Congratulations to Growlycub, winner of Susanna’s An Infamous Marriage giveaway! Susanna will be emailing you shortly to find out which e-book format you prefer.
I’m so happy to welcome author Susanna Fraser to the blog today.
Susanna writes romances set in the early decades of the 19th century, with a military milieu – she read Bernard Cornwell and Patrick O’Brian as well as Jane Austen in her formative years, and it shows in her stories. I always feel like I’m just sinking into a sort of hammock of immaculately woven, inconspicuously integrated research when I’m reading one of her books.
I was fortunate enough to have an early look at Susanna’s latest release, An Infamous Marriage, and she kindly agreed to answer some of my questions about writing the book.
At long last, Britain is at peace, and General Jack Armstrong is coming home to the wife he barely knows. Wed for mutual convenience, their union unconsummated, the couple has exchanged only cold, dutiful letters. With no more wars to fight, Jack is ready to attempt a peace treaty of his own.
Elizabeth Armstrong is on the warpath. She never expected fidelity from the husband she knew for only a week, but his scandalous exploits have made her the object of pity for years. Now that he’s back, she has no intention of sharing her bed with him—or providing him with an heir—unless he can earn her forgiveness. No matter what feelings he ignites within her…
Jack is not expecting a spirited, confident woman in place of the meek girl he left behind. As his desire intensifies, he wants much more than a marriage in name only. But winning his wife’s love may be the greatest battle he’s faced yet.
Q: I love romances that take risks, and An Infamous Marriage takes a big one: hero Jack, a career soldier, has been unfaithful to his wife during the years he was away at war. How did you decide to write a story that featured the hero’s infidelity as an obstacle? Was it a historical-accuracy thing? A “let’s see if I can pull this off” thing? And did you worry it would make your hero too unsympathetic?
A: Jack is the first hero I’ve written who’s in any sense a rake, and having set myself the challenge of writing such a hero, I didn’t want him to be a fake rake. I also wanted to give him and the heroine something real and difficult to work through. I don’t know if I always succeed, but I do my best to avoid plots driven by a Big Misunderstanding. (Big Secrets and Big Miscommunications are another story, however.)
Historical accuracy was a factor, too, in that Jack is a man of his time. The infidelity takes place during a five-year separation. His marriage is one of convenience, he hardly knows his wife, and he certainly isn’t in love with her yet. He’d say he hasn’t acted any differently than other men in the same circumstances—and he wouldn’t be wrong. But because he’s a hero, he learns that “everyone else does it” isn’t a valid excuse.
I did worry that the infidelity might make Jack unsympathetic. On the other hand, it was the story I wanted to tell. I try to stretch myself at least a little bit out of my comfort zone with every book I write, just to keep from getting stale.
Q: Was your publisher on board with the infidelity plotline right away, or did you have to do some convincing?
A: They never brought it up when they accepted the proposal or at any point during the editing process. As I was working on this interview I checked in with my editor, and she told me it wasn’t an issue, given the circumstances of the infidelity.
Q: Jack and Elizabeth meet and marry under some of the most unromantic circumstances I’ve ever read in a romance, and neither one expects to fall in love with the other. At what point would you say her feelings start to change, and at what point do his?
A: She’s aware of him as an attractive man on some level from the very beginning, but she’s too lost in grief for her first husband to feel much of anything for anyone at first. So she begins to fall in love with him a few months after they marry for the sake of the letters he sends her from Canada, where he’s serving with his regiment. This makes her feel all the more betrayed when she hears transatlantic gossip about his affairs.
As for Jack, his feelings only start to change when he comes home from the wars and Elizabeth confronts him over his infidelity—but once he falls, he falls fast and hard and doesn’t look back.
Q: Jack’s serving in the war with America is unusual for a Regency romance. Did you know a lot about that conflict already, or did you need to research? And was there any tidbit of military research that you regret not being able to work into the book?
A: I knew almost nothing about it, and what I knew was the kind of factoids I must’ve used as fill-in-the-blank answers on American History tests back in 11th grade. Francis Scott Key, the Star-Spangled Banner, Andrew Jackson, the Battle of New Orleans. (I sort of backed into my interest in Napoleonic Era military history—it started with a fictional crush on Richard Sharpe that turned into a historical crush on the Duke of Wellington, neither of which draws one to study the War of 1812.)
I’d certainly learned nothing in school about the conflict along the Canadian border, which is the part of the war Jack serves in. But once I discovered it, I knew I’d found Jack’s place in the war. I’m an American myself, after all, as are the majority of my readers, and I figured they’d have an easier time sympathizing with a hero defending Canada than one who took part in the burning of the White House!
As for research I couldn’t include in the book, I read a couple biographies of the Shawnee leader Tecumseh, who died in battle in 1813 leading a coalition of Indian warriors who fought alongside the British. He was a fascinating man, a real tragic hero, and Jack certainly would’ve known him well, but I ended up with no story-related reason to do more than mention his name a time or two.
Q: Some historical figures of the period, most notably the Duke of Wellington, appear as characters in An Infamous Marriage. What are the challenges of writing a real-life person into your story? Is there someone you’d particularly like to write into a book someday?
A: I’d say the biggest challenge in using a real-life figure is making him or her come across as a real person rather than a cardboard cutout, all while keeping within the limits of his or her actions as recorded by history.
I don’t see myself ever writing biographical fiction—I’m not even that fond of it as a reader. When I’m fascinated by a historical figure, I go straight to biography. In fiction, I don’t want to know exactly how it ends before I even start the book.
That said, my “book under the bed” is an alternative history involving, among other people, Wellington and Napoleon. One of these days I want to either polish that manuscript into publishable form or write a fantasy series with similar themes and character types.
Q: You have a novella coming up that I’m really excited about. Can you tell us a little bit about that, and about what you might be working on afterward?
A: It will be out on 7/29/2013, with a title yet to be determined. It’s an interracial romance set in the aftermath of the Battle of Vittoria in the Peninsular War in 1813. The hero is a black British soldier, born to parents who escaped slavery in Virginia by running away to the British army. Over the past few years I’ve been lurking on Ta-Nehisi Coates’ blog, where he’s often written about the black Union soldiers of the Civil War. Bringing black men into the army was such a huge, hotly-debated step in America, yet I knew for a fact 50 years earlier there had been at least a few black soldiers in both the British and French armies. So I decided I wanted to try to write one of their stories.
After that, I’m working on a proposal for a full-length novel featuring a secondary character from the novella, and I’m trying my hand at a Christmas novella.
I’ll be giving one copy of An Infamous Marriage to a commenter on this post in your choice of e-book format, and at the end of the tour I’ll be giving away a grand prize of a $50 gift certificate to their choice of Amazon, Barnes & Noble, or Powell’s Books to one commenter on the tour as a whole. You get one entry per blog tour stop you comment upon, so check out my blog for the whole schedule! If you wish to be entered in the drawing, include your email address formatted as yourname AT yourhost DOT com.
Leave a comment by 5 pm Pacific time, Wednesday, November 21 to be entered in the e-book giveaway.