Friday, July 23, 2010

Another excerpt

Just one more month till my release day, so it's time for another excerpt.

The Sergeant's Lady is above all a love story, but it's also a war story. In today's excerpt my hero and heroine are on the run from the French, trying to take word of an ambush back to their own army.

Key historical detail for understanding the action: All the weapons Will and Anna have access to are single-shot. Well-drilled soldiers could manage up to three shots a minute with the standard-issue Brown Bess muskets; Will is using Baker rifles, which were more accurate but slower to load.

Anna stared at the French horsemen, still tiny figures in the distance. She counted only four and hoped that meant going east rather than south had worked. Four against two. Four against one, really.

“What do we do?” she asked.

“Take cover and hope they don’t see us.” Will scrambled behind a large boulder and pulled her after him.

“And if they do?”

“I shoot them.” He watched them approach, his face still.

“All four of them?”

“Maybe. I can take two shots quickly, one per rifle, but then it’ll take me about a minute to reload one.”

He put the pistol into her hands. It was heavier than it looked. She held it away from her as though it stank. She had never fired a gun.

“It’s primed,” he said. “All you have to do is cock it and squeeze the trigger. Don’t shoot unless they’re upon us before I can reload, and then only at close range—else you’ll waste the shot. Understand?”

She stared at the pistol. It looked gigantic in her small hands.

“Mrs. Arrington, look at me.” She turned her head and met his steady amber eyes. “You fought Colonel Robuchon, and you marched through the night as well as any rifleman. I have no doubt that you can fire this pistol—damn!”

They were spotted. The French riders, now about three hundred yards away, pointed toward them and wheeled their horses about.

Her heart pounded, and through a haze she watched Will raise the first rifle, steady it—and wait. What was he doing? Surely they were in range, and he needed to act quickly to have time to reload. But he waited, cloaked in a strange calm, as the horsemen rode nearer. Anna’s breath raced, but his was steady.

At last he fired. The flash of the gunpowder and the noise of the shot dazed her. The lead rider toppled from his mount and lay still. Lightning-fast, Will set the first rifle down, picked up the second, and fired it with equal success. Anna felt horrified awe at how steadily he went about his deadly work. It was worse than in yesterday’s battle, now that she could see his targets.

He began to reload in a flurry of quick motions.

The remaining troopers halted at the bottom of the slope, which was too steep for their horses. “Wait,” one of them cried in French. “If you surrender, the lady will not be harmed.”

They made no such promise for Will, and Anna knew she would never be safe under Colonel Robuchon’s power. “No,” she called.

“So be it.” They surveyed the steep slope before them, dismounted and charged toward them at a scrambling run.

Anna looked wildly at Will. He wasn’t finished, and even then he would have only the one shot.

With shaking hands she cocked the pistol’s hammer, raised it and waited. Her heart galloped and a dizzy wave of nausea rushed through her. When the Frenchmen were not five feet away, she fired at what she thought was the leader’s heart, but her arm jerked as she squeezed the trigger. Her shot hit his throat. He fell at her feet but lived, bloody and horrible, gasping for gurgling breaths.

The loud report of a rifle sounded in her already ringing ears, and their final attacker fell dead. His detachment gone, Will stood beside her, wild-eyed and breathing hard. The stench of blood and gunpowder smoke hung in the air.

She looked down at the man she had shot. So young he was, no more than twenty, and sweet-faced. Perhaps she could dig the ball out. She could tear strips from her petticoat to make bandages. She sank to her knees.

Dimly her mind registered the sounds of Will reloading again. When he was done, he gently nudged her aside. She watched, transfixed, as Frenchman and Englishman engaged in a wordless communion. After a moment Will lifted the rifle and raised his eyebrows questioningly. The French boy swallowed, closed his eyes and nodded.
Will pointed the rifle straight at his chest.

“Merci,” the soldier gasped.

Will fired. Anna knelt, paralyzed in horror, then leaned forward and retched.


Copyright 2010 by Susanna Fraser
Permission to reproduce text granted by Harlequin Books S.A.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Conference time

I'm leaving for RWA National in Orlando on Tuesday, and the scramble to get ready is already on. I have my outfits, including two very different Little Black Dresses for my publisher's party and for the Golden Heart/Rita awards ceremony. I'm making a Target list of all the odds and ends and travel-sized toiletries I need to collect. I've got cell numbers for my roommate and the friends I'm planning to meet for meals.

