Interviewing Susan Spann

Dear Reader,

We indie authors need to stick together, and most especially us  indie historical fiction authors. We seem to be a rare breed.

Today my guest is Susan Spann, a fellow indie historical fiction author who was kind enough to answer some tough questions for me.

Learn more about Susan

Susan lives in Northern California with her husband, teenage son and three cats (one of which is large enough to count as two). She is a member of the Historical Novel Society and the Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers’ Association, and enjoys horseback riding, archery, rock climbing and books about adventures (both fictional and non-fiction).

When not running amok or too far in the weeds, Susan writes historical fiction. Her work takes legendary (or semi-legendary) historical figures and tells their stories as though they had really lived. She loves research as much as writing, and particularly enjoys finding a kernel of fact that can grow into an interesting story. You can find her on Twitter as @SusanSpann.

How do you transform your passion into focused research?

I approach research like a category 5 hurricane goes after a coastal fishing village – hit hard, cover as much ground as possible and leave no stone unturned.

When I’m starting a new novel (as I am now) I pick the legend or person whose story I want to tell and then scour the Internet, bookstores, and the library for information. Sometimes I also contact museums or researchers in the location where the events took place. I read as much as I can about the era in which the story is set and the people and places involved. I look at history, geography (including photographs when possible), culture, literature, and especially personal narratives. Only after I stuff myself full of facts and images do I try to let a focused story flow.

How do you translate your research into an entertaining narrative?

Starting from legends gives me an advantage. Someone already took a life and turned it into a song or story that people want to hear. After researching the historical “soil” in which the legend grew, I try to cultivate the story as it might have really happened, generally in a first-person narrative voice, without losing the vital elements of the legend itself. I’m looking for a blend of fact and fiction that does justice to both.

It also helps to work with children and animals. W.C. Fields discouraged it, but I include them in every novel and I never want for entertainment – some of it more scatological than I expected.

How do you sneak an underlying message into your entertaining narrative?

If you put all the white spaces between the words together, they make a picture of a horse in a snowstorm.

The honest answer is, I cheat: legends carry their own messages, which amplify on their own when the story goes from short-form to novel length. I find characters I admire and work on telling their stories in a compelling way. When the protagonist is admirable and surrounded by a supporting cast of realistic characters and challenges, the messages seem to take care of themselves.

Thank you to Susan for providing great answers to some tough questions! Make sure you check out her website and follow her on Twitter.

Interested in being interviewed?

I’d love to profile you on Worderella Writes, especially if you are an indie author, and most especially if you are an indie historical fiction author. I look forward to learning more about you and your upcoming projects!

Book: This Duchess of Mine

Title: This Duchess of Mine
Author: Eloisa James
Genre: Historical Romance
Length: 370 pgs.

Summary: They are polar opposites, the Duke and Duchess of Beaumont. Elijah is almost puritanical, Jemma… isn’t. An unfortunate misunderstanding in the early days of their marriage involving Beaumont being caught with his mistress when Jemma had planned a surprise picnic outing led to years of separation. Jemma became ever more sophisticated and flirtatious in France, Elijah ever more serious and good. Then the day comes when they must address their past as Jemma must return to bear an heir for Elijah… before time runs out.

Excerpt:

pg 142 – Jemma knew instantly what he was referring to, and her heart hiccuped from fear. Then she pulled herself together. She had the blood of three arrogant duchesses running through her veins. She could certainly survive a visit to Spitalfields.

pg 195 – Elijah’s only reply was unprintable but heartfelt.
“The same to you,” Villiers said serenely, and then they kept silence until they reached the doctor’s offices.

Why should you read this book?

Those of you following me on Twitter might be surprised I finished this book. I’m certain my mother is, as she gave up on it. I had my misgivings because it felt as though the tension keeping Elijah and Jemma apart was, well, grasping at straws. It was far too obvious that they cared for one another, and the way Jemma in the early pages of the book seems to be manipulating anyone and everyone to begin the seduction for her estranged husband because he “needed some fun” really annoyed me.

It took me a while to realize why it annoyed me so; I’m like Elijah, I don’t like to play games and flirt needlessly, so for Jemma to convince women to throw themselves at Elijah because he hadn’t ever flirted made me think Jemma wasn’t good enough for him because she didn’t care to know him or what mattered/worked for him.

I’m glad I stuck with it, though, because by the end I felt I understood both characters better. They were flawed, which I liked. They compromised, which I liked. They had scenes which made me glad my family was off somewhere else because I would have been embarrassed to be reading them knowing my younger brothers could have peeked over my shoulder and seen an errant, highly suggestive word. I liked that too, heh.

