Are you Ready for Vietnam-era Romance?

Nearly three years ago Lynn asked, “Is the 20th Century “Historical” Enough Yet?” I’ve written here about my love of Post-World War I and World War II era mysteries and have indicated I would like to read more romances set in those eras. But until recently I would have said I’m not ready for a romance set in the late 1960s or early 1970s. In fact, just last month in a post I wrote here about whether contemporaries could become historicals, I commented, “I’m not sure if I’m ready for a romance — written today — set much before 1990. I know too much about the time period and the limitations many women faced. On the other hand, I won’t reject it outright.”

There’s just so much about the late 1960s and early 1970s that’s turbulent: the assassinations of Martin Luther King, Jr. and Robert Kennedy, race riots in major U.S. cities, the Vietnam war and the bloody protests in the U.S., political turbulence such as the chaos both inside and outside of the 1968 Democratic national convention and the beginnings of the Watergate scandal just four years later. What’s romantic about any of that? For many who lived through it, it’s a time period they’d prefer to forget.

Yes, I’ve read and enjoyed books such as The Gabriel Hounds by Mary Stewart, which was written during that time period. But with its exotic locale of Damascus, it has almost a timeless feel, and seems far removed from the events of the time. With a few exceptions such as that, I figured World War II was about as late in the 20th century as I might want to venture for romances.

Then last week I began reading this month’s selection for my mystery book group: P.M. Carlson’s Audition for Murder, the first in her Maggie Ryan mystery series. While Ms. Carlson wrote Audition for Murder in 1985, the mystery is set on a college campus in 1967.

The plot involves the mysterious events – and ultimate tragedies – that occur at a college as the drama students, faculty, and some imported New York actors, produce Hamlet over the course of a semester. The focus is squarely on events that occur in the theater and in the characters’ private lives, but the time period is never forgotten.

In one brief scene, the drama instructors discuss the implications of giving a grade lower than a C to a male student. In 1967, student deferments still existed; failing a student could ultimately send him to Vietnam. In another short scene, the students and New York actors head to New York City and join a massive peace march. The march is covered in just a few short paragraphs, but it’s a reminder of the events of the time. And drugs play a prominent role, both in past events and present ones.

There’s a fair amount of sadness in the book, and things definitely don’t end happily in this first entry for some of the main characters. But I truly enjoyed the book and found myself intrigued by both the mystery and the characters. The time period never overwhelms the story, but helps explain various actions taken by the characters.

The minute I finished the first book I picked up the second in the series – Murder is Academic – set on another college campus in 1968. This book seems to feature female characters even more prominently, as they deal with both the promise and limitations of the time for women. I’ve found myself wondering how a romance novel might work in a similar setting, with the late 1960s or early 1970s as a backdrop.

What do you think? Would you be interested in a romance set in the late 1960s or early 1970s? I’m starting to think I’m ready.

– LinnieGayl Kimmel

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27 Responses to Are you Ready for Vietnam-era Romance?

  1. AAR Lynn says:

    I didn’t live through these events the first time, but I remember stories from others in my family. I think that, because of that, I would be curious to see good romances set during this time.

    I remember reading the Century of American Romance series back in high school (Harlequin American Romance), and I remember reading a book that had a romance between a pilot and a reporter for an alternative newspaper. I had to look it up, but I believe Hearts at Risk was the book I was remembering. I liked it a lot at the time,but I haven’t reread it. Maybe we’ll get lucky and Harlequin will reissue it as an eBook.

  2. LinnieGayl says:

    Lynn, I just found a description of Hearts at Risk, “Reporting for an underground newspaper, Jennifer Wright champions counterculture causes–and fears love’s dangers. Test pilot Lij Branigan explores the limits of speed and performance in experimental jets–and struggles with his own private demons. And on the day man takes his
    first steps on the moon, the antiestablishment journalist and the fearless top gun enter an unknown. World–one that mingles age-old desire and space-age conflict. Courageous and committed, Lij and Jennifer are part of the changes shaping America’s headiest decade.”

    I think I’ll order a used copy online. It definitely sounds worth trying.

  3. farmwifetwo says:

    One of Rachel Lee’s early Conrad books touches on veterans of the Vietnam war. Many books of the 80′s mention the war as well. There’s a Danielle Steel – I read it when it came out from the library… she was a “hit/miss” author for me at that time. I remember it being very good.

    I always feel like I’ve landed in a time warp when I read 1970-90 romances. I have gotten so use to the trappings of computers and cellphones that the days we didn’t have them, that smoking wasn’t “taboo” and other odds and ends that pop on the stories are really strange yet at the time “normal”.

    So, books about Vietnam are not new. They have just been set aside as we have aged, the veterans have aged and been forgotten, and the Middle East has taken over as the war that is “reality” at this time.

