Interview with Austen author, Regina Jeffers, and The Real World According to Sam

Part One (originally posted on The Real World According to Sam)

Q: Tell us about your latest book.

A: The Disappearance of Georgiana Darcy is a cozy mystery, much in the vein of an Agatha Christie novel or the “Murder She Wrote” TV series. A cozy is set in a deserted area and has no sex or graphic violence. Along with the main characters, a “cozy” requires the reader to use his intelligence to solve the mystery’s clues. The book is classified as romantic suspense, but there is more suspense than romance in the story line. I prefer the idea of “romantic elements” instead. The Disappearance of Georgiana Darcy is set two years after Pride and Prejudice ends. Although Georgiana Darcy had made a brilliant match in Major General Fitzwilliam, Darcy has never fully accepted the loss of his sister to a proper marriage, but he would gladly “lose” Georgiana to Edward Fitzwilliam’s care if it meant that he could finally locate her on the infamous Merrick Moor.

Book Blurb: Shackled in the dungeon of a macabre castle with no recollection of her past, a young woman finds herself falling in love with her captor–the estate’s master. Yet, placing her trust in him before she regains her memory and unravels the castle’s wicked truths would be a catastrophe.

Far away at Pemberley, the Darcys happily gather to celebrate the marriage of Kitty Bennet. But a dark cloud sweeps through the festivities: Georgiana Darcy has disappeared without a trace. Upon receiving word of his sister’s likely demise, Darcy and wife, Elizabeth, set off across the English countryside, seeking answers in the unfamiliar and menacing Scottish moors.

How can Darcy keep his sister safe from the most sinister threat she has ever faced when he doesn’t even know if she’s alive? True to Austen’s style and rife with malicious villains, dramatic revelations and heroic gestures, this suspense-packed mystery places Darcy and Elizabeth in the most harrowing situation they have ever faced–finding Georgiana before it is too late.

Q: What inspired you to write a mystery book set in the general Pride and Prejudice milieu?

A: The Disappearance of Georgiana Darcy is actually my second romantic suspense. Ulysses Press released The Phantom of Pemberley in 2010. It did well, placing third in the Dixie Kane Memorial Awards. Fans also received “Phantom” with open arms. Naturally, in the publishing world, one stays with success. But more than that, I believe the Regency Period, with its strict guidelines for behavior and the stringent delineation for social class makes it easy to craft a mystery. Information is withheld; yet, everyone in Regency era Society knows the secrets. It is the perfect scenario.

Yet, writing a mystery is always difficult–to mix overt clues about the crime with essential details that appear unimportant, but are necessary to solve the mystery. Balancing the reveal with inference gaps takes time and planning. And, of course, tossing in those lovely “red herrings,” which take the reader down the wrong paths, are wonderful to see come to fruition.

Q: Was it difficult to balance the tension required with mystery with the sort of generally non-mystery atmosphere associated with Austen characters (well, outside of Northanger Abbey, at least).

A: Actually, Austen was a master at creating a diversion, an ingredient necessary for a well-developed mystery. For example, in Pride and Prejudice, she manages to make her readers not see the truth about Mr. Darcy. About Mr. Wickham. About Elizabeth Bennet. Austen says things such as, “It is a truth universally acknowledged that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife.” This is a tongue-in-cheek statement of theme, but it is flawed first impression of what the story entails. She says of George Wickham that he is “beyond them all in person, countenance, air, and walk.” That is another flawed impression. Of Elizabeth, Austen says, “She is not so handsome as Jane, nor half so good-humored as Lydia.” Yet, those of us who have read the novel know this is a false impression. Elizabeth has depths of character not seen in either Jane or Lydia Bennet. Mr. Darcy says of Elizabeth, “She is tolerable, but not handsome enough to tempt me.” Flawed, again and again.

As in any well-told mystery, it is necessary to introduce an unexpected scenario. For the crime, it becomes prudent to develop a closed circle of suspects, each of whom has credible motives and reasonable opportunities to commit the crime. “Phantom” dealt with a series of unexpected deaths; “Disappearance” builds suspense with the setting. Legends of the Merrick Moor, the Awful Hand, and the Murder Hole add suspense to the story line.

Q: Will we get to see the good Mr. Darcy thrash a villain or two?

A: I have written several “Darcy” sequels and adaptations. In each, Mr. Darcy is a virile specimen of Regency era manhood. He has had more than one “tussle” with Mr. Wickham in my novels.

