Hi, Suzanne! Thanks for chatting with me.
Thanks for interviewing me on your blog, Julia.
Your first novel, Paper Woman, is a historical mystery. This is a very popular genre. Why did you choose it?
I sorta fell into it. I enjoy reading suspense and mysteries, and I've always been interested in the Revolutionary War. Unable to find much historical fiction set during the Southern theater of the war, I wrote to fill that gap. While I swashbuckled away on the first draft, it became obvious to me that murderers, spies, narcissists, schizophrenics, and sociopaths went with the territory of rebels and redcoats. What fun!
That does sound pretty fun. The novel’s premise is that in 1780, “as the American Revolution batters the Carolinas, thirty-three-year-old widow Sophie Barton leaves her home in Georgia to investigate her father's murder and plunges into a hornet's nest of espionage, terror, treachery, and more murder.” That sounds exciting! Is Sophie Barton an ancestor of Clara Barton?
Sophie is not related to Clara Barton at all. She's a fictitious character who's a blend of women I read about from the Revolutionary War. These ordinary women, faced with extreme circumstances, demonstrated the ability to react appropriately in the presence of fear. In other words, they were courageous.
What makes the 1700s an interesting era to you?
Several things. By the latter half of the 1700s, many people questioned the ability of religious institutions and governments to provide adequately for humankind. That sparked scientific, political, sociological, and philosophical debate and the genesis of reform. Also, cultures throughout history have placed varying levels of restraint upon women's behavior. In British North America during the late 18th century, many of those strictures relaxed due to a number of influences, allowing women more freedom than what they had in the adjacent centuries. I find all that fascinating, a seminal setting for a series.
Most history-lovers I know are fascinated by the people of the past, and often, therefore, ghosts. Do you believe in ghosts?
Gotta admit that I was skeptical about ghosts until I stayed at Kinard House, a lovely Victorian-era B&B on West Main Street in Ninety Six, South Carolina. The owner, Karen Breasbois, never hinted of the presence of a ghost during my first two visits. Perhaps she didn't wish to scare off her clientele. I encountered the spectral Henry Kinard, a former owner of the house, during my third visit, and fortunately he was a pleasant host. The details of my experience tallied with the personal experiences of Karen and her family members, so I'm no longer a Doubting Thomas where ghosts are concerned.
Wow--that freaks me out a little bit. :)
You grew up in Florida, but now live in North Carolina. How do these places compare?
There are the obvious comparisons of seasons and terrain. Anyone who has spent time in South Florida, where I was born and raised, might joke that it has two seasons: hot and not-so-hot. In contrast, North Carolina offers four distinct seasons. Florida ranges from flatlands to low hills; North Carolina ranges from flatlands to mountains. Culturally, the farther south you go in Florida, the more Northern it gets — hence my Yankee accent. But you won't find a New York Minute anywhere in North Carolina.
Interesting distinctions! You lived in England for a time. Did you do some historical research there? Were there interesting historical sites in the area where you lived?
I lived in Norwich, England before I began writing any historical fiction related to the British Isles. While I didn't do any conscious research there, I absorbed the culture during my day-to-day activities. In other words, I was living life in another country and adding tremendously to my repository of experience. Although there were some castles and old churches nearby, what interested me more were the ancient roots of British culture. I purchased a copy of Jacquetta Hawkes's A Guide to the Prehistoric and Roman Monuments in England and Wales and traveled all over England and Wales ogling megalithic tombs, Roman forts and roads, stone circles, menhirs, and barrows. Learned a lot about ancient ceremonies such as fertility rites and solstice celebrations. It's the kind of stuff that leaves a very big imprint.
It does sound fascinating. What sorts of things have you done to promote Paper Woman?
From Florida to New York, I've done booksignings, panel presentations, workshops, and solo presentations at bookstores, libraries, reenactment events, meetings of target market groups, and conferences. About half of my author appearances are in authentic 18th-century clothing. My family members, also in period clothing, come with me on occasion. I've discovered that a bayonet fixed on the business end of a musket is quite a conversation piece, especially when brandished by a redcoat.
I've done interviews and been featured and reviewed online and in print at the regional and national level. I'm a member of organizations such as Sisters in Crime and participate in discussion lists. I discuss writing and report on author appearances on my blog, where I'll soon add reviews of historical fiction and non-fiction and interviews with subject matter experts.
