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The Wenches

  • Mary Jo Putney

  • Patricia Rice

  • Susan Fraser King

  • Anne Gracie

  • Nicola Cornick

  • Andrea Penrose

  • Christina Courtenay

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  • Jo Beverley
    Word Wench 2006-2016

  • Edith Layton
    Word Wench 2006-2009

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June 2023

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Wenches Statistics

  • Years published: 164

    Novels published: 231

    Novellas published: 74

    Range of story dates: nine centuries (1026-present)

    Awards Won:

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    • RWA Top 10 Favorite

    • RT Lifetime Achievement

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    • RT Reviewers Choice

    • Publishers Weekly Starred Reviews

    • Golden Leaf

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    • Historical Novels Review Editors Choice

    • AAR Best Romance

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Religion *could* make it a better story since one would have to delve deeply into faith--hence emotion--but it's a delicate balance.

My family is a regular melting pot of organized religions, and a few unorganized ones. I was thinking about this yesterday because I'm starting to plot my second book in this angel series.

Religion creeps into my stories, probably because religions (plural) have always been a major part of my life. 1/2 of my family members are Jewish. The other 1/2 are a mix of Protestant (mostly Presbyterian) and Catholic. My sister is Rosicrucian (interesting discussions on vicarious atonement with that one ;o). My grandmother and her sisters were practically druids--at least I think some of the funny little things they did had to have started with druids (like dancing around an evergreen tree with your pocketbook under a full moon--snookered on whisky--as a way of seeing to the month's prosperity.)

Anyhoo, we are all cognizant of the various religious holidays (Chanukah, Christmas and 'Wise men Cometh'--for the Ukrainian Orthodox contingent and one Coptic Christian) and so I am sensitive to intolerance. Religious expression is a varied and personal thing that should be fostered.

When my Maltese Orthodox heroine showed up in London, I realized I had to address it, even though my angels in the story were not as hung up on earthly religions as the average Londoner.

To make the story NOT be inspirational, or even hint at, I had to make my protagonists embrace their old faith without being overly religious in conventional application. 'Cause the sex is hot and I didn't want to confuse anyone about what kind of book I was writing.

Gosh, this is even complex to blog about.


Just my opinion---if I were looking for "religion" I would be reading inspirational lines and not straight historical fiction. I have mistakenly checked out library books only to find that the romance was really an inspirational book where there was much discussion of God and soul-saving. I consider myself spiritual but when I read I wish to be unfettered from what is considered to be THE moral of the story---I'll draw my own conclusions, thank you! In my own writing, the principles of the protagonists are clear but not overwhelming.

I've read a lot of history and know exactly how religious belief has influenced the world, for good AND bad. I think you're wise, Patricia, not to hit your readers over the head with your faith.

And on an entirely different note, I got the wonderful autographed Merely Magic yesterday and began it last night. Just as I feared, I'm going to have to order them all!


I write historicals and the one thing I try to remember is that for my characters, the church and their faith were taken as given, a part of their life. That means they don't focus on it, just go on living their lives according to how they were brought up. So I make references to them attending chapel/services and whispering a prayer when they need help. And in the case of my French heroine during the Terror, she keeps her Crucifix hidden.
I include religion as one more element of the historical background.

Kalen Hughes

I'm with Teresa. And as I'm not of a religious bent myself, writing a religious conflict historical just wouldn't feel natural to me (I’d be sure to make a complete hash of it). Besides, when reading 18th and 19th century novels I very rarely see religion being a focal point, or even brought up (outside of plot points such as the characters attending church or one of them being a curate or vicar).

But when it’s done well it can work (even for a little heathen like me). I loved Julia Ross’ Dissenter heroine in NIGHT OF SIN, and Bernard Cornwell’s in A CROWNING MERCY.

