Jen: Today we welcome Sandra Schwab to Romancing the Book. Sandra, will you share a short bio with us?
Sandra: First of all: Thank you so much for having me! Here’s my official, in-the-back-of-each-book bio: Award-winning author Sandra Schwab started writing her first novel when she was seven years old. Thirty-odd years later, telling stories is still her greatest passion, even though by now she has exchanged her pink fountain pen of old for a black computer keyboard. Since the release of her debut novel The Lily Brand in 2005 she has enchanted readers worldwide with her unusual historical romances.
She holds a PhD in English literature and lives in Frankfurt am Main / Germany with a sketchbook, a sewing machine, and an ever-expanding library.
You can find her online at: www.sandraschwab.com
Or chat with her on Twitter: @ScribblingSandy
Sign up for her newsletter to receive a free copy of the novella A Tangled Web: http://eepurl.com/xqyU1
Jen: Please tell us about your newest release and where the idea came from.
Sandra: My latest release, Eagle’s Honor: Banished, is the first book in a new series of steamy historicals. The whole Eagle’s Honor series is set during the time of the Roman Empire and follows the story of one family across 300 years, from Caesar’s Gallic Wars to the fall of the Germanic Limes. So far, I’ve got three full-length novels planned, and one short prequel.
Eagle’s Honor: Banished, the first full-length novel, is the story of Marcus and Lia: Centurion Marcus Florius Corvus has a splendid career in the legions ahead of him. Yet a visit to Rome and a chance encounter with an old friend change his whole life: He falls in love with one of his friend’s pleasure slaves and becomes entrapped in an evil scheme designed to destroy him. And yet—he cannot help risking everything for Lia, the woman he has given his heart to, even if it means he will be banished to one of the most dangerous places in the Roman Empire: the northern frontier of Britannia.
Eagle’s Honor: Banished is a huge departure from what I’m usually writing, namely Regency and Victorian romance. But then last year, I joined a conversation on Twitter about the scarcity of historicals set in ancient Rome, revealed that I live near the old Germanic border of the Roman Empire, and eventually let myself be talked into writing Roman romance myself. In other words: Twitter is to blame!
Six weeks later Marcus presented himself to Flavius Gannius, prefect of the Tenth Cohort of Batavians at Vindulum. Gannius was a broad-shouldered, bulky man, his hair liberally sprinkled with gray, his grayish green eyes piercing as he studied Marcus from head to toe. He was not the kind of man with whom you wanted to fall into displeasure.
“You are rather later, centurion,” he finally said. “Is it a habit of the Eleventh Pia Claudia Fidelis to let her men move about at a snail’s pace?”
Marcus stiffened. He forced himself to take a calming breath before he answered, “I apologize for my late arrival. My ship was delayed by storms in Gaul. I assure you it was by no fault of my training at the Eleventh that I’ve arrived this late at Vindulum.”
“Hm.” The other man glanced down at the tablets on the table in front of him. “You gave your name as Marcus Florius, but this report I have here from the senior tribune of the Eleventh gives your name as Marcus Florius Corvus.”
Of course. It had to.
“A name I acquired from the men serving with me.”
Gannius stared at him, prompting Marcus to elaborate, not without an internal sigh. “A small joke on account of my nose, sir.”
One of the dark, bushy brows rose. “Corvus?”
“The men didn’t think ‘Aquila’ would do it proper justice, sir,” Marcus said drily. “Hence, Corvus.” Raven.
Gannius read through another section of the report. “It says here that you were popular with the men under your command; fair and strict; that you received your vine-staff at the tender age of twenty-eight upon the retirement and explicit recommendation of your former centurion Gaius Loreius Sylla, who had made you his optio when you were just twenty-three and had served in the Eleventh for a mere six years. In addition”—he flipped to the next tablet—“the tribune takes great pains to point out your excellent fighting abilities as well as the outstanding quality of your unflinching leadership of your men in battle.”
Closing the report and shoving the bound tablets to the side, Gannius looked up. “So tell me, Centurion Marcus Florius Corvus, what exactly did you do?”
“Heavens, man, you must have done something to get demoted to a centuria in a mere auxilia.”
“Ah,” Marcus said slowly.
“Yes, ah. And I want to know what it is and whether it’s going to bite my cohort in the arse one of those days.”
Jen: What kind of research did you do for this book?
