In Search of the Great American Historical

20 Feb

Happy President’s Day to our American readers. For most, this celebration of our great historic leaders is nothing more than a three day weekend, a chance to shop the sales and spend more time with the family.

As a writer of historical fiction, I naturally see it as a time to reflect on our country’s past. I would love to spend the day curled up with a great story of mystery, intrigue, and romance set in the time of our American Revolution.

Unfortunately, I’m having a hard time finding such a book. The romance world is ruled by tales of Brits and Scots. Only inspirationals are allowed to have American settings. For those of us with more secular tastes, that leaves a gaping void.

If you’ve read my previous blogs, you know how hard it is for me to find historical books for my tween daughter. Her search for historical fiction largely mirrors my own. At the bookstore and in the library, the children’s shelves are filled with reissues of old titles she’s already read. A search of the Boise library catalog for “American Revolution-fiction” revealed only one recent release, a story about runaway slaves with “superhuman powers.” Uh, no thanks.  We were looking for a historical, not a paranormal.

I’ve heard this discussed at both RWA and SCBWI conferences. Usually, my questions are answered with references to some long-  established author like Anne Rinaldi, Elizabeth Speare, or Linda Lael Miller. The general consensus is that publishers don’t publish fresh voices in American historical settings because they simply don’t sell.

It’s hard to buy something that isn’t on the shelves.

So here’s your chance to introduce me to some of your favorite American authors.

Please post your recommendations for American-set historicals, historical romances, or children’s fiction in the comment section.

I will read one of the recommended books and post a positive review for that author on Amazon and promote it on my twitter, facebook, and Google + .

The only requirements are:

1) It must be fiction set in the U.S. prior to 1900.

2) It must have been first published after 2010. I

I’m looking forward to reading your recommendations.


Posted by on February 20, 2012 in historicals, Idaho


20 responses to “In Search of the Great American Historical

  1. florence fois

    February 20, 2012 at 5:48 AM

    Clarissa, this is a challenge I would love to meet. However, historicals are not on my long TBR list. When I have done so, they were on my short list. My first blogger friend, Christi Corbett is just completing her historical romance on an adventure along the Oregon Trail. I know she has read tons of books to research the topic. You can reach her through her comments on:

    Also, my main stay for the period of the Victorians in the US is Keli Gwyn. and she is always siting books of other historicals. You can reach her through her comments on:

    I do my research through the data base of and if you put “early american fiction, or historical romance” into their search engine, I am sure you will find both adult and YA novels.

    Keli is a member of ACFW, and whatever she recommends is suitable for a YA. Christi Corbett, and those she reads are also a good fit for the YA reader.

    Hope this helps in your search 🙂

    • Clarissa Southwick

      February 20, 2012 at 9:55 AM

      Hi Florence, Keli is one of my GH sisters 🙂 I thought she wrote inspy’s though and I’m really looking for something more secular. I’ll check out her website though. Thanks for the recommendations 🙂

  2. Janis

    February 20, 2012 at 7:12 AM


    This is a very interesting subject. Do sales really drive what’s on the shelves or do agents/editors help perpetrate the problem because they fear lack of sales, and thus, don’t try American historicals anymore? Chicken or egg? Probably a little bit of both. It’s very tough writing the book of your heart if TPTB won’t give it a chance because of the time period or country in which its set.

    As to your question, I’m no help. I don’t have a go-to early American historical writer.

    • Clarissa Southwick

      February 20, 2012 at 9:57 AM

      Hi Janis, The market will always be a mystery to me. I think I’m trying to impose reason on chaos. Thanks for the comment 🙂

  3. Sharon McConnel

    February 20, 2012 at 9:49 AM

    Firstly, I’ve never written a novel. I’m not even sure I have a short story in me. But I am an avid reader and my favorite setting is the American West – a “Western” by the broadest definition.

    My most recent favorite is Nancy Turner’s “This is my Words: The Diary of Sarah Agnes Prine (1881-1901)”, published in 2008, set in the Ariz. Territory. It’s the first one in a triology.

