History Hoydens

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Historical Romance Writers Dishing the Dirt on Research

12 August 2010

Welcome, Susanna Fraser!

THE SERGEANT'S LADY
by Susanna Fraser
Read Excerpt
Available Aug 23rd from Carina!

Highborn Anna Arrington has been "following the drum," obeying the wishes of her cold, controlling cavalry officer husband. When he dies, all she wants is to leave life with Wellington's army in Spain behind her and go home to her family's castle in Scotland.

Sergeant Will Atkins ran away from home to join the army in a fit of boyish enthusiasm. He is a natural born soldier, popular with officers and men alike, uncommonly brave and chivalrous, and educated and well-read despite his common birth.

As Anna journeys home with a convoy of wounded soldiers, she forms an unlikely friendship with Will. When the convoy is ambushed and their fellow soldiers captured, they become fugitives—together. The attraction between them is strong—but even if they can escape the threat of death at the hands of the French, is love strong enough to bridge the gap between a viscount's daughter and an innkeeper's son?

Susanna will be giving away a digital copy to one commenter, so please include your email in your comment!

Q: The Sergeant’s Lady is set in 1811-12. Is there a particular

reason you chose that year?

Most of the story’s action takes place with Wellington’s army during
the Peninsular War. The summer of 1811 was a relatively quiet time in
the conflict, so I felt free to invent such skirmishes and troop
movements as I needed to drive my hero and heroine together.

The final act of the story, by contrast, hinges on the storming of
Badajoz in April 1812, which gave me the opportunity to involve my
hero in a Big Real Event. I ended up taking a book on the battle and
highlighting everything Will’s regiment played a role in--which
happened to be the bloodiest part of arguably the worst battle the
British endured pre-Waterloo.

So I got the best of both worlds--getting to invent incidents from
whole cloth AND show off my research!

Q: How did you become interested in the military side of the Regency
era? What you love about it?

The same year I started kindergarten, my youngest older brother, who’s
13 years my senior, entered West Point, and I spent a good part of my
childhood dreaming of following in his footsteps. He left his cadet
dress sword with our parents after he graduated, and I used to take it
down and pose with it.

I changed my mind about West Point long before I was old enough to
apply for college, but retained a latent interest in military history.
I’ve been reading Regencies since high school, and when I discovered
Bernard Cornwell and Patrick O’Brian, something clicked for me. I
started researching the history behind their fiction and was instantly
hooked.

Q: What do you like least about this period? Anything that constrained
you or that you had to plot carefully around?

To make my ending work, I needed to get Will out of the army well
before Waterloo, and there just weren’t that many options for getting
an enlisted man an honorable discharge back then. I found a way to do
it, which I won’t reveal here to avoid spoilers, but it wasn’t my
first choice.

Q: Anything you flat-out altered or “fudged”? If so, why?

There’s an early scene where Will and Anna sneak a dance together,
just the two of them, when at that time all either would’ve known were
group dances with lines or sets of partners. I fudged because I had
them out in the darkness listening to music that would make their feet
itch, so I decided to make them creative enough to improvise a private
dance.

The scene was just too good to resist writing--it’s practically the
first time they touch, the first time they consciously break the rules
separating aristocratic lady from lowborn common sergeant, and let’s
just say sparks fly from more than just that nearby campfire.

Q: Any gaffs or mea culpas you want to fess up to before readers get
their hands on the book? I know I always seem to find one after the
book has gone to press. *sigh*

Anna attends her first husband’s burial, and I swear someone posted on
the Beau Monde loop about how women didn’t go to funerals mere DAYS
after my final copyedits. The same for nightrail. I used it as a
synonym for nightshirt, learning from the Hoydens’ own Kalen that it
actually meant a wrapper just a little bit too late to change it.

Q: Tell us a little about your hero. Something fun, like his favorite
childhood pet, or his first kiss.

In my head, Will looks like Firefly-era Nathan Fillion. THAT’s fun, amiright?

As for his first kiss...well, he had a childhood sweetheart back in
his home village. When they were 15 or 16, they started sneaking off
to make out (only they would’ve called it something
period-appropriate, maybe “kiss and play”), feeling very naughty and
sure their parents would KILL them if they ever got caught.

Then one day Will overheard his father and the girl’s father
congratulating each other on the dear children having paired off, just
as they’d always hoped and intended, but it wouldn’t do to say
anything just yet, because the youngsters DO like to think it’s all
their own idea.

This freaked teenaged Will out so much that the very next day he let a
recruiting sergeant get him drunk and took the king’s shilling.

Q: What sparked this book? Was it a character? An historical event? A
scene you just couldn’t get out of your head?