So all in all, while it’s not the best romance I’ve read, I was highly entertained, and fascinated by the fact that Ms James, through the power of her writing, convinced me to keep reading. However, I will say that if Jemma had said “Oh, Elijah,” one more time, I was going to jump into that book and drag Jemma by her hair out of the bed for a good scolding.

Sorry. Pet peeve. “Oh, Name-of-Hero-Who-Stirs-My-Loins,” just looks cheesy on the page.

Worderella Hunts for her Readers

Dear Reader,

I’ve gotta say, it’s been pretty tough tracking you down. I’ve done it to myself, I know, writing such a particular genre (paranormal historical romance). But the thing is, this is the genre that is spilling onto the page, so this is the genre it seems I must write.

So first, I’d like to list what I know about you. I know you are probably a young-to-middle-aged-or-older woman. I suspect you are probably interested in historical fiction, romance, and the paranormal. Some combination of all three, if preferable. I know you are interested in relationships, particularly father/adult-daughter relationships and romantic relationships. I know you probably like…

What I don’t know is where you’re hiding yourself. I assume you are busy reading, living life, enjoying food, drink, and the company of excellent companions. I applaud these activities and encourage you to indulge them more often.

Our lives are far too hectic these days; we don’t know when to take a break or how to know when we should take a break. Even when we recognize when to take a break from the everyday doldrums, we don’t know how to.

Those of us who are lucky know to lose ourselves in a good book. The sort of good book I’m in the middle of writing, just for you.

I’m trying everything I can think of to reach you. I want you to know that I care about you, I’m fighting to make a quality, personalized product just for you. And I think I’m making headway, thanks to social media.

You see, I’ve been a part of social media for years. I had a Facebook page under a different name, and learned the ropes of the system. I deleted that page because, well, it was getting spammed by every robot and its mother. But I started a Facebook page under the name Belinda Kroll because I wanted to get to know my potential readers. I want to know what you find interesting, funny, weird, touching, etc.

I want to get to know you. And I’d like you, in the process, to get to know me.

But in the meantime, I seem to be getting a lot of fellow writers friending me on Facebook. Which is totally fine, and I’m loving the idea of garnering a small community of writer friends. But the point of my attempt at social media was to get to know you, and not necessarily my friendly competition.

Today, however, I feel as though I’ve stumbled onto a landmine. You see, I’ve been part of Twitter for over a year, but just recently set up a Twitter account dedicated to my writing. This Twitter account is where I keep up with the big writing and publishing news. I follow my blog friends, I follow agents and publishers, and I follow you, if I’m able to find you.

Which leads me to my landmine: the Twitter Search functionality. It’s taken me a while to discover how to utilize social media successfully. But I realized today that I can search for the terms that pertain to my writing, and therefore pertain to your interests.

I use this cool Firefox browser plug-in called Yoono, which allows me to log into multiple social media accounts. At any given time, I get real-time updates from Twitter and Facebook. This allows me to continue writing and researching, while taking pulse of the writing and publishing community.

Yoono is also cool because it saves my searches for me. Each search for Twitter becomes a sort of specialized list which I can access at any time. I’ve used the following terms to get closer to you, to discover if these terms pertain to you and your interests the way I hope they do…

I think I’m on the right track. The tweets I receive when I click on these search topics are from you. The content is that you’re reading these books and you’re suggesting them to friends and fellow readers.

Don’t take this the wrong way. I don’t want to spam you by advertising my work. Instead, I want to hear what you have to say about these amazing writers. After all, I’m a fan of Amanda Quick, Deanna Raybourn, Susan Carroll, et al,  just like you. I hope to learn from their books and from your comments about their books.

But mainly, I just want to get to know you. So if you could, send me a line sometime.

All the best,

Belinda Kroll
(@worderella)

Book: A Pale Horse

Title: A Pale Horse
Author: Charles Todd
Genre: Historical Mystery
Length: 360 pgs.

Summary: It is 1920 London, and Inspector Ian Rutledge is freshly traumatized from the Great War. But he pushes it, and the persistent voice of a dead man, away so he can focus on this new mystery. The body of a man in a broken gas mask is found dead in the ruins of an old Abbey in Yorkshire, and no one knows who he is or how he came to be there. Rutledge is sent first to Yorkshire, and then to Berkshire’s White Horse in search of the man’s identity and murderer.

