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Author Archives: susanna

Susanna here, and so swamped under my current writing deadline for my 2015 historical romance, My Lady Defiant, that I don’t have time for any deep thoughts on the state of the romance genre or erudite discussion of my latest research discoveries. So instead I thought I’d share with you some of the inspiration that’s helping me see and hear my hero…

Everyone, say hello to Tom Hiddleston.

I could listen to him recite Shakespeare while selling cars all day:

And if that’s not enough for you, here he’s being Shakespearean on a horse:

And here he is teaching Cookie Monster about delayed gratification:

Frankly, this is the most I’ve ever focused on the actor I’d want to cast in the film adaptation of my book. I usually come up with an actor, an athlete or two who has the look I have in mind–I’m not that visual a thinker, so having an actual person to model a character upon helps me describe him or her better. Plus, when I’m filling out my cover art information sheet, I always like to include an image or two. If I describe Henry, my current hero, an elegantly handsome, leanly athletic, archetypically English blue-eyed dark blond, also linking to a nice Tom Hiddleston image shows my cover artist what all those adjectives and adverbs mean to me.

Yet this is the first time I’ve made a habit of watching an actor’s videos to help get me in the mood to write. Part of that is because the man in question is pretty yummy. Also, he has the right accent for the job, which couldn’t be said of Nathan Fillion (Will in The Sergeant’s Lady looks a lot like Firefly-era Fillion) or Cam Newton (my model for Elijah in A Dream Defiant’s brand of tall, dark, and athletic).

But I recently realized the main reason watching videos has helped me write Henry is that more than any other hero I’ve written, he spends his life playing a part. He was born with fairly severe dyslexia into a high-achieving, academically gifted family. So his life up until his book starts has been defined by his shame over what he considers his failure and stupidity, and he’s made an art form of avoiding any situation in which he might reasonably be expected to read aloud, write, or keep accounts. And then over the course of the book, he has to improvise even more than normal as he and the heroine spend most of the story running for their lives, pretending to be various people they aren’t to throw their pursuers off the scent. So imagining how a good actor might play my character helps me visualize how he plays himself, since he so rarely lets anyone see his whole truth.

What about you? Do you ever visualize actors or actresses playing the characters when you write or read?

I was crazy about horses growing up, a passion I never really got the chance to put into practice. I’ve ridden a few times at friends’ houses, and on vacation two summers ago my daughter and I went on an hour-long trail ride, but that’s it.

But one of my favorite parts of writing historical romance is getting to be that horse-crazy child again. For my Regency heroes and heroines, horses provide basic transportation. And most of the time, my love for horses finds its way into my characters to one degree or another. James in A Marriage of Inconvenience breeds Arabians. Will and Anna in The Sergeant’s Lady both get a chance to ride a beautiful Spanish mare named Dulcinea.

My current WIP is set in America in 1815, so I did a little research into whether familiar American breeds of today like the Quarter Horse, the American Saddlebred, the Tennessee Walker, and the Morgan existed yet. And for the most part the answer was yes, although they weren’t yet firmly codified with breed standards and closed stud books.

Henry, my hero, is an accomplished horseman, fit and athletic. Over the course of my plot, he needs a horse that’s steady and enduring for a long journey, but also fleet-footed and nimble when needed for an action scene. So I decided to put him on a new American horse bred from a mixture of Spanish Barbs and English stock, including Thoroughbreds–a practical, sturdy horse good for everyday riding, but also speedy over short distances. In other words, a Quarter Horse, or as they were known at that early date, a Quarter Running Horse. (The name comes from the short quarter-mile races these horses excelled at.)

The modern Quarter Horse runs the gamut from a beefy, muscle-bound creature shown for looks in halter classes to slender racehorses who greatly resemble Thoroughbreds. I’m picturing Henry’s horse as something like this barrel racer–wiry, compact, and nimble.

barrel racer

My heroine Therese, on the other hand, had neither the necessity nor the opportunity to learn to ride before she has to when called upon to escape cross-country for the “road romance” portion of my plot. So she needs a horse that’s above all else gentle, good-natured, and smooth-gaited. Fortunately for her, there was a horse around in the early 19th century known simply as the “American Horse” noted for its smooth “ambling” gaits. Its modern descendants include the Tennessee Walking Horse, the American Saddlebred, and the Missouri Fox Trotter, so I imagine Therese’s horse as looking a bit like this Fox Trotter:

Fox Trotter

Are you a horse lover? If you found yourself living in the Regency era, what kind of horse would you ride? Or would you stick to carriages and leave the driving to your trusty coachman?

Susanna here.

Today my critique partner Rose Lerner visits Risky Regencies to talk about her new release, Sweet Disorder.

Rose Lerner

In a starred review, Publishers Weekly says that “Lerner’s distinctive and likable cast of parents, siblings, reluctant suitors, and political opponents feels integral to the story…This rich and memorable Regency romance brings its setting and characters perfectly to life.”