    • AAR Lynn says:

      Oh yes- the early Conrad County books! I loved those(I think Lost Warriors is the Vietnam vet book), and I remember several containing mentions of Vietnam and other events from the 70s. I haven’t been able to get into the more recent CC books, but I do remember liking some of the early ones.

  4. Carrie says:

    I lived through that time period, waiting to see where my older brother’s number would come up in the draft lottery and worrying. I could read books set in that time period, depending on what their focus was. I wouldn’t want to read anything attached to the war. It was such an ugly war, and I can’t shake the memories of seeing the weekly death tolls posted on the evening news.

    On a lighter note, I also don’t think I could keep a straight face if an author set about describing the fashions of the times, even if I did love them as a teen. ;-) All in all, I guess I’d say I read romances for enjoyment and escape. Since the Vietnam war period is not an escape for me, but is too much real life, I don’t want to go there in my leisure time.

  5. Jane AAR says:

    Personally, I would love books set in the 1960s and 1970s. I’m so far removed from it (I’m in my early/mid-20s) that it’s always a bit of a surprise talking to people who lived through it. We had a Freedom Rider over to talk to my house about his experiences, and it’s hard to believe sometimes that people who lived through that era are still around– it feels like so long ago, even if it really wasn’t. Things were just so different.

    I can see how it might be strange to see a “historical” about something you lived through. Books written now but set around 9/11 are a bit too old to be considered truly “contemporary,” I think, but obviously far from “historical.” I guess there will always be a shifting period of, say, 30 years that’s somewhere in between.

    • farmwifetwo says:

      Geez, I feel old.

      When I was in public school my Mom went back to take her BA. The days of punch cards…. We used DOS in highschool. I spent over $3000 my second year of Univ (I have a BSc(Eng) so I had to have my own computer) for a 386 and a 24pin printer which cost over $500. They were top of the line at the time. The days of DOS, function keys to run WP, Quattro, Lotus etc. There was no internet in dorms and it was a big deal to have a phone with an answering machine and call waiting on it. When my first phone was a bag phone in the car when I graduated and started working. Atari games and packman…. Then there’s 80′s music and there’s been nothing as good since.

      The world has changed unbelievably in the last 40yrs. So for me it’s a bit of a shock remembering just what was the norm then… b/c it’s so easy to forget.

      • Linniegayl says:

        Farmwife2. Your description takes me back to my first computer. DOS was it. Things are so very different now in colleges than they were in the 1970s.

        • Farmwifetwo says:

          Isn’t it? 15yrs ago I went back and took accounting. During a co-op placement I had to teach DOS to another student. I’d only been out of Univ 5 yrs or so. Once computers became common the changes in electronics has been extremely fast.

  6. Mary Beth says:

    I was born in 1949, so the era of the 1960′s is definitely a time period I remember – usually! The thing that strikes me on occasion, is how far women have come since then. The high school I attended in a university town, had no organized women’s sports. Our school had a dress code for girls and, when I went to college in 1967, the freshman women’s dorm had a midnight curfew. These are just little examples of the rules and expectations surrounding the life of a young woman from that period, I am certain others would have far more egregious examples.

    Just as a read historical romance and feel grateful for all of ways that women’s lives have improved, I think that young women might enjoy the less distant history lesson provided by a book set in the 1960′s. I would enjoy it simply because it is fun to take a trip down memory lane, especially reading a romance which I trust would mitigate some of the darker aspects of that era.

    • farmwifetwo says:

      I’m not convinced women have come that far ahead.

      Yes, maybe it is the norm about schooling and work but I think we’ve given up things like “sexuality” and freedom of expression along the way. As simple as the fact my Mom wore a bikini top all the time in the summer… and she was not one to dress “provocatively” and just toss a shirt over it to go to the store. We use to have halter tops when we were children that were just tied in the back and today they would accuse you of dressing your child like a….. You get the jist.

      Are they ahead or are the rules just different???

      • Mary Beth says:

        You may be correct – the rules have simply changed, however it feels to me like things are different. I think that young women today are more likely to explore their sexuality and not feel the guilt and anxiety that I remember from the 1960′s. I also think that young women today are more comfortable discussing their sexuality both with their friends and their partners. I look at my nieces and my son’s female friends and I think how different their experiences are than mine. Maybe, this is a reflection of my own conflicts, but I don’t think so, things are different now.

      • Virginia DeMarce says:

        When I was expecting my second son in 1970, the administration at the college where I was teaching excavated a pre-WWI law that was still in the Missouri code that forbade the employment of women after the 4th month of pregnancy (they hadn’t known about it two years earlier when I was pregnant the first time). I had to petition the Missouri Supreme Court to obtain a ruling that a law designed to prevent the abuse of factory workers in sweat shops wasn’t really relevant to women in a professional situation.

        The law has since been removed from the books.

        When my mother was in her twenties, women were fired as soon as they married. There was no law against it at all. She said that many girls who married, but needed their jobs, did not announce it, had no parties or celebrations, and wore their rings on a chain underneath their clothes.