Anna was a secondary character in the first book I ever wrote, during
which she and the heroine started out as rivals for the affections of
Sebastian Arrington (Anna’s first husband, who dies in the opening
chapters of The Sergeant’s Lady). Originally I’d intended Sebastian
as a sort of Edmund Bertram type, serious and moralistic but basically
decent, while Anna was sweet but lightweight. But the more I wrote
and revised, the more Anna revealed herself to have a core of steel
beneath her pretty, pampered exterior, and the more Sebastian became
cruel and misogynistic. By the time I finished, I knew Anna deserved
a better fate, and that I owed it to her to kill Sebastian and give
her someone worthy of her.

Fortunately, since I’d already established that he was an army
officer, that was easily done! And Will came to me the instant I
started to think about what kind of man Anna really belonged with.
I’d been wanting to write an unabashedly common hero or heroine for
awhile--when you’re so common yourself that none of your grandparents
even finished high school, it’s hard to completely identify with the
aristocracy. And with my background and interests, a level-headed,
experienced sergeant with a quixotic romantic streak was only natural.

Q: Did you have to do any major research for this book? Did you
stumble across anything really interesting that you didn’t already
know?

When I first got the idea for the book, I knew little about the
Peninsular War or life in the British Army of the era, so, yes, I did
a TON of research--and enjoyed every bit of it.

As for interesting facts...here’s one that had no bearing on TSL but
that stuck in my mind nonetheless: While researching childbirth
practices, not long after the birth of my own daughter in a difficult,
four-day labor following six weeks of bedrest for gestational
hypertension, I learned that someone like me might’ve survived
pregnancy and childbirth 200 years ago...but probably only if my
physician had bled me regularly. Because I had the one complication
of pregnancy bleeding helps rather than worsens.

Q: What/Who do you like to read?

Broadly speaking, romance, mystery, and fantasy, preferring historical
settings for all three (in the case of fantasy, either alternative
history or set in worlds obviously based on our own). A few of my
many favorite authors are Loretta Chase, Rose Lerner, and Jo Beverley
for romance, Julia Spencer-Fleming, Lindsey Davis, and Dorothy Sayers
for mystery, and Naomi Novik, Jacqueline Carey, and Lois McMaster
Bujold for fantasy.

Q: Care to share a bit about your writing process? Are you a pantser
or a plotter? Do you write multiple drafts or clean up as you go?

I’m in between, but closer to a pantser. I don’t do detailed outlines
or character bios or anything like that, but the writing goes better
if I give a new story time to percolate in my brain before setting
fingers to keyboard.

Q: What are you planning to work on next?

I’m working on a desert isle novella with a French hero and English
heroine in 1813. And to further complicate their relationship, she
thinks he murdered her first husband.

22 Comments:

Anonymous Ana Jackson said...

You had me at "Firefly-era Nathan Fillion." Yum! :)

I love historical romances that involve military heroes. I'm definitely going to pick this up when it's released on the 23rd.

Saintana13[at]yahoo[dot]com

7:20 AM  
Blogger Susanna Fraser said...

Thank you for having me here today! I have several meetings today at work, but I'll be back when I can.

7:24 AM  
Blogger Victoria Janssen said...

OOH. That sounds awesome. I love the idea of an enlisted man and an officer's wife, and the plot reminds me of one of my favorite Carla Kelly novels.

7:32 AM  
Blogger Isobel Carr said...

I've known Susanna for a couple of years now, and I've been dying to read this book since I first heard her talk about it. I'm so excited that it found a home!

On the Nathan Fillion front: some friends of mine are doing a costume job for Castle. *squee* I got invited to come down and be an extra, but I can't cause I'll be at Burning Man (I know, little violins play for me everywhere). But I’ll certainly be looking out for their “steampunk” episode.

8:04 AM  
Blogger Kat said...

I love military history and romance so thanks for combining them. However must I wait until August 23rd.? I will definitely be giving this book a try. Thanks, for blogging.

10:39 AM  
Blogger Susanna Fraser said...

Ana and Isobel - Nathan Fillion is just delicious, isn't he? I follow him on Twitter, and he seems to have a good sense of humor about life and fame, too.

Victoria - Thanks! Right before I got the idea for this book, I read three books in a row where a supposedly common character turned out to be a long-lost child of a nobleman, thereby ending any objection to the h/h marriage. Individually they were fine stories, but by Book 3 I was thinking, "You know, I'd like to read a story WITHOUT that magic wand ending to fix the class issue." So I wrote one!

Kat - It doesn't release till 8/23, but you can preorder now. :-) I hope you enjoy it!

11:05 AM  
Blogger Isobel Carr said...

You know, I'd like to read a story WITHOUT that magic wand ending to fix the class issue.

I feel this way about a lot of stories. There was one a while back where the hero started out blind. Great book. Loved it. Then he regained his sight. *sigh* You just spent 200+ pages showing me how he overcame his disability, how the heroine helped him do so, how they fell in love, and how they were perfect together, and NOW you want to just fix the disability as if by magic (I think it was a second blow to the head that turned his sight back on), making everything that went before kind of pointless.