I have business cards with my book cover on them ready to hand out. I'm working on an excerpt booklet, if I can just wrestle Word 2007 into submission and get it formatted properly. I splurged on Early Bird Check-In to guarantee myself a place in the A boarding group, and therefore an aisle seat, on all my flights. (I fly Southwest whenever I can because they're friendly, they don't charge for your second checked bag, they rarely lose luggage, they don't penalize you if you, say, develop a stomach virus 12 hours before your flight is scheduled to take off or have your conference moved from Nashville to Orlando because of flooding or otherwise have to reschedule...and most of all because I like having some control over where I sit!)

Because I'm a planner, I started making a chart for each day of the conference, tracking where I'll be an when. And I can hardly wait to go, but I'm going to be one exhausted introvert by the time I get home Aug. 1. Unlike my first trip to RWA four years ago, when my roommate and I spent most of our nights hanging out quietly in our room, I don't have a single unscheduled evening. It'll be wonderful. But overwhelming.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Why I've been so scarce in these parts

The past few weeks, Mr. Fraser and I have been longing to tackle the pile of boxes still filling our garage and the basement mudroom. But every time we go to open one, we bump up against the fact that we can't unpack much more until our offices are ready and we have shelves up in the kitchen. Which means that in order to unpack, we need to paint. (We hired a painter for the living room and painted the master bedroom and Miss Fraser's room before moving in but didn't have time to tackle the rest.)

So about ten days ago I started tackling the wallpaper in the room destined to be my office, a small bedroom which had last been decorated as a nursery some 20 years ago, as best as we could judge from the paper design. It looked like this:

One wall of balloons, the teddy bear border all around. I could not write in such a room. Certainly not historical romance or historical fantasy. Not even children's picture books. Maybe horror in which an innocent author is mummified alive in wallpaper strips by maniacally cackling evil teddy bears. At least that's how I felt on my fourth pass at the accent wall with my second bottle of wallpaper removal gel.

But at long last the room is wallpaper-free, and we've painted three of the walls Oolong Tea (a midtone olive green). Once it's dry enough to tape in a few days, we'll paint the former balloon wall Okra (a darker olive). And once I get my furniture in and the research books unpacked, I'll post pictures of my new writing cave in all its glory. I'm planning to put up some inspirational images of my chosen era to keep me in the writing spirit and to drive out the ghost of those hideous teddy bears. I've already got a print of a fashion plate of a woman in a ballgown, not this one but similar:

And my military history geek with a crush on Wellington side wouldn't be happy without a good Waterloo image. Probably this one:

I'm at most halfway there, but it's such a thrill to finally have my very own office to decorate as I please!

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Literary Meme

This came from Shannon Stacey's blog. You should do it, too, even though I won’t tag anybody.

1) What author do you own the most books by?
Bernard Cornwell. I like his books, AND he's written a lot of them.

2) What book do you own the most copies of?
I don't have more than two of any book--but I have two of quite a few of the classics, since I'm adding free and cheap editions to my Kindle in addition to print books.

3) Did it bother you that both those questions ended with prepositions?
Not in the least.

4) What fictional character are you secretly in love with?
Lord Peter Wimsey. Marcus Didius Falco. Joscelin Verreuil.

5) What book have you read the most times in your life (excluding picture books read to children; i.e., Goodnight Moon does not count)? Pride and Prejudice

6) What was your favorite book when you were ten years old? The Chronicles of Narnia

7) What is the worst book you’ve read in the past year?
If I'm not enjoying a book, I don't keep reading, so none of the books I read all the way through are bad enough to deserve to be called worst.

9) If you could force everyone you tagged to read one book, what would it be?
You mean other than The Sergeant's Lady? Probably Persuasion, my current favorite Austen.

10) Who deserves to win the next Nobel Prize for Literature? No idea.

11) What book would you most like to see made into a movie?
I hope Peter Jackson follows through with the film rights for His Majesty's Dragon one of these days, because Novik's books positively beg for a place on the big screen, IMHO.

12) What book would you least like to see made into a movie?
Jacqueline Carey's Terre d'Ange books, because I just don't trust Hollywood to handle d'Angeline sexuality with any kind of finesse.

13) Describe your weirdest dream involving a writer, book, or literary character.
Don't know if it's weird, since we were all wholly in character, but I dreamed I was at a ball with Richard Sharpe and someone was trying to kill one of us or maybe they were trying to kill Wellington and Sharpe and I were protecting him. I don't think I was a time traveler. I was myself, but a version of me that happened to be born 200 years earlier.

