Wednesday, April 28, 2010


I spotted this sign at an eatery near my office earlier this week. I desperately wanted to say something like, "Wow, I'm glad to hear the Husky Card reader is working well today. I'd hate to think it was working sorry in the middle of your lunch rush." However, I refrained. The employees were busy, and I didn't want the long line of customers behind me to be delayed in getting their burritos by my pedantry.

Yes, I'm one of those people. I'm a grammar pedant, particular about punctuation, careful with capitalization. I'm fully aware that this means there will be at least one embarrassing typo somewhere in The Sergeant's Lady that neither I, my editor, nor my copy editor will catch. Karma is rarely kind to the snarky.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Busy Busy Writer

I'm in the midst of edits, really-o truly-o official edits requested by my editor, and completing my cover art fact sheet (a questionnaire designed to give the art department a sense of what the book is about, the story's mood, and any strong visual elements that may be of use to them in their design process).

Oh, and we're supposed to sign a pile of papers on Tuesday and have the keys to our new house by the end of the week. So I'm kinda busy.

I'll get back to the blog as soon as life calms down a little. I've just spent the most intense weekend of writing and editing I've ever experienced. Yesterday I started at 9:00 AM, spending the day shifting from Panera to two branches of my city's public library then back to Panera, taking a brief break to cook dinner and get my daughter to bed, and then editing for another three hours before going to bed. Today I went to church and to brunch, but then started writing at 11:30 AM and finished at 10:30 PM, taking only brief breaks for food, stretching, and rebooting my computer when it got frighteningly sluggish.

I actually enjoyed all this--I do love my book, after all. But I could sure use a good massage about now. Also, if I holed up like this every weekend, I'm pretty sure Mr. Fraser and Miss Fraser would abandon me, and I'd miss them dreadfully.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Casting my novel: the villains

The Sergeant's Lady has two main baddies: Anna's first husband, Sebastian Arrington, and a young lieutenant in Will's Rifle company named George Montmorency.

Sebastian is a tall, dazzlingly handsome blond cavalry officer. Kind of like Ralph Fiennes, if you imagine him without that lovely smile and playing the part of a misogynistic control freak.

Montmorency is tougher to cast, since he's meant to be the sort of person who fades into the background. Best I can do is David Tennant...but he's far too adorable, and I was never a Tennant fan! (Christopher Eccleston was and remains my Doctor.) Anyway, if you hired him to play a bitter young man with a massive sense of entitlement, I'm sure he could ditch the charm and sweetness and make a good Montmorency.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

I guess it really IS the 21st century

Mr. Fraser and I have been busily signing a bewildering variety of documents over the past two weeks, and we may be closing on our new home as early as next week. Tonight we signed a document allowing us to close earlier than our originally scheduled date, which isn't till mid-May...but the interesting part is where and how we signed it. Electronic signatures, over our iPhones, during the lulls of a baseball game.

History geek that I am, I sometimes imagine how much the people of the historical era I write about would've enjoyed all my new techie toys...only this doesn't entail picturing what they would've made of electricity or the internal combustion engine or anything else I've had all my life. No, I picture the Duke of Wellington on horseback with his iPhone, using the GPS to calculate his army's route of march, or Napoleon in his campaign tent, reading the reports from Paris on his Kindle.

Sometimes my imagination is just strange.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Why a pen name?

Susanna Fraser is not my real name. Some of my friends have asked why I chose to write under a pen name, and I thought, "Hey, perfect blog topic!"

1) I like naming things. Character naming is one of my favorite parts of a new story, and while I never wanted a large family, part of me envies the Duggars getting to name 19 children. So, how could I pass up the chance to rename myself?

(Incidentally, Susanna is the name I've always wished my parents had given me, and Fraser is from my family tree.)

2) It doesn't matter while I'm published in ebooks only, but if/when I'm in print, Fraser will get me better bookstore shelf placement than my real last name.

3) I write more than one genre, and my fantasy and alternative history is different enough in tone and likely readership from my romance that I'll probably need to publish it under a different name, if/when it sells. So I decided to use pen names for both, to make it clear that I'm proud of all my work. I figured if I wrote romance under a pen name and fantasy under my real name or vice versa, it might look like I was favoring whichever genre got the real name.

4) It makes me feel all Clark Kent/Superman, and I'm geek enough to get a kick out of having a secret identity of sorts.