Susan Wilbanks

For me, it all depends upon the story context. I'm fine with religion being an important part of a character's motivation as long as it's historically accurate, and as long as the author doesn't engage in blatant preaching or over-the-top religion bashing. By religion bashing I mean the sort of writing that treats the church as pure evil, nothing but a hotbed of conspiracies, lies, and repression. (I said "the church" because most of the time the bashed religion is Christianity, though I'd be equally annoyed by a simplistic negative view of another faith.) It's not that I mind a historically accurate portrayal of the evils that have been perpetrated in the name of Christ--I just don't like fiction that's so anti-Christian that it seems to deny anyone finding true meaning, comfort, or inspiration to live well from the church's teachings. That just doesn't mesh with *my* experience as a Christian.

So, yes, I think I am offended by authors using their books to advocate for their beliefs, at least if their creed is that I'm damned if I don't believe like they do, or that the beliefs I hold now are downright evil!

I haven't read A CROWNING MERCY, but I thought Bernard Cornwell handled religion very well in the Starbuck series, showing it as a source of both grace and cruelty depending upon the believer.


Thank you for your answer Pat. I like historical romances being accurate so if the church should have influenced a character's life then I expect to see that but I don't expect to be preached at.

Patricia Rice

It sounds as if we're all on the same page. Pat wipes sweat from brow with relief. "G" I agree, if an author wishes to preach, then they need one of the inspirational lines. But we ought to be able to address religion in our historicals as it becomes necessary for the story without getting flak for it.

Glad you're enjoying the book, Maggie! And Maureen, I just sent you a note asking which one you'd like for your bonus. I much prefer this civilized method of distributing promo items over the work of contests! I must go give Jo another hug for the idea.


Help! There are so many things I want to say! How to do it succinctly? I guess it's impossible--so here goes. . .

I completely agree that I don't want to be bashed over the head by a historical author whose primary interest is soul-saving. I'm sure it's a valid medium for some, but the few I've read really had me eye-rolling--mostly because the dialogue and the theological language/concerns of the protagonists ("personal relationship with Jesus" etc) seemed so contemporary (Billy Graham-ish) in form and content.

I like historical romances with OR without overt religious language and/or practice--I just like historical romances! As I think was said on Teresa Medeiros day, romances in general often deal with issues that could be viewed as "spiritual" if not religious--love, death, meaning, trust, betrayal, redemption, self-sacrifice, reconciliation, cruelty, kindness, generosity of spirit--and did I mention LOVE (smile)?.

That being said, I do enjoy mention of religion and religious folk of any faith in the sense that it does add some depth and resonance to the characterization for me. I loved Jo's Secrets of the Night with its fundamentalist dissenter villain contrasted to the honorable and flawed hero/heroine, and I loved MJ's Magic books with their dynamic synthesis of many traditions. Eastern religious traditions make their way into lots of romances (via the Kama Sutra etc!). I read one once that featured a Jewish character (Rothschild?) which I enjoyed a lot.

Of course I do find spiritual expression of any kind fascinating in general (smile). And I am convinced that historical people were much more enmeshed with their spiritual/religious questions than we can imagine in our Enlightened and post-penicillin era. How to write it, though? Pat, I think your post was a fabulous summary and I can't wait for your book!

Melinda (enjoying Pat's Magic series now)


I would just want to see any sort of emphasis on religion if it's a vital part of the story. If people are familiar with history, the more you go back in time, the more religion had a daily effect on people's lives, but there certainly was plenty that went on without it. But to throw it in simply for the sake of throwing it in, of course not, just like any other subject or such. :)


Kathy K

I'll have to go with the majority opinion. Religion, if it plays a part of the story, is fine ~ religion AS the story, nope not interested. I prefer that my story be a story, not a religious or political tract. I want romance; I want characters that find each other; I want HEA...I'm pretty simple in my wants, eh?? *grin*

Another A+ topic here...I love coming to see what each new post is going to be about! Always fun and / or thought-provoking.


Kathy Kremer

I agree with the idea that religion is an important part of a person's life but that historical novels are not the pulpit for preaching a particular religion. I do have problems with the almost universal characterization of Christians as zealots, nuts and hypocrites, or so heavenly-minded as to be no eathly good. Very few authors show people trying to live their faith out in a balanced way. In contrast, there is a very favorable attitude toward Wiccan-type practice. I think one of the best books that illustrates this point is "The Mists of Avalon" by Marion Zimmer Bradely. It is very well written and a gripping story that tells the downside as well as the upside of "Druid" beliefs. However, the church and its ministers are uniformly negative characters, ignorant and hate-filled.


