the tide be turning? Or is it just that those who don't write bonnet books have to work twice as hard to get their books published and therefore turn out exceptional products?

I am actually acquainted with a number of the best European historical authors through the “Hiswriters” email loop. Hiswriters is a group of authors who write inspirational European historical fiction. Over a year ago, a number of the Hiswriters banned together and formed HEWN, Historical European Writers Network. We have committed to getting out the word about European historical novels. The market does seem to be opening to books set in the 1500’s-1800’s. Regency England is a new hot commodity. The medieval period is still hard to sell, but perhaps people are slowly working their way out of their comfort zones to times and places farther and farther from their own. Could medieval be the next big wave?

Our world is becoming more and more of a global community. Teenagers can sit down and play video games with online friends in Japan or Africa. I can only assume that such a global mindset will continue to feed our desire for international settings, if not in the current CBA market, then surely in the emerging one.

I’m hopeful that my first book will still find a market. I think the tide is turning. This month for our "Backlist Promotion," Gina focused on Christian books with international settings. Despite the preference for bonnet books, there are still tons of international titles out there. If you didn't get a chance to look at the list, check it out now. It will be switching to sci-fi/fantasy in early November, so don't put it off too long. In fact, go out and buy one or two or ten books with international settings (we now know about your TBR addictions compliments of Deb), just to make sure that publishers know Christian readers want more than just the same old same old.

What do you think about European historicals? Do you prefer books set in America, or do you like to travel to new places? What's your favorite book set in another country? What about the medieval period? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

20 comments:

  1. Hey Dina, I enjoy European historicals. Mind you, they're not my favourite - Westerns are - but if I'm writing a Western, I don't read it. That's when I go for something totally different.

    Recently, I read Linda Windsor's Healer. It's set in 6th century Scotland in the days of King Arthur and Merlin. It's also inspirational fantasy which I don't read often. I loved it! The link will take you to my review which includes a very done book trailer.

    Anita Mae.

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  2. Hi Dina!

    Great post and I hope our readers comment today. I believe that we are finding great fiction beyond the borders and that the truth about what publishers are buying is different than what THEY (those mysterious THEY people) are saying.

    I sure hope so. Two of my WIP series are set in the UK. I'd like to place the third on a plantation in the Caribbean. As a member of HisWriters and seeing the dedication and talent within that group, I have a hard time believing we will be limited by setting much longer --if that is indeed still true!

    Three years ago I realized there were no real historical romantic suspense novels in the Christian pub world. But that is slowly changing too!

    Hey Anita~ I have HEALER in my TBR pile!

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  3. Ooh, interesting topic for today. I am a historical gal -- I enjoy the occasional contemporary, but for the most part, I want to escape into the past when I read.

    I write Regencies *and* "bonnet books." What can I say? Sometimes I'm in a phaeton mood; other days, I'm riding in the back of a wagon.

    I know that some editors are seeking out more European-set historicals, while others still want only North American-set stories. It's interesting to experience the ebb and flow of the publishing world first-hand. It can be frustrating. I have to trust that the stories God's given me will find a home in the publishing world if, and only if (and when) He wills it, regardless of whether it fits into a hot-selling category.

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  4. I haven't read a historic novel yet. Yes, I know, that's horrible - especially considering a very large portion of the current Christian fiction market is historical fiction. I am interested in history though; so maybe I should start reading this genre. Who knows, one day I may even decide to write a historic fiction novel. The only thing that might get in my way is the amount of research involved. I know that part is probably fun for authors - but it seems as if it'd take a large portion of time just to research before writing the novel.

    Interesting post though! Thanks for sharing.

    Tessa

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  5. Hi everyone. Had a busy day. I'm glad everyone enjoyed the post. Tessa, I hope you will check out some historicals. You can see some of the ones I like at my website http://dinasleiman.com

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  6. I love foreign settings. In a way all historicals are foreign, because the culture, mores and day-to-day experiences are already so different from our modern society. So it really shouldn't be such a big leap to see them set in different geographical places as well.

