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This drawing is now closed. Random.org has picked commenter beckymmoe as the winner of Susanna’s book. Congratulations to beckymmoe – I’ve sent your email address to Susanna; you should be getting a message from her soon!


It’s always a pleasure to welcome my favorite romance-writing military-history geek to the blog. Susanna Fraser stops by today to talk about her just-released novella, A Dream Defiant, and to give a copy away! Read on:


Cover for A Dream Defiant

Spain, 1813

Elijah Cameron, the son of runaway slaves, has spent his whole life in the British army proving that a black man can be as good a soldier as a white man. After a victory over the French, Elijah promises one of his dying men that he will deliver a scavenged ruby necklace to his wife, Rose, a woman Elijah has admired for years.

Elijah feels bound to protect her and knows a widow with a fortune in jewels will be a target. Rose dreams of using the necklace to return to England, but after a violent attack, she realizes she needs Elijah’s help to make the journey safely.

Her appreciation for Elijah’s strength and integrity soon turns into love, but he doubts she could want a life with him, knowing the challenges they’d face. As their relationship grows, she must convince Elijah that she wants him as more than a bodyguard. And she must prove that their love can overcome all obstacles, no matter the color of their skin.


Q: You’re an author who takes research very seriously. Did you find yourself setting an even-higher-than-usual standard of accuracy when it came to writing a protagonist of a different race from your own? And were there moments when you doubted your ability, or authority, to tell Elijah’s story in an authentic way?Susanna Fraser

A: I definitely wanted to be as accurate as possible, because I was writing about a culture and ethnicity that isn’t my own and one that, to be frank, has been systematically harmed by my native culture. That said, I was limited by the relative paucity of source material. (Although, as always, I’m sure there’s more out there I simply didn’t find–at some point you just have to take off your researcher hat and put the writer one on.) For example, I found scattered references to black soldiers, but I never found a detailed history of a man in Elijah’s position, so I was left to extrapolate what his experiences might have been like.

And I definitely had many moments of self-doubt about whether I should or could tell this story. Ultimately what helped was realizing that I didn’t have to tell the entire story of the black experience in 19th century Britain–that such a thing was FAR beyond the scope of one novella-length historical romance, to put it mildly. All I needed to do was tell a slice of ONE character’s life story. That much I could do.

Q: Like your debut, The Sergeant’s Lady, A Dream Defiant features a heroine widowed while following her husband at war. What is it about the plight of the “following the drum” widow that compels you as a writer?

A: I find myself drawn to widowed heroines in general for a very simple reason–it allows me to write older, sexually experienced heroines who aren’t necessarily “bad girls” or otherwise possessed of a complex or unusual backstory. They’ve been married, happily or otherwise, and now they’re widowed, which in a world with no antibiotics and only rudimentary trauma medicine is ridiculously easy for a writer to make believable.

As for widows following the drum, Rose’s circumstances in A Dream Defiant are quite different from Anna’s in The Sergeant’s Lady. As an officer’s widow and a daughter of the aristocracy, Anna had the resources to return home, and the social expectation that she would observe a normal period of mourning for her husband. Of course that’s not (quite) what happened, given that her husband’s death freed her from a miserable, abusive situation and she quickly met and had adventures with the RIGHT man.

Enlisted soldiers’ widows like Rose, however, were expected to remarry quickly. Each company was allowed a small number of wives officially “on the strength” (generally six), and once a woman was widowed, she lost the right to draw rations for herself and her children. Few women could afford to go home or had a way to support themselves and any children if they did, so most of them remarried almost immediately. I’d read about such women in my initial research for The Sergeant’s Lady, and I was drawn to the poignancy of having to choose a second husband so soon after burying a first one, especially for a woman who loved, or at least was fond of, her first. In fact, that was my initial inspiration for A Dream Defiant.

Q: Rose and Elijah marry for a fascinating mix of reasons, some pragmatic – she needs the protection of marriage; he likes her cooking – and some less so. Was it tricky to establish their mutual attraction in a way that wouldn’t detract from Rose’s sincere mourning, for, and Elijah’s friendship with, her first husband?

A: It was definitely a balancing act. I didn’t want Rose’s first marriage to have been wholly unhappy. I’ve written unhappy first marriages before and will probably do so again. Still, I do feel like it’s the easy way out with a widowed heroine, so I don’t want to go to that well too often. But I also wanted her to find something more with Elijah (this being a romance, after all). So I tried to show without being too heavy-handed that Elijah shared brains, drive, and frustrated ambition with Rose that would enable them to be more together than either were apart, while her first husband had been more of a dead weight. An affectionate, kind, well-meaning dead weight, but one who’d been holding her back all the same.

