Jilly: The Appeal of Foreign Stories

Do you read contemporary stories set in countries other than the USA? What kind of stories are they? What do you especially like about them?

I have a reason for asking.

I’m just back from a most excellent vacation in the States, including an action-packed weekend at the Writers’ Police Academy in Green Bay, Wisconsin with fellow 8 Lady Kay, followed by a few days in picturesque Door County (click here to read Kay’s description of our excursions to the Northern Sky Theater Company).

Before I met up with Kay, I spent an afternoon in Chicago talking all things writing with a developmental editor. Mostly we focused on Alexis, but we also talked about my English/Scottish contemporary romance, which I decided to dust off in time for the next (and final) RWA Golden Heart contest.

The editor gave me the same feedback I heard from a very respected agent a couple of years ago when I tried to shop this book: the writing is strong, but a contemporary British setting, with all British characters, is hard to sell outside the UK. She said that the story offered a kind of insider perspective on life in London and Scotland, which is not what the mainstream American romance reader is conditioned to expect.

In her view, when US readers pick up a foreign-set story, they expect the setting to be either

  1. exotic;
  2. glamorously urban; or
  3. small, close-knit communities where the culture is a large part of the appeal.

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Jilly: The Scottish Question

 The Scottish Question (Wellcome Images via Wikimedia Commons)

The Other Scottish Question
      (Wellcome Images via Wikimedia Commons)

I have a question. As a reader, when you see a Scottish setting, do you automatically think a story must be historical? If you saw clear signals that a love story was set in present-day Scotland, would that surprise you? Would it ring your wrong-o-meter?

I ask because I recently received some feedback from a contest judge. I’m paraphrasing a little, but she said something like: I gave you a low score because your entry is a contemporary romance set in the Scottish Highlands. Everyone knows that if a book is set in Scotland, it must be a historical romance, so I feel strongly that your story has broken the promise to the reader, who will inevitably feel disappointed.

My entry was in the ‘contemporary romance’ category, I’d taken care to use a modern-sounding title, my characters were wearing contemporary clothing and using present-day language in a twenty-first century business discussion, so I was somewhat gobsmacked and not a little cheesed off Continue reading