(originally posted on November 16, 2011 on both Christy Farmer’s website and P&P05)
1. Christmas at Pemberley covers two of my favorite subjects: Pemberley and Christmas! What are your hopes for Darcy and Elizabeth as you wrote this story?
Regina Jeffers: Like most Austen fans, I imagine Darcy and Elizabeth experiencing a long and happy marriage, but I am not foolish enough to believe the couple never held moments of regret or self-doubt. Working through those all-so-human emotions is the glue, which holds a marriage together.
Of late, I have been spending a great deal of time reminiscing over my son’s entrance into the world. One must understand that my son Josh has recently welcomed his son James to the family. Christmas at Pemberley is dedicated to my first grandchild. “An infant is a speck of Heaven that God has allowed us to experience.”
In a time when delivering a healthy heir defined a woman, I felt Elizabeth’s pain, and I wondered how Darcy might face the anguish of seeing his hopes for a family at Pemberley diminishing. Dealing with the loss of a child can make or break a marriage. I wrote the Darcys’ story from my own experiences. I was 38 when Joshua came into my life. Prior to his arrival, I had known a miscarriage and a near-death ectopic pregnancy. After those disappointments, I had resigned myself to the task of tending to my two stepsons. Then, miraculously, another pregnancy brought us renewed hope. However, during those early months, I was quite adamant that no one would even acknowledge my child’s existence. I had convinced myself that if the two of us made it to six months, then modern medicine would see him the rest of the way. That was my daily prayer.
Joshua came nearly seven weeks early. (My theatre class quickly became Marriage and Family Life!) That roller coaster ride of feeling unworthy and my questioning God’s will in my life became part of what Elizabeth Darcy experiences in her story. Elizabeth has heard from everyone that she is “unworthy” of being Darcy’s wife. How the Darcys resolve this lack of an heir and manage to keep the hope of Christmas is the nucleus of this tale.
2. According to the excerpt posted on your website (www.rjeffers.com), Georgiana experiences great conflict as she deals with intrusive family and friends during the holidays. Inquiring minds want to know, was this inspired by a series of actual events? (LOL!)
Regina Jeffers: Without mentioning names of my “ex’s” family, this is difficult to explain. I married into a large Italian family. My father-in-law was one of twelve children. Each of those twelve siblings had multiple children, who had multiple children. (Think My Big Fat Greek Weddingwith Italian elements.) Unfortunately, among those of such passionate natures, often a feud or a misunderstanding occurs. Heck! My father-in-law and I stubbornly refused to speak to each other for over a year after one such spat, but it was I who he requested to read his “love letter” to his wife of 50 years at their golden anniversary party.
That being said, one must realize how comical it is to be in a room occupied by two people, each of whom pretends the other does not exist. Have you ever carried on two entirely different conversations at the same time? I actually had such a scene in Christmas at Pemberley, but it was cut because it was a filler rather than one advancing the story line; yet, I found it quite delightful to have Lady Catherine ignoring Mrs. Bennet and Georgiana tending to her aunt and to Elizabeth’s mother over an afternoon tea break. Writing the comic relief does not come easily to me, and I was sore to part with the scene. However, the editor was correct. Other than to entertain my own vanity at having known success in writing a delicious scene, it served no purpose in telling the main story.
3. Regency Era Christmas celebrations were far different from how we celebrate today. Have you come to embrace any Regency traditions in your own holiday celebrations?
Regina Jeffers: When people imagine the old-fashioned perfection of a Regency Christmas, they often are actually reveling in images of a Victorian one. Christmas trees, stocking hung on the mantel, and tales of Father Christmas are not Regency traditions. Instead, a person would find a more low-key celebration with strong roots in Christian theology. A Yule log. A Christmas candle. A goose. Plum pudding. A tenant’s celebration. Greenery strung about the house. Those were the outward furnishings of a Regency Christmas. In reality, Boxing Day and Twelfth Night were the points of celebration of a Regency Christmastide.
