Cari Z. is another friend that I have known a long time, but this is our first conversation outside of the Goodreads forums! I’m really excited about it. For one thing, Perilous was a great read, one I thoroughly enjoyed, and the chance to get into Cari’s head is very exciting. For another, everyone I’ve ever met who was involved in Peace Corp has been awesome, and I’m pretty sure Cari continues that trend. Welcome to my blog, Cari! It is a delight to have you here.
Cari: It’s lovely to be here! You’re one of my favorite authors, so it’s kind of thrilling to be hosted on your blog.
Your latest release, Perilous, is a historical romance set during the Napoleonic Wars. I mostly know you as a paranormal author. Was Perilous a departure from your usual writing comfort zone? If so, what challenges did you find in writing a historical?
Cari: Perilous was a huge departure for me, almost as hard as writing contemporary. If I didn’t really love the time period where this story is set, especially the naval aspects of it, I could never have written this. I love reading historicals, but I’m not a natural researcher. A lot of anachronisms crept into the dialogue too, which fortunately for me, my editor did a fantastic job catching.
In your dedication, you mention the enjoyment you had reading C.S. Forester’s Horatio Hornblower series and Patrick O’Brian’s Master and Commander books. Enjoying reading historicals is one thing, but writing them is another! How did these series prepare you for writing Perilous and where did you have to do further research?
Cari: Reading the series themselves was the impetus for writing the story, and they provided me with energy more than anything else. I feel like they informed the tone I was going for, but for a lot of other things I relied on reading personal accounts of British naval life, and asked my father questions (he’s a military historian who specializes in, well, everything). The best, and most personal thing that I did with regards to writing this story realistically was pull details from a tour I took of the HMS Victory in Portsmouth, England. These ships, big and impressive as they were, were also incredibly cramped, filthy, and dark. There were so many things that could go wrong on board, and I played around with some of those in Perilous.
The reason I’m putting a lot of focus on the historical side of the story is because of how it plays into your characters. Thomas Williams is the perfect Lieutenant. He is mindful of his superior offices and his responsibilities, fair to the men who serve under him, while also being a strict taskmaster. He almost never disobeys an order, conscious of the strict hierarchy that exists not only within the navy but outside it. As a result he is self-controlled and deprecating to an extreme, never thinking of himself. How much of this is naturally Tom and how much is the result of the strictly regimented world he inhabits?
Cari: Tom is the kind of guy I like to write, because I relate a lot to how he sees the world (I’m an army brat, it’s stuck with me), but also, given his predilections I couldn’t imagine him behaving any other way under the circumstances. Sodomy was punishable by hanging at the time, and someone who came from a lower class like Tom would never throw himself into an affair unless he was absolutely assured of it’s secrecy. Not to mention, mutiny was also punishable by death, so toeing the line with regards to hierarchy was a necessity if you wanted to survive.
As a counterpart to Tom, his Captain, Christopher Knightley, bucks expectations — at least initially. Captain, aristocrat, son of an extremely wealthy family, Christopher seems to be in a position of power. Instead of being a dandy or merely a wealthy scion serving his time, he is intelligent, and has moments of sympathy for his subordinates, such as when he apologises to Percival for the destruction of his coat. He seems, in short, a thoroughly modern, thoroughly sympathetic Captain, that it was rather a shock to realise that he is trapped as thoroughly as Tom by the dictates of his family. Tell us about Christopher. How was he able to avoid becoming–like so man of the Captains in Perilous–tyrannical and authoritarian?
Cari: Christopher is the youngest son in a large aristocratic family, which afforded him a certain amount of leeway that his older siblings didn’t have. In being so far down the line of succession, his choices didn’t impact his family’s social standing in the same way, and he took that sliver of freedom and ran with it. I see his personality at the beginning of the book to be part inherent, and part a deliberate effort to distance himself from his roots.
I have to admit that while for the most part I was enmeshed thoroughly in the world you created, Christopher’s actions in the mid to latter part of the story, when he let his recklessness lead himself and his crew into danger, lost me some sympathy for him. And yet, you never hid his recklessness from us readers! I think the realisation that for all his initial sympathy, Christopher remains a man of his time period, was really interesting. It must have been hard to write Perilous, creating sympathy and rapport for characters who are constrained to act in ways that are contrary to modern readers wants! How did you overcome this challenge?
Cari: Oh boy, that’s hard. Honestly, I was mad while I was writing some of it. It’s tempting to transplant modern ideals into historical figures because it just makes them easier to stomach, but I knew it would be doing a disservice to the story. Christopher is brilliant and brave, and also reckless and willing to do idiotic things for the sake of winning. People simply had different ideas about loss, death, and honor, and I had to roll with them. At least he gets a verbal smackdown in the end.
A big part of the constraints placed on Christopher are seen in the form of two women, one thoroughly unsympathetic, the other lovely. I found it interesting that although Christopher’s mother and his intended bride are at opposite poles of the sympathy scales, the effect they have on the lives of your protagonists is the same. What was your intention in writing Lady Mary and Elaine?
Cari: Originally, I wrote those women as foils for Tom and Christopher, plot points to bounce them off of but not take too seriously. As I got deeper into it, I realized that I liked writing them (Perilous is a very male-centric story, unsurprising since most of it takes place on ships) and providing a contrast between not only them, but Tom in particular. The women have their biggest impacts on Christopher, but the character in the best place to relate to them, through his affection for Christopher, is Tom.