I think there is quite a consensus here. Religious observance has been intimately and intricately woven into the lives of most people at most periods in history, and unlike most of you, when the word 'religion' is mentioned, I do not think first of Christianity, but of pre-Christian paganism, e.g. in the Classical world or ancient Egypt.

The fact that religion was so integral to most people's lives means that it does have to *mentioned* in the appropriate historical settings because it would be wholly unrealistic not allude to it - but it can often be 'taken for granted' in the same way as people simply did take it for granted in their daily lives. It does not have to be the primary focus of a story, but rather, part of the universal cultural background.

Patricia Rice

I'm really enjoying this discussion. I thought blogging would me one more task to add to my day but I adore a good argument, and one where we all side together is great fun.

I do have to ask Kathy Kremer what kind of books she's been reading that all Christians come across as zealots. That's an angle I haven't seen, unless we're talking of the Crusaders. Yeah, historicals do seem to pin them down a lot. I haven't researched them, but from what little I know, they were our form of terrorists. "G" Does the argument get ugly now? I'll plead innocent of history.

My memory isn't sufficient to name specific examples, but I think mostly I've seen the Christian ministry in historicals as the gentle pastor or stern vicar or maybe we get the major sucker upper in Pride and Prejudice (what was that name, Collins? Wilkie? something apt). Obviously, Christians have their fair share of flaws, but I haven't seen a total put-down of them that I know of. Maybe I've been missing the fun!

And FWIW, I did both the narrow-minded priest and the broad-minded one in the next book. Just to be fair. "G"

Jane George


Jane Austen poked gentle fun with both Mr. Collins in P&P and Mr. Elliott in EMMA. But then she was a clergyman's daughter so she must have met many types!

IMHO, a story that's too heavy-handed with any one element is an awkward story.

But I'm glad you brought up this topic because I have been juggling religious elements a bit with my WIP. Every time I ask myself, "what will my reader think?" I keep going back to, "What would my character do/think?"

Regarding Kathy's mention of THE MISTS OF AVALON, I think it's important to remember that the Church functioned as a governing body, the Holy Roman Church replacing the Roman Empire. In order to be ruled by religion instead of by force, pagan subjects had to be converted. In contrast, previously, many Roman soldiers had adopted some of the Celtic gods into their pantheon. The horse goddess Epona is one example.

Look up the history of many Christmas traditions, they're co-opted pagan customs. (I love how Jo B. handled the Yule log in Winter Fire) Even the date of December 25 was originally the birthdate of the sun god Mithras.


And finally, although Zimmer-Bradley's book is a fantasy, there is a very real history of violence behind her concept. St. Patrick driving the snakes out of Ireland is a euphemism for him ordering the slaughter of the remaining Druids. (Some did join monasteries, creating Celtic Christianity and the Book of Kells.)

It's important not to whitewash history for the sake of being PC, but on the other hand, someone reading a historical romance doesn't want ALL QUIET ON THE WESTERN FRONT, either.

Which leads me to a question: When dealing with politically charged topics (and religion IS a politically charged topic) how do successful writers balance their beliefs/conscience with the real or perceived demands of the market?


Jane George

Oops, that's Mr. Elton! Mr.Elliott is in Persuasion, and he's by no means a member of the clergy. :-)


Hi Pat,
Hmmm. . .villainous clergy. . .they're definitely a part of the historical/romance landscape. This is reaching WAY back into my teen years, but in the Poldark books/tv series, wasn't Morwenna married to a sinister minister? I seem to remember him kneeling in prayer before sexually brutalizing her every night. (Shudder)

A couple of wenchly examples come to mind, too--Jo has a fanatical/zealous priest in her medieval novel Dark Champion, Father Wulfgan (who regularly counsels Imogen on the sinfulness of lust, etc)--as well as the villainous "Cotterite" preacher of Secrets of the Night I mentioned above. (I love these two books, though--they are finely written, plotted, and characterized and I felt they were very true to their periods.)

