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Author Archives: susanna

Whenever I’m asked to list my favorite couples from my lifetime of reading, one of the pairs I always include is Jennie and Alick from Elisabeth Ogilivie’s Jennie trilogy (Jennie About to Be, The World of Jennie G., and Jennie Glenroy). And in all the years I’ve listed them, I’ve yet to encounter anyone who’s so much as heard of them, let alone another fan to gush with over what a lovely story it is and how dreamy a hero Alick is.

The trilogy is historical fiction rather than romance, but reading the first two books as an impressionable young teen fed my later love of romance–and even some of the settings and story types I gravitate toward. The first book opens in London in 1808 with the orphaned heroine seeking a good marriage under her aunt’s chaperonage, so I’m pretty sure it’s the first Regency I ever read. But the setting quickly moves to the Scottish Highlands and eventually to America (the coast of Maine, to be specific). There’s history and action and angst, a richly developed community of characters, and did I mention the poignant cross-class central love story and how much impressionable teen me wanted my very own Alick?

So I’m trying one more time! Has anyone else read this series? Anyone? Anyone? And do you love a book or series no one else has ever heard of that you’d like to recommend?

AMOI on sale at iBooks

Also, a quick word of self-promotion. My second published novel, A Marriage of Inconvenience, is on sale for $1.99 exclusively at iBooks through the end of the month.

Susanna here!

A week or two ago, I decided to count my to-be-read pile and discovered that between my Kindle and my bookshelves, I own over 300 unread books! Which is just crazy. I buy books faster than I read them, especially since I’m also getting books from the library that take precedence over the ones I own because I have to take them back in three weeks.

To lessen the madness a bit, I’ve decided that every third book I select to read has to come from the TBR. I don’t have to finish each book. I believe life is too short to waste time on books I don’t enjoy, so if I discover one of my impulse buys is poorly written, boring, annoying, or whatever and set it aside a chapter or two in, that still counts as clearing it.

research shelf

Almost a third of Mount TBR is composed of research books. I can’t walk through a used bookstore without checking out its history section and coming home with any likely-looking tomes on Wellington, Napoleon, the lives of women in the 18th and 19th centuries, and so on. And then there are all the times I’ve had an idea for a story, invested in some relevant research books, and for whatever reason either abandoned the idea or simply haven’t gotten around to writing it yet. So now I have all these books on Peninsular War battles like Salamanca and Busaco, on Napoleon’s invasion of Russia, and on Scottish Highland Travellers, just to name a few topics. Sometimes I swear those books are giving me reproachful looks for abandoning them to gather dust on my shelves.

So I decided that at least one and preferably two of my TBR books each month have to come from the research shelf. I just finished the first such book, The Regency Underworld, by Donald Low. It’s an overview of crime, police work, and punishment during the Regency, all the way up until London’s first modern police force was created in 1829. If you’re interested in those topics, it’s a quick, worthwhile read.

Burke and Hare

Most of the book focuses on London, but one incident in Edinburgh caught my eye–the Burke and Hare Murders of 1828. Burke and Hare became serial killers after hitting upon a gruesomely lucrative moneymaking scheme. A tenant in their lodging house died of natural causes while owing Hare and his wife rent money, so they decided to sell his corpse to the anatomists at Edinburgh University rather than turning it over for proper burial. You see, back then the only legitimate source for medical cadavers was executed criminals…but by the early 19th century the number of executions was declining while medical school enrollment was growing. This led to a literally underground business for “resurrection men” who’d sneak into graveyards at night, dig up fresh corpses, and sell them to anatomists (who turned carefully blind eyes to where their cadavers were coming from).

Once our villains saw that the medical school would pay good money and not ask many questions, it quickly occurred to them to make their own corpses…and in the year or so it took them to get caught, they claimed sixteen victims, largely by targeting those who weren’t likely to be missed. The public horror once the crimes were revealed was instrumental in the development and passage of the Anatomy Act of 1832, which was designed to expand the legitimate supply of medical cadavers.

This is all fascinating enough on its own account…AND it’s given me the early germ of an idea for a story. In my January release, Freedom to Love, my heroine has a 13-year-old half-sister who learned healing at her mother’s knee and wishes she could study medicine. By the time of the Burke and Hare Murders, she’d be 26. Who’s to say she wouldn’t be living in Edinburgh at that point, perhaps as the young widow of a doctor or apothecary? If she was, she’d spend as much time as a woman could around the medical community, and who knows what she might suspect or witness? I can’t guarantee this story will happen–see above about abandoned ideas!–but it’s certainly fun to play with.

I’m going to be a bit daring this week and talk about religion. (But don’t worry. I won’t preach.)

My books aren’t inspirational, so faith issues aren’t in the foreground, but when I create Regency characters I always keep in mind that they do have a religious background of some kind, even if they’re an atheist or agnostic or just aren’t very observant. Even if it’s never overtly mentioned, my characters’ upbringing and beliefs are going to play a role in how they deal with issues of life and death, right and wrong, and love and sex that arise over the course of their stories.