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  7. Love this post and it made me think about honeymoon spots lol.

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  8. Hey Everyone! I'm a bit late chiming in, but just so you know, I get bored with the same ole same ole... So keep writing what's on your heart and I'm sure it will find it's place if it's good. Think Madeline L'Engle's Wrinkle in Time... what an odd book, not what was in fashion- too weird- but what an impact!

    My friend Sharon Hinck first published her Becky Miller books before getting the Restorer series going...

    So be brave and be true to yourself and the readers will find you...

    Thanks Dina for a great post.

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  9. I found your site from Adventures of the Grigg Boys. I love it. I’m going to poke around a little bit, but don’t worry I’ll put everything back where I found it!!

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  10. Honeymoons??? Sounds fun. Paris is my favorite place I've ever been.

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  11. Good thoughts, Sharon. I can only write what the voices in my head tell me to anyway :)

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  12. Thanks for stopping by, Kate. I hope you enjoyed it. Come back soon. We post everyday.

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  13. Hey, dear friend! I have missed you and hope all is going well.

    I like books of ALL genres and all settings.

    My caveat? They have takeaway value and are well written.

    Great post!! Hope you solve this problem RIGHT HERE!!!

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  14. I agree, Patti. I like to learn something and change in some way when I read a book. Enjoyed hanging out with you in Indy. Hope to see you again sometime.

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  15. Although I like Paris, I prefer Portugal to France, an odd thing for someone with a degree in French to say, I know.

    As for settings, I like westerns well enough and will keep my opinions to myself about bonnet books, which I suppose is stating an opinion. But I started out my writing career with an international book, my first published book being a Regency. But when I started writing for the CBA, I realized that international was a hard sell, so compromised and brought my Scots and English/Regency gentlemen heroes to the US. These turned out to be bridge books to carry my settings across the pond.

    This has fulfilled a word I got about my writing from a dying friend many years ago: You will be published as you want, but it may not be what you want at first. Be willing to be open-minded.

    I kept that in my head and let the Lord speak to me about my settings. It didnt' start in the CBA where I wanted it to, and he has still used those works.

    And now I'm writing my two loves--historical romantic suspense in an international setting. Yea God!

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  16. Hi Laurie :) That's really cool about the word you got from your friend. I have to say, that I've always been impressed with how you make smart decisions about getting your books published.

    I really tried to look for an American setting I liked last year. I also tried to rewrite on of my medievals as a Steeple Hill romance, but nothing seemed to work with me. As I said earlier, I can only write what the voices in my head tell me too.

    What I finally did find, which I enjoy as much or possibly more than my medievals, are plain old contemporary women's fiction. I have an American born character from a Middle Eastern family, though, and if the series continues, I want the young women to travel together to somewhere in the Middle East for some sort of outreach work.

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  17. By the way, I noticed I called Cherly Sharon. Sorry, Cheryl. Sleepy brain syndrome I'm sure.

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  18. And one more comment from me. True confession time. This is actually a reblog of something I wrote last year for my personal blog, and I was curious to see the responses.

    Here are a few things I've discovered since writing this.

    1) Experienced authors with name recognition can get away with breaking out of the norm. But for getting your first book out there, better to stay with what publishers know will sell. See Laurie Alice's comment.

    2) If you want to try something out of the norm, you will probably have more success in specific genres where the readers are looking to branch out, learn, and have adventures. General market fiction, suspense, and more literary fiction seem to be better homes for unusual settings. Readers of romance and historicals tend to read for comfort and appreciate the familiar.

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  19. Dina, I was just asked to write an endorsement for a book set in Saudi Arabia. CBA market. Author witanmerecognition, though.

    I love women's fiction. Stephanie Witson has her books set in France. A Garden in Paris is a great book. She went all present tense in the next one, so I gave up.

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  20. That's so cool Laurie Alice. I really enjoyed Veiled Freedom by Jeanette Windle set in Afghanistan.

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