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Wednesday, June 11, 2014

The lure of writing historical romances by Kaye Spencer

As an author, have you ever been asked why you 'write what you write'? If you're drawn to a particular genre over all others, have you ever considered why? Over the years, I've encountered variations of these questions in author interviews. I have three general points—with examples—for why I tend to write historicals and particularly stories set in the American Old West.


Reason 1—Research

Every historical I write allows me to follow fluffy white rabbits down research rabbit holes. I've discovered the most intriguing and amazing tidbits of history in my historical research Wonderland. Losing myself in research is one of my ‘happy places’. It’s important to me to have the details in my stories as historically accurate as possible. I’m not perfect in this endeavor, nor am I a ‘professional’ researcher, but I conscientiously work at achieving accuracy, so it’s my hope that upon the rare occasion my history, geography, or dialogue is off, readers will forgive the faux pas.

Reason 2—Living vicariously in the past

While I’m writing a story set in the past, I get to travel to a different place and time and live in someone else's shoes, so-to-speak. I’m like Anthony Marston in Quigley Down Under: “…Some men [women] are born in the wrong century.” All my life I’ve felt out-of-place living in our ‘modern’ world. So when I transport myself to the time in which my characters are living, I’m in another one of my ‘happy places’.

Reason 3—Challenge of overcoming inconveniences

I like writing stories that lack modern day conveniences. Without the amenities we’re accustomed to nowadays, there are so many juicy complications for the characters to face, deal with, and overcome that otherwise could be written away with a call on the cell phone or by hopping an airplane to get where they're going in a jiffy. Just imagine the possibilities…

Communication: When the hero and heroine have to depend upon letter writing and telegraph messages, both of which were slow (relatively speaking) and could more easily be intercepted or even lost, the villain has the opportunity to weasel his way into the heroine’s life and console her because she thinks the hero has jilted her at the altar when he doesn’t show up for their wedding when actually the villain has intercepted the telegram that explains the legitimate reason for the hero’s delay.

Transportation: Transportation wasn’t necessarily convenient or terribly comfortable. Horseback riding was functional, but for long periods of time over great distances is exhausting and full of plot-enhancing dangers and challenges. Stagecoach travel was cramped, dirty/dusty, really hot/really cold, and could be dangerous. It lacked privacy that women need. Obtaining a decent meal could be an on-going problem. Generally, stage travel was a grueling test of endurance. Traveling by train was limited to where the tracks were laid, and it shared many of the same drawbacks as stage travel, plus it had the additional discomfort of soot and cinders coming into the passenger cars. Any or all of these situations make for interesting reading.
When the heroine is traveling--by herself, of course--she might be kidnapped by a drop-dead handsome train robber or (egads!) find herself stranded on the Texas prairie with nothing but a scoundrel of a gambler as her companion and the one surviving horse from the stagecoach team after the Comanche attack.

Contraception: Without our modern-day contraceptives, the possibility of pregnancy looms in historical stories as an ever-present consequence of a romantic dalliance. This is a great plot device for building the sexual tension between the hero and heroine. Fear of out-of-wedlock pregnancy and the real threat of dying in childbirth both add another layer of anxiety to the romantic relationship that isn’t as much of an issue in contemporary stories.

Medicine: Sophisticated antibiotics as we know them were virtually nonexistent back in the ‘olden days’, which makes the recovery difficult and, sometimes, the character’s very survival tenuous given the physical torture/wounds/injuries we, as authors, inflict upon them. Lack of antibiotics makes the situation all that more dire for the hero when the lady doctor extracts the arrow from his thigh.

The scenarios are endless, and I'm sure you've either read them or written them. 

So, with that, here’s a teaser from my newest story, A Permanent Bride, which is one of the stories in the Lassoing a Mail-Order Bride anthology.

The hero has ninety days in which to find a wife or he’ll lose the opportunity to gain custody of his grandchildren. By the time he places an advertisement in the Matrimony Courier for a mail-order bride, he’s squandered thirty days. There’s no time for courtship. The heroine needs a new identity and a place out west in which to hide and, since she has no time to be choosy about how that happens, becoming a mail-order bride is as good of a solution as any. They don’t know it yet, but they’re a perfect match made in a mail-order magazine heaven.

Isn’t this a deliciously convoluted plot? ;-) And it works because it’s set over 100 years in the past.


 Lassoing a Mail-Order Bride is available in print and digital format at these online booksellers:



Until next time,


Fall in love…faster, harder, deeper with Kaye Spencer romances

Twitter - @kayespencer


  1. Kaye, these are all excellent points! Although writing contemporary stories has its challenges, I think writing western historical romances have so many more, and I just love them! I really enjoyed your story, A Permanent Woman, in the Lassoing a Mail-Order Bride anthology. Very very different!

    1. I've written a few contemporary stories, and I agree with you that they have their own challenges. Referencing today's gadgets and technology is tricky in a contemporary story because it can really date the story later. One example that comes to mind is the telephone. When I was growing up, I didn't call my house phone a 'landline' phone. It was just the telephone. Then mobile phones came along followed by cell phones then iPhones, Smartphones, Androids... geesh. (rolling eyes) And do we write 'laptop' or 'notebook' or just leave it at 'computer'?

