Tomorrow Bookview Café will release my Rita finalist western historical romance DENIM AND LACE. I wrote this in 1995 to suit the romance paradigm of the time that called for cute kids, spunky heroines, and hardhearted (and often hardheaded) heroes, with quirky secondary characters, a few of my favorite romance tropes.
I recently had to re-read the book to edit the scans and refine prose before digitalizing. Originally written by hand and typed on a Leading Edge computer with no Microsoft involved, the book is a different creature from today’s heavily edited, revised, and processed drafts. (I don’t buy new hardware or software when they first come out. That was the year Win 95 was released, which caused me to save my pennies and purchase my first Microsoft PC the following year). In the process of re-reading for BVC, I marveled at how far technology has come in the fifteen years since its publication, and how little stories have changed.
DENIM AND LACE was first published in 1996, the year of the Olympic Park bombing, Princess Di’s divorce, the OJ Simpson trial, and the release of Sling Blade and Braveheart. The World Wide Web had only been operating for three years. I may have had AOL by then (it cost a painful $20 a month), but it would have been long distance and mostly nonfunctional in my rural backwater. My 1929 house had serious electricity problems, so creating on a computer was a recipe for disaster. Even a pricey UPS didn’t prevent crashes from brownouts. I blamed the crashes on ghosts, and the computer techs laughed at me, until the transformer outside the house exploded, blacking out half the town. So I didn’t do a lot of editing back then, just writing and typing. Teenagers and a full time job occupied me more than revisions. Since my contracts usually called for 135k-150k words, I certainly didn’t need to write tight. So when I work on backlist now, that’s what I have to do—cut out all the excess verbiage.
The bestselling authors in 1996 are names we still know today. Grisham, Clancy, King, Crichton, and Steel ruled the bestseller lists. Evanovich’s ONE FOR THE MONEY may have just come out. But essentially, the bestselling books fifteen years ago were mysteries, thrillers, suspense, and romance. And in romance, the stories today are not so dissimilar from the stories back then. I’m still writing cute kids, hardheaded heroes, and the women who like to take them down a notch or two. And I still sell books and win awards with those stories—with a lot fewer words.
I think, on the whole, the prose in today’s books is tighter and better, the dialogue heavier, the description less. Who hasn’t seen every castle in Scotland by now? DVDs and Google paint them in vivid color without need of books. But we still want to read about people triumphing over evil, falling in love, and surviving the worst life throws at them. A really good story will give you all three.
Do you see similarities between today’s stories and those of the last few decades? Differences?