Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Author Interview: Susanna Fraser

Ladies & gentlemen, boys & girls! We have a new victim! In the interrogation chair today, we are joined by fabulous historical romance author Susanna Fraser, who is here to share with us a bit about her recent debut, The Sergeant's Lady! And now, without further ado... Welcome, Susanna! (Applause!)

What do you find attractive in a hero?

Courage, honor, brains, and a willingness to fight for what he believes in and protect those who can’t protect themselves. A sense of humor never hurts, especially an ability to laugh when the world looks grim. (I used to work in a hospital, which teaches you to value graveyard humor.) Men who know their own strength and aren’t intimidated by a woman who’s just as strong. Basically, my favorite heroes as both an author and a reader are warriors, whether literally or metaphorically.

What do you look for in a heroine?

The same kind of traits I value in a hero, but with a twist. Since I write historicals, my heroines live in a time when they had almost no legal and political power. I often write about women learning how to be strong and stand up for themselves in a world that’s trying to keep them down—and then pair them with heroes who love them for their toughness and courage. I don’t like passive protagonists. I want a hero or heroine who keeps fighting no matter how hopeless his or her world looks.

I know you're a military history aficionado. (I'm a bit of history nerd myself.) Do you have a favorite historical military conflict?

I first became interested in military history when my much-older brother left for West Point the same year I started kindergarten. I pretended to lose interest in middle school and high school because girls weren’t supposed to be interested in that kind of thing, and I was trying very hard to be a popular, normal girl.

Then once I hit my 20’s I realized I’d rather be myself than be normal and went back to reading anything I wanted, including military history. It’s not that I love war. But there’s something about war stories that bring out the best and worst of human nature—all the courage, honor, and sacrifice, along with every violence, horror, and brutality we’re capable of as a species. It’s grand material for a storyteller.

I’m especially fascinated by the Napoleonic Wars, which happens to be the time period I write about. Europe was in an almost constant state of war and upheaval 1789-1815, and so much of our modern world was being born then. It’s a 25-year epic that really happened, with so many fascinating characters you’d have to call larger than life if it weren’t for the fact they actually lived. To name just a few, there’s Napoleon whom I love to hate, Wellington whom I just plain love despite disagreeing with a good 90% or more of his political views, and Michel Ney who was just so stalwart and honorable that I can’t help loving him no matter how much I despise the emperor he fought for.

But I’ll also read anything about the American Revolution or Civil War, and being married to a Classics minor I’ve developed an interest in ancient history and wars, but especially the Greco-Persian wars. One of these days I’m going to write an Athenian who fights at Marathon as a very young man and then at Salamis ten years later.

If you weren’t a writer, what would you be? (Note: this does not have to be your day job if you have one; it can be anything from flapper to astronaut to crime-solving paleontologist.)

I haven’t reached the magical “quit my day job” point yet in my writing career, so by day I’m a grants manager for a university research team.

But if I could have any non-writing job in the world…I’d be a MythBuster. I can’t count how many times I’ve watched an episode of that show and turned to my husband and said, “They have the best job in the world.” Yes, I’m fully aware that their work must have tons of boring bits that never make it onto the TV screen, but STILL. Imagine getting to spend your life making bulls run through china shops, shooting frozen chickens at airplane windshields, and destroying cars.

History geek that I am, I especially enjoy the episodes where the MythBusters test Confederate rockets, the efficacy of firing arrows from horseback, and pretty much anything involving black powder, swords, or pirates. I’ve even toyed trying to contact Grant and Adam, who are both active on Twitter, to ask whether some ideas I’m planning for my flintlock-punkish historical fantasy WIP would really work with black powder technology. I haven’t quite got up the nerve to do it yet, but, really, who else has more practical experience with what you can do with a 19th century cannon or rifle?

Who was the last author whose writing wowed you?

Can I cheat and name two? I just finished Caridad Ferrer’s YA romance When the Stars Go Blue, which is set in the world of competitive drum and bugle corps and is, among other things, a love letter to musical performance. I’m a musician myself (very amateur, but I did high school band and have been in choirs almost continuously since I was 9), and Ferrer just brings to life that moment when you’re poised waiting for the conductor to cue you in, or when the performance is going perfectly and the music is so much bigger than you and you’re just a conduit for all that power and beauty.

The second author is Lois McMaster Bujold. I’d read and loved her fantasy before, but I’ve just started working my way through her Miles Vorkosigan science fiction series. I fell hard for Miles somewhere around p. 40 of The Warrior’s Apprentice, and I can’t read her books fast enough.

If you could be a character and live through any book (yours or someone else’s), which would you choose and why?

I would be Harriet Vane in Dorothy Sayers’ Have His Carcase, Gaudy Night, and Busman’s Honeymoon, because I’d get to be wooed, won, and honeymooned by Lord Peter Wimsey. (Lord Peter’s fans will note that I left out Strong Poison. I love the book, but I don’t think I’d enjoy being Harriet at that point. If you have no idea what I’m talking about, go read Strong Poison, and then the other three I named. Not to mention Murder Must Advertise and most of the other Lord Peter books. Wonderful Golden Age mysteries.)

