History Hoydens


Historical Romance Writers Dishing the Dirt on Research

13 November 2012

And let's extend a warm welcome to...

Susanna Fraser! Susanna's third Regency-set historical, An Infamous Marriage, is out this week. Here's the back cover copy:

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.

I absolutely adore this book (for a full review, check out my goodreads, but the short version is that the hero and heroine both feel so incredibly real, and I love the way she deals with the Battle of Waterloo--I've read a lot of Waterloo romances--and loved them all--and this one still felt totally new). Susanna is one of my favorite history geek friends, and today she's sharing her thoughts on using real-life figures in historical fiction, giving away a copy of her book, and letting you know how to be entered in a drawing for a big blog-tour prize!

Before An Infamous Marriage, my personal rule for inserting my fictional characters into the stream of history was to keep them relatively obscure. Fictional lord or Member of Parliament? Sure! Fictional prime minister? No, that’s going too far! Fictional captains? Of course, and as many as my story needs! Fictional general? Of course not!

But rules are made to be broken, perhaps all the more so when they’re ones I’ve created for myself. I knew as soon as I began work on this story that my hero, Jack Armstrong, was going to hold high military rank, preferably as a general. I wanted him powerful and confident, but with a power based on his own actions and deeds rather than wealth and inheritance. Take him out of the army and he’d still be a landed gentleman, but not especially wealthy or anywhere near the top of the line to inherit a title.

Having invented a general, next I needed to find some great deeds for him to accomplish without modifying the historical timeline too much, since An Infamous Marriage is historical romance, not alternative history. Most of Jack’s service takes place offscreen, as it were, during a long separation after he marries the heroine, Elizabeth Hamilton, to fulfill a deathbed promise to her first husband, who happens to be Jack’s childhood best friend. At first I figured Jack would follow the path of so many Regency heroes by fighting in the Peninsular War. OK, I thought, the simplest thing to do is pick someone who actually died in battle, so his absence won’t impact post-1815 history, mentally posit he died earlier or was never born, and give Jack his job. So I considered Sir Edward Pakenham, who died at New Orleans, and Sir Thomas Picton, who died at Waterloo, and picked Picton, since I knew I wanted Jack to end up at Waterloo in the end and it therefore seemed simpler to borrow Picton’s Peninsular War role and accomplishments wholesale.

However, very early on my editor and I agreed the five-year separation between Jack and Elizabeth would work better if he was someplace farther away. Next thing I knew, my Peninsular War veteran was on the other side of the Atlantic, and I had to give myself a crash course on the War of 1812. Early on, I ran across Sir Isaac Brock, who was killed at the Battle of Queenston Heights in October 1812. My first thought was simply to borrow his career, only have Jack be severely wounded instead of killed in that battle. You see, the problem with your hero fighting in the War of 1812 instead of the Peninsular War is that it was a messy draw rather than an unqualified success for his side. So I felt like I had to knock Jack out of the war early and give him some nice slow-healing wounds, maybe with a debilitating fever or two following them, because if I had him active throughout the war AND all heroically hyper-competent, he’d change the course of history.

Upon further discussion with my editor, rather than replacing Brock, I had Jack take over for him after he fell and lead the British forces to victory, thereby usurping the role of Sir Roger Hale Sheaffe. I stuck with my plan of having him severely wounded and unable to participate in the remainder of the war.

Doing so changed his character arc, but I decided it was for the better. He’s still powerful and self-confident, but he’s also a relatively inexperienced commander, frustrated by the long recovery that kept him out of the rest of the war and eager to prove his courage and worth on a larger stage. I give him that chance at Waterloo--but with his relative inexperience, I couldn’t realistically give him a divisional command. So instead I put him in charge of a brigade, one that in real life was commanded by Sir James Kempt.

Despite knowing that few if any of my readers will have heard of Roger Hale Sheaffe or James Kempt--I certainly hadn’t heard of them before researching An Infamous Marriage, and I consider myself a military history geek--I made a point of mentioning them, and the fact I’d borrowed from their lives, in my Historical Note. My conscience would’ve bothered me if I hadn’t.

Authors, do you have a policy on how you insert your characters into the historical timeline? Readers, do you think about such matters as you read, and do you ever read Historical Notes?

I’ll be giving one copy of An Infamous Marriage to a commenter on this post in your choice of e-book format, and at the end of the tour I'll be giving away a grand prize of 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! If you wish to be entered in the drawing, include your email address formatted as yourname AT yourhost DOT com.