And I take part in contests and promotions in which my books are donated for prizes or to financially help an organization. The Carolina Conspiracy, of which I'm a member, raffled off a gift basket of members' books at Malice Domestic earlier this year, a copy of Paper Woman among the books in the basket. I'm also working with two other women authors of Revolutionary War fiction to organize a gift basket for the annual reenactment at Historic Camden the first weekend of November. Proceeds from the raffle will be donated to Historic Camden. In addition to copies of authors' books, the basket will contain homemade donated items with a Revolutionary War theme, such as pottery, jelly, candy, fabric, candles, and soap.
On your website, it says this: “About one weekend a month, I drive to a remote site in the Southeast United States, don a petticoat and mobcap, live out of a canvas army tent of 18th-century design, cook meals over an open fire, forgo showers, and brave the elements. All weekend long, I have the gracious company of several hundred other reenactors, many who drive in excess of six hours one-way to step back in time and portray 18th-century soldiers and civilians, merchants and Indians, gentry, artisans, and musicians.”
What compels you to be a reenactor? Do you feel it’s the next best thing to traveling in time?
Early into my research of Paper Woman, I recognized that no matter how many books I read on the 18th century or how many subject matter experts I interviewed, my 21st-century perspective hampered me from capturing the full flavor of the 18th century in my prose. I wanted to experience the conditions under which people 225 years ago lived. How did their clothing feel, especially in adverse weather? How did they move in their clothing? What did a fired musket sound and feel like? How did people load and fire muskets? What did they eat? How did food taste? What did army camps look, sound, and smell like? What was involved in starting a fire from flint and steel? There's a huge difference between reading about it and doing it.
Since we cannot travel back in time to experience all of that accurately, a good compromise is reenacting. During a weekend event, most reenactors dispense with the technology of the 21st century to more accurately portray their 18th-century counterparts. Gives you quite a sense of appreciation for refrigerators, air conditioners (or heaters), showers, and even ballpoint pens.
So reenacting provides me with sensory experience to better portray the 18th century in my writing. Plus it's fun for the family. Entire families are a common sight among reenactors. Both my sons have grown up as reenactors. The weekend events provide them with hands-on history lessons and make the Revolutionary War come alive for them: an unforeseen benefit, because history as taught in public school can be very dry and boring. When my older son first marched on the battlefield with our unit and spotted the opposing army across the field, he got butterflies in his stomach — not out of delight, but out of fear. Of course reenactors don't use live ammunition, but that battlefield moment gave him a good idea of the jitters that soldiers felt back then. You cannot get that from a book.
If you could travel in time, Suzanne, where (and when) would you go?
Plenty of places, as long as I could scram when I felt like it. The Big Bang, the Cretaceous-Tertiary extinction event c. 65.5 million years ago, or Pompeii 79 A.D., for example. :-) Also Palestine 7000 B.C.; Sumer or Crete 3000 B.C.; China 2600 B.C.; Chichen Itza 1100 A.D.; Cuba 1350 A.D.; the Creek Confederacy 1650 A.D.; multiple locations during the American War of Independence; France 1880 A.D.
It's really very fun to contemplate, isn't it?
What are you writing now?
I'm editing the second draft of book three in my series, Camp Follower, due out September 2008, and I'm researching background for book four.
Do you read historical mysteries? If so, which ones are the best?
Historical mystery series that I've enjoyed include those by Ashley Gardner (Gabriel Lacey), Rhys Bowen (Molly Murphy), and Ellis Peters (Brother Cadfael). Lately I've had time to sample only the first volume of a number of new historical mysteries. Those I found particularly engaging include Thirteenth Night (Alan Gordon) and Silver Lies (Ann Parker). For me, good historical mysteries don't load the pages with historical detail — in other words, they feed detail in as it's needed — and have a riveting plot and compelling characters.
Those sound great! I interviewed Ann Parker here a while back, and like you, she gave some terrific responses!
Do you have a new book coming out?
Yes. The second book in my series, The Blacksmith's Daughter, will be released in September 2007.
How can readers find out more about you and your mysteries?
Please visit my web site or blog (www.suzanneadair.typepad.com).
Thanks for chatting with me, Suzanne!
You're welcome, and again, I appreciate this opportunity, Julia.