Interview with Susan Furlong

Welcome, Susan. Let’s get started.

Do you start a new story with the plot or characters first?

I don’t write the typical Scottish historical romance. All my stories wrap around a true event in history. Then I drop my characters inside that event and see how they survive. There are so many fascinating episodes in history that fall under the category of “You can’t make this stuff up!” Some are laughable, and some are tragic.

Clicking around the web led me to information about the troubled life of Mary, Queen of Scots. Then I stumbled onto King Henry VIII’s war, called years later as “Rough Wooing,” to force Scotland into agreeing to Mary’s betrothal in infancy to his son, Edward and that led me to the Battle of Pinkie Cleugh. “Cleugh” is Gaelic for “valley,” and the name “Pinkie” caught my eye. This battle ended in Scotland’s defeat, and, subsequently, Mary, age 4, was sent to France to wed the Dauphin of France who was five. Her betrothal was the price for France’s support of Scotland against the English.

All of this got me thinking about how many people lost their lives to protect their young queen who obviously was too young to understand the sacrifice, and that led me to wondering who would be protecting her? It had to be my heroine! Since she would be devoted and trustworthy, her hero had to be a rogue who would eventually change his ways. Thus (Katherine) Kit and Hugh were created.

Have you traveled to any locations that appear in your books?

Four years ago, I took a cruise with my sisters around the British Isles. Our family heritage is Scottish, and north of Edinburgh Scotland, we toured a castle that once belonged to our long past ancestors. The land there is beautiful and gave me a real understanding of how the people lived, something I could not have gotten from photos alone. I also picked up an ear for the accent, which I used in the book. After reading it, my sister asked me if “I got off the boat at night and talked with Scottish wenches!”

Can you share a tip about what you do when you get stuck in creating a story?

When I get stuck on what should happen next, I have learned that I have to take a step back and “live in” the story in my mind with my characters. I leave my desk and go for a walk or take a turn on the treadmill or sit in my chair and close my eyes. I try out various scenarios, usually most don’t work, but eventually one makes sense. Some great ideas come to me while I sleep, so a notepad beside the bed is a necessity. Sometimes this process takes an hour, sometimes several days.

What is your biggest surprise in the editing/revision process?

My biggest surprise in going back over my work is asking myself “Who wrote this?” Whether it’s really good or really bad, I’m stunned that those words came out of my head. How could I have thought of this and put it together like that?

What resources do you use for picking character names?

Medieval tax records offer authentic names from that era. Google also has a large variety of lists of medieval names as do baby name books and Pinterest. Sometimes I see a name and right away it fits my character perfectly. Other times I use several names while I write before I find the right one. I also search photos online until I find one that is my hero or heroine, which helps me match a name to a face.

Are you a pet person? If so, what do you have?

I am a Cat person. Six years ago I adopted my two latest cats from the Humane Society’s “Cat Boutique, Meowza” at a local shopping mall. Here rescued cats are available in a pet store-like environment. My granddaughter and I looked over all the kittens and decided on two, one male, one female, who were alone in their cages after all their siblings had been sold. I couldn’t resist making them mine. They are not litter mates, but have been best friends from the start. My granddaughter named them Calvin and Hobbes after our favorite comic strip.

 

Left to right: Hobbes, Calvin

 

 

 

What do you hope readers gain from your stories?

I love history, not the dates, battles, etc. but how the people must have lived. I hope that readers will see that history is not a boring, dull, repetition of facts, but actually “see” the real people with real lives living through it. I often refer to a phrase I’ve used in my non-fiction historical books about my hometown. In an interview one man said, “We were so busy living our lives, we didn’t know we were living history.” History is made up of incredible stories of people who lived through incredible times!

TAGLINE: She wants to take off his head. He wants to win her heart.

BLURB for By Promise Made

Hugh Cullane, accused of murder and sentenced to hang, is forced to deliver a message of betrothal to four-year-old Queen Mary of Scotland. He faces death yet again when, in rejecting the proposal, the queen’s guardian orders his severed head sent back to England in a jar.

