Can a Man Write Historical Romance?
Can a man write historical romance? I sure hope so, because I've written seven of them and I'd hate to find out now that it can't be done!
It happened this way. Around 2000 or so I got an idea for a legal thriller series. It seemed like every ex-lawyer was writing legal thrillers at the time, including me. I wanted to try something different. So I thought about setting a legal thriller in a historical context. Then it became a matter of choosing which one.
Being an LA boy, third-generation, loving the history of my city, I thought back to the turn-of-the-century. Los Angeles was just coming of age back then. And there were all sorts of interesting crosscurrents in the culture. It was very much like today, with strange religious cults mixing with mainline churches, drifters and dreamers and con men and cops, and wild goings-on in the courtrooms.
I own a number of biographies of famous trial lawyers, and one of the best was a man named Earl Rogers. He practiced in Los Angeles at that time and some of his trials were amazing. He never lost a case. Oh, maybe toward the end, when the bottle got to him. But until then he was widely considered America's greatest criminal lawyer. What a great character to start with.
But that was just the setting. Now I needed a main character. And here is where the real inspiration hit. It could be a woman, a young woman who dreams of practicing law, because at that time this was virtually unheard of.
So what if this woman had a particular reason to practice? She would have to show grit and guts and determination. And what if she was a Christian? Think of all the conflict she would face––the prejudice, the challenges.
I gave her an Irish background, named her Kit Shannon, and brought her to Los Angeles with this wild dream. What if she became an assistant to Earl Rogers?
I also wanted to give Kit a love interest. What if it was a young man who is from a privileged family, but doesn't want to go into the family business? What if he wants to fly? He could get in on the ground floor of the aviation industry, which would place him around 1903. That's when I decided to set the first book.
I fleshed out this idea and pitched it to an editor at Bethany House, Mr. Steve Laube. He liked it, and so did Bethany. But they had concerns about a man writing about a woman in a historical context. They thought, What if we paired him with one of our popular authors, Tracie Peterson?
They proposed the idea to me and I was at first skeptical. But they offered to fly the two of us to Minneapolis, Bethany headquarters, so we could meet and talk. Tracie and I hit it off immediately. And we did something that many writers find they can't do—we wrote happily in collaboration.
Our system was simple. We would brainstorm a plot together, then I would write the first draft. Tracie would take over and put in her perspective on the scenes, much of which dealt with how a woman might react in certain situations, and also being aware of what women readers in the genre like to see. I would then take the manuscript through a final pass, and that was it.
Readers loved it. Our books became bestsellers and Kit Shannon is one of my all-time favorites. I enjoyed getting emails from women readers, many of them young, who said that Kit inspired them to go to law school, or to follow another dream.
Tracie and I did three Kit Shannon books together, after which I discovered something cool: I could write in the voice we had developed together. With Tracie's encouragement, I entered into a contract with Bethany to do three more Kit Shannon novels on my own. Reaction from the loyal readers was that these books were welcome additions to the series. However . . .
. . .some readers, new ones especially, seemed a bit skeptical of book covers with a woman's face on them but a male author's name underneath it. I guess that's just the reality of marketing in certain genres.
But that was then. All six of the original Kit Shannon books are available again, as e-books. You can go here for more information (I also did a stand alone historical for Bethany called Glimpses of Paradise, which will be re-issued soon). I'd love to hear from you about the series. I might even consider doing more Kit Shannon books. My original intent was to write her up into her 80s. She would practice law throughout the first half of the twentieth century, and I would explore the changing times with her. I wanted her to be a Perry Mason type of character, going on and on.
Maybe she still can if the series catches on again . . .and if readers can accept a man writing historical romance!
JAMES SCOTT BELL is the author of the #1 bestseller for writers, Plot & Structure, and numerous thrillers, including Deceived, Don't Leave Me, Presumed Guilty, Breach of Promise, Try Dying and Watch Your Back. His novella One More Lie was the first self-published work to be nominated for an International Thriller Writers Award. He served as the fiction columnist for Writer's Digest magazine and has written highly popular craft books for Writer’s Digest Books. He lives and writes in Los Angeles.