Q: The couple encounters a spectrum of responses to their marriage, among their regiment and later back in England. Were certain places or populations more welcoming than others to an interracial couple at the time?

A: Interracial marriages were far more accepted in England than in America during this period–really at any point during the 19th century. The fact that England itself wasn’t a slave society (though it still had slavery in some of its colonies) seemed to make its people more willing to accept blacks as equal to whites of similar financial and/or occupational status. Class mattered more than race in a lot of ways. By that measure Rose and Elijah are essentially equals. If anything, Elijah, who is relatively well-educated and has a colonel for his family’s (occasionally patronizing) patron, ranks a little higher.

That said, there was of course plenty of racial prejudice. For one thing, the stereotype about black men’s penis size and sexual prowess already existed, so we see a bit of that from some of the more prejudiced soldiers speculating on why beautiful Rose, who could have her pick of men in the regiment, chose Elijah. In general, I got the impression from my research that the degree of prejudice varied a lot from person to person, just as it does now, so I wrote my characters’ experiences accordingly.

Q: Rose has a passion and a gift for cooking. I know from your blog that you’re an avid hobby cook yourself. What was it like to write a character who shared one of your own avocations?

A: Because of my interest in cooking, I’d been wanting to write a cook or chef character for quite awhile. It’s easier to connect to a character when you share a common interest, and while Rose was my first culinary protagonist I doubt she’ll be my last. There’s that badass garlic-wielding vampire-slaying French chef in one of my unfinished manuscripts, for example…

Q: Is this the last we’ll hear from this set of characters? Late in the book there’s an intriguing mention of Elijah’s officer friend, Lieutenant Farlow. Might there be more to his story?

A: I’m working on a proposal for Henry Farlow’s story now! It will be a full-length novel.

Q: What are you working on right now, and what do you plan to be working on after that?

A: I’ve got several balls in the air. My next scheduled release isn’t until late 2014–a holiday novella from Carina. But I’m hoping to have at least one and hopefully two releases before then. In addition to Henry Farlow’s story, I’ve got a short Christmas time travel novella in the works, and I’m planning a series based around children and grandchildren of “Wild Geese”–Scottish and Irish Jacobites who took refuge in Spain and France after the failed Jacobite uprisings of the 18th century.

Thanks, Susanna, for stopping by! My ears pricked up at “Christmas time-travel novella” (?!), so you can be sure I’ll be watching for that :)


Susanna will be giving away an electronic copy (PDF, epub, or kindle) of A Dream Defiant to one randomly chosen commenter on this post. Tell us your favorite romance – from book, film, or TV – with a military/wartime setting. Star Wars counts! (But if you say “Anakin Skywalker and Queen Amidala in the prequels,” you will be immediately disqualified from the drawing.) (Not really.)*

Leave a comment by 11:59:59 PM Pacific time on Friday, August 2nd for a chance to win!

*Any comment at all will be entered in the drawing. “I want to win,” “I’ve never liked any military romance,” and “Rick and Ilsa in Casablanca, obviously” are all valid entries.   


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Update: Congratulations to commenter Lisa Wolff, winner of Rose’s giveaway! Hope you enjoy the book!


GUEST POST + GIVEAWAY!


Rose Lerner is my great author-stalking success story. After reading her debut, In for a Penny, I sent her a gushing fan email, to which she graciously replied. I left comments on her blog, she left comments on mine, we discovered other interests in common (Gossip Girl! Shakespeare’s sonnet #130!), and she magically transformed from Admired Author to Admired Author and Friend.

Rose’s new release, A Lily Among Thorns, is that rarity among Regency romances: a story in which the hero and heroine both work for a living. When dye-brewing chemist Solomon Hathaway and innkeeper-with-a-past Serena Ravenshaw team up in search of a missing pair of earrings – and discover a web of treason and espionage reaching into the highest levels of society – their budding relationship is not just a romance, but a delicate balancing act of personal sentiment and hard-won professional identity.

I asked Rose to talk a bit about this aspect of the book, and what working protagonists bring to the dynamic of a romance. Take it away, Rose!


Author Rose Lerner

First, I want to make a disclaimer upfront: I also love books with independently wealthy protagonists! Love reading them, love writing them. I also love books about stay-at-home moms! This is in NO WAY intended to reflect badly on protagonists who don’t work, or don’t work outside the home.