Unfortunately, I must admit to being a bit of a “Bah-humbug” sort of person when it comes to Christmas. I am one of those “nut cases” who has his shopping completed by the first week of October. Although I love beautiful tree ornaments, I despise the hours of creating the perfect tree. One must realize that with a type A personality, a “perfect” tree is the only one permitted to rest in my living room. And so, although I relish finding the right gift for each person on my list, I avoid all the hoopla associated with the day. Instead, I am very active with several charitable organizations, which provide for those less fortunate. Seeing a child receive a toy or a family a food basket when all hope of either has dissipated is the true meaning of Christmas. I have no need of a pretty tree. In that manner, I practice Regency customs.
As I have spent the last few Christmases alone, I have practiced my own “English” customs. One of those is Stir-Up Sunday, the day upon which Christmas puddings are traditionally made in England. Stir-Up Sunday is the last Sunday before Advent, the last day one can make the Christmas fruitcakes and puddings that require time to be aged. In the U.S., we, as a nation, do not understand the difference between the “hated” store bought fruitcake and an excellent plum pudding. This year, with the new baby, my son and his wife will spend Christmas in North Carolina, rather than returning to Ohio to see their extensive family in the North. It is my hope to introduce the tradition of Stir-Up Sunday to their very Italian sensibilities.
4. To coincide with Jane Austen’s birthday (December 16), you have four events planned. What are the events and how can readers participate?
Regina Jeffers: For the largest of the events, in conjunction with the Union West Library, we have planned a Jane Austen birthday celebration. There will be tea, scones, lemon curd, and finger sandwiches for refreshments. I will make a short presentation of the Regency period and the life of Jane Austen and her continued impact on contemporary society. Barnes & Noble will serve as the bookseller for the event.
Part of the program is two book clubs having read my novels. We will meet to discuss, first, The Phantom of Pemberley and then Christmas at Pemberley. Finally, at one of the satellite libraries (Wadesboro, NC), I will be doing a public reading from Christmas at Pemberleyduring a “Brown Bag Lunch.” These four events cover an 18-day period, and it is a salute to Jane Austen’s enduring influence on literature and modern times. The dates, times, and locations are posted on my website (www.rjeffers.com). The public is welcome to join us for each of the programs.
5. From a teacher’s point of view, what were your most successful methods in teaching Jane Austen to your students?
Regina Jeffers: Teenagers possess very social natures. Therefore, I always prefaced the teaching of Pride and Prejudice or of Persuasion with mini lessons on what appeals to their hormone-induced brains: dating, courtship, clothing, marriage, dancing, transportation, parental demands, fashion, cosmetics, leisure activities, and FOOD (all in relationship to the Regency period and Jane Austen). To understand Austen’s novels, a reader must understand the concept of primogeniture, the distinction between social classes, and the customs of the genteel class. Add to those concepts, the realization that a woman, who wrote in the 19th Century about romance, was still a very marketable commodity, and I had appealed to all their motivations. They were always amazed at the commercial value of Jane Austen’s name in modern times. They were hooked before we turned the first page of the novel. Social customs, lifestyles of the “rich and famous,”and ways to capitalize on the mundane aspects of Regency England: I spoke their language.
6. Your road to publication is a most intriguing one because a student challenged you to write your own book! What were your first thoughts and what was the experience like? Did the results surprise the students? Did the student who offered the challenge receive an A?
Regina Jeffers: As you noted, I never considered writing novels as a career possibility. In 2007, during an Advanced Placement English Language and Composition class, I was in the middle of one of the above-mentioned mini lessons. That particular day, the lesson dealt with authors who rewrote the classics and the necessity to staying true to the original characters. I had described in contemptuous terms how one such Pride and Prejudice sequel had portrayed Darcy as a sniveling simpleton. (The group already understood my obsession with Jane Austen, and they sat in amusement as I briefly described this ‘wannabe’ author’s efforts to them. In all my conceit, I thought at the time that everyone would agree with me.) “I threw the book across the room,”I declared quite proudly.
