The Allure of “Once Upon a Time”
Although I read in a variety of genres, from early childhood on, my favorite stories were those that began “once upon a time.” Yes, I’m a self-proclaimed fan of historical novels, which is why I read and write them. And although historicals go in and out of favor, there is a strong core of readers who share my love for them.
Why? What’s the appeal? I don’t claim to speak for everyone, but I believe there are five reasons for the enduring popularity of books set in times gone by.
They allow us to escape to a different era. While it’s true that contemporary fiction provides a form of escapism, it’s not as strong as becoming immersed in a totally different time. When modern life weighs on us as it has so often over the past few years, being able to spend a few hours in another time can be the change we need to help us put aside our worries for a while.
They allow us to experience a different lifestyle. You can argue that most historicals present an idealized version of life in a different time, and they do, but it’s for a good reason. After all, who wants to dwell on the absence of indoor plumbing and central heating? What a well-researched historical does is give us a glimpse into the way people lived, the hardships they endured as well as the joys they found in living in a small town, on a ranch, or in a castle.
They give us the opportunity to learn something new. We read for information or entertainment or both. While fiction is primarily a source of entertainment, a bit of information is a bonus and makes the story more enjoyable, at least for me. My favorite historicals are the ones that teach me something, as long as it’s done subtly. I’ve loved learning that actresses during the War of 1812 used melted wax instead of mascara and that high-button shoes had ten buttons up the side.
They let us see how others have faced problems similar to our own. I’ve been surprised by how many readers have told me that watching my characters survive heart-wrenching events has given them more comfort than studying self-help books. I believe that’s because historicals provide a buffer, what I refer to as the safety of distance, that makes the experience less traumatic to the reader without decreasing the impact of the characters’ struggles and survival.
They reassure us that people are fundamentally the same, regardless of when they lived. We may wear different clothes, live in different kinds of houses, eat different foods, but underneath the outward trappings, we have the same wants and needs. This affirmation of a common humanity can provide comfort and is, I believe, one of the appeals of “once upon a time.”
What do you think? Do you agree with me? If not, why not?
The Spark of Love
She’s determined to start a new
life in the West . . . if only the old one will leave her alone
When a spurned suitor threatens her, heiress Alexandra Tarkington flees New York for Mesquite Springs in the Texas Hill Country, where her father is building a hotel. But the happy reunion she envisions is not to be as her father insists she return to New York. Instead, Alexandra carves out a niche for herself in town, teaching schoolchildren to paint and enjoying the company of Gabe Seymour, a delightful man she met on the stagecoach.
But all is not as it seems. Two men, each with his own agenda, have followed her to Mesquite Springs. And Gabe is an investigator, searching for proof that her father is a swindler.
With so much to lose—and hide from one another—Alexandra and Gabe will have to come together if they are ever to discover whether the sparks they’ve felt from the beginning can kindle the fire of true love.