History Hoydens


Historical Romance Writers Dishing the Dirt on Research

11 April 2011

Horse Shopping with Susanna Fraser

by Susanna Fraser

Available Now!

Lucy Jones is a nobody. As an orphan she was reluctantly taken in by her wealthy relatives, the Arringtons, on the condition that she be silent and obedient, always. When her lifelong infatuation with her cousin Sebastian is rewarded by a proposal of marriage, she's happy and grateful, even though the family finds excuses to keep the engagement a secret.

James Wright-Gordon has always had the benefits of money and a high station in society, but he is no snob. He's very close to his sister, Anna, who quickly falls for the dashing Sebastian when the families are brought together at a wedding party. Meanwhile, James is struck by Lucy's quiet intelligence, and drawn to her despite their different circumstances in life.

Lucy suspects that Sebastian has fallen for Anna, but before she can set him free, a terrible secret is revealed that shakes both families. Will James come to her rescue—or abandon her to poverty?

Some writers don’t start a book until they’ve put together an elaborate outline. Others interview their characters or write character biographies. The more visually oriented make collages. I’ve been known to make soundtracks…and I take my characters horse shopping.

That’s right, horse shopping. You see, I was a horse mad child. I never got the chance to learn to ride, but I spent my childhood reading horse books and dreaming horse dreams. I used to ride my bike around the yard, following courses I’d laid out to represent the Derby, the Preakness, and the Belmont. Most of the time I was pretending to be the first woman jockey to win the Triple Crown while riding a filly.

My characters tend to share at least some of my interests, and of course horses were an important part of life 200 years ago. So my heroes and heroines get to live my dream of everyday riding, and I enjoy matching just the right horse to each character. I’ve discovered that figuring out a character’s taste in horses tells me a lot about the kind of person he or she is.

For example, in the historical fantasy manuscript I’m working on I have a heroine who was raised to value the practical and utilitarian. So when I took her horse shopping, I expected her to pick a plain, solid, sturdy horse. But she showed no interest in the nice brown off-the-track Thoroughbred mare that I thought would suit her. I asked her what she did want, and the next thing I knew, we were looking at Andalusians. She picked this spectacular, showy, Baroque horse with a long, flowing mane and tail, because now that she could pick what she really wanted, she wanted something beautiful. The Spanish horse was just as sturdy and reliable as the thoroughbred, she informed me, but with the added bonus of looking spectacular.

Realizing my heroine wanted a flashy horse opened up a whole new window on her personality. She isn’t innately practical and utilitarian, she was just conditioned to act that way. I realized she loves beautiful things, and she also likes to show off sometimes--which impacts everything from how she dresses to how she acts in a crisis.

James, the hero of my current release, A Marriage of Inconvenience, breeds Arabians. His favorite mount is not a sleek black stallion, but a dappled gray mare. Arabians were an obvious choice for him, because if he were a horse that’s the breed he’d be. You see, he’s handsome, well-built, and elegant, but he’s probably the shortest romance hero you’ll read about this year. As my fellow horse lovers know, that’s very much like an Arabian. They’re small, but why would you care when they’re so gorgeous? James is a confident man. He doesn’t care that he’s short, so why would he need to ride a huge horse to make himself feel taller? On an Arabian, he’s a beautiful man on a beautiful horse, and they’re just the right size for each other.

As for why James rides a gray mare rather than a black stallion, a black stallion just struck me as a little too obvious. Every hero rides a black stallion, and James doesn’t want to be every hero, he wants to stand out from the crowd. He thinks, and I agree, that there are few things more beautiful than the glossy coat of a silver dappled horse shining in the sunshine.

What about you? What kind of horse does your character like to ride? Do you have an unusual method of brainstorming? Or do you have a childhood dream like my love of horses that you never fulfilled but has stayed with you into adulthood? I wish I could give one commenter a pony, but instead I’ll offer a copy of A Marriage of Inconvenience.


Blogger Isobel Carr said...

It's so funny to see other people's conceptions about horses, esp when they're so different from mine, LOL! To me, Arabians = NASTY temperament (they kick and bite more than any other breed I ever dealt with . . . except Shetland ponies, who are evil on four hooves). They're the kind of horse I give to a villain.

I was just discussing the whole "hero rides a stallion thing" at my local RWA meeting on Saturday. 99.9% of the cover hacks are going to be mares and geldings (as are all carriage horses). The only stallions are going to be breeding stock, and while you can ride them (I mean, I certainly have), they can be a real handful if there's a mare in season ANYWHERE in the vicinity.