To which, Will D. said, “If you know how to do this, why don’t you do it yourself?”
Of course, I laughed off his suggestion. “Even if I wanted to do something so foolish, when would I have time?” I countered.
“You always tell us that if we believe passionately in something that excuses are a lame attempt at avoiding failure.”
(Who would have suspected that he actually had listened to me? Where were those who say that teenagers always block out every moral lesson an adult offers? I had been caught in a trap of my own making.)
Over a four months’ period, I wrote Darcy’s Passions. I would remain at my desk each evening until 7. (English teachers spend an inordinate amount of time correcting essays.) Then I would go home, eat, shower, and write until 11 P.M. The next day, I would do it all over again. After beginning the project, I decided to self-publish the book, so the class could see the finished project. One of the students rendered a drawing of Darcy, which became the original cover art. The students served as editors. (Yes, there are some errors for that reason.) I never considered the book as anything more than a lesson in perseverance so those few mistakes did not bother me. The class was learning something more important: commitment. When it rose to #8 on the Amazon sales list, Ulysses Press contacted me about traditionally publishing the tale. The rest is history. Christmas at Pemberleyis my twelfth novel in less than four years. In addition, I have written two novellas and one short story “The Pemberley Ball,” which is featured in the anthology The Road to Pemberley.
As for Will D., he is a senior at UNC-Chapel Hill and is on my speed dial. As he remained my student for three years, he quickly learned his teacher’s eccentric nature and A’s were never a problem after that. (Yet, I still tease him about his early propensity to decorate his paper with semicolons when he held no idea what other punctuation might be required.)
7. You tend to write several novels a year. Many new writers speak of struggling to find balance between jobs, families, and finding time to write. How did you achieve balance and what would you say to young writers?
Regina Jeffers: Balance is actually not a realistic goal for a writer, and if one reads the above scenario, one will see that I did not always practice what I preach. Something has to suffer, and, early on, the writer must determine what it is he/she is willing to overlook. The only thing I would hold devotedly onto would be the quality time a person spends with his family and friends. Writing is a solitary process; therefore, do not squander away those opportunities to interact with others. It does matter if a person has a few dishes piled in the sink, if she forgets to fold the clothes the moment the dryer buzzes, if she can only commit to one committee at her child’s school, rather than the three or four she usually aspires to, or if she postpones cutting the grass until later in the week. What matters is that she still teaches her child how to tie his sneakers, that she finds time to help her elderly parents with their yard work, that she joins her best friends for a “birthday” lunch, and that she sit down with her family for the evening meal. Those social connections keep the brain energized and the heart strong. The rest can have its day when time from writing allows. (Besides, one might hear a juicy tidbit during those special moments that becomes the “center stone” of a perfectly good story line. LOL!)
8. Congratulations on your NaNoWriMo finish. Will your story from NaNoWriMo become published and if so, what is the story?
Regina Jeffers: In 2010, I finished A Touch of Cashémere (105,989 words) during NaNoWriMo. I had begun the book, but I had abandoned it in order to complete The First Wives’ Club. A Touch of Cashémere is the third book in the Realm series. The Realm is a covert group working for the British government. Book 1, The Scandal of Lady Eleanor (originally entitled A Touch of Gold) was my March 2011 release. It is the story of James Kerrington, the Realm’s leader, and Lady Eleanor Fowler. A Touch of Velvetfollows and tells the story of Eleanor’s brother, Brantley Fowler, and his life-long obsession with Velvet Aldridge. Cashémere Aldridge is Velvet’s sister. Her tale is mixed with that of Marcus Wellston’s. They come alive in A Touch of Cashémere.