One commenter on this post will be chosen at random to receive a free e-book of Sweet Disorder (your choice of format), and one commenter will be chosen from the entire blog tour to receive an awesome prize package that includes tie-in pinback buttons, bookmarks, bacon-scented candles, a bookstore gift card, and much, much more! (You can see the full list and pictures of her fabulous swag at her blog. This drawing is open internationally. Void where prohibited!)

Welcome, Rose!

Tell us about Sweet Disorder…


What’s risky about the story?

Nick is a beta hero. AND he’s dealing with a mild new disability, AND there are no ballrooms anywhere (except in one small scene set at the local assembly rooms). But I think the thing I’m most nervous about is that the plot revolves around party politics, always a charged topic. While the heart of the story is the romance, and while I’ve tried to avoid any Star-Trek-style heavy-handed Special Messages (although I do enjoy them on Star Trek!), and while the political parties and issues of the Regency don’t really correspond to those today, given that political radicals of the time were pushing for–gasp!–universal male suffrage…well, I just hope I don’t turn off too many readers! Or at least that there will be plenty of readers who like what I’m doing, to compensate.

Phoebe, your heroine, isn’t of the aristocracy or gentry, but neither is she the kind of desperately poor waif or urchin that in my (completely unscientific) impression as a reader we most often see for a commoner hero or heroine. Instead she feels very relatable, an ordinary person working for her living like most of us are today (only I’m very glad chores like laundry have become so much easier). How did you decide on her background?

Well, I knew I needed Phoebe to be struggling financially enough to need money from Nick’s family when she has a family crisis, and I knew I needed her to be middle-class enough that her father was a voter. In the Regency, the vast majority of voters would not be in the desperately poor category, although I’m sure there were exceptions, especially in freeman boroughs (in most other borough types there were actual income/property requirements). So I had a range to work with…and then I made her father a lawyer who did a lot of pro bono work because my mother was a lawyer who did a lot of pro bono work.


Sweet Disorder centers around a parliamentary election. Phoebe can’t vote herself, but if she marries her husband will gain that right. I gather this only happened in a select few boroughs. Can you share where you learned that this was a real thing? I was fascinated by how the political parties were known by their colors, sort of like red for Republicans and blue for Democrats today, only I got the impression that your village had its own variations. (Basically I’d be glad to hear any fun political trivia!)

This post is getting CRAZY long, but I did a blog post explaining the pre-Reform Act of 1832 political system and women’s voting rights in detail over at History Hoydens a while ago. The short version is that it may not have been THAT rare–basically in freeman boroughs, anyone who had the freedom of the city could vote. Each city and town made their own rules for how to get this freedom, but ways typically included purchase (expensive), completing an apprenticeship to a freeman, or by inheritance (the son of a freeman is a freeman) or (in some boroughs) marriage.

What that means is that in some places marrying the daughter or widow of a freeman could get a man the freedom (sometimes only during her lifetime). In Lively St. Lemeston, only the eldest daughter of a freeman who died without heirs can pass the freedom along to her husband (there was at least one borough I came across where this was the rule), because I wanted Phoebe to be the only one in her town and therefore the focus of a lot of attention during a close electoral race.

Honestly, the colors for the political parties were more like sports teams! I don’t believe the national Whig and Tory parties had particular colors (although I do vaguely remember reading about an eighteenth century party where all the Whiggish ladies wore elaborate white gowns to indicate their political stance about some issue or other). But it was very common for local political parties–which were not really branches of the national Whig and Tory parties, although they usually were loosely affiliated with one of the national parties and their supporters often voted along those lines in national elections.

But national elections were rare (and in many constituencies, even more rarely contested) and most political activity was conducted at a local level, so one’s local political loyalties tended to come up much more often, and since most people didn’t vote, politics really was a spectator sport! People who couldn’t vote often still rooted passionately for one side or other. Elections were major events, and voters had to go to a central location to poll. So an election was really a lot like a big game day now, where you see huge groups of people in team colors hanging out, sometimes filling the street, drinking, cheering on their side, getting out of control and breaking things, starting fights with supporters of the other side, etc.

Covent Garden Market – Westminster Election, 1808. Via Wikimedia Commons.

This Rowlandson print illustrates the atmosphere nicely, I think. There seems to be an actual parade going on here, with floats and contingents from various parishes! Check out the people who’ve climbed the hustings (that distinctive slope-roofed temporary wooden structure, from which candidates gave their speeches and frequently where voters were polled) and are lying on their stomachs on the roof.

If your hero and heroine lived in 2014, what would they do with their lives? Both work in fields that still exist today, but would they follow a similar path if they had a modern array of career options?

I could see Phoebe doing the same thing–having been married to someone who owns a local newspaper and working on that while they were married, then writing children’s books. She’d probably need a day job, though. I could see her doing office/administrative work or something, especially in a law office or school. Nick…I don’t think Nick would be in the army. He was an upper-class kid with no idea what he wanted from life, and he only joined the army in the first place to spite his mother, because it sounded more interesting than the church or the law, and because you could just buy a commission. I can’t see him making the decision to go to Sandhurst (the British officer training academy). I think it’s more likely that a modern Nick would have volunteered for a British analogue of the Peace Corps.