What’s next for you/what are you working on now?

My next Carina release, A Marriage of Inconvenience, comes out in April 2011 and is a prequel to The Sergeant’s Lady. I’m also working on a novella with a secondary character from Marriage as a heroine, set during the run-up to Waterloo, and a Napoleonic-era historical fantasy set in 1810-11 that I’m hoping will be first of a trilogy.

Thank you so much for being here today, Susanna! Best wishes for The Sergeant's Lady and all your future books!

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?

The Sergeant's Lady is now available in ebook. Click here to read an excerpt.


Susanna Fraser said...

Thanks for having me here today, Vivi! I'll stop by whenever I get a chance to respond to any questions and comments.

Marianne Strnad said...

What a great interview Susanna! I am very impressed with your interests; history is very cool but I always seem to get lost during the battle strategies. What did you do when you worked in the hospital? I work in the chemistry lab at Seattle VA Hosptal and have 20+ years invested among 5 VA hospitals. I love my veterans-woot! Looking forward to reading your books.

Susanna Fraser said...

I was the operations manager for spiritual care--basically, I dealt with all things administrative and compliance-related for the chaplains. So I wasn't involved in patient care myself, but since the chaplains saw a bit of everything, I heard all kinds of stories.

Barbara said...

I finished THE SERGEANT'S LADY today -- absolutely loved it. And am looking forward to the next book.

Now I have an overwhelming desire to dig out our Sharpe's DVDs and get my fill of men in green coats!

Susanna Fraser said...

I'm so glad you loved it, Barbara! I hope you'll like the next one, too. It's a prequel to SERGEANT (the hero is Anna's brother), but it's set entirely in England.

I can think of many worse ways to spend a day that with Sharpe DVDs...

Vivi Andrews said...

Thank you for being here today, Susanna! Dude, I wanna be a Mythbuster when I grow up. How awesome would that be?

rita said...

Oh! My! Wellington? I've never heard anyone speak of him outside of Spain. My husband and a friend, a Brit by birth, both history lovers, would talk for hours about Wellington and the affect he had on history. One time they got on the local bus and visited battle sites. They loved getting locals involved in 'major discussions' about it. Grin. Looking forward to reading this.

Kaye Chambers said...

A MYTHBUSTER!! I think I love you! :) I loved your interview and applaud you for your success in the historical genre. While I love, love, love history, the thought of actually sitting down to write a historical romance makes me break out in hives.

Can't wait to read it and kudos on the brilliantly entertaining interview.

Susanna Fraser said...

rita, I'm planning to take a month or more off work in 2015, spend two weeks in Portugal and Spain mostly visiting battlefield sites, then make it to Belgium in time for the 200th anniversary of Waterloo on June 18. Then for the last week or two, my husband and daughter will join me (since she'll be 11 and in 5th grade then, and our schools don't get out for summer till ~ 6/21) and hit as many major sights in Britain and France as we can manage. Hopefully my daughter will think this is cool and not whine about how she'd rather be at the beach with her friends, but remembering the way I was at 11, that might be overly optimistic...

Kaye, I've never seriously considered writing anything BUT historical settings, though I have fun playing with historical fantasy and alternate history where I can change the timeline and how things ended if I want. :-)

Elisa Beatty said...

Great interview, Susanna and Vivi!!

The book sounds wonderful--now I really can't wait til I get my Kindle for Christmas!!

And I love the MythBusters, too. Oh, you HAVE to contact them. They'd probably love your questions, and the reason for your questions. I'd bet Adam is a steampunk fan!! (great idea by the way to do something steampunkish with a pre-Victorian era.)


Nice interview, ladies. Beautiful cover.

Kaye Chambers said...

OOOHHH - I can so see him as a steampunk fan. And I agree - write them! My husband met them in the airport a couple of years ago and they were totally cool and personable.



Susanna Fraser said...

Kelly, I couldn't have been more happy about my cover. I feel like it captured the mood of the book perfectly.

Eventually I'll get up the nerve to contact Adam or Grant. It's funny how I've gotten pretty blase about meeting even really well-known writers over my years at conferences, but I'm still all stammering fangirl at the prospect of approaching a MythBuster.

Vivant said...

Thanks for the wonderfully entertaining interview. After a rather challenging day at work (12 hours of collaborative mayhem to finalize a 70-page presentation for a meeting tomorrow) it was a delight to kick back and read this.

I totally agree with your criteria for a hero/heroine...and a sense of humor is always on my list. I've added The Sergeant's Lady to my TRB list and look forward to immersing myself in their world.

Jenny Schwartz said...

I'm another Mythbusters fan. I'm controlling the juvenile urge to dare you to tweet them, but it's tough ;) And I love Dorothy Sayers. Golden Age mysteries are glorious.

Susanna Fraser said...

Vivant - ugh, collaborative presentations. The closest I get to that are grant applications--and I routed three of those last month.

Jenny, my husband has long since learned that the best way to get me to do I promise I will contact them. But I'll wait till next time my to-do list isn't eating me alive, so I can actually carry on a conversation if I'm so fortunate as to get a reply.