Sandra: To be honest, I had quite underestimated the amount of research I needed to do for Eagle’s Honor: Banished. When I was little, I read a lot about the Roman Empire in general and Roman Britain in particular, so I thought I was totally prepared. But I quickly realized there were so many things I didn’t know—in other words, writing that book was a perfect excuse to buy more research books. Moreover, right at the beginning of my “Roman Adventure,” I visited a reconstructed Roman fort not far from where I live. I also watched many TV documentaries and learnt an awful lot about archaeology. I particularly enjoyed the British series Time Team as well as Mary Beard’s Meet the Romans and Pompeii: Life and Death of a Roman Town.
Jen: Who are some of your favorite authors? What are you reading now?
Sandra: My three all-time favorite authors are Rosemary Sutcliff, Dorothy Dunnett, and Terry Pratchett. When it comes to romance, I love the novels of Georgette Heyer, Loretta Chase’s older historicals (Lord of Scoundrels—wheee!!!!), and Jacqueline Gilbert’s books, which she wrote for Harlequin Mills & Boon in the 1970s and 80s. I recently discovered K.J. Charles and have been devouring all her books and novellas. And C.S. Pacat! I can’t wait for the third volume in her Captive Prince series!
The book I last read is Anyta Sunday’s rock, a YA / coming-of-age m/m novel. I loved it!
Jen: Do you have a favorite character or one you most identify with?
Sandra: A favorite character from my own novels? I adore Carlotta “Charlie” Stanton from Springtime Pleasures: she is unbeatable, super-optimistic, and ever ready to help others—even if it means taking on wild boars and highway men. *grins* Charlie is a force to be reckoned with, and I had a lot of fun creating her character. I would love to have her energy and optimism.
Jen: What’s the most interesting comment you’ve received about your books?
Sandra: I love what Sandra Marlow wrote about Castle of the Wolf for the Historical Romance Club: “Ms. Schwab’s writing has a flow that pulls you into her stories so subtly that you forget you’re just reading a book instead of actually interacting with her characters.” That is exactly what I’ve always wanted to achieve. I love it when my books make people happy, and I love it when I can make a reader on the other side of the world stay up the whole night, crying into her pillow because my novel is so enthralling and so moving. For me, that is the real power of story: that I’m able to touch people whom I’ll probably never meet in real life.
Jen: What’s been the highlight of you career to this point?
Sandra: The Call was certainly one of the highlights of my career. Prior to it, a lot of my German friends and colleagues had told me that I ought to give up writing in a second language and that I would never be able to compete with native speakers of English. Well, I guess I proved them all wrong! At this point, I write better in English than I ever wrote in my native language.
On the other hand, The Call was also one of the more heart-breaking moments of my career because I knew I wouldn’t be able to sign the contract as I didn’t fully understand it. Saying “no” to the offer was one of the hardest things I ever did. Six months later, the editor, Chris Keeslar from Dorchester, contacted me again to ask if I had found an agent in the meantime. I hadn’t, but I was determined to muddle through the contract this time around. After all, I reasoned with myself, if I was able to translate an Old English text into modern-day English, I also ought to be able to figure out the language in a publishing contract.And thus, in late 2004, I signed my first publishing contract.
Jen: What do you do in your free time?
Sandra: I love reading (well, one should hope so, with me being an author an all that!) and sewing (I’m a big fan of homesewn softies!), and I also started sketching again a few years ago. I love taking my sketchbook with me when I’m travelling as it allows me to experience a new environment much more intensely. Sketching is also a great conversation starter: people will stop and talk to you. I love that.
In addition, I began to dabble in digital art last winter, and this has become something I’m enjoying a lot—not just because it is another creative outlet, but also because it’s so inspiring for my writing Muse. Creating digital portraits helps me to develop the characters for my novels, and the pictures then become visual inspiration.
And sometimes something goes wrong and I end up with a picture of a guy who has skin made of green brocade.
Jen: What’s next for you?
Sandra: I’m about to finish the second novel in the series, Eagle’s Honor: Ravished. It’s set roughly 70 years after the events of the first book, and the heroine is the great-granddaughter of Marcus and Lia. She will be abducted by a Germanic warrior and will be brought to a village outside the Roman Empire (which, as I only realized when I was already deep into the story, was a really bad idea because we know so very little about life outside the empire at that time, and consequently, the research became quite intense).
This year, I also plan to release at least one more novella in my Victorian series Allan’s Miscellany. The heroes in this series all work for a fictional magazine, and so the stories are full Victorian gossip and news. I love doing research for these novellas, as it allows me to spend a day or two buried in old magazines and newspapers.