Horse Shopping with Susanna Fraser
by Susanna Fraser
Lucy Jones is a nobody. As an orphan she was reluctantly taken in by her wealthy relatives, the Arringtons, on the condition that she be silent and obedient, always. When her lifelong infatuation with her cousin Sebastian is rewarded by a proposal of marriage, she's happy and grateful, even though the family finds excuses to keep the engagement a secret.
James Wright-Gordon has always had the benefits of money and a high station in society, but he is no snob. He's very close to his sister, Anna, who quickly falls for the dashing Sebastian when the families are brought together at a wedding party. Meanwhile, James is struck by Lucy's quiet intelligence, and drawn to her despite their different circumstances in life.
Lucy suspects that Sebastian has fallen for Anna, but before she can set him free, a terrible secret is revealed that shakes both families. Will James come to her rescue—or abandon her to poverty?
Some writers don’t start a book until they’ve put together an elaborate outline. Others interview their characters or write character biographies. The more visually oriented make collages. I’ve been known to make soundtracks…and I take my characters horse shopping.
That’s right, horse shopping. You see, I was a horse mad child. I never got the chance to learn to ride, but I spent my childhood reading horse books and dreaming horse dreams. I used to ride my bike around the yard, following courses I’d laid out to represent the Derby, the Preakness, and the Belmont. Most of the time I was pretending to be the first woman jockey to win the Triple Crown while riding a filly.
My characters tend to share at least some of my interests, and of course horses were an important part of life 200 years ago. So my heroes and heroines get to live my dream of everyday riding, and I enjoy matching just the right horse to each character. I’ve discovered that figuring out a character’s taste in horses tells me a lot about the kind of person he or she is.
For example, in the historical fantasy manuscript I’m working on I have a heroine who was raised to value the practical and utilitarian. So when I took her horse shopping, I expected her to pick a plain, solid, sturdy horse. But she showed no interest in the nice brown off-the-track Thoroughbred mare that I thought would suit her. I asked her what she did want, and the next thing I knew, we were looking at Andalusians. She picked this spectacular, showy, Baroque horse with a long, flowing mane and tail, because now that she could pick what she really wanted, she wanted something beautiful. The Spanish horse was just as sturdy and reliable as the thoroughbred, she informed me, but with the added bonus of looking spectacular.
Realizing my heroine wanted a flashy horse opened up a whole new window on her personality. She isn’t innately practical and utilitarian, she was just conditioned to act that way. I realized she loves beautiful things, and she also likes to show off sometimes--which impacts everything from how she dresses to how she acts in a crisis.
James, the hero of my current release, A Marriage of Inconvenience, breeds Arabians. His favorite mount is not a sleek black stallion, but a dappled gray mare. Arabians were an obvious choice for him, because if he were a horse that’s the breed he’d be. You see, he’s handsome, well-built, and elegant, but he’s probably the shortest romance hero you’ll read about this year. As my fellow horse lovers know, that’s very much like an Arabian. They’re small, but why would you care when they’re so gorgeous? James is a confident man. He doesn’t care that he’s short, so why would he need to ride a huge horse to make himself feel taller? On an Arabian, he’s a beautiful man on a beautiful horse, and they’re just the right size for each other.
As for why James rides a gray mare rather than a black stallion, a black stallion just struck me as a little too obvious. Every hero rides a black stallion, and James doesn’t want to be every hero, he wants to stand out from the crowd. He thinks, and I agree, that there are few things more beautiful than the glossy coat of a silver dappled horse shining in the sunshine.
What about you? What kind of horse does your character like to ride? Do you have an unusual method of brainstorming? Or do you have a childhood dream like my love of horses that you never fulfilled but has stayed with you into adulthood? I wish I could give one commenter a pony, but instead I’ll offer a copy of A Marriage of Inconvenience.