(Back Cover of A Touch of Cashémere)
MARCUS WELLSTON never expected to inherit his father’s title. After all, he is the youngest of three sons. However, his oldest brother Trevor is mentally challenged and his second brother has lost his life in a carriage accident, so Marcus has returned to Tweed Hall and the earldom. He had left Northumberland years prior to escape the guilt of his sister’s death. He could not save Maggie, and Wellston has spent years in atonement with the Realm, a covert governmental group. Now, all he wants is a biddable wife with a pleasant personality. Neither of those terms describes Cashémere Aldridge.
CASHEMERE ALDRIDGE thought her opinions were absolutes and her world perfectly ordered, but when her eldest sister Velvet is kidnapped Cashé becomes a part of the intrigue. She quickly discovers nothing she knew before is sacred. Leading her through these changes is a man who considers her a “spoiled brat”–a man whose approval she desperately needs. Mix in an irate Baloch warlord, who seeks a missing emerald, and the Realm has its hands full. The Regency Period has never been hotter.
Ulysses Press released The Scandal of Lady Eleanor. To please the fans who wanted more of this series without waiting for Ulysses to decide whether to publish the rest of the series, I self published A Touch of Velvet and A Touch of Cashémere. A Touch of Grace and A Touch of Mercy will follow. Excerpts from all my books can be found at my website. Fans can purchase the books through the usual outlets or contact me personally at email@example.com (There are PayPal links on my website). I keep copies on hand for those who want autographed books.
9. In regards to research, do you complete all the research prior to starting a new novel, or do you prefer to do the research as you go along?
Regina Jeffers: I have certain sites I revisit prior to writing any novel. They are sites dedicated to English geographical features, myths and legends, and customs of the Regency Period. Plus, I have an extensive personal library, which I consult regularly. These help me refresh my knowledge of the era, and sometimes they spark an idea. Once I have hatched a concept, I spend several weeks tweaking the details needed: names of villages, number of miles between each, accepted surnames for the new characters, historical facts to correspond with the story’s setting, weather conditions, etc. Little details are so important to a book’s accuracy. I often say that I spend days verifying facts that are less than a paragraph within a book.
While writing, I regularly stop to research the use of a particular phase or a historic fact. Often, such research changes the original story line. For example, I have spoken previously of writing an exquisite scene for “His American Heartsong,” in which the main character, Arabella, is sprayed by a skunk. I was laughing aloud as I created a scene reminiscent of a friend’s encounter with a black and white intruder. Unfortunately, my instincts screamed the realization that there are no skunks in England. A quick check proved my hunch true. I filed the scene in the trash and created a less enjoyable one.
10. Are you a plotter or a pantser?
Regina Jeffers: I am definitely a “pantser.” I write by the seat of my pants. That does not mean that I do not plan out the story, but it indicates that I do not outline every chapter prior to writing. I know how the book will end and the key events prior to my sitting down to begin a story. Yet, the events that progress that tale from Point A to Point B often unfold as my pen trails along the lined paper. Sometimes, those events surprise me, as well as my readers. I call my writing style the closed umbrella effect. Each spoke of story closes before the Velcro strip ties it all together.
11. Do you think young writers should publish their stories on their own (public) websites and blogs (why or why not)?
Regina Jeffers: For years, I have enjoyed pieces of fan fiction from some of my favorite authors. For many, they have converted their love of Austen, Conan Doyle, Dickens, Gaskell, etc., into writing careers. Some have found the transition fulfilling and have been successful; others have known disappointment. Those lucky few that find a publisher willing to bring the work to fruition have a ready-made fan base, a fact that publishers relish in today’s crazy marketplace. However, the release of these stories as “free” reads often backfires on a writer. Despite the traditional publisher making changes to the original manuscript, some readers refuse to pay for a book they have previously read without charge. Sales can be impacted. I suppose the answer lies in the writer’s purpose for displaying his work in a public forum. Is it purely for his creative expression and own pleasure? Is he seeking a career change? Has he attempted self-publishing or the traditional route and simply wants to increase his name recognition? Those personal motivations will impact a writer’s decision as to whether or not to open his work up to others on his blog/website.