5) There's something to be said for separate identities, even if I'm not trying to hide the fact that I write books as Susanna Fraser. To wit:

a) If any of my friends and family think my books are too sexy or too violent or too whatever, they can just pretend that Susanna Fraser woman has nothing to do with anyone they know. ;-)

b) I can be politically active and opinionated under my real name, and whatever portion of my readership disagrees with my views won't know about it unless they do some digging.

c) While I don't plan to hide my writing from, well, anybody, there's something to be said for being able to control when and how I tell people. Say, for example, I'm interviewing for a new day job. The general public tends to think authors make a lot more money than those of us not named King, Rowling, or Grisham actually do, so I don't want the burden of having to explain that yes, I really do need a job because most authors aren't remotely rich.

So. That's my pen name story. Maybe some day if I'm short on blog topics, or if there's interest, I'll post about what I would've named 19 children in some alternative reality where I have that many, or, more on-topic, how I go about naming characters.

Writers: Do you use a pen name? Why or why not?

Readers: Does it change your opinion of an author if you know s/he uses a pen name?

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Why a military setting and hero?

Regency romances often have ex-army heroes--say, the story is set in 1816 or '17 and the hero still has nightmares or is self-conscious about the scars he bears from Waterloo--but The Sergeant's Lady is a bit unusual in being set in a war zone with a hero on active duty.

Yet for me it was a natural choice. Though I'm not an Army brat, I do come from a family with a strong tradition of military service. My father was in the Army for two years after he graduated high school, stationed in Germany during the Cold War. While my ancestors were the wrong ages to fight in WWI or WWII, if I go a few more generations up the family tree, I find soldiers in the Civil and Revolutionary Wars.

I have three much-older brothers, all of whom were teenagers when I was born, and one of my earliest memories is visiting Parris Island, when my second brother joined the Marines after high school.

My youngest brother, the one who's "only" 13 years older than me, entered West Point the same year I started kindergarten. I grew up with pictures of my brothers in their dress uniforms prominently displayed in our house, and after my brother graduated West Point he left his cadet's sword with my parents while he roamed from posting to posting on a career that took him to Lt. Colonel before he "retired" in his 40's to pursue a civilian career. I used to love getting that sword out and posing in front of the mirror with it.

More recently, and more poignantly, my oldest nephew--the son of my former Marine brother--is in the National Guard and has served a tour of duty apiece in Iraq and Afghanistan.

So writing about soldiers feels natural to me. And writing about the Napoleonic Wars gets me away from the thorny political questions around the wars America has fought during my lifetime (I was born in 1971, so Vietnam is part of my lifetime, though I don't remember it). I can just write about brave men being brave.

Though, when I look at West Point and Marine dress uniforms and set them alongside what soldiers wore in the Napoleonic era, sometimes I think I just imprinted on the uniforms.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Time Management: The Pomodoro Technique

As an insanely busy person, I'm always looking for techniques to better manage my most precious resource: my time. Mind you, I'm glad I have everything that eats my hours: a husband and daughter I love, a good job, a book deal and the prospect of future ones, the house we're likely to close on next month, etc. I don't really want to be who I was at 23 or 24 again--working an easy job that barely paid the bills and didn't challenge me, writing but lacking the focus to finish what I started, friends aplenty but no prospect of more permanent ties. But, day-um, I miss the time I had to curl up in bed with a book or surf the net or sit talking in coffee shops for hours and hours.

And focus doesn't come naturally to me. I've had to unlearn all kind of bad habits from my school days, when leaving things undone till the last minute but still getting A's and B's was my good-girl, vanilla form of thrill-seeking, and from my first decade of adulthood, before I started to challenge myself in my writing and in my day job.

My latest discovery is something called the Pomodoro Technique. The official version described on the website makes it a bit more complex, but at its most basic level all it entails is setting a timer for 25 minutes, working steadily at a predetermined task for the entire time, then taking a five-minute break. Lather, rinse, and repeat for four cycles, then take a longer break. Previously I'd done something similar, but with 45-minute work cycles and 15-minute breaks. However, I'm finding I'm more productive with the shorter chunks of time. With 45 minutes, if I get to a good stopping point after 20 minutes, it's all too easy to cheat and start my break then. 25 minutes, on the other hand, is just long enough to be productive. I can write anywhere from 300 to 500 words, depending on how far in the zone I am. I can respond to half a dozen emails or make three or four phone calls. And if I get to a stopping point before the time is up, I tell myself it's lame to quit early when I only have to focus for 25 minutes. So I start the next scene, or do some filing, or answer as many emails as I can before the timer goes off.

