This interview originally ran on Random Bits of Fascination, the blog of fellow Austen author, Maria Grace.
Writing is such a challenging endeavor. What got you started on it, and what keeps you doing it?
In November 2008, I was still in the classroom as a teacher. I was explaining to my Advanced Placement class about voice and syntax, and I had pulled several examples of classic literature and popular literature for the students’ examinations. The lesson was in preparation of their reading Pride and Prejudice and later, Ethan Frome. I was highly critical of one of the samples, and one student took up the challenge with “If you know how to do this, do it yourself.” And so, I began writing Darcy’s Passions, a retelling of Pride and Prejudice from Mr. Darcy’s point of view. I held no conceit or thoughts of glory. I simply wished to answer a student’s challenge so that I might return with one of my own.
I admit at the time, I knew very little of JAFF, and I had only read a few of the Austen-inspired authors. So, I was an absolute publishing virgin. The project came from my love of Austen, and it was the perfect way of encouraging the students to look for voice, syntax, etc. I am occasionally criticized for “grammatical” errors in Darcy’s Passions. What people do not realize is that the students originally had editorial say over the manuscript. I had never thought of publishing the story. When I finished each chapter, they would pursue it for errors, but mostly for continuity. For the classroom experience, I self published the book, even encouraged one of my students to draw the original cover. I had never thought of publishing traditionally. The book went to #8 on Amazon’s sales list, and Ulysses Press contacted me to offer a contract. In hindsight, I laugh at my naïveté. As publishing virgins go, I was clueless. Having spent years in the journalism field, I thought the editor would correct all the errors. It was my fault that I did not take more control of the final book. I signed off on the contract before I knew the why and the wherefore of being traditionally published. So, yes there are a few transitive and intransitive verb errors and even the occasional split infinitive. I admit I should have shown more diligence in the publishing realm. I learned my lesson, and 16 books later, I am a better writer for it. However, the occasional verb tense error does not take away from the story of Fitzwilliam Darcy’s anguish when he cannot win Elizabeth Bennet’s love and his glory at finally arriving the woman’s good graces. That is the beauty of Darcy’s Passions.
What did you do with your earliest efforts? Did anyone read them? Do you still have them?
My earliest efforts were in the performance realm. As a young person, I wrote stories in my head and acted them out. Other than fond memories, there is little remaining from my childhood of a creative slant. Some of my earliest efforts in writing news stories still exist; at least, there are copies of the stories in a box of memorabilia in one of my closets. In college, I occasionally wrote for The Parthenon, the university’s paper. After graduating from college, most of my writing efforts came in the form of grant proposals and curriculum instruction, which are far from “interesting” reading.
What made you choose to write in the genres/time periods you write in?
I have always loved period dramas. My mother was a period drama addict, and I come by my obsession naturally. She loved western epics, while I gravitated toward the early years of the 19th Century, first in America, and later in England. When I discovered Jane Austen’s works, I found my niche. To date, I have written eight Austen-inspired novels and one short story, six Regency romances, and two contemporary ones.
What do you enjoy most in the writing process? What parts of it do you really dislike?
I am a pantser, meaning I write “by the seat of my pants.” I have an umbrella idea of what will happen in the book, but not every detail is set prior to my putting pen to paper. Therefore, I am often surprised at the twists and turns the story takes, and I do so love that “ah-ha” moment. I dance about the room and want to shout news of my “genius” to the heavens.
On the other hand, I struggle with description. Our lovely Jane Austen rarely gave us specific tidbits of the setting (describing the house, the lawn, the skyline, etc.), nor did she describe many of her characters’ physical appearances. I would like to say, I have followed Miss Austen’s style, but the truth is in journalism all those bits of information are omitted from the story. After all, a lead in a news story is typically 20-30 words to tell the 5 W’s + H. Therefore, I write my story, and then I go back and add tag lines/description where it appears needed.
One of the other things about the writing process, which pierces most writers’ thick skins, is the review process. I rarely look at reviews on Amazon or Barnes & Noble because, truthfully, some people take great pleasure in destroying a writer’s reputation. I get the fact that some people will like the book and some won’t. I can live with those types of remarks. Of course, I want everyone to love my stories as much as I, but I am a realist. However, when someone posts a review that has nothing to do with the story or the author, but still rates the book as a 1, that bothers me. How is an author, for example, to blame that the seller did not deliver the book in a timely manner?
If you write in multiple genres, how do you make the switch from one to the other? Do you find it a welcome change, crazy making, or a little of both?
Switching from Austen-inspired literature to Regency romance is not a great leap. How the characters speak and react to certain social situations remain much the same. Although I do not add sex to a book simply for the sensationalism, my Regencies are a bit sexier than are the Austen titles. My characters, whether Austen or Regency or contemporary, are not promiscuous. Obviously, there are distinct changes in dialogue and the role of women and social interactions in my contemporaries as opposed to the Regencies. Being permitted to use a contraction in a modern story, for example, is a great relief. I often say that the Wickham/Lydia drama of Pride and Prejudice could not easily translate into the modern story line. In a country where people need only to fly to Las Vegas to marry within hours of their arrival, Darcy giving chance nearly a week after the elopement proves null. Overall, I prefer to stay with the Regency Period, but I have enjoyed the two contemporaries I have on the market. They were sweet diversions.
Historical fiction takes a lot of research. What is the most memorable or interesting thing you have learned along the way?