Perilous taught me something about myself, namely, that I am a huge wimp. I didn’t think that I’d have a problem with a historical, but I was so quickly invested in your characters that I had to put my kindle down before Tom and Christopher set out on their first raid, needing to mentally prepare myself for what was going to come. It was the same with every one of the many skirmishes throughout the book. The final third, after Tom has been captured, was particularly nerve-wracking! Was it difficult to subject your characters to those dangers? They do not escape unscathed either. Are you the type of author who has to mentally apologise every time she does something mean to a character or do you have no mercy knowing it is what the story requires?
Cari: So, a not very surprising fact about me is that I love writing action scenes. I love putting people into dangerous situations and having them escape by the skin of their teeth (or not, because I’m so mean to Tom). The really interesting thing about the skirmishes in Perilous is that they’re all based on real events that happened during the time period. I researched black powder explosions, shipboard fires, period-appropriate surgery techniques, typhoid…that was some of the easiest research for me to dig into. Call me Cari the Merciless!
I am really, really grateful for Gaspard. I was hoping that we’d see more of the French than arrogant captains, and Gaspard certainly delivered! I was really curious about the history of the humane-minded surgeon, and the risks he took to get his patient to safety really impressed me, providing the perfect counterpart to the military skirmishes. Was he a part of the story from the start? How did he come into being?
Cari: Gaspard was a late addition to the story, insofar as I originally wrote the three parts with a lag in-between each one. I got to the third part and realized I was in desperate need of a sympathetic character, because even I can only torture my hero so much before I just start feeling overwhelmed. That was Gaspard, and I think his mindset, in some ways more modern and empathetic than anyone else in the book, really fit given his profession. Nobody sees the cost of war like a battlefield surgeon.
Finally, in the dedication at the start of Perilous, you thank ‘your beta-readers and all the other people who thought this story deserved resurrection.’ It sounds like Perilous has a history all of its own! How did the story start, and what was its journey to publication?
Cari: Perilous was actually one of the first stories I ever made available to readers. I posted it for free, got a lot of positive feedback on it and then mostly forgot about it. My ficwife, beta extraordinaire and one of my best friends dates from this story, though, and she encouraged me to do something more with it. I took it down, reworked it, and sent it in to Nine Star Press, which is one of the few presses I’m interested in that’s open to reprints. They accepted, which made me sooo happy!
Thank you so much for talking to me, Cari! If readers want to keep up with Cari, you can find her at the links below. Perilous is available now, so don’t hesitate to check it out!
In 1803, England declares war on France, staking the fates of two mighty empires against one another. Thousands of men serve in the British navy, hungry for distinction in the battle against Bonaparte.
One of them, Lieutenant Thomas Williams, thinks he knows what he wants out of life: prize money at sea, a career of decent note, and the means to maintain his independence when he leaves the navy. What he finds is service under Captain Christopher Knightly: a tactical genius, inveterate charmer, and the youngest son of a wealthy noble house.
Their unexpected and perilous love affair is a gamble against the odds, for in a time of war, nothing is sure to last. If the French don’t tear them apart, one slip in front of the wrong eyes or ears might. When the demands of Christopher’s family take him from Thomas’s side, he thinks it might be the best thing for his captain. Little does Tom realize just how far Christopher will go to return to him, and when life takes a turn for the worse, how much further he will go to save him.
Perilous is available now!
Cari Z © 2016
All Rights Reserved
Just before he went over the side, his captain brought his lips close to his ear. “Good luck, Tom,” he said in a voice that drove the shivers out of Tom’s system. Tom closed his eyes for a moment, savoring their closeness, and then slipped quietly into the black water of the bay.
It was cold, bone-chillingly cold. Tom caught his stuttering breath and then began to swim, slowly and silently, toward the distant guard boat. It hadn’t seemed so far away sitting in the cutter, but now that he was in the water, the distance felt interminable. The frigid water sapped his strength, but Tom was built strong in body and determined in mind, and he ignored it, focusing only on his goal as he edged closer and closer. He was within a few feet when he heard his captain’s voice.
“Messieurs! Ici, je suis un ami!” It was soft but carrying.
The guards sat up straight, dropping the bottle they were sharing and staring away into the darkness, away from Tom as he crept to the side of their boat. “Qui est là?” One of them called out. “Qui êtes-vous?”
Tom couldn’t allow them to keep calling out; the noise would bring unwanted attention. Grabbing his knife, he lunged out of the water and drew it across the noisier one’s throat even as he fought for a place in the boat. The man he held gargled hideously as he died, but the other had time to draw his knife.
Cari Z was a bookworm as a child and remains one to this day. In an effort to combat her antisocial reading behavior, she did all sorts of crazy things, from competitive gymnastics to alligator wresting (who even knew that was legal!) to finally joining the Peace Corps, which sent her and her husband to the wilds of West Africa, stuck them in a hut, and said, “See ya!” She started writing then, because what else are you going to do for entertainment with no electricity? She writes award-winning LGBTQ fiction featuring aliens, supervillains, soothsayers and even normal people sometimes.