Author Deb Stover is a good friend of The Romance Reader. Her article on Purple Prose (archived at The Archives of Laurie Likes Books, was witty and wonderfully wicked. We recently asked her to comment on the time-travel romance, which is the sub-genre she prefers to write about.
Here is what she had to say:
Good time travel can be some of the most compelling fiction ever written. It's the classic fish out of water story with a twist. And a half. . .The potential for both angst and humor is endless, and adventure and conflict are built right into the story.
When it's done right. . .
Everyone who knows me, also knows I hate rules when it comes to writing. The same holds true for time travel stories. There are no rules. None. Howevver, there are certain elements that can make a time travel better, more compelling, and more believable for the reader.
I know what I like as a reader, and I try to incorporate those elements in my own stories. I dislike time travels that leave me with a feeling of uncertainty at the end. Did the time travel occur for this character or not? Books that incorporate dreams, hypnosis, or the proverbial bump on the head can sometimes leave a reader with that question at the end. An author must be very careful in order to make this work.
Another pet peeve of mine is the resolution. Give me the real hero and heroine at the end - not a reincarnated substitute, unless the author has foreshadowed this ending in such a way that I'm able to suspend disbelief, and accept the new hero or heroine without question. Sometimes I'm left feeling as if the author pulled the reincarnated hero or heroine out at the end because she couldn't think of any other way to make the story work. That's a cop-out, in my humble opinion.
For a while, it seemed that many historicals were being published as time travels for marketing purposes. Most of these books fell short of being satisfying reads. Why? Because the time travel element wasn't intrinsic to the plot. In other words, there was no reason for it to happen, and it seemed forced - thrown in strictly for marketing, while time travels were really hot.
My time travelers always have a mission to fulfill. There's always a reason for the time travel to occur. There should also be a very specific set of circumstances necessary for the time travel to occur. In other words, I avoid the "revolving door" time portal, where characters jet back and forth in time on several occasions throughout the story.
My April book has a hero with a mission you won't believe. Some Like it Hotter is my Dirty Harry Meets Scarlett O'Hara story, and I believe it's my best book to date. Why? Because of the hero's mission, its importance to the story, and to the romance.
I think the time travel craze has waned somewhat, though time travel historical has become a genre of its own in today's romance market. Readers are voracious, and they beg authors to keep writing time travels.
As long as there are publishers out there to buy them, I fully intend to keep writing them. As a reader and as an author, I find visiting history from a contemporary point of view the most satisfying of all romance novels.
In anticipation of readers' questions, we asked Deb a couple of additional questions. She was gracious enough to answer these as well:
LLB: Have you researched time-travel theory or read much, if any sci-fi dealing with it?
Deb: No. I find my time travels lean more toward fantasy, rather than science fiction. Authors of sci-fi/fantasy tell me that sci-fi is based in the plausible, and what could happen with proper scientific and logical consequences.
Fantasy is considered the implausible or impossible by most. In other words, I prefer to let magic or high woo-woo cause time travel for my characters, rather than anything even remotely scientific.
LLB: Respond to the criticism that time travel romances often feature too-easily won acceptance of the traveler and/or a lack of historical accuracy.
Deb: Actually, this corresponds to one of the pet peeves I mentioned in my original text, so fit this in wherever you think best.
Historicals that read as if the TT was thrown in strictly for marketing purposes, often have the time traveler accepting their unwilling adventure far too easily. On the other hand, the historical characters sometimes seem too accepting of the traveler's origins, or claim of origin. There has to be a genuine adjustment and period of denial, then reluctant acceptance for the time traveler, and he/she must give some pretty convincing arguments to the historical characters before they're going to believe his or her adventure actually happened.
As for historical accuracy, I think errors are made in general historical fiction, time travel romance, and historical romance. It happens, though some authors are obviously more cautious than others. I cut my teeth on general historical fiction, then I discovered historical romance later. In my opinion, romance authors are some of the most meticulous historical researchers writing today.
The particular challenge presented by a Time Travel Historical regards point of view. Romance is typically written in deep immersion third person, where even the narrative is from a character's viewpoint. It's critical for an author to remember whose point of view they're writing from, and what that character's base of knowledge is. Let's face it, a character from the past wouldn't understand a time traveler's reference to Ibuprofen, for example.
On the other hand, it's unlikely that a time traveler from present day would have an easy or natural comprehesion of certain facets of everyday life in the 19th Century beyond broad historical data. I can just see myself trying to lace a corset, or fasten a pair of high-button shoes! I think these are probably the most common, and understandable, errors.
You can e-mail Deb by clicking here.
Link to Deb Stover reviews at AAR following our review of Another Dawn