So, if you too are too busy and lacking a natural gift of focus, give it a try!

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Just for fun--casting my novel

I don't actually expect anyone to make a movie of The Sergeant's Lady, but hey, it's fun to dream! Also, I'm not a naturally visual thinker--I "hear" my stories more than I "see" them--so sometimes I find coming up with an actor or a period portrait helps me work in those concrete visual details that help a story come alive.

With that in mind, I thought I'd share some of the images I kept going back to when working on TSL. I'll start with the most important characters, the hero and heroine.

My hero, Will Atkins, was easy to cast. He's a 27-year-old sergeant in the 95th Rifles, an elite infantry regiment in the British army during the Napoleonic Wars. (And, yes, one that will already be familiar to fans of Bernard Cornwell's Sharpe novels or the TV movies based on them and starring Sean Bean.) He's a tough, experienced soldier, blessed with ample common sense, but he also has a chivalrous streak and a stubborn independence that nearly a dozen years in the army hasn't entirely eradicated. I wanted him to have a solid, reliable handsomeness, and I immediately thought of Firefly-era Nathan Fillion.

Will's hair is lighter and more of a red-brown, and his eyes are whisky-brown rather than blue like Fillion's, but if you take Nathan Fillion and imagine him dressed in Rifle green like this...'ve pretty much got my Will.

My heroine, Anna Arrington, was more of a challenge. She's young, just 22, but she's also a survivor, coming out of two long years in an abusive marriage. She comes from a long line of Scottish nobility (her maiden name was Gordon), so I wanted her to look both Celtic and aristocratic. I knew she'd have dark curls and green eyes, and pale, pale skin with faintly rosy cheeks.

I first wrote TSL back in 2005, when The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe came out. When I saw it in the theater, I spent half the movie trying to figure out why the actress playing Susan (Anna Popplewell) seemed so familiar. Toward the end I finally realized why: she looked a bit like my Anna, but as a 16- or 17-year-old.

Then, years later, while working on another manuscript, I found another image that made me think, "Wait, that's Anna."

That's Hyacinthe Wellesley, a niece of the Duke of Wellington, painted in 1822. She's not as conventionally pretty as Popplewell, but the curly hair, arched eyebrows, aquiline nose, and overall posture and bearing are just right for my character.

So, that's my hero and heroine! Future posts will feature Anna's evil first husband, her brother and sister-in-law, Will's best friends, and more.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

I have a blogroll

I've now added a blogroll to my site. Check out some of my favorite romance blogs, and keep an eye out for future additions.

Monday, April 12, 2010


Hello, and welcome to my blog! My name is Susanna Fraser, and I'm soon to be a debut historical romance author with Carina Press. I live in the Pacific Northwest with Mr. Fraser and our daughter, Miss Fraser, a bonny and energetic lass of six years.

My first novel, The Sergeant's Lady, is a tale of star-crossed love during the Napoleonic Wars:

In the spring of 1809, Scottish heiress Anna Arrington married in haste and followed her husband to the battlefields of Portugal and Spain, hoping that life with a dashing cavalry officer would bring her the adventure and significance she always longed for. Two miserable years later, she’s had ample leisure to repent. Her husband falsely believes she has betrayed him, and he blames her for failing to give him a child.

After he dies, Anna wants nothing more than to return to the sanctuary of her ancestral home and never seek adventure again. But fate has other plans for her.

She joins a wagon convoy of wounded bound for Lisbon, where she plans to take ship for home, but along the way they are ambushed and captured by the French. When a half-mad enemy officer assaults her, she is rescued by Sergeant Will Atkins, a common soldier of uncommon intelligence and bravery. Will has always had a chivalrous streak, but little does he suspect that this time his warrior’s instinct to protect a woman in peril will change his life forever.

Will and Anna escape into the countryside to take word of the ambush to their army. On the four-day journey, after fighting off bandits and French cavalry together, they discover that they are kindred spirits and yield to the passion that has grown between them. But their world does not allow a mere sergeant to raise his eyes to a wealthy viscount’s daughter. Falling in love will challenge them to take on the greatest adventure either has known.

Check this space for the inspiration and research behind my writing, tales of the writer's life (and the writer's struggles with time management and balancing writing with a family and a full-time day job), and, since Mr. Fraser and I are about to buy our first house, quite possibly the writer's moving woes and remodeling challenges.