Part Two (originally published on The World According to Sam)
Q: Writing an entire novel continuing the adventures of Austen characters is rather indicative of your fondness for Miss Austen’s work. Can you tell us about your first experience with her work?
A: I have been in love with Jane Austen’s stories for as long as I can remember. When I was twelve, I read Pride and Prejudice and was hooked. Perhaps, it was being a product of the 1950s and 1960s. Those decades were a male dominated period (Have you ever watched “Mad Men”?). Jane Austen’s works looked at society through a comedic screen while examining issues found in a male dominated world. Charlotte Lucas symbolizes the prevailing attitude toward women, while Elizabeth Bennet does not condemn feminine “virtues,” but rather balances them with a sensible mind. In each of Austen’s novels, the main characters have experiences that create a profound and permanent transformation (Fitzwilliam Darcy and Elizabeth Bennet in Pride and Prejudice; Marianne Dashwood in Sense and Sensibility; Emma Woodhouse in Emma; Anne Elliot in Persuasion; Catherine Morland in Northanger Abbey; and Edmund in Mansfield Park). Austen’s witty, satirical approach to her subjects resonates across the centuries. Therefore, as a twelve-year-old, I read Jane Austen for the first time, and I was hooked.
Q: Can you tell us about any of your other published or planned works?
A: Currently, during the day, I am spending time with my new grandson. His parents are both teachers, and “LoLa” is tending the child until the end of the school year. I love to watch him reach each of his benchmarks. James is 6 months old and is my new best friend.
In the evenings, I am writing. My next Austen-inspired title with Ulysses Press will be another Darcy mystery to be released in the spring of 2013. I am preparing to release my contemporary version of Pride and Prejudice, entitled Honor and Hope, as soon as we decide on the cover art for the project. Recently, I have finished book 4 of my Regency historical series: A Touch of Grace. (Book 1 was The Scandal of Lady Eleanor [formerly A Touch of Gold]; Book 2 is A Touch of Velvet; Book 3 is A Touch of Cashémere.) Thankfully, The Scandal of Lady Eleanor was recognized by the the Write Touch Awards with a second place in historical fiction. Publishers’ Weekly called this series a “knockout.” Those who have read the early versions of A Touch of Grace consider it a superior tale to Eleanor’s.
Beside the above titles, I have written seven Austen-inspired titles. They include Darcy’s Passions: Pride and Prejudice Retold Through His Eyes; Darcy’s Temptation, The Phantom of Pemberley, Vampire Darcy’s Desires, The Disappearance of Georgiana Darcy, Captain Wentworth’s Persuasion, and Christmas at Pemberley. In addition to the books in the Realm series, The First Wives’ Club is the first book in a Regency era trilogy, and there’s always my contemporary romance, Second Chances: The Courtship Wars, which is based around a reality TV show.
Q: If you could spend an hour talking to anyone from any time in history, who would it be? And Why?
A: When I was younger, I had a fascination with George Custer. Besides the Regency Period, I read extensively about the American Civil War, when Custer’s military career began. I tried to discover every little detail about the man who died at the Battle of Little Bighorn. For example, did you know that a year after that fateful battle that Custer’s remains were dug up and reburied at West Point? Were you aware that Custer used a cinnamon scented tonic on his long golden locks? Did you realize that Custer wrote a book, published in 1874, entitled My Life on the Plains or Personal Experiences with the Indians? How about the fact that Walt Whitman, on hearing the news of Custer’s death, wrote the poem “From Far Dakota’s Canyons”? Among his men, Custer developed a reputation for flamboyant behavior. He led his troops into battle wearing a black velvet jacket trimmed with gold lace, a crimson necktie, and a white hat. He claimed that he adopted this outfit so that his men “would recognize him on any part of the field.”
Custer’s defeat at the Little Bighorn made the life of an obscure 19th century military figure into the subject of legends with countless songs, books, and paintings. Custer’s critics say his blunders caused his death and the death of his men. His supporters say he was only following standard military tactics of his time.
Paintings and writings about “the Custer massacre” depict Custer as a gallant victim, surrounded by bloodthirsty savages. The fact that Custer started the battle by attacking the Indian village is often omitted.