A person can find excerpts of each of my novels, but I have never placed a complete manuscript on my website or on Austen Authors’ Writer’s Block. It is not because I believe myself better than those who choose the fan fiction route. It is just the opposite. I admire how organized they are. My writing process is a bit convoluted because I hand write my books in spiral notebooks with a black ink pen, and then I word-process them. There is always a delay between the story’s development and typing the end result. I would have readers waiting for months for the next installment–so much so that they would desert me for a more compelling story line.
12. If the opportunities existed, what would you like to say to Jane Austen?
Regina Jeffers: Until of late, I might have said, “What in the world were you thinking when you created Fanny Price?” But I have been carefully rereading Mansfield Parkafter many years of avoiding the novel, and I have developed a new appreciation for Austen’s often touted least favorite heroine.
That being said, I would have so many questions for “our Jane” that I am not certain where I might begin. I would hope I would not be limited to just one query. I would like to know, for example:
In some of Austen’s marriage plots, one finds an endogamous joining (Mansfield Park and Emma) and in others, one discovers an exogamous marriage of opposites (Pride and Prejudice and Persuasion). As Austen had several opportunities to form both types of marriages, I would ask if Jane held any regrets in never marrying, especially in calling off her engagement to Harris Bigg-Wither.
Did Austen intentionally include a strong awareness of the impending social changes encompassing England? In other words, were the limitations of her novels in the historical details self-imposed?
Most of Austen’s novels reflect the tension between the prospect of the woman’s role in the marriage mart and the growing demand for moral independence and self-respect on the part of the female populace. Based on her story lines, I would ask Austen to define the earthly reward of “virtue.”
Christmas at Pemberley: A Pride and Prejudice Christmas Sequel
To bring a renewed sense joy to his wife’s countenance, Fitzwilliam Darcy has secretly invited the Bennets and the Bingleys to spend the Christmastide festive days at Pemberley. But as he and Elizabeth journey to their estate to join the gathered families, a blizzard blankets the English countryside. The Darcys find themselves stranded at a small out-of-the-way inn with another couple preparing for the immediate delivery of their first child, while Pemberley is inundated with friends and relations seeking shelter from the storm.
Without her brother’s strong presence, Georgiana Darcy desperately attempts to manage the chaos surrounding the arrival of six invited guests and eleven unscheduled visitors. But bitter feuds, old jealousies, and intimate secrets quickly rise to the surface. Has Lady Catherine returned to Pemberley for forgiveness or revenge? Will the manipulative Caroline Bingley find a soul mate? Shall Kitty Bennet and Georgiana Darcy know happiness?
Written in Regency style and including Austen’s romantic entanglements and sardonic humor, Christmas at Pemberley places Jane Austen’s most beloved characters in an exciting yuletide story that speaks to the love, the family spirit, and the generosity that remain as the heart of Christmas.
Regina Jeffers, a public classroom teacher for thirty-nine years, considers herself a Jane Austen enthusiast. She is the author of several Austen-inspired novels, including Darcy’s Passions, Darcy’s Temptation, Vampire Darcy’s Desire, Captain Wentworth’s Persuasion, The Phantom of Pemberley, and the upcoming The Disappearance of Georgiana Darcy. She also is a Regency romance author: The Scandal of Lady Eleanor, A Touch of Velvet, A Touch of Cashémere, and The First Wives’ Club. A Time Warner Star Teacher and Martha Holden Jennings Scholar, Jeffers often serves as a consultant in language arts and media literacy. Currently living outside Charlotte, North Carolina, she spends her time with her writing, gardening, and her new grandson. http://www.rjeffers.com
(Books available from Barnes & Noble, Amazon, Books-a-Million, Joseph Beth, and Ulysses Press.)