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Hi, I’m Susanna, and I have trouble with titles.

Not the aristocratic kind. I’ve spent enough time reading and writing the Regency over the past decade that how to speak of dukes, earls, and their relations no longer mystifies me. No, I struggle to name my books.

I’ve now sold four manuscripts, and I’ve yet to have a single one go on sale wearing the first working title to grace my hard drive’s work-in-progress file.

The first book I wrote (the second I sold) began life as Lucy and Mr. Wright. In its first draft, it was a traditional Regency, and the hero was a wealthy but untitled gentleman. Upon further consideration, I promoted James to baronet and renamed the book Lady Wright. Then I realized I wanted to bump James yet higher on the totem pole, so he became James Wright-Gordon, Viscount Selsley. Unfortunately this meant no more clever puns on “Wright,” so I went with The Inconvenient Bride. Years later, as I prepared to submit it to Carina, I decided the title needed a little more oomph and changed it to A Marriage of Inconvenience.

When I started my next manuscript, I was still hung up on those trad-Regency-style titles, so I called it Anna and the Sergeant. However, I quickly realized it just wasn’t a trad story and switched to Soldier’s Lady. Which isn’t a bad title, but it didn’t say, “Get your forbidden star-crossed cross-class lovers here!” quite as loudly as I wanted it to. Hence, The Sergeant’s Lady.

Carina published both those books under the titles I used for submission–possibly because I’d had so long to think them over that I’d actually come up with something good. With my next two sales, my editor’s acceptance email basically read: “Congratulations! We love your book! Your title? NSM. Here’s a worksheet to fill out so we can work together to find something better.”

My November 5 release began life as The General’s Mouse. The hero, Jack, marries the heroine, Elizabeth, upon minimal acquaintance to fulfill a deathbed promise to his best friend. At the time he isn’t seeing her at her best, and he glumly reflects that he’s married a mouse. The rest of the book is all about proving that his so-called mouse has a mighty roar. Clever? Maybe. Based on the title alone, does it sound like a cute kid’s fantasy book about a talking mouse who befriends one of history’s great commanders? Absolutely.

So I brainstormed with my critique partners and filled out the title worksheet. Carina chose one of my suggestions, An Infamous Marriage, which I fully acknowledge is much better than my first choice.

Just this month Carina acquired my first-ever novella. (It took several tries, but eventually my muse accepted that stories can come in sizes other than 90,000 words.) It’s an interracial romance set in the immediate aftermath of the Battle of Vittoria in 1813, where some British soldiers made fortunes by plundering the captured French baggage train. The plot revolves around a particularly fine ruby necklace my recently widowed heroine is trying to conceal from the soldiers surrounding her so she can go home to England, sell it secretly, and use the proceeds to buy a happy, secure life for herself and her young son.

At first, I called it Widow’s Fortune. But I soon decided that was too prosaic and changed it to Far Above Rubies, which I thought sounded particularly evocative. It comes from Proverbs 31:10, “Who can find a virtuous woman? for her price is far above rubies.” I saw it as both a literal reference to how the hero cherishes the heroine and a symbol for the characters’ dreams of a better life and how they’re able to fulfill them together.

The editorial team, however, thinks it sounds more like a fantasy than a historical…and I figure they’re the experts, so it’s back to the title worksheet for me!

I’ve come to a place of acceptance where I don’t expect my first idea or two to work. In fact, my current ideas in various stages of brainstorming or drafting go by Home Run Blast from the Past (time travel!), Hell, Frozen Over (a winter survival tale), and The One With the Battle of New Orleans (which opens at–wait for it–the Battle of New Orleans). Now I just have to think of something presentable before they go anywhere near my editor’s inbox…

Over to you–what makes a title good or bad? What are some of your favorites and least favorites?

Diane here, announcing that today Susanna Fraser, one of our new part-time Riskies (posting every third Friday), is here to talk about An Infamous Marriage, her latest book from Carina Press, to be released tomorrow, Nov. 5! 

Susanna has been a long time, frequent commenter to Risky Regencies, even before her first book, The Sergeant’s Lady, was published. She and I share a love of British soldiers–Regency-era, that is–and Wellington.

Reviews for An Infamous Marriage:

“I was happy to read a historical romance in which the time period and setting actually matter…Fans of understated, atmospheric Regencies like those by Carla Kelly and Edith Layton won’t want to miss this. I give An Infamous Marriage 4 stars.” — Willaful Review

“Loved this book! The romance was sweet and passionate and the characters felt so real…An Infamous Marriage is a spectacular historical romance.” — Imagine A World Review

“…an intriguing story with a fast pace…Hours of engrossing page-turning….” — RT Book Reviews

Susanna will give away one download of An Infamous Marriage to one lucky commenter here, but there is more! Commenters here who include their email addresses in the comment (yourname AT yourhost DOT com format) will also be entered for Susanna’s blog tour grand prize, a $50 gift card to the winner’s choice of Amazon, Barnes & Noble, or Powell’s Books. That grand prize winner will be drawn by Susanna on Nov. 6. 

An Infamous Marriage will also be available in audio format from How cool is that?

Welcome Susanna! I love the premise of this book!

Tell us about An Infamous Marriage.

Jack Armstrong and Elizabeth Hamilton marry out of duty and necessity with no thoughts or expectations of love. They’re quickly separated by Jack’s military duties, and their post-marital courtship by correspondence falls apart when Elizabeth gets words of his amorous exploits an ocean away. When he returns at last after a five-year absence, she’s not in a forgiving mood…but he falls in love with her at second sight.