Sweet Disorder is your first book since early 2011, after your first two books were released during Dorchester’s slow death spiral. If you’re comfortable doing so, please share what it was like to have such a long layoff.

Not fun! I spent a lot of time worrying that I would never be published again, or at least that by the time my next book came out all the momentum and buzz I got for In for a Penny would be lost.

Fortunately self-publishing took off right around the time Dorchester went under, and digital’s market share was growing dramatically (as it continues to do), so I knew that I had options if I couldn’t find another New York print publisher willing to take a chance on my books. Without that, I think I would have felt pretty hopeless.

I don’t even regret publishing with Dorchester, because I’d been trying for a long time and gotten a lot of rejections, and Dorchester got the books out there and started my career. My editor was wonderful, and she got me great reviews and really promoted the book, and every person I interacted with in the office was helpful and enthusiastic. I made lasting friends there.

But I have to admit, publishing with Dorchester scarred me too. The worst part was fielding questions from readers. Every time someone asked me where they could buy my books and I had to say that they were out of print, try interlibrary loan, and that no, I didn’t know when they’d be available again, no, I didn’t have my rights back yet, no, I didn’t know when I’d have another book out, I felt…not just sad, not even just embarrassed, but guilty. Ashamed. As if I’d done something wrong. I should have a better answer. I was letting people down.

Shame is an emotion that sneaks in and stays and is incredibly difficult to get rid of, like mold or an ant infestation. Now that I’m thinking about it, I realize that shame is kind of a running theme in Sweet Disorder. It’s an emotion with a peculiar ability to isolate people from each other, but also to connect them–because realizing that someone else shares the thing you’re ashamed of, or even just has their own secret shames and embarrassments, is one of the most liberating, intimate, powerful experiences in the world. That makes it especially interesting for romance.

Nick and Phoebe are both trying to figure out what the rest of their lives will look like. They’re both dealing with financial worries (even though Nick is from a very rich family, he’s had to leave his army career because of an injury and he’s temporarily living off the allowance he gets from his mother, which is sort of reliant on her being happy with him, and the idea of job-hunting while dealing with his new disability is really scary for him). They’re both filled with small, painful regrets, both trying to seem as if they’re calm and in control when really it feels as if everything is falling apart. I guess maybe it’s not a coincidence that I wrote this book after Dorchester.

What’s next for you?

My first two books, In for a Penny and A Lily Among Thorns, are being rereleased by Samhain in June and September. And then the second book set in Lively St. Lemeston, True Pretenses, is out early next year. It’s about a con man who decides to create a new respectable life for his beloved little brother by arranging a marriage of convenience for him with a beautiful philanthropist who needs to get her hands on her dowry. (She’s the daughter of Nick’s mother’s archnemesis Lord Wheatcroft, the head of the Lively St. Lemeston Tory Party.) But when a terrible family secret comes to light and his brother abandons him mid-scheme, the heiress demands that he marry her instead. Oh noes, what will happen?

Thank you so much for having me!

Susanna here again with a question for you readers: Which modern convenience would you miss most if you found yourself thrown back in time to the Regency? As a reminder, one commenter gets a copy of Sweet Disorder, and all are entered for her blog tour grand prize.

I have an incomplete manuscript, not yet contracted, with a French hero and a Scottish heroine (we’ll call them Jacques and Isabel, since those are their names) who meet under perilous circumstances during the Napoleonic Wars and are reunited when he seeks her out after the war ends.

Of course, the war in question didn’t have a tidy, straightforward end. And because of that I haven’t made up my mind whether to set the reunion part of the story in 1814, after Napoleon’s original abdication, or in 1815 after Waterloo. Since Jacques in 1814 is deeply in love with Isabel and has no way of knowing Napoleon will be back next spring, the most natural thing for him to do would be to take ship for Scotland while the ink is still drying on the peace treaty. But then I’d have to deal with the Waterloo elephant in the room, since every one of my readers will know what’s coming.

Photo by Brandon Daniel, used under Creative Commons license

But as elephants in the room go, at least this one is relatively small and cute. Once Waterloo is over, Britain and France will remain at peace (or, eventually, allied with each other in war) for 198 years and counting. Jacques and Isabel can live out a happy lifetime with no insurmountable conflicts between their private and public loyalties, make the occasional trip back to Scotland to see her family, and so on. (Yes, they choose to live in France. I love Scotland as much as the next woman of partial Highland descent, but his family has a vineyard and winery along the Dordogne River. To me that’s a no-brainer.)

Other future elephants in the room present greater challenges. I can never read Rilla of Ingleside, when they’re all happy at the end that the Great War is over at last, without the melancholy thought that Rilla will get to go through this all over again with her own children once WWII comes around. If she and Ken marry in 1919 or 1920 and have a son shortly thereafter, he’ll be just old enough to enlist in 1939 or ’40! And while I’ve long forgotten the title, I once read a medieval romance that ended in something like 1345. I had trouble totally buying into the Happily Ever After because I knew the Black Death was right around the corner.

Is this just me, or do other readers and writers weigh characters’ happy endings against what history holds for them?

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