14) What is the most lowbrow book you’ve read as an adult?
Whoever originally wrote this quiz would probably consider ALL the fiction I enjoy lowbrow. Next question...

15) What is the most difficult book you’ve ever read?
Angela's Ashes. Harrowing yet impossible to put down.

16) What is the most obscure Shakespeare play you’ve seen?
I've never seen any of the obscure ones. Only ones I've seen live are Macbeth and Merchant of Venice.

17) Do you prefer the French or the Russians?
I've read pathetically little of either's literature, but in general, the French! I love their food, and the way their language sounds, and all my research on the Napoleonic Era has made me despise Napoleon himself, but admire the French for being just as awesomesauce and badass as the British. Which is not to say that the Russians aren't also pretty badass, and I wouldn't turn down an all-expense-paid trip to either country, but still. France for me.

18) Roth or Updike? no opinion

19) David Sedaris or Dave Eggers? no opinion

20) Shakespeare, Milton, or Chaucer? Shakespeare.

21) Austen or Eliot? Austen

22) What is the biggest or most embarrassing gap in your reading?
Someone as into all things Napoleonic Era as I am really should've read War and Peace by now. (And who knows, maybe it'll change my answer to the "French or Russians" question!) Maybe I'll get to it now that I have a Kindle and wouldn't have to drag a heavy tome wherever I go.

23) What is your favorite novel?
Pick one favorite? You must be joking. I can't even pick a single favorite romance, or mystery, or fantasy novel.

24) Play?
Much Ado About Nothing

25) Poem?
Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night. Or maybe Sea Fever.

26) Essay?
Doubt this is what the original quiz creator had in mind, but Jenny Crusie's Rats With Islands RWA column is an ongoing source of encouragement.

27) Short story?
Meh. Don't have one. I like long books and love long series of books.

28) Work of nonfiction?
Again, pick ONE?! Unpossible.

29) Who is your favorite writer?
I can pick TWO. Jane Austen and CS Lewis. OK, three, because I need my Dorothy Sayers, too.

30) Who is the most overrated writer alive today?
I think I draw all kinds of writerly bad karma if I answer the "overrated" and "worst book" type of questions in these memes, so ain't going there...

31) What is your desert island book?
Gaudy Night, by Dorothy Sayers. Though I'd try to sneak in Have His Carcase and Busman's Honeymoon to round out my Peter/Harriet fix.

32) And … what are you reading right now?
Globish, by Robert McCrum (nonfiction, on the history and future of English)

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Desert Isle Movies

I am a busy, busy writer, home owner, wife, mother, and worker bee these days. But I don't want this blog to grow cobwebs, so I'm blogging about my Desert Isle Movie choices. I almost wish I was stuck on that proverbial island, with the leisure to spend two or three hours doing nothing but watching a movie.

For today, I'm just listing the movies and a favorite quote from each. They're more or less in reverse order, with my favorite last, though tomorrow I might rank them differently.

If you want, you can guess what my choices say about me as a storyteller, and at some future point I'll blog about why each one is a favorite.

"I don't want to tell some eight-year-old kid he's gotta sleep in the street because we want people to feel better about their *car*. Do *you* want to tell them that?"

Master and Commander
"Name a shrub after me. Something prickly and hard to eradicate."

Lord of the Rings (Yes, the whole trilogy. It's one story.)
Frodo: I wish the ring had never come to me. I wish none of this had happened.
Gandalf: So do all who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given to us. There are other forces at work in this world Frodo, besides the will of evil.

"Give 'em hell, 54th!"

Bull Durham
"Baseball may be a religion full of magic, cosmic truth, and the fundamental ontological riddles of our time, but it's also a job."

The Shawshank Redemption
"I find I'm so excited, I can barely sit still or hold a thought in my head. I think it's the excitement only a free man can feel, a free man at the start of a long journey whose conclusion is uncertain. I hope I can make it across the border. I hope to see my friend and shake his hand. I hope the Pacific is as blue as it has been in my dreams. I hope."

It must be said that it's nigh-impossible to pick just ONE favorite quote from Bull Durham or The Shawshank Redemption. And the line from LOTR I actually quote most frequently is, "They have a cave troll." Just something about Sean Bean's delivery that made it stick in my mind for the only thing to say when a bad situation finds a way to get worse.

What about you? Are any of my favorites yours? Which movies would you take?

Friday, July 9, 2010

Random research ramblings

One of the story ideas I'm toying with attempting in the near- to medium-term future is a romance set around the Battle of Waterloo. You see, Waterloo is endlessly fascinating to me. I've got at least six books on the great battle packed away in boxes waiting for me to finish getting my new office ready, not to mention any number of biographies of Wellington and a few of Napoleon, too.

