04 August 2013

Guest Blog: Susanna Fraser

This week, we're welcoming author Susanna Fraser, whose latest novel A DREAM DEFIANT is set in Spain's early 19th century during the period of the Napoleonic Wars. The author will offer a free copy of A DREAM DEFIANT to one blog visitor in the winner’s choice of PDF, EPUB, or Kindle format - please leave your email address to be considered in the drawing. Here's the blurb:

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 that 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&A with Susanna Fraser**

What made you choose to write an interracial romance set in the Regency?

Several years ago I’d been reading about black Union soldiers during the American Civil War, and the fact that leaders on both sides were surprised that they had what it takes to be good soldiers. In my Napoleonic Era research, I’d encountered stray references to black soldiers and sailors who fought for both France and Britain, so I thought, “Why so surprised? Those Napoleonic generals you admire so much could’ve told you that.”

So I’d been wanting to write a black soldier hero for awhile. As for why an interracial romance, that was largely for storytelling reasons. Some of Elijah’s fellow soldiers disapprove of his romance with Rose, and he himself wonders if she truly knows what she’s letting herself in for in marrying across the color line. But I also learned in my research that Britain’s black population in the early 19th century skewed heavily male. When those men married, it was almost always to a white woman of similar financial and/or social status. So while a couple like Elijah and Rose would’ve been unusual, they wouldn’t have been unique, and their marriage wouldn’t have carried the same stigma it would’ve held in America at the same time. While Britain still had slavery in some of its colonies, it also had a strong abolitionist movement and no slavery in the British Isles themselves, all of which contributed to it being a more welcoming environment for free blacks and interracial couples.

Most Regency heroes and heroines are from the aristocracy, or at least the gentry, while in A Dream Defiant Elijah is a corporal and Rose is a common soldier’s widow who was a housemaid before her first marriage. How is writing commoners different from writing upper-class characters?

While people are people and love is love, the constraints my characters face on their lives and choices are different from those experienced by a duke and an heiress, or even a duke and a governess. For example, when Rose’s first husband dies while she’s following the drum at his side with Wellington’s army in Spain, it isn’t just acceptable for her to remarry within days, it’s expected. Each company within the army was allowed a certain number of wives “on the strength” who would draw rations for themselves and their children while serving as laundresses, cooks, and the like. A woman who lost her husband lost that place, so unless she could afford to go home to England (which most of them could not), she had no choice but to remarry to support herself and her children. So behavior that would’ve been scandalous and horrifying in a wealthy, aristocratic woman was normal for someone like Rose.

Poverty was of course an overwhelming constraint on most men and women in Rose and Elijah’s social class. Limited funds meant limited choices, just as they do now. But when my hero and heroine find themselves with a small fortune, they have a freedom which that Regency standby, the impoverished nobleman, might lack. Without generations of family history and expectations, not to mention ancestral homes and lands in desperate need of repair and attention, they can choose to follow their own dreams for the future.

What did you find most difficult in writing this book?

A Dream Defiant is the first time I’ve successfully completed a novella. It’s 28,000 words, while my previous books have all been in the 90K range. I’m used to sort of spreading out in my story world, but to complete this much shorter work I had to learn to tighten instead. I had to limit the scope and resist the urge to wander off after backstory and subplots. It felt like taking a snapshot instead of making a miniseries—but I did my best to make it a significant, complete snapshot. Whether I succeeded or not is now in readers’ hands!

What is your process like? Are you a plotter or a pantser?

Somewhere in between, but closer to the pantser end of the spectrum. I’m definitely not the type who goes in with a twenty-page outline, character interviews, goal-motivation-conflict charts, or anything like that. That said, now that I’m published and am trying to increase my writing pace, I can’t just sit down before a blank page and hope to come out with a manuscript in 12-18 months. A lot of plotter approaches don’t work for me because they feel like building a story rather than exploring and discovering it, but I’m finding less seat-of-the-pants ways to approach my exploration and discovery process. I usually begin a manuscript knowing how it starts and how it will end, but with only a fuzzy sense of what happens in between. Lately I’m using Save the Cat or The Writer’s Journey to help me map out how to get my characters from Point Inciting Incident to Point Happily Ever After.

What are you working on now?

My next contracted book is a 2014 Regency Christmas novella from Carina, but I’m hoping to have at least one and preferably two releases between now and then. I’m working on a full-length sequel to A Dream Defiant set mostly in America after the Battle of New Orleans, and I have an idea for a series set during the Napoleonic Wars about the children and grandchildren of Scottish and Irish men who fled their homelands for the Continent after the failed Jacobite risings of the 18th century

Learn more about author Susanna Fraser:

Twitter: @susannafraser