I was so disappointed with that book.

12:04 PM  
Blogger Linda Banche said...

I don't know about everyone else, but I'm pretty tired of all those duke heroes out there in Regency land. Nice to have a change.

12:08 PM  
Blogger Susanna Fraser said...

Linda, I once went so far as to say I'd never write a duke as a hero. This was before I'd learned that you never, ever taunt the muse by telling it what you absolutely refuse to do. So I'm now faced with eating my words, since the manuscript I'm hoping to start in November (NaNoWriMo is such a nice boost for a new story) has a duke for a protagonist. And now every time I catch myself saying "I'll never write X," even if X is something as completely beyond my interests as, say, futuristic inspirational literary fiction, I bite my tongue HARD.

Isobel, I think there's a huge pressure to make heroes, heroines, and their HEA perfect, but when the whole theme of the story is that life can be pretty dang wonderful when you just face up to challenges and setbacks, those magic wand endings feel out of place, IMHO.

1:31 PM  
Anonymous Angi Morgan said...

Your book sounds marvelous, Susanna! I, too, am glad it found a home and will be made available to the rest of us.

~~Angi

2:47 PM  
Blogger Shelley Munro said...

I'm looking forward to reading your book, Susanna. I've enjoyed your interview since it gives me even more to look forward to. I'm also a NF fan :)

2:59 PM  
Anonymous Rose Lerner said...

Susanna, you are too sweet! Of course, I guess it's only fair since you are one of my favorite authors too. I can't wait to read the revised version! Will and Anna are SO good together...

4:49 PM  
Blogger Jenny Schwartz said...

Great interview, Susanna. I love that you've written a Regency that crosses class lines.

5:18 PM  
Blogger Mary Marvella said...

Susanna, What a fabulous blog. Gotta check out this book it's tremendous characters. Love everything you have told us. Glad you stuck to your guns, girl.

MMARVELLAB@aol.com

7:02 PM  
Anonymous Lorraine said...

Sounds fantastic. I'd love to read it. I knew there had to be at least one man in this time period who wasn't a peer...

7:54 PM  
Blogger Kristian Mercer said...

I'm really looking forward to your book, Susanna! And as yet another big Nathan Fillion/Firefly fan, I also appreciate the visuals. :)

krista[dot]mercer[at]gmail[dot]com

8:19 PM  
Blogger Susanna Fraser said...

Angi--Thanks for stopping by! It was great to finally meet you in person at RWA and cheer for your Golden Heart.

Shelley and Kristian--Thanks! It's funny how Nathan Fillion is still kinda below the mass media radar--I can't remember ever seeing him in the celeb gossip and fashion magazines I read at the salon while I'm getting my hair turned reddish, f'rex--and yet every time I mention him in a group of women, there's general sighing and swooning.

Rose--Thanks for stopping by! Y'all, I got to critique her January 2011 release, A Lily Among Thorns, and it's the most amazing book.

Jenny--I'm glad there's interest in class-crossing stories, because I'm sure this won't be my last.

Mary--Thanks for all the encouragement along the way!

Lorraine--Yeah, handsome young dukes are tops on my list of "things more common in fiction than reality." Red-haired women are just behind, but maybe they're balanced out by the relative paucity of red-haired men, at least in romance. I think fantasy has plenty.

9:34 PM  
Blogger Laurie Wood said...

Hi Susanna! I've already pre-ordered your book, so can't win a download here, but wanted to drop by and say congratulations! I can't wait to read it. Thanks for sharing your writing journey to get this book out there and I'll be looking forward to reading others written by you. Cheers!

11:36 AM  
Blogger Isobel Carr said...

but maybe they're balanced out by the relative paucity of red-haired men

The first hero in my new series was a red head until a week ago, when my MS came back from my editor with "NOT SEXY; I can't stop picturing Ron Howard; Ewwwww" and the like scrawled next to the bits about his hair. *sigh*

Toss another TDH on the pile (at least he's not a duke!).

1:41 PM  
Blogger Susanna Fraser said...

Laurie, thanks for stopping by and for pre-ordering! I hope you enjoy the book.

Isobel, I'd love to hear your editor's explanation of why Jamie Fraser from the Outlander books is so popular if red hair is inherently offputting, because, believe you me, Diana Gabaldon describes the lush redness of his hair often and lovingly in book after book. :-)

3:58 PM  
Blogger Tracy Grant said...

Welcome, Susanna! Your book sounds fabulous. I love the Peninsular War as a setting. And ditto re: Nathan Fillion :-).

7:03 PM  
Anonymous Michelle Diener said...

Congrats again on TSL, Susanna. I can't wait to read it.

4:45 AM  

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