I never get tired of reading new accounts of Waterloo. If they're well-written, I read them with the same breathless, sleepless attention I give to the most page-turning and suspenseful of popular fiction, as if this time the British squares won't hold, the Guard won't falter, and the Prussians won't show up. So when browsing a newsstand the other day, I picked up a copy of a magazine I'd never tried before, Armchair General, whose June issue had the Scots Greys charging across the cover and the tantalizing headline of "Sun Tzu's Waterloo."

That's a different approach, thought I, and picked up the magazine, curious to see how the author had analyzed the battle from the perspective of a famous expert from another time and place.

Turns out people who've read as many books on Waterloo as I have probably shouldn't bother with magazine articles. The author concluded that Sun Tzu would've thought Napoleon's tactics extremely flawed on the day, and that though Wellington made some minor mistakes he'd chosen his position very well and defended it ably. Well, yeah. (And yes, there was more to it than that, but I didn't come away feeling I'd learned anything new or had my mind changed.)

The reason I'm blogging about this minor incident is that the article author stated with confidence that while Napoleon might've read Sun Tzu's Art of War, since there was a French translation available, Wellington most certainly had not, because no English translation existed in his lifetime.

Thing is, there's a slight problem with that logic that I as a Duke of Wellington fangirl spotted immediately: Wellington was fluent in French. Now, I have no reason to believe he ever read Sun Tzu, but as an aristocratic Englishman who was involved in international diplomacy (including a stint as ambassador to France), he wouldn't have needed to wait for an English translation.

Moral of the story? Don't trust everything you read.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

How to buy an e-book without buying an e-reader first

I've had a few friends and relatives tell me how sorry they are that The Sergeant's Lady is an e-book, because they'd love to support me by buying my novel, but they can't afford or have no interest in an e-reader.

Good news!

If you're reading this blog post, you can read The Sergeant's Lady once it comes out. You don't need a Kindle, a Nook, or an iPad. Any computer or smartphone should do the trick. All you have to do is either buy the PDF version of the book or download a free Kindle app for your computer or phone.

PDF: Carina, along with many other electronic publishers, allows you to buy books in PDF format direct from their website. You add the book to your shopping cart, choose the PDF version when prompted to do so, and after you pay you're given the opportunity to download the file. You'll then have a PDF, which you can read on your PC or Mac. If your workplace is anything like mine, you've seen a ton of the things. Your PDF of The Sergeant's Lady will function just like those workplace files, only it's a fascinating story of star-crossed lovers in a war zone in 1811 Spain instead of a dry listing of lab protocols or NIH policies.

Free Kindle apps: Amazon wants your e-book business too much to limit sales only to customers who've bought a Kindle. With that in mind, they've created free Kindle apps for Macs, PCs, iPhones, iPads, BlackBerries, and Androids.

All you have to do is go to the Kindle Store, choose the appropriate application for your device, and follow the instructions to download. Then, go back to the Kindle Store and pre-order The Sergeant's Lady! (Hey, it's my blog. I get to self-promote.)

And while you're waiting for my Aug. 23 release, try a few more titles to get comfortable with the interface. If you're on a tight budget, you can get tons of books for free or very cheap. Most classics are available in free or $0.99 editions, for example, so this could be the perfect time to re-read Little Women or Pride & Prejudice. Many publishers offer the occasional free or cheap release of a newer book, too.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Why you should try digital books

If you've never read an electronic book before, you may be thinking, "Why should I? I'm perfectly happy with print, and, besides, I can't afford an e-reader."

Well, e-reader prices are dropping all the time, and you don't even need one to buy a digital book. But that's tomorrow's post. Today's is all about the benefits of e-books over their old-school print-and-paper cousins.

1) Storage: If your bookshelves are already groaning, or you live in a small place, digital books allow you to add books to your library without adding clutter to your life.

2) Portability: By the same token, reading electronically allows you to take as many books as you want on vacation without weighing down your luggage. Also, if you're like me and read LONG books by authors like Diana Gabaldon or Jacqueline Carey as soon as they're out in hardcover, you'll love reading their doorstopper tomes electronically instead of lugging an 800-page hardcover wherever you go.

3) Privacy: You can read whatever you want on the bus or in the cafeteria without advertising to the whole world that you're reading a sexy romance novel or a political book if you're a Democrat in a office full of Republicans or vice versa.