Andrew Davies’ created the image of “Darcy” in the 1995 Pride and Prejudice mini-series. Colin Firth as Fitzwilliam Darcy is given scenes (NOT found in the original story) that make his character more appealing to the predominantly female viewing audience. We see him on horseback, swimming in a placid lake, fencing, and hunting. We see him stepping from his bath and staring broodingly out a window. Women loved the image. These same women are my audience. I would be foolish to go against the model.

Q: Your novel has a mix of original creations and more well-known Austen characters. Did you find it difficult to write scenes with the Austen characters?

A: I seriously believe that Austen’s intertextual reinscriptions of Restoration comedy have echoes in contemporary rewrites of classical literature. Reading a historical novel in its period requires the reader to understand the period, as well as the social distance from the present. Despite Austen being a part of the Society of which she wrote, her works display a “distance” from the time period, and that “distance” marks Austen’s voice as one more distinct than others of her time. Jane Austen was sophisticated, subtle, and very intelligent in her handling of complex issues. Austen’s women were women of sense; they embodied the notion of rational love. Today’s audience has paradoxically maintained Austen’s “formula.”

Austen characters have lived in my head for half a century. They are often dancing about a ballroom or strolling along a country lane. When I write, the scenes play in my head as if they were part of a movie. When something is not correct, I simply hit “rewind” until the scene plays with authority. I often find myself saying, “Mr. Darcy would not say that.” Then I replay the scene until it is correct.

Q: Did you ever have any concern that readers might take issue with your interpretation of these well-known characters?

A: The most difficult part of writing Austen-inspired literature is that each of Austen’s fans feels as if “Jane” is her personal friend, and that reader knows “Jane’s mind” better than anyone else. Therefore, they bring to the reading experience a preconceived idea of how Austen’s characters would act outside of her novels. I have been fortunate, overall. Most of my readers feel that I understand how Austen’s characters would respond to various situations. However, I occasionally meet a reader who disagrees with what I have written. One thing that I do religiously in my works is that I use as much of Austen’s actual text as possible within the story line. Many love to hear familiar phrases in new situations.

Writing scenes with the forbidden word “SEX” in them is more of an issue. Many Janeites think any scene that involves sexual references is inappropriate for Austen-inspired works. My scenes are more realistic. I look at Darcy and Elizabeth’s joining as a loving one. I do not write torrid sexual encounters, but I also do not avoid the old adage of “an heir and a spare.” My scenes are more indicative of vintage films. One sees the build up, but then the door closes, and he knows what happens.

Q: Period novels necessitate research. Even with you having a starting point in a famous work, your story goes off in directions Austen never dreamt of. So, in the course of doing research for your novel, is there anything you learned that surprised you? 

A: The research is based on what would and would not be acceptable for the Regency Period, the time period in which the majority of my novels are set. The true Regency Period lasted only ten years, from 1811 to 1820. Most writers of the period place their stories somewhere between 1800 and 1820; however, a few feature everything from the French Revolution to the Reform. When I am creating a Jane Austen adaptation, my setting is defined by Austen’s original story line. For example, the events in Pride and Prejudice occur in 1812. If I am writing an Austen sequel, I must be aware of the events that happened in the years following 1812. In my latest novel, The Disappearance of Georgiana Darcy, Colonel Fitzwilliam is returning from service with Wellington at Waterloo. Therefore, the book must be true to June 1815. In my unique Regencies, I tend to place my characters in situations that occur between 1810 and 1815. It is the time period of which I am most familiar.

I have a stash of Regency related books to which I often turn for assistance. The Internet is helpful, but there is so much misinformation on the Web that a person must look for sites that verify the content found upon the page. One of the biggest issues is anachronistic phrases. I am more aware of those issues in my Austen-inspired works. Miss Austen has a distinct style, which is difficult to replicate, and I make a point of adding her actual wording to the story lines. In most Regencies on the mass market, in the publishing business, a certain number of anachronistic phrases are acceptable. Those serve as a segue between what is often seen as the stilted language of the period and modern phrasing. However, I do attempt to be true to language style.

I love to look for the “unusual” of the Regency era and then incorporate the legend into my novels. For example, there is the mysterious Holy Island of Lindisfarne and the legend of St. Cuthbert’s miraculous burial site or the real-life case of Mary Reynolds, a woman who suffered from Dissociative Identity Disorder. I also found it quite fascinating that Lord Thomas Cochrane proposed saturation bombing and chemical warfare during the Napoleonic Wars. The era has such “nuggets” that amaze my readers and keep them coming back for more.

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About reginajeffers

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