And I also remember that my characters’ religion isn’t as similar to my own as you might think. You see, I’m an Episcopalian, a member of the American branch of the Anglican Communion. You’d think that would give me a wonderful window into writing Regency characters, so many of whom are English aristocrats and therefore good, conforming, non-boat-rocking members of the Church of England. And you’d think that if my characters found themselves flung forward two centuries, visiting Saint Andrew’s with me on a Sunday morning would be a little taste of home.


Not so much, as it turns out. Oh, the liturgy would sound familiar in many spots. And I won’t dwell on the differences that spring from broader social changes–like how my Regency characters wouldn’t have referred to their rector as “Pete,” nor how their congregation’s ordained staff wouldn’t have been 50% female.

No, to a Regency person my modern Episcopal church would be both far too Catholic and entirely too like those overly enthusiastic Methodists and dissenting Protestants. We speak well of the Pope–at least of Pope Francis–which I can’t imagine any Regency-era Anglican doing, given how fraught and bound up in national identity the Catholic-Protestant divide was then. And while I can’t find any specific citations, I don’t think Regency clergy wore ornate, brightly colored vestments or broke out the incense at Easter and Christmas.


(That’s Katharine Jefferts Schori, the current presiding bishop of the Episcopal Church, at her investiture.)

But the biggest difference between a modern Episcopal or Anglican Sunday service and its Regency antecedent would be the hymns. Prior to 1820 or so, hymn singing was frowned upon in the Church of England–insofar as congregational music existed, it ran to metrical versions of psalms. Since the psalms were taken directly from Scripture, their theology was unassailable, while hymns were viewed as too emotional and of dubious theological merit. (Which amused me to discover, since 200 years later you see similar debates in the church, only with hymns in the honored place once occupied by psalms and “contemporary praise choruses” as the newbies.)

What changed? Just after the Regency, in roughly the second quarter of the 19th century, the Church of England experienced a period of spiritual renewal. This renewal had two branches–Evangelical and Anglo-Catholic. Both movements had a significant, ongoing impact on the church and made the bright, colorful, musical Sunday mornings at Saint Andrew’s possible.

I won’t be there this Sunday, though. Instead I’ll be worshipping at the Church of Baseball, Mariners vs. Orioles. And lest you think there’s no Regency connection there, baseball is mentioned in Jane Austen. Really. I swear.

How do you feel about religion making an appearance in non-inspirational Regencies? Let me know in the comments. And bonus points to anyone who can find the Austen reference and/or say why I always refer to Sunday games as the Church of Baseball.

…I will be in Belgium for the events surrounding the bicentenary of the Battle of Waterloo! I bought my tickets for the reenactment yesterday, as soon as I heard they were available.

Waterloo reenactor

I’ve been planning this trip for over ten years, saving money and vacation time so I can take at least four weeks off work. The current plan is to fly into London so we can give our daughter, who’ll be 11 and just finished with 5th grade then, a soft, English-speaking landing for her first trip abroad. She’s such a huge Doctor Who fan that London should seem familiar to her.

Then it’s on to Belgium for the reenactment. From there our tentative itinerary is several days in Paris, followed by almost a week in the Dordogne River valley (for delicious food, prehistoric cave paintings, and some nice relaxation in the middle of what will surely be a hectic trip). After that I’ll put my Wellington fangirl hat back on as we go into Spain and Portugal, where we’ll visit at least a few Peninsular War sites.

Is anyone else going to be at the reenactment? And do you have a “trip of a lifetime,” either in your past or planned for your future?

Sometime by the end of the month I’ll send my editor my draft of My Lady Defiant, my next full-length historical romance and a sequel to A Dream Defiant.

The first thing I intend to do after I hit the send button is take a week or two off from writing. I mean to read a lot, finally bake cupcakes with my daughter (I bought her a cake decorating kit and some cupcake books for her birthday in early April, but my weekends have been all about the writing of late), and get back onto Weight Watchers. I know, I know, Weight Watchers AND cupcakes. But I can manage both. Everything in moderation. Except reading. I mean to be very immoderate in that.

Image from Dixie Belle Cupcake Cafe, used under a Creative Commons license

But then comes the momentous decision of what to write next. Oh, part of the answer has to be My Lady Defiant’s sequel. It doesn’t end on a cliffhanger or anything, this being a romance. Yet it does have its share of unanswered questions begging to be addressed, and I mean to answer them in the hero’s younger sister’s story.

However, before I start that sequel, I want to spend my summer trying something different. Very different. My husband recently wrote a blog post about the importance of crop rotation for creative types, and reading it made me realize I need to plant some alfalfa in the form of a fantasy novel, or maybe a contemporary romance. Maybe even that time travel baseball story I came up with while sitting at the ballpark several years back waiting for a Mariners game to start. Or I’ve got that vampire-slaying, garlic-wielding French chef in a Regency-set paranormal, because the fictional world needs more badass chefs. I have lots of ideas–more than I know what to do with, really. Maybe I’ll make a list and let do the picking.

If you’re a writer or other creative type, what do you do for crop rotation?

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