4) Display Control: Depending on the technology you use to read your e-book, you have anywhere from a lot to at least some control of how the words appear on the screen. Read fast? Choose a small font for more words on the page. Need large print? No more dependence on special large print editions--just choose the biggest font size available. And that's just the beginning. Some e-readers let you play with the contrast or background color or even read white text on a black background (though I confess to being baffled why you'd WANT to--black on white is far easier on the eyes, IMO).

5) Wider Selection: You get to read The Sergeant's Lady, for example, and all the other offerings from Carina and other digital-only publishing lines. E-publishers are often willing to take greater risks and publish books for a smaller market niche than their print cousins. And since e-books need never go out of print, when you discover a new author you can go back and read everything she's ever written, as long as it's available in digital format (and more books are every day).

6) Immediacy: Books come straight to you. You don't have to deal with the traffic getting to your local bookstore or wait for shipment. Pre-order your favorite author's upcoming release, and it's waiting on your e-reader the morning of release day. Finish Book One of a series at 11:00 PM and decide you can't wait even ten minutes to start Book Two? It's ready for you, just a click away.

Lest I come across as nothing but an e-book evangelist, I will acknowledge they do have a few downsides, to wit:

1) Reading becomes less social. The flip side of the privacy benefit. If in the future most books are digital, there won't be the fun of checking out the bookshelf on a first visit to a new friend's home. And if everyone is reading on a Kindle or iPad, you can't see how many of your fellow commuters are reading the same bestseller.

2) Harder to flip back and forth. If you realize in Ch. 13 of your mystery that you should've paid more attention to the argument in Ch. 10, it takes more effort to page back.

3) No technology is foolproof. When Amazon was down last week, I couldn't download a book I'd ordered the day before.

4) If you read while you fly, you'll have to turn off your e-reader for take-off and landing. I usually buy a magazine or two for back-up, because, let's face it, SkyMall isn't so fascinating that you want to read it four times in a week.

For me, the benefits far outweigh the negatives, and I'd say that even if I didn't have a digital-only book release coming next month!

Monday, July 5, 2010

Pre-order time!

During the years I was writing, submitting manuscripts, and waiting to make my first sale, there were three events I dreamed of. There was The Call, i.e. the day an editor tells you she wants to buy your book, Release Day (when your book hits the shelves, whether virtual or physical)...and an intermediate milestone: Available for Pre-order on

I am delighted to announce that The Sergeant's Lady is available for pre-order in the Kindle Store on the Amazon site.

So if you're a Kindle user, you can order now, and my book will be waiting for you on the morning of August 23. If you're not...well, if you have a Nook or a Sony Reader, you don't need me to tell you how to buy a book for it, and TSL will be available at, the Carina Press website, and most other places where e-books are sold in due course.

But if you've never bought an e-book before, stay tuned. My next posts will be Why You Should Try E-Books (and not just because of your desire to support my career as an author, though naturally I would consider that a mark of excellent literary taste) and How to Buy an E-Book Without Buying an E-Reader.

Friday, July 2, 2010

Reader, I married him...

Mr. Fraser is a web developer, a very good one. He's worked in the field for over a decade, and he's taught university-level classes and is often invited to give workshops at tech conferences. So naturally when I sold The Sergeant's Lady I asked him to do my author website rather than trying to do it myself from a template or hiring an outsider.

The only problem is that I happened to sell while he was in the midst of teaching a class on top of his full-time job, AND while we were buying a house and moving into it. He was far too busy to build my site right away, so I said that was fine, just get me something up a month or so before my release date.

A few weeks ago I was putting together my information for the "Coming in August" section of the July Regency Reader newsletter. The editor requested author URLs, and I thought it would look more professional to have a website up instead of just a blog.

So I asked Mr. Fraser if he could please please pretty please get me something basic live by July 1. He said yes, albeit reluctantly because we were scrambling to empty and clean our old townhouse before our lease expired June 30.

The townhouse required even more work and time than I'd anticipated. As of Wednesday evening, Mr. Fraser still hadn't gotten a chance to get the website up. Cue the Anxious Panic Deadline side of my personality, which is, shall we say, not my husband's favorite thing about me. (It's not MY favorite thing about me, either, though it must be said I rarely miss deadlines, even if I sometimes make myself and everyone around me miserable meeting them.) He was out till late at a meeting and ultimately came home and created this.

I think it's hilarious. Though if that's still the version that's up when I'm packing for RWA National at the end of the month, I'll flip right back to Anxious Panic Deadline Mode.