MuseTracks Guest – Susanne Matthews – The Importance of Authenticity in Historical Romance

September 18, 2013

MuseTracks welcomes back guest, Susanne Matthews! She’s here to talk about something I enjoy – research and imagination.

The Importance of Authenticity in Historical Romance

On August 27, my third novel, a historical romance, The Captain’s Promise, was released by Front Porch Romance. My prior novels, Fire Angel and In Plain Sight, both romance/suspense, released by Crimson Romance, were contemporary novels—one set in Northern Ontario, the other in Northern New York, in imaginary towns based on real locations with which I was familiar.  The setting for The Captain’s Promise, on the other hand, was seventeenth century France near Brest, and aboard a three-masted sailing vessel—two locations with which I had no experience.

The Captain's Promise CoverFor a historical romance to meet the expectations of its audience, authenticity to the period and the historical data is essential, and believe it or not, a lot of the information you’d consider necessary to verify facts simply doesn’t exist. So, the question is how do you find the facts you need to fit your story? You watch movies, you read other books, and you scour the Internet for whatever information you can find. Like an archeologist, you dig through all the dirt, find the facts and then, extrapolate from them what you need to know. For example, it’s a fact that on his second voyage Columbus carried 34 horses aboard his ship. Now, try finding details as to where they were kept and who cleaned them! I used a little literary license and invented a character in the story, with a Da Vinci-like imagination, who designed certain amenities for the ship. He created a weather deck stable that could be kept clean with sea water and openings on the side of the stable walls to allow the filth to leave the ship. Without his modern ideas, the crossing would have been far too smelly to be romantic.

And that brings up the next point—when does authenticity have to give way to imagination? Over three hundred years ago, clothing was different, daily hygiene was different, and what we consider basic comforts didn’t exist. There was no head on the ship with running water, hot showers, and a flush toilet—no laundry to clean the clothing and bring them back to you fresh and clean. There were basins and ewers, slop buckets, and a beakhead, basically the ship’s latrine that emptied directly into the sea beneath, but someone, most likely the cabin boy, had to empty the grey and black water every day. Being aboard a hot, smelly, crowded, ship wasn’t romantic in the least, but the Black Pearl, from Pirates of the Caribbean didn’t seem that bad. When I visited Jamestown, I saw the replicas of the ships that carried the settlers to Chesapeake Bay, and at Plymouth I visited a mock-up of the Mayflower that brought the Pilgrims to Massachusetts. There was nothing romantic about either of them, but consider a converted warship—lots of space—it was possible. I saw the Vasa in Stockholm, and that’s where I got the idea for the recessed area that could serve as a veranda. Today, staterooms with personal decks are common aboard modern ships.

Romance flourishes quickly when danger is involved and, since I am a suspense writer, I needed a mystery to solve. The birth of the Merchant marine in that period is a reality as is the French West-Indies Company’s monopoly on trade with the colonies. When people lose vast sums of money, there is always an opportunity for subterfuge! Dueling was indeed illegal and punishable by death in France. I tried to relay the importance of a sextant and proper charts so that a reader would understand the danger a ship could face lost at sea. Finally, living in Canada as I do, I think the choice of settling on Martinique in spite of the dragons and serpents would appeal to me.

So, now you have a glimpse of some of the research that went into The Captain’s Promise. You can take the teacher out of the classroom, but you can’t take the need to teach out of the teacher.

The Captain’s Promise is available at

And other major e-book retailers

About the Book:

Etienne Blouin left Danielle de Cherbourg in tears, promising to return; he didn’t. Ten years later, Etienne learns she’s been widowed and left almost penniless. Now a wealthy ship’s captain, he offers to help her, but the only reply he gets is from her aunt telling him to leave Danielle alone. Convinced she’s in trouble, he determines to rescue her whether she likes it or not, even if it means losing her love.

Danielle is shocked to learn that her companion is going to the colonies, while she is to marry a cruel and powerful man as repayment of her husband’s gambling debts.  Despondent, she sees no way out of the horrendous situation. When her carriage is waylaid and she’s kidnapped, she fears the worse.

 Etienne has enemies who don’t want La Belle Rose to make port. Can he outfox them to save his ship and the woman he loves?

Susanne MatthewsAbout the Author:

Susanne Matthews grew up as an avid reader of all types of books, but always with a penchant for happily ever after romances. In her imagination, she travelled to foreign lands, past and present, and soared into the future. Today, she has made her dreams come true. A retired educator, she now gets to spend her time writing, so she can share her adventures with her readers. She loves the ins and outs of romance, and the complex journey it takes to get from the first word to the last period of a novel. As she writes, her characters take on a life of their own, and she shares their fears and agonies on the road to self-discovery and love.

Susanne lives in Cornwall, Ontario with her husband. She has three adult children and five grandchildren. When she isn’t writing, she enjoys reading, chatting on the Internet with her writer friends, and hearing from her readers. You can learn more about Susanne and buy her e-books at