And in Mary Balogh's Gilded Web, which I just picked up and haven't read yet, the heroine seems (at least on first skim) to have a "pious Christian" father of the "let me beat you to purify your soul you sinful bitch" variety (a whole genre in itself methinks!).

I think the problem arises when writers begin to use romance character "types" instead of crafting fully formed and original characters. IMHO, the evil/lecherous minister/priest is almost a stereotype by now (whereas once I think it felt fresh and counterintuitive/countercultural).

But if we talk about romance novel stereotypes, I think we also must consider, at least for discussion purposes, the ignorant doctor ("we must amputate and apply leeches, you ignorant herbalist wench!") and the virgin prostitute ("I must sacrifice my body to save my family") and the hero who's spent time in India ("Let me show you this book of sexual positions, my sweet innocent")--oh, and so many more.

What do you think? (Have I made anybody mad yet? Smile)

Jane George

Ooh yes, I remember the evil Reverend Wentworth!

I also remember Robin Ellis as Ross Poldark in the Masterpiece Theater production. Yum. My sisters and I would have "Poldark parties." I, the baker in the bunch, would make baked apples or cheesecake and we'd all watch Poldark!

My favorite story of the down side of dogma is Flannery O'Conner's Wise Blood. But on the flip side, I also enjoyed the entire series about that sincere, Carolina small town Episcopalian pastor. But I'm having a moment and blanking on the name. :-(

Nina P

OK, I've decided to chime in.

First, Pat, kudos to you for bringing up perhaps the second hottest topic – the first being politics.

I think it's impossible to write a good historical romance w/o addressing the main characters' faith/religion/beliefs in some form. To get to a deserved HEA, the h/h desires must rub up against their morals and for held morals to be believable they must be based in belief. This, of course, is just my humble opinion.

Should our historical novels preach? No! Please no! Show us new ways to think about love and even new ways to love -- yes.

When writing, I do find it very hard not to bring my faith, or at least a shadow of it, into my work. There are certain moral codes I (and thus my characters) have trouble ignoring. It would be great to see one or more of the Word Wenches address Jane George’s question “how do successful writers balance their beliefs/conscience with the real or perceived demands of the market?”


Barbara Samuel

What an absolutely fascinating topic! I was just writing tonight about a passionately devout young woman I met who impressed me very much. I loved her passion for God and service. It shapes who she is in very important ways.

Not sure I have a fully shaped response, but I'll wade in here--

I enjoy historicals that acknowledge the faith of the characters, and find medievals especially to feel false without some grounding in Catholicism. I love to write about devout people, and about those who have lost faith. I'm a spiritual person and as a human being and a reader and a writer, I want to know how characters relate to their spiritual lives, or do not. It seems at least as important as what they like to eat or wear. Mind, body, spirit = character.

I doubt any reader wants to be preached to, but I also doubt it's possible for a genuinely devout person of any faith to keep that out of their writing. It can't help but show up--and it should, really. Each of us writes earnestly about the worlds we believe in, hoping to find readers who share our view.

I have noticed the anti-Christian bias in romances at the moment. It's a backlash, probably. It's hard to think of one genuinely likable devoutly Christian chararacter in a novel, though they're doing an excellent job with the woman in Studio 60.

And that's probably plenty of hot air from me! :)


Just a small point to add to Jane's about Roman soldiers adopting native deities such as Epona: it was rather more than that. Polytheistic Graeco-Roman paganism was essentially syncretic in nature - all-embracing and inclusive. It was therefore part of the normal policy and structure of the Empire to absorb, adopt and adapt the religious beliefs of the peoples which it ruled, seeing them all as different aspects of the same truths.

Monotheistic religions such as Judaism and Christianity posed a problem, not because Roman pagans would have been unwilling to embrace them, but because the beliefs of Jews and Christians would not permit them to *be* thus embraced; by definition, they regarded all other religions as false superstition.

Druidism, about which we know *practically nothing* archaeologically and historically, (so, trust me, most of what you read about it is the purest invention), was evidently rejected because of its political elements, not for religious reasons. To what extent it was even religious in nature at all is debateable.