Northumberland, 1815
At long last, Britain is at peace, and General Jack Armstrong is coming home to the wife he barely knows. Wed for mutual convenience, their union unconsummated, the couple has exchanged only cold, dutiful letters. With no more wars to fight, Jack is ready to attempt a peace treaty of his own.
Elizabeth Armstrong is on the warpath. She never expected fidelity from the husband she knew for only a week, but his scandalous exploits have made her the object of pity for years. Now that he’s back, she has no intention of sharing her bed with him—or providing him with an heir—unless he can earn her forgiveness. No matter what feelings he ignites within her…
Jack is not expecting a spirited, confident woman in place of the meek girl he left behind. As his desire intensifies, he wants much more than a marriage in name only. But winning his wife’s love may be the greatest battle he’s faced yet.

What inspired this story idea?

I realized I’d never yet written a rakish, bad boy sort of hero, so I gave myself the challenge of creating one I could find likable and redeemable. Also, though there’s nothing especially Wellingtonian or Nelsonian about Jack’s personality, I’ve often thought what horrible husbands both of England’s great war heroes were. So I found a certain vicarious satisfaction in taking a powerful, high-ranking officer, marrying him to an outwardly meek and humble woman…and then giving her the chance to humble HIM.

Did you come across any interesting research while writing An Infamous Marriage?

Definitely. Jack spends many years stationed in Canada, including the entire War of 1812. Going into the story, I knew almost nothing about life in Canada much before Anne of Green Gables’ time, and little more about the war beyond what I learned to pass my high school history tests. I am now far less embarrassingly ignorant about my neighbors to the north (and to me in Seattle they really ARE neighbors–depending on how long the line is at the border crossing, I could be in British Columbia in 3-4 hours), and the conduct of the War of 1812. For example, I’d known almost nothing about the extensive interactions between the British and the Native American population, including the alliance between Tecumseh, the great Shawnee leader who tried to unite the tribes to halt American expansion, and the British general Sir Isaac Brock. All that research mostly ended up as mental backstory for Jack, simmering below the surface of the story, but I hope to make fuller use of it in some future tale.

You and I both LOVE Regency soldiers as heroes. What is it about a British soldier that captivates you?

Well, I’d be lying if I didn’t give Sean Bean’s Sharpe some of the credit, not to mention those sexy uniforms in general. 😉 But mostly it’s that while I’m not an Army brat, I come from a family with a tradition of military service. My background gave me an interest in military history, so the aspect of the Regency that naturally fascinates me is the wars.

Willaful Reviews praised your writing as being “actually set in the Regency rather than in that Never Neverland mash-up that’s been dubbed ‘The Recency’ or ‘Almackistan’.” How important is it to you to have your history right in your stories?

I do my best to get the history right because I feel I owe it to the people who actually lived then to portray their world as accurately as I can. Also, to me the joy of historical fiction of any genre is a sort of mental time travel, and I want to make my books the best TARDIS for my readers that I can. 🙂

That said, I don’t think it’s possible to write a 100% accurate story from 200 years’ distance, and eventually I have to let go of my own perfectionism and write. And I worry more about getting my characters’ mindset and attitudes right than the exact number of days it took to travel from Edinburgh to London in a post-chaise in good summer weather or the precise price of a top-quality hunter.

What is next for you?

I’ve just sold a novella to Carina, title and release date still TBD, set in the aftermath of the Battle of Vittoria in 1813–which my fellow military history geeks will recognize as the one where the
British army captured the French baggage train, including assorted royal treasures belonging to Joseph Bonaparte or looted from Madrid.
The plot hinges on a gorgeous ruby necklace plundered from the battlefield. It’s also an interracial romance. The hero is a black British soldier, the son of slaves who escaped from a Virginia plantation during the American Revolution to take the British army’s offer of freedom to slaves who helped their war effort.

What little-known corner of history, Regency or otherwise, would you like to see incorporated in a historical romance?

Thanks, Susan, for being our guest/mini-Risky!

Readers, don’t forget to include your email address in your comment (yourname AT yourhost DOT com) if you want to be added in Susanna’s Blog Tour Grand Prize. All comments here will have a chance to win a download of An Infamous Marriage.

Susanna here, for my regular third Friday post. 

An Infamous Marriageis my third published book, and I’ve been thinking lately about how much my life has and hasn’t changed in the two years and change since The Sergeant’s Lady came out.

On the surface, my world doesn’t look that different. I’m still not at a point where I’d feel safe in quitting my day job, so Monday through Friday, 8:00 to 5:00, I’m focused on the glamorous world of academic research administration.

My coworkers all know I write, though sometimes they seem surprised that I’m still at it. It’s as if they think that after a book or two, I would’ve gotten the writing urge out of my system.

I’m confident in saying that won’t happen. I started writing at age 8–a highly derivative tale of talking horses in a Narnia-like fantasy world–and I look forward to many more years of storytelling.

What has changed is that now I have two careers. I thought I was treating writing as a career before I sold, but it goes to a different level once you add all the business aspects of being an author. Contracts, royalties, tax records, promoting your new release while you work on edits for your next contracted book and simultaneously draft the book after that, etc. I love it, but I’d never claim it’s easy. I sometimes joke that Mr. Fraser and I form a three-career household.

Since I’m still in the middle of my blog tour, commenters on this post can enter my grand prize contest. At the end of the tour, on December 6, I’ll be giving away a $50 gift certificate to their choice of Amazon, Barnes & Noble, or Powell’s Books to one commenter on the tour as a whole. You get one entry per blog tour stop you comment upon, so check out my blog for the whole schedule!

Over to you. Let me know what you think of the cover or of romances involving the Battle of Waterloo, or tell me what’s keeping you busy these days. If you wish to be entered in the drawing, include your email address formatted as yourname AT yourhost DOT com.

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