    Molly Gloss’s “Jump-Off Creek,” about a woman homesteader in Oregon and Cecelia Holland’s “An Ordinary Woman: A Dramatized Biography of Nancy Kelsey” are both good reads which I think would be suitable for YA.

    I think publishers stereotype authors, especially by cover art. Richard Wheeler’s mining camp books are good examples – a man with a gun on the cover, even if there is no man with a gun in the text. Who knows what I’ve missed because the cover art did not reflect the content.

    • Clarissa Southwick

      February 20, 2012 at 9:57 AM

      Thank you for the suggestions, Sharon. I’ll look them up!

  4. Susan Macatee

    February 20, 2012 at 9:50 AM

    Hi, Clarissa and Kerry! Years ago I found the same lack of American historical romances, so set out to write my own. I have three romance novels, two set during the American Civil War and the current release is set five years after, so post Civil War. One is a time travel, the other two straight historicals dealing with the war, and the other with a woman physician’s trials of attending medical school in a male dominated profession.

    My publisher, The Wild Rose Press, also has an American historical line with lots of romance offerings all set in the U.S.

  5. Clarissa Southwick

    February 20, 2012 at 9:58 AM

    Hi Susan, I have heard so many good things about your books. It’s about time I read them. Thanks for the suggestions 🙂

  6. Ashlyn Macnamara

    February 20, 2012 at 10:17 AM

    I’ve written a few books set around the time of the American Revolution. They sit in various states on my hard drive. My agent has expressed interest in seeing one later this year (once I’ve had time to edit and polish), and she says she’s not afraid to shop it. I’d love for this era to catch on.

    In the meantime, I was really pleased last year when Avon–yes, Avon–published an AA historical set in Revolutionary Boston. I bought it for the era alone, because we have to encourage publishers and send them the message, that yes, this era CAN sell. So you might want to give Midnight by Beverly Jenkins a try.

    • Clarissa Southwick

      February 20, 2012 at 7:29 PM

      Thank you, Ashlyn. This sounds exactly like what I’m looking for. I’ll pick it up today 🙂

  7. Liz Fredericks

    February 20, 2012 at 11:23 AM

    Hi Clarissa, I’ve heard this as a problem for some time. I’ve no recommendations, but am planning to read those offered to you for ideas for my own daughter and son.

    • Clarissa Southwick

      February 20, 2012 at 7:29 PM

      Yes, I’m going to look at all of them. I hope I find something for dd too. Thanks for the comment.

  8. Peggy Staggs

    February 20, 2012 at 11:36 AM

    I love American history. And if it weren’t for good old G.W. we wouldn’t be the country we are today. All my suggestions are non-fiction…sorry.

    • Clarissa Southwick

      February 20, 2012 at 7:30 PM

      Hi Peggy, Yes, I read a lot of non-fiction too. Thanks for commenting 🙂

  9. Angela M.

    February 20, 2012 at 3:16 PM

    I love Pamela Clare’s historicals, but her new one, Defiant, doesn’t come out until July 3 this year. I’m dying to read it, though! I love the whole MacKinnon’s Rangers series as well as the Blakewell/Kenleigh series. They’re romantic and steamy, and the historical flavor is anything but boring 🙂

  10. Clarissa Southwick

    February 20, 2012 at 7:31 PM

    Hi Angela, I haven’t read Pamela Clare. I’ll give it a try. Thanks for the recommendation 🙂

  11. Sue Swift/Suz deMello

    February 21, 2012 at 10:24 AM

    Those Who Love by Irving Stone is about John and Abigail Adams, and it’s pretty good.

  12. johannaharness

    February 22, 2012 at 8:31 AM

    “Published after 2010” was my difficulty. Yes–very difficult to get published. I guess the good thing is that there are so few that you stay published for a while once you’re in. I had to come back to see what everyone else had to say here. What a great challenge.

  13. Angelyn

    February 22, 2012 at 10:05 AM

    I echo Ashlyn’s comment. I’ve tried to pitch my Gilded Age American-set historical, only to hear it’s a great concept but no market for it. Milk-a-what?

  14. Mary Vine

    February 23, 2012 at 3:03 PM

    Published after 2010 is my difficulty, too. Nice to hear about Susan Macatee’s books though.


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