29 August 2010

Guest Author: Susanna Fraser

This week on Unusual Historicals we're welcoming Carina Press author Susanna Fraser as she celebrates the release of her debut, THE SERGEANT'S LADY, set in Spain and France during the Napoleonic Wars.

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?

Why does THE SERGEANT'S LADY qualify as an unusual historical?

THE SERGEANT'S LADY is Regency in that it's set in 1811-12 with a British hero and heroine--but with a big twist. Most of the story takes place not in London or the English countryside, but in Spain with Wellington's army, and the hero is not an aristocrat but a common sergeant.

Tell us more about your hero and heroine.

Anna, my heroine, is a survivor. Being an aristocratic heiress couldn't protect her from an abusive husband, so when we meet her she's just endured two years of hell. After her husband dies, she has to choose between a safe, conventional life and embracing risk and adventure.

My hero, Will, on the other hand, has led a happy life despite the challenges of being in a profession where enemy soldiers regularly try to kill him! He's good at what he does and has never regretted running away from home at sixteen to join the army. But meeting Anna calls him to challenge the limitations placed on him by his common birth.

What kind of research did you do for this book?

I read everything I could get my hands on about the Peninsular War in general and specifically about the 1811 and 1812 campaigns that form the backdrop of my book. I also did a very little bit of hands-on research--I wish I could've done far more--by spending an afternoon at a Revolutionary War reenactment. Military technology barely changed between the Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars, so talking to reenactors and handling some of their equipment was a wonderful way to learn not just the specs and tactical usefulness of a muzzle-loading single shot flintlock rifle, but what it feels like in your hands and the sulfur-scented smoke that hangs in the air after it's fired.

Incidentally, it's fun being a woman who knows a lot about military history and technology. Men just don't expect you to be able to explain the changes in ballistics technology between the Napoleonic and Civil Wars and what they meant for battlefield tactics, nor to be able to put together a diagram of the Battle of Waterloo at the dinner table ("Your beer will be Hougoumont; my wine glass is La Haye Sainte, and the pepper shaker will represent the Prussian advance..."). Their jaws drop, they stare at your chest, they stare at you...it's the closest I've ever experienced to that awesome scene in Firefly where Kaylee is talking engines to a rapt audience of posh young men at a ball.

Really, if you're at all interested in any traditionally masculine subject, I recommend learning as much as possible about it. It's so fun to shock the guys with your expertise.

What's next for you, and do you see yourself writing outside the Regency/Napoleonic era in the future?

Carina will also be publishing my prequel to THE SERGEANT'S LADY. I don't have a definite release date yet, but it will most likely be Spring 2011, and my current title is A MARRIAGE OF INCONVENIENCE. It's more of a traditional Regency story, with Anna's viscount brother as the hero and a house party as the setting.

I'm working on a shipwreck novella with an English heroine and a French hero, and after that I'm tentatively planning to stay in the Napoleonic Era, but try my hand at historical fantasy. I definitely want to write 5th century BCE Greece one of these days, focusing on the Athenians and Salamis instead of the Spartans at Thermopylae. And I'm also interested in the American colonial era and Revolution, so who knows where my muse will take me?

How can readers get in touch with you?

I have a blog I'd love for you to visit. Also, I'm occasionally on Twitter and more frequently on Facebook.

About Susanna:

Susanna Fraser wrote her first novel in fourth grade. It starred a family of talking horses who ruled a magical land. In high school she started, but never finished, a succession of tales of girls who were just like her, only with long, naturally curly and often unusually colored hair, who, perhaps because of the hair, had much greater success with boys than she ever did.

Along the way she read her hometown library's entire collection of Regency romance, fell in love with the works of Jane Austen, and discovered in Patrick O'Brian's and Bernard Cornwell's novels another side of the opening decades of the 19th century. When she started to write again as an adult, she knew exactly where she wanted to set her books. Her writing has come a long way from her youthful efforts, but she still gives her heroines great hair.

Susanna lives in the Pacific Northwest with her husband and daughter. When not writing or reading, she goes to baseball games, sings alto in a local choir and watches cooking competition shows.


Readers, Susanna will be giving one lucky commenter a $10 gift card to the recipient's choice of Amazon.com, Barnes & Noble, or Books on Board. Just leave a comment or question for your chance to win. I'll draw a winner at random next Sunday. Void where prohibited. Best of luck! And thanks again to Susanna for stopping by!