Kathy Kremer

Jane G. I believe you are talking about the series by Jan Karon. I don't know all the titles, but one of them is "A light in the window." These are books that show people living and dealing with problems of daily life in a way that is consistent with their beliefs. I like them very much.

As to your mention of the church as a ruling empire, there were certainly problems with the way "conversions" were accomplished in many cases. I remember the aphorism of my father: "A man convinced against his will is of the same opinion still." There were some stories about warriors who were baptized into the church while holding their sword arms above the water. This shows a severe misunderstanding about the nature of baptism and the faith. And often there has been no mentoring of new believers to help them apply the faith to all aspects of their lives. Even under the best circumstances, people are fallible and prone to "fall off the wagon." That's one reason we need a lively community of faith to encourage and support one another.

I'm glad I'm apparently not the only one who has noticed an anti-Christian bias in some romance writings, because it makes me feel less solopistic. ;-) But I'll read a story, even one with that bias, that is well-written and has believable characters.


No one has mentioned Mary Jo's books. One of the things I find most appealing in many MJP stories is encountering characters who are fully dimensional, whose spirituality is as much a part of them as are their bodies minds, and hearts. Clare Morgan in Thunder and Roses, Stephen Kenyon in One Perfect Rose, and Kenzie Scott in The Spiral Path are three who come immediately to mind.

As for inspirationals, the quality of inspirational fiction is as varied as the quality in any other sub-genre. Certainly some are little more than religious tracts clothed in thin narratives, but others are well-written novels with compelling characters and substantive stories. Francine Rivers, Beth Patillo, Kristen Heitzmann, and others are good writers who create well crafted fiction.

Jane George

Dear Kathy K.

Thank you! Yes it is Jan Karon's series I was thinking of. Lovely stories.

Dear Barbara S.

As to a possible anti-Christian backlash in fiction, consider the external cultural forces that might prompt such a backlash. For instance, I am not able to openly acknowledge my religion in my workplace because my supervisor is a pastor's wife who considers herself open-minded, but nonetheless calls practioners of my faith, "creepy." And I'm cautious in most other circumtances.

I think there is a distinction between Christianity, Churchianity, and those who use any religion as an excuse for facsism or control.

Dear AgTigress,
Thanks for the additions.
Last year I read Alexei Kondratiev's book, The Apple Branch, the history part of which I found very intriguing.

It comes down to, as artists, all subjects are fair game. (But can one sell it?)


Jane G. - "I am not able to openly acknowledge my religion in my workplace because..."

That sentence speaks volumes about cultural differences, because the idea that anyone might even *wish* to reveal their religious beliefs in the context of the workplace is truly alien to me. I have NO IDEA about the religious beliefs of friends and colleagues whom I have known and worked with for upwards of 30 years - because the subject is simply not one that would be discussed in personal terms in my circle, particularly in the workplace. We don't discuss our own sex-lives either: these things are considered to be personal and private.

I write and research a lot about Classical paganism and also about early Christianity (and often about sexuality in the Graeco-Roman period, come to that): I see all these as matters for intellectual analysis rather than emotional engagement.


Jane George

Dear AgTigress,

Professional boundaries are Good Things, as Martha Stewart would say.

But are you talking about an environment of respect, or of Don't Ask, Don't Tell?

PS Are you willing to field questions in your area of research?


Jane G: 'Are you willing to field questions in your area of research?'

Up to a point. I am a Roman provincial archaeologist, so the religion question is only a *small part* of my area of study. As it was one of my duties to answer questions from interested museum-visitors and others during my 40-year museum career, and as I am now retired, I pick and choose, because I have a lot of my own, personal projects to pursue. For example, I would no longer be prepared to spend time compiling a long bibliography of sources on a given subject.


I don't understand what you mean about an 'environment of respect', I'm afraid. If you mean, do I have partisan opinions about the rights and wrongs of different religious beliefs, no, I don't. I regard religion as a cultural indicator. People are entitled to believe whatever they like, as long as their beliefs are not inimical to the safety and the physical, mental and emotional comfort of other people.

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