That said, here is a list of things I really enjoyed about writing a romance with two working protagonists:

1. It’s an immediate connection with a lot of readers. Here’s how another genre writer put it: in the back of his Elektra & Wolverine: the Redeemer, Greg Rucka says, “[Wolverine is] a short little guy who now is apparently over 100 years old, who has claws that pop out of his body, which he can control and retract, and he smokes cigars, and he may have been a Canadian secret agent, and he’s a samurai, and has a mutant healing factor…If you look at that from a realistic abstract sense, you go ‘Oh my god, what a load of garbage!’ but everybody believes that he’s been cold. Cold is something we’ve all felt. Everybody’s been cold. Everybody’s been lonely. Everybody’s been lost. Almost everybody has felt love[…]So you take a character like Wolverine and you give him that.”

None of my readers have lived in 1815 or fought spies (I’m assuming?). But I’m guessing most of them either have a job or have had one at some point. Almost everybody knows what it’s like to work for a living, and to have to support yourself financially.

Tiana from Princess and the Frog in her waitress outfitI know this works on me because I watched Disney’s The Princess and the Frog last week, and I have never identified with a Disney heroine the way I identified with Tiana. Why? Because she’s a food service worker, like me, and I really bought her as a character who had been shaped by the experience of working for a living and worrying about money. And I wanted her to get her restaurant really, really badly. Which leads me to:

2. It’s an immediate and concrete stake, both practical and emotional. My heroine, Serena, owns an inn. Making this inn successful and a safe place to work and a community for people who aren’t welcome elsewhere, has been the focus of her entire life for five years. And the antagonist wants to take it away.

Think about Lois Lane being blackballed from mainstream news outlets. It kind of hurts just to think about, doesn’t it? When a hero or heroine is set up with a job like that, and then stands to lose it, it immediately invests the reader in what’s going on. We all know what it’s like to work hard for something and lose it.

3. It’s a characterization in, something to help build the character around. Anything that you do regularly for a long period of time will start to shape the way you think, so a job is a real help in creating the illusion of a complete consciousness for your narrators. I recently read A Lot Like Love by Julie James. The heroine owns an upscale wineshop, and she loves wine. I mean, she’s so passionate about it that watching her drink wine is a sexual experience for the hero. I really bought her as both a wine nerd and a business owner and that made me buy her as a character.

My hero Solomon makes dyes for his uncle’s tailoring shop, so he’s very aware of colors. When he meets someone, he notices what they’re wearing first. And he divides the world into “people who are/might be customers” and “people who are not customers.” I knew that about him before I knew almost anything else, and it helped me construct his POV.

Parker from Leverage dressed as a cat burglar4. It makes the fantasy feel more possible. Indiana Jones isn’t just an action-archaeologist, he’s a professor. And the Doctor’s companions in Dr. Who are always ordinary humans. Right now they’re a nurse and a kiss-o-gram. It makes it easier for me to take that fantasy and make it not just awesome, but mine. It gives me an angle to insert myself into that world or imagine something similar happening to me. “What if I was in that guy’s class?” “What if the TARDIS showed up in my backyard?”

5. It gives the story balance. Do any of you watch Rizzoli & Isles? I haven’t been keeping up, but what I really liked about the early episodes was that it balanced the professional, cop stuff with personal stuff. We saw both of the protagonists outside work, saw them dealing with family, etc. It made them feel like complete people, not just problem-solving mechanisms.

In a romance, the whole story is about one relationship, plus maybe some family/friends stuff. So adding in work helps keeps the story from feeling claustrophobic.

6. It’s something for the relationship to be about other than attraction. I talked in my review of Captain America about how in TV and movies, often the most satisfying relationships are between friends (or enemies!), because there’s a lot going on in those relationships. They really mean something to the people in them, while the love interest is just about smoldering glances and sexual jealousy.

Romance gives me the whole package by bringing everything into the relationship. A romance isn’t just about “I met this guy, I liked him, now we’re dating.” It’s about a perfect connection. Love is an experience that completes and changes the h/h as people. If the hero really gets why the heroine cares about her work, or vice versa, that’s huge. I swooned in Loretta Chase’s Silk is for Scandal when the modiste heroine catches the hero reading fashion magazines…and taking notes. ♥

Mulder and Scully from the X-Files 7. If the hero and heroine work together, it’s a good way to show how great they could be together. I love a romance that teases, that ratchets up the tension, that makes me desperately want the hero and heroine to kiss long before they actually do.

The most extreme version of this using jobs, of course, is “partners,” usually cops/detectives/soldiers/superheroes/whatever. Think about Beckett and Castle or Kirk and Spock or Mulder and Scully. They can practically read each other’s thoughts; they rely on each other absolutely in life-and-death situations on a daily basis. They are in many ways the most important person in each other’s lives. And people are dying for them to hook up. I mean, you know instinctively that it would be good, right? If they work this well together fighting crime, just imagine what they’d be like in bed!