It is said that the “Indians” did not scalp or mutilate Custer’s body out of respect for his fighting ability, but few participating Indians knew who he was. To this day no one knows the real reason the Amerinds left Custer’s body intact.
Q: What’s the craziest, bravest, or stupidest thing you’ve ever done?
A: I have discussed this previously. At one time, I worked as a volunteer EMT for a local fire department. In November 1970, I was a senior at Marshall University in Huntington, West Virginia. On November 14, after a loss to East Carolina University, Southern Airways Flight 932 went into the side of the hill on its approach to Tri-State Airport. No one survived. I was among those who retrieved bodies of football players, town leaders, university boosters, coaches, etc. It is a moment forever etched on my memory. The event was the focus of the 2006 Matthew McConaughey, Matthew Fox, and Anthony Mackie film “We Are Marshall.”
Q: What was your favorite chapter (or part) of “The Disappearance of Georgiana Darcy” to write and why?
A: I love to write confrontations. I am not certain what that says about me. Perhaps, it is all the years that I spent in martial arts. I have always seen the forms (simulated fights) used to train the students in Tae Kwon Do as “dance.” Therefore, if one looks closely at any of my books, it’s the “fight scene” that takes more than one chapter. In “The Disappearance of Georgiana Darcy,” Major General Fitzwilliam (the former Colonel Fitzwilliam) and Darcy race across the Scottish moors to rescue a woman they believe to be the missing Georgiana; yet, before they have the opportunity to find their missing loved one, they must fight their way through the prison cells below Normanna Hall. Those pages are wrought with tension.
Q: List three of your favorite movies.
A: I would sit up late into the night to watch “Seven Brides for Seven Brothers,” “Von Ryan’s Express,” and “The Quiet Man.” I love period pieces also. I know you only asked for three, but I would be remiss if I did not mention: “North and South,” “Pride and Prejudice,” “The Young Victoria,” “Little Dorrit,” “The Way We Live Now,” “Jane Eyre,” “Persuasion,” “Bright Star,” “Lord Byron,” “The Tudors,” “Cranford,” etc., etc., etc.
Q: Name an actor or book character you have a crush on.
A: Actually, that is one and the same. I am a Matthew Macfadyen fan, and he is my Mr. Darcy. Several years ago, I was fortunate to meet Colin Firth, and I absolutely adore him. I am one of those fans who trot off to see every film in which Firth performs. However, in 1998, I came across a made-for-TV version of “Wuthering Heights” that was appropriate for my English classroom to view. In the part of Hareton, there was Macfadyen. He smiled in one scene, and my interest was engaged. After that, I followed his career in film and television. When he portrayed Fitzwilliam Darcy, it was simply icing on the cake.
Please note that prior to Macfadyen, I have held an interest in Errol Flynn, Clark Gable, James Garner, Howard Keel, Peter Lawford, and Jeffrey Hunter.
Q: Is there a book you know that you will never read? Or one you tried to read but just could not finish?
A: There are only a few books that I have not finished, and, truthfully, at the moment, I cannot think of any of them. (Out of sight…out of mind.) Sometimes, it takes several attempts to read certain pieces. One title that I never enjoyed teaching was Charles Dickens’ Great Expectations. It is awful to say, but when I was pregnant with my son, I purposely left Great Expectations for my substitute to teach while I was on pregnancy leave.
Q: Do you work from an outline or just write?
A: I have an “umbrella” list of events that should happen within the story, which serves as my outline. However, I am very much a pantser. I write my books out in long hand in several spiral notebooks. Then I word process the story. Finally, I edit and revise. Generally, the story picks up some spontaneous twists and turns that I did not originally anticipate. In my current title, however, the story has taken a divergent twist. Yet, I think the story is better for the unexpected turn.
Q: Do you ever experience writer’s block?
A: Occasionally, writer’s block sets in. It is usually when I planned one path for the story, and the tale takes “one less traveled.” When that happens, I simply set the writing aside and let the book play out in my head until it works itself right. The longest I have ever spent away from a book was two weeks. That was with Darcy’s Temptation. I agonized over whether to use amnesia as part of the plot.