I’ve been hearing about author Jennifer Hallock for a while now, mostly from fellow Filipino romance readers. I was intrigued from the first time I found out that she writes historical romance set in the Philippines. I’ve been meaning to read her books for the longest time and finally found time to start Under the Sugar Sun, which is still my current read. I find the Philippine setting so refreshing compared to other historical romance reads! I asked Jennifer why she chose to write about this setting, and she was generous enough to write a guest post about it. Please give Jennifer a warm welcome and find out why her historical romances are set in my home country! As always, I hope this guest post will also encourage more readers to pick up her books. 🙂
Why The Edwardian Philippines
by Jennifer Hallock
I am often asked why I set my romance novels in the middle of the Philippine-American War. Why not Regencies, which are far more marketable? I do love my dukes—I do. But, as you will see, I’m just too much of a history geek to pass up the complex, conflicting legacy of the Americans in the Philippines.
What’s wrong with Regency? Well, nothing. But do you ever wonder the odds of throwing a rock in a Regency romance and hitting a duke? Just exactly how many dukes were there in 1814? Only 25, actually—and only 576 peers above the degree of baronet. This means that out of a British population of almost 19 million, there was one duke for every 756,000 Brits, and one peer for every 33,000. That’s not many—but that’s their appeal, I suppose. Dukes are the billionaire trope of historical romance: desirable, virile, chiseled, strong, and dominant. But were they these things? Let’s start with: were they even young? Dukes in 1814 averaged over 50 years old—my hasty calculation based on Wikipedia peerage lists. And given the average Regency diet and sedentary lifestyle, the rest of the conceit might not hold up, either. But nevermind, because Regency romance has become a world unto itself—a fantasy of masked balls, flavored ices, and daring carriage races through the park. As escapism, these books have huge appeal.
For those of us who like a little more authenticity, historical romances set in Europe and the United States are growing more diverse. Authors like Beverly Jenkins, Courtney Milan, Alyssa Cole, KJ Charles, Rose Lerner, andAmara Royce, to name just a few, are more inclusive as regards to race, class, sexuality, and nationality. They bring a more representative picture to the romance reader.
English-language books with geographic diversity—set outside North America—are harder to find, though not impossible. Take Laura Kinsale’s sweeping love story, Dream Hunter, set in the Syrian desert — with nary a sheikh trope in sight! Or consider Jeannie Lin, who writes Tang dynasty historicals that make the China of a thousand years ago feel both fresh and familiar at the same time.
It’s fabulous stuff. You get to travel in your head for (nearly) free! So, of all the places you could travel, why choose the Philippine-American War? How about because it is the most important war that America forgot? It’s barely studied in US high schools today, but that’s a mistake. It was a watershed moment that launched the American Century. Before the Philippines, the US swore off overseas possessions and entanglements. Not interested. But when America seized the Philippines in the Spanish-American War (1898), everything changed. The US began to talk about a special mission to shape the world in its own image—but not before engaging in vigorous internal debates over national debt, trade agreements, nation-building, immigration, and the use of military force. Do these issues sound familiar? They should. The America of today was defined by what happened in the Philippines. George Santayana said, “Those who do not remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” But it is not good enough to just remember the past. You should experience it yourself. That’s the garden where empathy grows. That’s where you get all the feels.
And you need the feels. Writing happily-ever-afters is a needed tonic to digest all this history. As author Alisha Rai tweeted, “our basic genre requirement…[is] that there’s no black moment that love cannot overcome.” Thus, I wrote a story about an American schoolteacher, one of a thousand sent to the Philippines to establish the first co-educational, secular public school system in Asia. (When I began Under the Sugar Sun, I was also an American schoolteacher in the Philippines. “Write what you know,” as they say.) My heroine, Georgina Potter, represents the best of what America has to offer, but it may not be good enough for Filipino nationalist Javier Altarejos—a sugar baron who is better educated, better traveled, and a better linguist than the Yankee colonial officials sent to “civilize” him. (Their word, not mine.) As Georgina questions her country’s agenda, so does the reader. And, of course, love conquers all because—hello!—romance!
With the exception of the prequel novella, Hotel Oriente, all my books are interracial romances. These couples forge a path that is not easy, but totally worth it. This moral of multiculturalism is a little advanced for the time period—a deliberate anachronism—but no more so than any of the little lies in Regency romance. My latest novella, Tempting Hymn, is about finding love in the time of cholera*, colonial inequities, and church politics. It is a story of second chances, redemption, and compassion. Because today, in a world of fake news and a remorseless internet, we need empathy more than ever. And love. We need lots and lots of love.
*With my apologies to Gabriel García Márquez.
Jennifer Hallock is author of the Sugar Sun historical romance series, set in the American colonial Philippines. At her day job, she teaches a trimester course to high school seniors called America in the Philippines, a part of a larger sequence on the history of American imperialism. She studied Southeast Asian history at university and grad school, and then lived and worked in Manila for four years.