Fellow Imajin Books authors Alison Bruce and Kat Flannery have just launched their new historical romance, Hazardous Unions, which takes place during the American Civil War. After the death of their father, twin sisters Maggie and Matty Becker are forced to take positions with officers’ families at a nearby fort. When the southern states secede, the twins are separated and find themselves on opposite sides of America’s bloodiest war.
Alison Bruce has dropped today to talk about the new novel.
Q. Hazardous Unions is written from two points of view – that of twin sisters Maggie and Matty Becker. Alison, did you write one woman’s story and did Kat Flannery write the other?
A. Hazardous Unions is written as twin novellas. I took Maggie. Kat took Matty. Maggie’s story is first in the book partly because it starts before Matty’s story, but mostly because “B” comes before “F” in the alphabet.
Q. How did you and Kat decide to collaborate on this story of twins separated by the American Civil War?
A. Kat approached me because she wanted to do a dual novella book that was a historical romance with a Christmas setting. We’re both published by Imajin Books and both write westerns. Kat lives in Edmonton, Alta.,and I live in Guelph, Ontario, but thanks to Skype and email, that wasn’t a big hurdle to jump.
Q. Why did two Canadians pick the American Civil War as your background?
A. We needed to split up the sisters to write their stories. One going north and the other south, Christmas in wartime, romance against the odds… it just worked.
Q. Are there events in Canadian history that you’d like have as the background for a novel?
A. Someday I might write the story of Constable Doolittle, who I created while reading about the early days of the North West Mounted Police. I also have a long-time interest in Canada during World Wars I and II. Those conflicts brought us into our own as a nation. When I did my undergraduate thesis on Women in the Military, I interviewed a dozen or so women who served with the Canadian and British auxiliary forces. I see myself writing about young woman leaving her home to serve abroad. I just need to come up with the right mixture of mystery and romance for the plot.
Q. Alison, this is your second historical romance. What attracts you to this genre?
A. My mother had a huge library of mysteries and historical fiction. She introduced me to Georgette Heyer when I was in my early teens and Agatha Christie shortly afterward. My father loved westerns and spy thrillers. He also collected popular history books. We had Time-Life and National Geographic collections on just about every era of history. Where my history classes dealt with dynasties, wars, and political development, these books talked about people and how they lived. That fascinated me.
Q. Social mores have changed considerably over the past 150 years. Is there anything a historical romantic heroine would do – and wouldn’t do – compared to a modern-day romantic heroine?
A. Just like today, a great deal depends on the social class and education of the woman. The average female servant wouldn’t do or get away with some of the things Maggie does. One of the first points Kat and I agreed on was that the Becker girls would be educated and come from a middle class background. We wanted them to be literate and intelligent young women. So, we built them a background that would give them those traits in that period of history.
The early to mid-nineteenth century saw the establishment of seminaries for girls that would teach them history, science and physical fitness as well as deportment and housekeeping skills. Maggie and Matty wouldn’t have gone to a seminary, but with their father being an academic, they would have been well-educated at home. Economic hardship forces them into domestic service. Today, they could have got a job as a clerk or sales associate, got a student loan and orphan’s allowance. Back then, a woman’s choices were very limited. The respectable ones could marry or go into domestic service.
Q. What about the heroes? Are they much like modern romantic heroes, but dressed in period costumes? Are their attitudes towards women different than the attitudes of contemporary heroes?
A. Not only are our heroes nineteenth century men, but they are military men. They are used to giving orders and having them followed. The fact that Maggie and Matty are both in situation where following those orders will lead to disaster, stretches their ingenuity.
Again, class comes to the rescue. Both officers are gentlemen by birth, not just position. Even more importantly, they are gentlemen at heart.
Q. Did you enjoy the collaboration process? What were its benefits and its limitations? Would you do it again?
A. I loved it. I often work in collaboration on nonfiction writing so the process isn’t new. Also, we each wrote our own novellas. The collaboration came from creating the twins, their background and setting up the circumstances of their separation. What I really enjoyed was bouncing ideas off of Kat and getting ideas from what she shared with me.
We also shared research. I knew the period a bit better from the outset because I’d taken courses in that period of American history. Kat often come up with questions that I wouldn’t have thought of looking into.
Q. What kind of research did you have to do for the book?
I did a lot of background reading on the causes of the Civil War to refresh my memory. I got completely sidetracked by the Irish question and the Mormons and there was one point that I wished we’d made the twins O’Hares instead of Beckers.
A. Because Maggie’s story takes place on a cotton plantation, I had to find out about plantation life and learn more about slavery. There was another point when I was considering a slave uprising, but it wouldn’t have been a romance. Fortunately, there’s a wonderful documentary done by PBS with actors giving dramatic reading of testimonies given by recently freed slaves. As well as the heartache and tragedy, there was humor. The human spirit rises up.
Alison Bruce is a copywriter, editor, web designer and publications manager of Crime Writers of Canada. She penned her first novel during lectures as a university undergraduate while pretending to take notes. She’s the author of Under a Texas Star and Deadly Legacy.