Trained to protect her queen at all costs, Katherine Payne can show no mercy to the handsome messenger, despite the way his stolen kiss unsettles her single-minded sense of duty. Trapped between the English and Scottish armies, she must escape with Mary. Hugh joins her as they are chased by men determined to murder the young queen in their own quest for power.

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EXCERPT

(After escaping the disastrous Battle of Pinkie Cleugh, Kit, Hugh and young Mary flee north)

In the distance, bobbing heads of the horses of an English patrol headed in their direction.

“Down the cliff is the only way. Ye take Mary,” she said, tugging the straps of Mary’s carrying sack off her shoulders. “The wall of the cliff has a small cave in it about halfway down. We can hide inside. I’ll go down first and lead the way. Ye follow with the babe. I’ll guide ye. Here.” She hefted Mary and the carrying sack onto Hugh’s back. “The straps will rub on yer shoulder and start the bleeding again, but there is no other way.”

“Doesna matter. Are ye set, little one?” he asked Mary.

She kissed him on the cheek. “Aye, the man will take good care of me, Kit”

… “I think I see the cave.” She pointed. “I’ll start that way and call for ye to follow.” Swinging her legs over the side, she quickly started the climb down.

Hugh watched her from the top, trying to memorize where she put her feet and hands. “Mary, ye watch Kit verra carefully so ye can help me put my feet in the right places. Ye can even grab hold of the stones with yer hands to help me. Can ye do it?”

“Aye. Kit and I climbed this cliff more than once. Captain Rand put a rope around her waist, but we didna need it. Kit and I climbed up and down all by ourselves.”

“Are ye ready?”

“I am!”

Hugh adjusted quickly to Mary’s extra weight, and he found it relatively easy to follow Kit’s route down over the jagged rocks.

About halfway down the face, Kit called to him. “I see it. The cave. About thirty feet to yer left. I’ll get there and lead ye to it.”

“Aye,” he said.

That’s when loose rocks started sliding down the cliff, not the pebble or two that fell off when his hand hold wasn’t secure, but bushels of debris falling fast and hard. Looking over his shoulder, he saw Kit fighting to find a foothold. She had a grip on a rock with both hands, but her legs swung uselessly. She grunted and strained, but she didn’t cry out.

“I am coming to ye!” called Hugh.

“Nay!” she called back. “Get to the cave where Mary will be safe. I’ll find a way.”

Her right hand slipped off the stones, followed by her left, and she fell fast and hard. Time slowed down  as she flew through the air, bouncing repeatedly against the face of the cliff. Two, three times she slammed into the wall. Her tunic caught on a stone and ripped nearly off. On the fifth time, another jagged edge caught her boot and tore it from her foot and twisted her body until she fell headfirst toward the ground. She landed on her back at the edge of the road below with a sickening thud.

Mary screamed.

Quote from Five Star review by N.N.Light Book Heaven.

By Promise Made is a historical romance I couldn’t put down. I have read a lot of books dealing with Queen Mary of Scots, but this story puts a new spin on the young queen. From the first page, I was transported to medieval Scotland. The descriptive narration is so well done, I sniffed the air and heard the sounds of everything going on in By Promise Made.

By Promise Made was a finalist (top 3) in the N.N. Light Book Heaven Book of the Year in the Historical Romance category.

Susan Leigh Furlong was born at the University of Michigan before moving across the country six times before the age of fourteen. At college she met her love and moved to his hometown, where she taught first and fourth grades. While performing in community theater, she realized she wanted to play ALL the parts, and she now writes and/or directs church plays and performs with a music and drama ministry, LightReaders.

She wrote two historical non-fiction books published by Arcadia Publishing. Susan first discovered romance novels when she won a copy of Velvet Song by Jude Deveraux at the local bookstore.

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Email: SusanLeighFurlongwriter@gmail.com

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