But it doesn’t have to be so life-or-death. I want all the people on Ace of Cakes to date each other too (especially Ben and Katherine! Sorry Ben and Katherine if you are just friends and/or seeing other people). Seeing people spend so much time together working on something they both care about…it’s sexy.

8. In every job, there are people who do the job, and people who are the audience or target market for the job. I remember at my first job, my boss told me, “You never really know a person until you’ve stood on the other side of the counter from them.” People get divided into two groups: those on this side of the counter (or desk, or phone line, or that little gate in the courtroom between the seats and the lawyers’ benches, or the trenches, or the tunnel to the Batcave, or whatever it is) and those on the other. And there’s a certain solidarity/camaraderie between the people behind the counter.

Christina and other Grey's Anatomy folks in their scrubs

People love behind-the-scenes stuff. I know I do. Backstage tours, gag reels, unpublished first drafts. It feels like being special, like being allowed to see something not everybody gets to, the way someone in their underwear is so sexy even though it’s no more skin than you’d see with a bathing suit.

I think that’s part of the appeal of all those profession-based reality shows like Ace of Cakes, Storage Wars, Deadliest Catch, etc. A bunch of contemporary romances are already taking advantage of that, but I’d love to see more historicals do it. There’s a real intimacy when the hero lifts up the panel in the counter and says to the heroine, “Come on, I’ll show you the back room.”

9. It gives the hero and heroine a place to get along that doesn’t compromise the inner conflict. In a romance, there’s always something keeping the hero and heroine apart through the book. But they can’t spend the whole book fighting and being sad, either! Or well, they can, but it will be frustrating for the audience. There has to be variation in the tone of your scenes, and even if you’re doing the antagonistic flirting thing, there has to be a level on which the hero and heroine do get along in order for it to work.

Anyone seen Hard Core Logo? It’s a movie about a punk band’s reunion tour. The band split due to irreconcilable differences between the singer and the lead guitarist. The two characters bicker endlessly, and the resentment between them is palpable despite their equally obvious affection. But when they get up on stage and make music together, all that melts away and they mesh perfectly. Suddenly you believe they could be beautiful together, if they could just get past all the crap.

Two of the Mad Men guys in their suits10. One last frivolous thing: uniforms! Obviously not every job has them, but many do–a suit counts! I took every possible opportunity, in Lily, to get Solomon into the Ravenshaw Arms livery.


Your turn, readers! How much of the working world do you like to see in your romance? And who are some of your favorite couples – romance, other books, movies, tv, real life? – for whom work adds an extra sizzle to the relationship? Rose will be giving away a copy of A Lily Among Thorns to one commenter!

A Lily Among Thorns, by Rose Lerner

HER SAVIOR

It was him. Serena couldn’t breathe. She’d been looking for him for years—the man who’d lifted her out of the dregs of London’s underworld. She remembered that he’d looked like an angel. But either she’d embellished or he’d grown up. Because he didn’t look like an angel now. He looked like a man, solid and broad, and taller than she’d thought. And now he needed her help.

HIS SIREN

Solomon recognized her as soon as they were alone in the dark. He’d not forgotten that night five years ago either. But Serena had changed. She was stronger, fiercely independent and, though it hardly seemed possible, even more beautiful. She was also neck-deep in trouble. Yet he’d help cook a feast for the Prince Regent, take on a ring of spies, love her well into the night—anything to convince her that this time he was here to stay.

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Announcing the first giveaway, anywhere, of my Regency historical debut A Lady Awakened! This book won’t be in stores until December 27; won’t be on NetGalley until October or November; won’t even be on Amazon Vine for another month. (ETA: Okay, it began before any other giveaway, but I’ve since learned that Smart Bitches & Dear Author gave away a few ARCs on their 8/18 podcast. Yay, Smart Bitches & Dear Author!)

But you can get it NOW, or at least in time for a leisurely Labor Day-weekend read, if I draw your name from the entries over at my Facebook author page. I’ll be giving away three Advance Reader Copies there in a contest that runs from Tuesday, August 9 through Tuesday, August 23.

Because I know not everyone uses Facebook, I’ll also give away one ARC to a randomly selected commenter on this blog posting. Just leave a comment before midnight August 23. (You can enter both drawings if you like.)

And just to make the comments interesting to read, please *tell me the title of one book, romance or not, that you really love.

*Not a contest requirement. A comment that says “Please enter me in the drawing” and a comment that says “The Tenant of Wildfell Hall” have an equal chance of winning.


This contest is open to readers worldwide. I will mail a book anywhere short of the International Space Station, though I probably won’t spring for the fastest delivery option if the winner happens to live in New Zealand. (Then again, if you live in New Zealand you wouldn’t be hoping to read it over Labor Day anyway, so that’s okay, right?)

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