Excerpts:

pg 4 – In the darkness the voice of Hamish MacLeod answered him. A dead man’s voice, but for nearly four years now it had seemed to Rutledge as real as his own. Had had never grown used to hearing it, and yet with time he had come to terms of a sort with it. It was either that or madness. And he feared madness more.

pg 61 – Just as in the war, death pursued him as a policeman as well. It was his chosen profession, but he found himself thinking that the men who had built such splendor had left a greater legacy than most. Names long since forgotten, they lived on in what their hands had wrought. Not guns or tanks or deadly gas, but in stone, defining the human spirit’s capacity to create rather than destroy.

Hamish, good Covenanter that he was, preferred unadorned simplicity.

Why should you read this book?

Part mystery, part literary fiction about a man back from the gassed trenches of the Great World War (WWI to Americans), this book was excellent. I understand it is one in a series about Ian Rutledge, and this book drew me into his world and mind so well that I want to read the entire series. Will he get over his past with Hamish, his dead friend?

Read this book for an example of how to intersperse research and setting between self-reflection, dialogue, and plot. We know where we are and what we’re doing, dropped into a mystery and unsure Rutledge will be able to prove who the killer is, and whether we’re right about our own suspicions. But like I said, this isn’t just a straight mystery. We learn so much about Rutledge in the way he reacts to people, and how he holds conversations with Hamish when alone to appease his guilt. I truly enjoyed this book, and learned a great deal from the writing style.

Book: The Honorable Marksley

Title: The Honorable Marksley
Author: Sherry Lynn Ferguson
Genre: Regency Romance
Length: 230 pgs.

Summary: When the prodigal heir to the family, Reggie, compromises a young woman under his cousin Richard’s name, the family puts pressure on Richard to follow through with what ought to have been Reggie’s responsiblity in marrying the girl. And, being the only responsible one in the family, Richard agrees, not realizing there is more to this girl than meets the eye…

Excerpts:

pg 83 – “I believe the two are inseparable, Mr Cavendish. Certainly I believe that we love, or hate, as much with the mind as with the heart.”

You are in company with the finest intellects in saying so, Miss Ashton!”

Hallie was less aware of Archie’s ardor than or Richard Marksley’s quiet regard. She met his gaze, intending to do so only briefly, but found her attention fixed.

“Presumably,” he said, “you would never believe in love at first sight.”

Hallie’s chin lifted. “I do not.” She was conscious of all eyes upon her, and felt uncomfortably warm. “Though there may be a certain susceptibility–an inclination. One might wish to love for the mind’s reasons, and one’s heart then accproves the first acceptable candidate.”

Why should you read this book?
Remember that post my friend Graham wrote about sometimes reading books that show how have you have improved as a writer? This is one of those books. I have to be fair to Ferguson, though. This is an Avon Historical Romance, meaning the book probably isn’t more than 50-60k words, limiting a well-rounded story with fascinating characters and lush descriptions of setting and society. Backstory is almost always missing, and in this book, the backstory about the heroine’s brother seemed more interesting to me than the heroine, I’m sad to say. After all, when the conflict can be resolved in one honest conversation, you know there are problems. Though I will argue that, with more plot twists, this heroine could have been as great as most romance heroines I’ve read.

That being said, I used to read Avon books because I could tell myself, “I think I can write this.” Now, I read these books to remind me how I have improved. Due to the length requirements placed on Avon authors, almost everything must be scrimped. Setting and location is spare, character descriptions tend to be arechetypal, plots are a collection of historical fiction cliches and misunderstandings. In other words, these books introduce you to the bare bones minimum of historical romance. Always good for a light read, I’m afraid to say Avon romances just have something integral missing for me nowadays.

Book: Silent in the Sanctuary

Title: Silent in the Sanctuary
Author: Deanna Raybourn
Genre: Historical Fiction, Mystery
Length: 552 pgs

Summary: Lady Julia Grey is back from her Italian getaway, where she recovered from the loss of her husband, the shock of discovering who killed her husband, the confusing emotions toward the detective hunting her husband’s murderer, and the smoke inhalation from the night all these factors came together in a literal blaze of fury. Home for Christmas in Sussex, Lady Julia is shocked to see among the guests Brisbane, the aforementioned detective, who is newly engaged to one of the silliest women she has ever laid eyes on. When murder happens in the abbey, it is up to Lady Julia and Brisbane to solve the crime despite their tumultuous history.

Excerpts:
pg 158 – She proceeded to comment on everything we passed–the symmetry of the maze, the magnificence of the bell tower, the cleverness of the carp ponds.