      There are too darn many choices in our contemporary world. lolol

  2. Oh Kaye, I love the 'Alice' reference. We researchers find ourselves down rabbit holes more often than not. But they do lead to some wonderful discoveries and the story you have imagined for your mail-order bride is wonderful. Best to you with this and future stories. Doris

    1. Doris,

      The deepest rabbit hole I fell into was researching Dracula and Attila the Hun in an effort to find a common ancestral link. I had this bright idea that involved a generational curse that followed certain offspring through the years... 0_o Needless to say, I used hours of my life that I can never get back, and I still haven't finished writing the story. bwahahaha

  3. I can't wait to read the story. I'm pretty sure I've bought the anthology already. (Now isn't that sad? I've been so busy lately I'm not sure what books I have and have not purchased.)

    1. This really gave me a laugh, because I do this, too. I've seen a t-shirt that says, "People say I have ADHD. It's not true. They just don't understand... Oh, look! A chicken!" <<<This is me with buying books. I buy, download to my Kindle, then a year later finally read them and wonder when in the heck I purchased it. lol

  4. I love research, too, but sometimes I would like to take it easy and write about the country I know best, North Carolina or rural Pennsylvania. But, then again, I'm finding out more and more about the west through research and getting more comfortable with my stories there.
    I am old enough to have had grandparents who didn't have modern conveniences. My maternal grandmother eventually had all the indoor plumbing and appliances she wanted, but my paternal grandfather lived his whole life without them. It didn't really bother me except for the smell of the outhouse. Those days were happy times for me when we would go to PA and visit them. There was an amusement park and my grandmother's church was always having some picnic or ice cream social going on. We were always doing things and visiting. I was raised without TV and there were no cell phones or computers. I could live like that for the rest of my life.
    I enjoyed reading your 3 reasons for writing historical westerns, Kaye. I know the Mail Order Bride anthology is going to be a big success.
    All the best to you...

    1. I laughed at your "I'm old enough to have had grandparents who didn't have modern conveniences" because I'm old enough to remember not having them. I clearly remember when we finally got an indoor toilet when I was seven years old. We had indoor running water, electricity, a bathtub with faucets, but no toilet. I was seven or eight when we got our first television.

      I remember my maternal grandfather didn't have running water in his house until I was 12-ish. He did have electricity, but no running water in the house. But, he did have a kitchen sink pump (and that was wayyyy cool) lol I was a teenager when my parents, aunts, and an uncle got together and built a bathroom on his house and put in the plumbing for running water in the kitchen, too.

      Some of my not-fondest memories are of going to the outhouse. I hated it. That's where Granddaddy Longleg spiders lived, and I have a spider aversion to this day. ;-)

      We had a black wall-hanging telephone with rotary dial and an 8-party line, too.

  5. You said it all so well, Kate. Women of the past often planned their funerals as well as their baby's layettes. And when an author presents a too-eager heroine jumping into bed with a man, I gotta wonder why she isn't more worried...
    LOL. Yet...despite all the conundrums, give me a rollicking western any way. I loved your story BTW.

    1. Tanya,

      I love this: "And when an author presents a too-eager heroine jumping into bed with a man, I gotta wonder why she isn't more worried..."

      And I like a good rollicking western myself.

      I loved your story, too. Ooma was such a cantankerous pot-stirrer, and you painted her character so well, that I was nervous for Elspeth. ;-) I had an aunt who reminds me of Ooma, so I knew what Elspeth was potentially getting herself into.

  6. Kate -- yep, your list is everything I'd put together, too!! LOVE the research... and often have to stop and remind myself that I am, after all, writing a STORY. But because I do write a lot of history (nonfiction) and am always searching for those lost bits of local history, the research angle is extremely important to me. And although here on the ranch we have plenty of modern conveniences, we do and have had to learn to adapt to all kinds of inconveniences over the years....often no power and we do have a wood stove on which I've cooked many a meal and also no water (well/pump issues or power) and we do heat with wood stove so that areas of our old 160+ year farmhouse has some pretty chilly locations! Before we replaced the old windows and inserted insulation, you could hang meat in our daughter's room in winter (we DO get very cold winters, this year minus 18 degrees for many days!)!! In that way, I've often thought of all the oldtime women and what they put up with!! My husband's grandmother used to cook for 20-30 hired hands on the same old Monarch wood stove I have and would get up at 4 am to make bread for breakfast!

    1. Gail,

      I went down memory lane with just about everything you said. Although it's been a good number of years since I've had to deal with power outages and the accompanying lack of running water, heating, and cooking challenges, I encountered it so often in my first 30 years, that if it happened now, I'd be able to just roll with it.

      I've often contemplated how resourceful the oldtime women were...they had to be. Life was harsh, life was sometimes short, and niceties and pleasures were often few and far between.

      "...My husband's grandmother used to cook for 20-30 hired hands on the same old Monarch wood stove I have and would get up at 4 am to make bread for breakfast!" <<And then she had to clean it all up to get lunch ready for the same group of men...and then clean it up... and get supper going... and do laundry... and the ironing...

      I'm exhausted just thinking about it.

    2. Yes, you're right! She had a neighbor girl who helped her, but she did it all every day and 3x a day!! Quite a job....and we think we women are "tough" these days ....

  7. Hello Kaye. I enjoyed this post and especially recognised reason 2! I would love to still be living in a past time. Although, having said that, I too remember an outside toilet, complete with the creepy things and the squares of newspaper hanging on a nail on the back of the door! I so hated having to go down there at night, with a candle! Hmmm on second thoughts, maybe today is a better time to be living in after all! Great post.

    1. Jill,

      I had a rotten older boy cousin who locked me in the outhouse the heat of the summer with no adults close enough to hear me SCREAMING. I was verging on claustrophobia before that happened, and it went full-blown after that nasty episode.

      So, yeah, on that note, maybe today isn't such a bad time to live in. lolol