1. If you could be one of your characters for a day which character would it be? Why?
In the 2008 British series, Lost in Austen, the main character, a modern day woman named Amanda Price, meets the fictionalized Fitzwilliam Darcy. During an argument regarding Darcy’s priggish behavior toward Jane Bennet, Price says, “I’ve had you in my head, Fitzwilliam Darcy, since I was twelve years old…. Cut my heart out, Darcy. It has your name written on it with Elizabeth’s. God Almighty! Here you are – one half of the greatest love story ever told.” Like Amanda Price, I have been in love with Fitzwilliam Darcy since I was twelve – long before Andrew Davies created the myth of Darcy by casting the perfectly “sensual” Colin Firth in the 1995 BBC adaptation and even longer before Joe Wright molded a vulnerably sexy Darcy with Matthew Macfadyen playing opposite of Keira Knightley in 2005.
As a gawky, too tall, too smart preteen, I had more than one question about my likelihood of ever finding someone who would care for me as I am. At the time, I possessed no hope of my getting any prettier or less intelligent. All my cousins were sweet, petite darlings and were extremely talented. (My head is cut off in family pictures!) Then I read Pride and Prejudice, a book where the superior Mr. Darcy chooses the second Bennet sister – not the prettiest among her siblings and certainly not the most congenial. In fact, Darcy was only mildly aware of Elizabeth Bennet’s fine eyes and lithe figure. His initial attraction rested in the lady’s playful, teasing nature and the woman’s desire to improve her mind through extensive reading. I was hooked. I convinced myself that somewhere in this world there was a “Darcy” for me. So, if I could, I would gladly replace Elizabeth Bennet for one day. Heck, I would even accept Firth or Macfadyen as legitimate substitutes for Mr. Darcy.
2. Who is your favorite hero that you’ve written? Why?
Several years ago, I introduced Adam Lawrence, the future Earl of Greenwall, in one of my storylines. In that particular book, Lawrence had a walk through, mentioned as part of a social gathering. I cannot explain it – others authors will understand – but I instantly wanted to know more of Lawrence. Therefore, the viscount became a regular in my novels. In The Phantom of Pemberley, he took the step from supporting role to main character.
This is what I know of Adam Lawrence. He is tormented by his belief that in his father’s eyes that he is a failure. This notion taints Lawrence’s every action. He becomes what he believes others expect of him: a scoundrel, a cad, a rake, and a womanizer. Yet, there are moments when Lawrence acts quite heroic. He risks his life again and again for the sake of others; he is of noble character; although he occasionally acts unethically, the viscount never breaks a personal moral code; and self-knowledge is more important to him than his physical strength. Lawrence is such an appealing character that I have written a novella for his fans. “His Irish Eve” is set six years in the future. It explains Lawrence’s final interactions with his mistress, Cathleen Donnell, and the lady’s lasting impact on the viscount’s life.
3. Who is your favorite hero written by someone else? Why?
Jean Valjean, hero of Victor Hugo’s Les Misérables, is very much defined in terms of ancient heroes: he performs extraordinary feats, he fights for his own honor, and his deeds belong to the community. His fallibility is Valjean’s appeal. A product of the society in which he lives, Valjean makes poor choices. Those choices serve as the basis of his reform; they are the source of his atonement. He acts not from some desire to be seen as a hero, but because he must perform compassionately for others’ benefit to know peace. Valjean uses his life lessons as the basis of his decisions. He is heroic because he get on with the business of living.
4. What do you think makes a good hero?’
Because I write novels based in the early 1800s, I tend to use the Byronic hero most often. In the romantic hero, one finds eagerness in the service of an idea. The hero is devoted to whatever passion he follows. An internal battle serves as a source of the hero’s motivation. However, I do admit that the modern concept of a code of behavior, rather than a code of ethics, holds its appeal. A true hero performs his deeds for the sake of others.
5. If you could have dinner with any writer living or dead, who would it be and why?
Of course, everyone would expect me to say Jane Austen in response to this question, and although I would treasure an evening with “Jane” as my dinner companion, I am going to choose Ernest Hemingway. Besides beings a highly attractive man, I have always admired the Hemingway “hero.” I would want to see if the man truly lived up to his legend. I would imagine that Hemingway would be conscious of the fact that those he met (and those who happened to be in his vicinity) would set in awe of the man. I also picture him as the type who has read every word of praise and of criticism others had written of his efforts, and he has found a way to turn both to his advantage. Hemingway was the consummate literary scholar and a devout lover of books.
As the man once said, “All you have to do is write one true sentence. Write the truest sentence you know.” Excellent advice from a writer who, in 1952, sold five million copies of The Old Man and the Sea in just two days. I admire his style – his avoidance of description of emotions – a prose style characterized by concise sentences, vivid dialogue, and simplistic narration/description. Hemingway’s development of a specific model for his heroes is renowned. Hemingway’s heroes are “super masculine,” enjoying sports and adventure. Of course, we might have a point of contention: Hemingway’s heroines exist only in relation to the men in their lives. Mr. Hemingway and I could have a “heated discussion” over such differences.
6. What authors do you always read?
There are so many writers (besides Jane Austen) who I adore. I have repeatedly curled up on a long winter’s evening to retrace Jane Eyre’s (Charlotte Brontë) journey in discovery. I love Elizabeth Gaskell’s Cranford and North and South. If I come across Alfred Noyes’ “The Highwayman” or Arthur Guiterman’s “Pershing at the Front” in a book, I will stop everything to read these poems. I love Ambrose Bierce’s “A Horseman in the Sky.”
While still teaching, I enjoyed sharing Adeline Yen Mah’s Chinese Cinderella with my students, as well as Ellen Emerson White’s Echo Company series. Some other favorites were Lillian Hellman’s The Little Foxes; Neil Simon’s God’s Favorite; Sonia Levitin’s The Cure; Jane Yolen’s The Young Merlin Trilogy; Ayn Rand’s Anthem; and Robert Cormier’s Heroes. Anthony Trollope’s novel, The Way We Live Now, holds relevance to modern-day ponzi schemes. Give me an Agatha Christie mystery, and I am quite satisfied. I like Thorton Wilder’s The Bridge of San Luis Rey, Gustave Flaubert’s Madame Bovary, Homer Hickman’s October Sky, Julius Lester’s Othello, Tom Jordan’s Pre: The Story of America’s Greatest Running Legend, Jim Vergus’ One Thousand White Women, and just about anything Sharyn McCrumb writes.
7. Do you have a secret talent readers would be surprised by?
Most people would agree that I am more than a fair dancer, and quite a few realize that I hold a Black Belt in Tae Kwon Do, but not many may know that I am also quite adept at twirling a flag – the kind one sees in a marching band or in Drum Corps International. In my garage, one may find two five foot poles with flags and three swing flags. (I no longer own a show rifle. They are too heavy for a woman with a repaired rotator cuff.) I recently taught one of neighborhood’s middle schoolers the basics. The girl plans to audition for the high school line in the spring.
8. What is the one question you never get asked at interviews, but wish you did?
You have published twelve novels in a little short of four years and have another nearing completion. Reportedly, you have several others in waiting. From where do all the ideas come? And what happens when you run out of new ideas?