6:32 AM  
Blogger Soft Fuzzy Sweater said...

when I was out of college I rented a trailer on an Arabian Horse farm. That's when I fell in love with the incredible beauty of horses. I would spend many minutes just sitting there watching them run and play in the pasture. But the stud, though, could kill--he nearly killed the breeder once. He rarely was allowed out he was so lethal. He would have been in The Black Stallion but he was too wild.

Please enter me in the contest. Thank you.

9:09 AM  
Blogger Susanna Fraser said...

I admit I'm not going on PERSONAL experience of Arabians. I just think they're gorgeous, know they're known for toughness and endurance (at least historically--not sure I'd trust one of the modern snakey/swanny looking halter-bred Arabians on an endurance ride across a desert) and know enough about horse history to know what a huge contribution they've made to other breeds. And the horses discussion board I lurk on regularly has "Arabians are evil" vs. "MY Arabian is an angel and a perfect lesson horse for my 5-year-old daughter" arguments.

10:00 AM  
Blogger Cecilia Grant said...

1) The more I hear about this hero, the better I like him. (Don't enter me in the drawing, though - I'll buy the book when I get an e-reader.)

2) Fascinating about vicious Arabians (to say nothing of vicious Shetland ponies)! Are you sure they don't just need the love of a pure-hearted horse-crazy pre-adolescent girl? I am feeling taken in by all those horse books I read in childhood.

12:01 PM  
Blogger Susanna Fraser said...

"the love of a pure-hearted horse-crazy pre-adolescent girl?"

Now there's a link between horse books and old-school romances I'd never thought of before. ;-)

1:31 PM  
Blogger Unknown said...

Love the horse theme! I did fulfill my childhood dream of learning to ride and owned a grey Arabian mare. I loved endurance riding, so we rode the trails all over California, including the Pacific Crest Trail, Yosemite, etc.

I haven't been able to ride much the last ten years, and I really miss it. A dream of mine is to buy a house and land in the country, so I can have horses again.

(Much as I love Arabs, I do have to agree with Ms Carr that most are crazypants. Even as a sweet old mare, my girl would jump and shy at ever little squirrel or tree stump.)

2:46 PM  
Blogger Isobel Carr said...

A nice Barb has all the beauty of an Arabian, plus it's a "real" size horse AND the personality is better IMO. And yes, I've known some that weren't crazy/evil/mean, but they were few and far between. My friend's colt had to be gelded he was so nasty (tried to kill her when he was only 8 months old).

4:05 PM  
Blogger Dee said...

"the love of a pure-hearted horse-crazy pre-adolescent girl?" Wow, that is a thought-provoking comment! You're right about that sharing traits with romance. (And, I was a horse-mad teenager. Unfortunately, as an adult in a metropolitan career I don't get the chance to indulge except on vacation.)

I love Arabians, too, but they can be quite high-strung. My preference is away from the modern halter (saddlebred x) types.

And, while greys are strikingly lovely, they always seem to find the deepest mud-puddle or lie right in the urine/manure in their stall and stain their coat. They are a lot of work. My personal favorite is a liver chesnut with flashy stockings and blaze. Or a blood-bay.

I've always wanted to ride one of the Icelandic ponies but I guess that would be out of place in an English historical. :)

8:19 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Unlike other little girls, I wasn't too enamored of horses, although I think it would be fun to learn to ride now. This is rather unconventional, but my character would ride a panda. Yes...it's not a horse, and yes...it probably would not be a very good mount as pandas are wont to sit around all day eating rather than obligingly carrying someone around on its back, but they are just so adorable. As long as we're in fantasy land I might as well go all out.

I also wanted to mention that I can't wait to read your new release. Already from the little excerpts I can tell this book has every element that would succeed in reeling me in.

abbydillon16 AT yahoo DOT com

11:03 PM  
Blogger Tracy Grant said...

What a fascinating way to get to know your characters! I rode as a child, seriously enough to be in a couple of horse shows, but I confess I haven't spent a lot of time on my characters' horses, I think in part because most of my recent books are pretty urban. My just completed Waterloo book does have two horses as "minor characters" however.

12:05 AM  
Blogger Isobel Carr said...

I'll admit to spending inordinate amounts of time coming up with just the right names for my character's horses, LOL! I have a spreadsheet of all the major race winners from the late 18th and early 19th centuries, and it’s a great starting place (my favorite is Skyscraper, which I’ll never use, because I think it would throw people out of the story).

7:55 AM  
Blogger Susanna Fraser said...

I still haven't given up hope of learning to ride eventually--it's up there with going back to fencing lessons and taking up reenacting on my list of things to do if/when my schedule gets less crazy. Those interests, I guess, would make me a sort of "method actor" of a Regency/Napoleonic author.

6:35 PM  

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