In research for Captain Wentworth’s Persuasion, I discovered the story of Captain Sir Thomas, Lord Cochrane, a man who exceeded naval fiction. At the height of the Napoleonic Wars, Cochrane presented the future George IV with a secret proposal, which would revolutionalize warfare. At the time, Wellington was struggling in Spain, and the British Navy, which was greatly overextended by the blockade of French ports, was holding Bonaparte’s warships in check. Lord Cochrane had known great success, having earned 75,000 pounds sterling in prize money. His later raids on the Biscay Coast caused Napoleon to label Cochrane as ‘le loup des mers’ (the sea wolf).
Cochrane’s plan was to reduce the need for the blockades. He proposed the use of “the temporary mortar,” or “explosive ship.” In Cochrane’s plan, the decks and inner shell of a ship would be removed and the hull braced with heavy timbers. In the ship’s bottom, a layer of clay would be added. Embedded in the clay would be metal scraps and obsolete ordnance pieces. A thick layer of powder, rows of shells, and animal carcasses came next. When detonated, the mortar would blast a lethal load in a lofty arc. In addition, Cochrane wanted “stink ships” to attack the land fortifications. In these ships, the upper deck would remain, but it would be covered by a layer of charcoal and followed by one of sulphur. The resulting noxious clouds created by the explosion would cover the land fortifications with a choking gas. In other words, Lord Cochrane advocated saturation bombing and chemical warfare.
How do you keep all your research information and plot ideas organized and accessible?
For each book, I keep a “History of…” the title. In each “History,” I record details, such as a list of characters and important details regarding them. For example, I record the name of a character’s horse, his physical appearance, a family tree (especially for the hero/heroine), his servants, etc. I also keep a bulleted list of events for each chapter. For my Realm series, that “History” includes all those details for the four completed books and the fifth one, upon which I am currently working. Finally, each “History” sports a list of historical references/historical notes I used for research.
What is the best piece of writing advice you have ever gotten?
A friend of my presented me with a plague containing a Benjamin Franklin quote. I display it on a shelf of my writing desk. It says, “Either write something worth reading or do something worth writing.” I find my eye seeks out Franklin’s wisdom when I am struggling with a scene or a section of dialogue. I am also quite fond of Ernest Hemingway’s “There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed.” Of a personal nature, my favorite journalism teacher was known to say that a news reporter did not write characters. Later, when he discovered I was writing novels, he amended his advice to tell me that I should write “people,” not characters.
Tell us a little about your current project(s).
In early February, I released “His,” an anthology containing two Regency based novellas. “His American Heartsong” gives us the tale of Lawrence Lowery, the future Baron Blakehell. Lowery is the older brother of Sir Carter Lowery from my Realm series. He has made brief appearances in three of my “Touch” books. “His American Heartsong” is HIS “happily ever after.”
Blurb: Lawrence Lowery has been the dutiful elder son his whole life, but when his father Baron Blakehell arranges a marriage with the insipid Annalee Dryburgh, Lowery must choose between his responsibility to his future estate and the one woman who makes sense in his life. By Society’s standards, Arabella Tilney is completely wrong to be the future Baroness–she is an American hoyden, who demands that Lowery do the impossible: Be the man he has always dreamed of being.
The second novella, “His Irish Eve,” is the story of Adam Lawrence, Viscount Stafford. Adam makes an appearance, a walk-through in stage terminology, in eight of my novels. In The Phantom of Pemberley, Adam Lawrence becomes an integral part of the Darcys solving the mystery of the Phantom. Many of my fans expressed a desire to learn more of Adam’s future, so this is HIS story.
Blurb: When the Earl of Greenwall sends his only son, Viscount Stafford, to retrieve the viscount’s by-blow, everything in Adam Lawrence’s life changes. Six years prior, Lawrence had released his former mistress Cathleen Donnell from his protection, only to learn in hindsight Cathleen was with child. Lawrence arrives in Cheshire to discover, not only a son, but also two daughters, as well as a strong-minded woman, who fascinates him from their first encounter. Aoife Kennice, the children’s caregiver, is a woman impervious to Adam’s usual tricks and ruses as one of England’s most infamous rakes. But this overconfident lord is about to do battle: A fight Adam must win–a fight for the heart of a woman worth knowing.
Blurb: Fitzwilliam Darcy is devastated. The joy of his recent wedding has been cut short by the news of the sudden death of his father’s beloved cousin, Samuel Darcy. Elizabeth and Darcy travel to Dorset, a popular Regency resort area, to pay their respects to the well-traveled and eccentric Samuel. But this is no summer holiday. Danger bubbles beneath Dorset’s peaceful surface as strange and foreboding events begin to occur. Several of Samuel’s ancient treasures go missing, and then his body itself disappears. As Darcy and Elizabeth investigate this mystery and unravel its tangled ties to the haunting legends of Dark Dorset, the legendary couple’s love is put to the test when sinister forces strike close to home. Some secrets should remain secrets, but Darcy will do all he can to find answers—even if it means meeting his own end in the damp depths of a newly dug grave.
With malicious villains, dramatic revelations and heroic gestures, The Mysterious Death of Mr. Darcy will keep Austen fans turning the pages right up until its dramatic conclusion.
What is up next for you?
At the moment, I am working on book 5 of the Realm series. I hope to have A Touch of Mercy out by early May. That will be followed by book 6, A Touch of Love at the end of the 2013 calendar year. In February 2014, I will release Hers, which will again include two novellas. The first will be the story of John Swenton from the Realm series; the second will be the conclusion of that series and the whereabouts of the missing emerald. Finally, Ulysses Press and I are developing a new Austen story line to come out in early 2014.
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