And then she saw the gates. She went into raptures about the iron hares that topped them, the darling little gatehouse, the pretty shrubbery by the road. Another twenty minutes was spent on the straightness of the linden allee, and by the time we reached the village of Blessingstoke, my ears had gone numb with the effort of listening to her.

“So many words,” he murmured. “I did not think one person could know so many words.”

pg 482 – “That’s the trouble with women,” she said wonderingly. “We know what we oughtn’t do, but when a man comes along, we only hear his voice, and not our own.”

pg 497 – I finally ran him to ground in the library, gamely working his way through Pride and Prejudice. He sprang to his feet when I entered, smiling broadly.

I nodded to the book. “How are you enjoying Jane Austen?”

He waggled his hand from side to side. “She is a little silly, I think.”

Now I was more certain than ever in my decision. I could not love a man who did not love Jane Austen.

Why should you read this book?
Contrary to many of the reviews that I read on Amazon.com, I really liked this book precisely because the continued love-hate relationship from the previous book, Silent in the Grave, was in no way resolved, and in a way that was true to the characters. That’s genius, if you ask me, because it keeps the true fans of the series panting for more. This book is funny, charming, and portrays High Victorian Society oh so well. The setting is well-written without overtaking the plot, the characters are snappy, and my favorite device is used: giving tertiary characters their own subplots that affect the whole.

Read this book for a sophomore attempt that was as good (if not better) than the first, for a lesson in creating characters that don’t fit in their own society and yet seem genuine to the reader, a true puzzle of a crime, a charming and funny narrator, a passionate romance with no real sense of a happy ending (must continue to read the series!), and the only series in a long time that has an alpha romance lead that doesn’t make me want to shoot him.

Book: The Deception of the Emerald Ring

Title: The Deception of the Emerald Ring
Author: Lauren Willig
Genre: Historical Fiction, Chick Lit
Length: 387 pgs

Summary: Modern day – Eloise Kelly, like any good graduate student, is neck-deep in research for her dissertation about the Pink Carnation, attempting to prove the English spy existed. 1803 England – Geoffrey Pinchingdale-Snipe, an English operative in league with the Pink Carnation, is ordered to Ireland to prevent an Irish rebellion and catch the Black Tulip the same night he means to elope with the beautiful Mary Alsworthy. When the carriage door opens, however, it’s not Mary that steps out but her sensible sister Letty determined to stop the happy couple. The ensuing scandal forces Letty to marry Geoffrey, and when he leaves her on their wedding night for Ireland, she’s decided enough is enough and follows him, unaware she is about to stumble into the world of espionage, and even romance.

Excerpts:
pg 2 – One day. It had only been one day by the calendar, two years in terms of agonized phone staring, and about half an hour in boy time. It is a truth universally acknowledged that time moves differently for men. There was, I reminded myself, no reason why Englishmen should differ from their American counterparts in this regard.

pg 100 – There’s nothing so attractive as a blank slate. Take one attractive man, slap on a thick coat of daydream, and, voila, the perfect man. With absolutely no resemblance to reality.

pg 310 – He looked down into her flushed face, framed with its tangle of hair that alternated between copper and gold in the candlelight, and knew that no number of compliments would convince her. With her sturdy common sense, she would write them off as pure flummery. To a certain extent, she would be right. She would never be a beauty by the accepted standards. Pretty, yes. Even lovely. But she lacked the stateliness and symmetry society demanded of its chosen goddesses. …One might admire a well-carved statue, but it would be deuced uncomfortable to cuddle up with at night.

Why should you read this book?
This is my favorite book out of the Pink Carnation series, perhaps because the historical heroine, Letty, isn’t a madcap adventurer like Amy, or a self-indulgent younger sister of a great English operative… she’s a nobody, a younger sister that no one thinks of despite the fact that she makes sure everything is good for everyone else. Finally, we get to see a little about what other people think of this Pink Carnation character, who have no connection with the operative. This romance, despite its hasty beginning, is more organic to me, much more believable, because it seems the characters are actually meant for one another. There are obvious clues that let you think this, whereas the other books…well, the first one was “lust first, love after,” and the second was “childhood friends turned lovers.”

As always, an entertaining series, well-written, a good amount of history and other allusions thrown in, something great if you want a bit of fluff in-between your heavier reading. I look forward to reading the next book, The Seduction of the Crimson Rose. Writers should read this book for a believable burgeoning romance between previously unknown persons.