        My grandmother was 51 the year women got the right to vote.

        From the perspective of people who lived through the times, women are considerably farther ahead.

  7. Maggie AAR says:

    I read Hearts at Risk and found it so so. Much preferred Janice Kay Johnson’s Christmas Past and Presents, which is looked at a couple who fell in love during Vietnam era and followed them a bit. There is another Harlequin that deals with this era, it is a romance between a teacher and a returned vet. I just can’t remember title. That’s going to drive me crazy all day. I do remember liking the book.

  8. dick says:

    Well, I remember Pearl Harbor, the coupons necessary to buy sugar, gasoline, tires, and so on, so I’d still view books set in the 60s or 70s as contemporary. Still, I think a romance set in any turbulent period would work, just as books set in Napoleonic wars era do. Whether I read them would depend on the book.

  9. LeeF says:

    I think the Vietnam war era is ripe for the right authors. There is so much that could be told in romances, especially those with alpha males. As someone who grew up next door to a military base, I can think of many opportunities to address the war without too much discomfort for any age.

  10. DabneyAAR says:

    I was born in 1961 and love to read books about that era. I think it’s a time that actually lends itself to fiction because there is so much about that era that was compelling. I just reread my favorite Alice Hoffman book Illumination Night which is set in 1987 and features, among others, a couple in their late twenties. It seemed so fresh and yet foreign–no computers, no cell phones, etc… I loved it.

  11. Margaret says:

    I loved the Tv show China Beach and I think books in this period could be great.

  12. Eggletina says:

    I often like love stories with a war time backdrop, so I would be interested. I was also born in the mid 60s and still have vivid memories, such as my brother’s orange Cougar which had an 8-track player. Most of the books I’ve read in this period have been political thrillers or war novels with very little or no romance. I do remember one movie: Purple Hearts with Cheryl Ladd and Ken Wahl.

    I thought I saw a DIK review here of an OOP Harlequin (or similar publisher) that was set in and around Vietnam involving a military officer and a woman (can’t remember if she was Asian or American), probably written in the 90s. I wish I could remember the title. I’ve used Power Search and still can’t find anything that rings a bell. I could swear there was one, though, unless I’m confusing it with reviews at another site.

  13. Virginia DeMarce says:

    I started teaching at Northwest Missouri State College in the fall of 1965, so was on the grade-giving end of the situation with its attendant responsibilities. That was angst. There were plenty of “contemporaries” being written at the time, so there’s no real reason for someone interested in the era to wait for someone to write a “historical” 45 or 50 years after the fact.

  14. delia says:

    Any book set in the 1960s/1970s has always been “historical” to me for two reasons: a) I was born in 1981 and b) my grandfather served two tours in Vietnam. Most of my classmates’ grandfathers either served in World War II or Korea so I got lots of raised eyebrows when I said my grandfather served in Vietnam.

    I would like to read more books set during that period. I remember reading some early Linda Howard (MacKenzie’s Mountain maybe?) and Diana Palmer (maybe?) where the hero had served in Vietnam. I’ve also seen some recent self-pub books (Laurie Kellogg’s The Memory of You come to mind) that deal with that time period. I haven’t read any of them but I’m intrigued enough by the time period to try some over Christmas break.

    Will this time period be added to the special titles list on AAR?

  15. karen says:

    Try Messages From Nam by Danielle Steele. I read it last year and could hardly put it down.

  16. MD says:

    We get romances that talk about Napoleonic wars, and these came with plenty of their own horror. And also corn laws, riots etc. – it’s not necessarily common, but there are books where these difficult topics show up, and they work just fine. So why wouldn’t Vietnam War work? It was ugly, and sad, but romance deals with love and redemption, and I am sure there was that.

  17. Admin AAR says:

    I think I would be interested for sure. Maybe not ten years ago. Vietnam Era was my parents’ era – they married in 1965. My father-in-law in a Vietnam Vet. When I was in my twenties/thirties I might have found that weird. Now, I’m interested. I was born in 1970, and I was too young to remember Vietnam when it was happening, though I became very interested when I was in high school and they started making so many movies about it (Platoon, etc).

    Though it isn’t a romance (and it ends sadly), there are very romantic elements to 11/22/63 by Stephen King. One of the best books I read last year.


  18. Maggie AAR says:

    Elist Title Till The End of Time is about a heroine who is stationed at an evac hospital in Vietnam and meets an old friend there.
    It takes place in 1968. Good book.

  19. Jane A says:

    I just picked up a freebie on Amazon by Laurie Kellogg called The Memory of You. I was intrigued because it looks like it was just published but it is set during the Vietnam War. The hero was held as a POW for six years and his wife has been told he was killed. He comes home to find out that his wife is engaged to be married. I am very interested to read it and see if it feels “dated” to that period, even though it was written in 2012.

    The Vietnam era doesn’t feel historical to me because I remember it, but since it was about 50 years ago the argument could be made that it is! :)

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