I look forward to replying to your comments, but it’ll be late in the evening in most North American time zones before I get a chance. I have a full-time 8-5 day job and don’t get much time online till the evening.

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Blogger Cathy P said...

Hi Susanna! I am also a fan of history, but don't mind if the characters in the book take the place of someone that was real back then. I also love reading the Historical Notes.

kscathy AT yahoo DOT com

8:25 AM  
Blogger Shelli said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

9:41 AM  
Blogger Shelli said...

This book sounds amazing! I always read the historical notes when they are included.

shelliarmstrong @ gmail . com

9:41 AM  
Blogger Kitchen Witch of the West said...

I enjoy a well-placed historical figure in a book. With books I truly enjoy I often read more about the history online. Historical notes help extend the pleasure of the book.

Am hording your epub books for a vacation next month. Airports are reasonably pleasant with a good read in hand.


2:10 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I love the permise of your book. I do occasionally use real characters and try to stay as close as possible to their true personality.

4:13 PM  
Blogger Lorraine said...

I'd love to read it. The novel I'm writing for Nanowrimo (24,000 words on the 13th!) is set in Northumberland, too.

5:20 PM  
Blogger Lorraine said...

Oops-- lobolita at Juno dot com

5:21 PM  
Blogger Susanna Fraser said...

Cathy P and Shelli, I'm glad to know readers actually read historical notes!

Ella, I try to stay close to historical figures' personalities when I use them, though even that is a matter of interpretation. E.g. "my" Duke of Wellington is quite a bit like Bernard Cornwell's but not so much like Naomi Novik's.

Congratulations on your NaNo progress, Lorraine! Almost halfway there with room to spare.

6:08 PM  
Blogger Susanna Fraser said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

6:09 PM  
Blogger Susanna Fraser said...

And Kitchen Witch, I hope you enjoy the books! I too look forward to flights for the extended reading time.

6:12 PM  
Blogger Louisa Cornell said...

I rather like a romance with characters from history woven in and around it. While I read historical romance to escape I also read it to immerse myself in a different time. Real characters and real events are touchstones, guideposts on my journey through a historical romance.

Cannot wait to read this one!

6:59 PM  
Blogger Louisa Cornell said...

Forgot the e-mail.


7:00 PM  
Blogger JenM said...

I love history, so I'm always happy to see a historical note in a book and I have no problem with you borrowing a real person, especially if you note what you've done so that I know what's real and what isn't. Best wishes on the release.


7:55 PM  
Blogger jmcgaugh said...

This sounds really good. It's certainly a different take to have a romance hero with such a high military rank.

jmcgaugh AT semo DOT edu

8:22 PM  
Blogger Susanna Fraser said...

Thanks, Louisa! I always like books that ground me in a specific place/time, because that's what I want to escape TO.

Jen, I'm just so happy to know people READ the historical notes.

jmcgaugh, I'm fascinated by so many of the real commanders of the era that I couldn't help but want to create a fictional one for a hero.

10:54 PM  
Blogger Fla said...

I always read historical notes!
I usually find them interesting and useful (sometimes I discover new bits of little known history).
For me it's a huge bonus when authors of historical fiction give me some hints of their research, it usually makes me better appreciate their works.

flack1 AT hotmail DOT it

2:59 AM  
Blogger Tin said...

I've been following and enjoying your tour.

I love reading Historical Notes -- and I learn a lot from them!

I appreciate it when authors strive for authenticity in their stories and it really shows in the story when the author has done their research.

- khriscc (at) yahoo (dot) com

4:39 AM  
Blogger Unknown said...

Looking forward to reading the book!

4:56 AM  
Blogger Susan said...

I believe I have learned more from reading well researched historical fiction that I ever did in a school class. I am looking forward to reading this book!

suz_glo (at) yahoo (dot) com

10:50 AM  
Blogger Susanna Fraser said...

The winner of a copy of the book is Louisa Cornell! Louisa, I'll be sending you an email.

Thanks again to everyone who stopped by!

7:38 PM  
Blogger Mina said...

I always appreciate historical accuracy and references to real facts/people. The beauty of some HRN is that they "explore" the matters of the heart against a vivid and engaging historical backdrop.Congratulations on your new release!
minadecaro at hotmail dot com

4:24 PM  

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