Q: What was the first Jane Austen novel that you read? At what age? How long have you been reading Jane Austen?
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 inNorthanger Abbey; and Edmund in Mansfield Park). Austen’s witty, satirical approach to her subjects resonates across the centuries.
Q: Have you read all of Jane Austen's Works? Which one is your favorite?
I have read all of Austen’s six novels repeatedly, but not equally. Emma and Mansfield Parkhave seen less “rereadings” than have Pride and Prejudice, which I read a minimum of twice per year. Pride and Prejudice is the one with which I deal the most often and by far, Austen’s most popular title. However, I am equally as fond of Persuasion, which was Austen’s last novel and the one with the most mature voice.
Q: What about Jane Austen drew you to become a Janeite? How long have you been a member of the Jane Austen Society of America? Do you have anything interesting to relate about your membership?
I seriously believe that Austen’s intertextual reinscriptions of Restoration comedy have echoes in contemporary literature. Being a Janeite allows me to share those beliefs with people of a like mind. 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.”
Being a Janeite (a term coined by George Saintsbury in 1894) is not always easy, especially for an author of Austen-inspired adaptations/sequels. Those who love Austen feel she is their “best friend,” and they are very protective of her. For many years, ANY adaptation was treated as an inferior product of fan fiction. But, of late, several of those who specialize in Austen fiction have been featured as part of the annual JASNA programs. It is like “coming out of the closet.” For many years, we have kept our “secret” from other JASNA members. Now, we are “accepted” within the Austen community.
Q: Had you ever written in the Gothic-style prior to Vampire Darcy's Desire?
Truthfully, the initial concept came from the publisher Ulysses Press. When one of the editors approached me on the project, my rankles immediately rose because, to me, Pride and Prejudice is the most perfect novel ever written, and the thoughts of someone abusing that story line sent me into a state of amusement mixed with irritation. However, after discussing the idea with close friends and with my editor, I realized I could maintain integrity in the story line because of my love for and knowledge of the Austen oeuvre.
I could not abide conceptualizing Darcy as the vampire who seduces Elizabeth. If vampirism was to be added to the tale, I wanted Darcy portrayed as a poetic tragic hero rather than as an embodiment of evil. I also wanted to control the representation of sexuality, the combination of horror and lust. As in Austen’s work, Darcy would desire Elizabeth and would be willing to put aside his beliefs and lifestyle in order to earn her love.
Q: Is there anything in Vampire Darcy's Desire that you would change if you could?
The book is open at the end to allow a sequel. As yet, that sequel has not been commissioned. If I had to rewrite part of the book, I might tweak the ending to give the readers more closure.
Q: What was the hardest part about writing Vampire Darcy's Desire?
As I said earlier, this project was my publisher’s idea. Originally, I could not see Darcy as a predatory vampire. (Spoiler: In Vampire Darcy’s Desire, he is a dhampir; Wickham is the vampire.) Yet, once I had reconciled myself to the concept, I treated the project as I always do. I began with lots of research. As Dracula did not appear until the late 1890s, I needed to fall back on the traditional vampire legends–those steeped in Slavic folklore. Pride and Prejudice is set in 1811-1812. Therefore, the characters would still hold limited knowledge of vampires and how they operate.
First, I incorporated the legend of Cernunnos into the story line. Many experts believe Cernunnos’ image is the one upon which the Devil is derived. Cernunnos is known as “the horned one.” I added to that the mythical powers of the “Holy Island” (Lindisfarne), as well as the Baobhan Síth, and mixed in a traditional Scottish ballad, “Lord Thomas and Fair Ellinor.” The combination has been well received. Traditional vampiric tales do not cast the vampire as a deliciously handsome “bad boy” that we see in contemporary vampiric tales. The vampire is truly evil, and I tried to keep that in mind as I wrote the piece. For a woman who had read few vampire tales since she had devoured Anne Rice’s stories ofLestat de Lioncourt, this was a real challenge. For many of my fans, VDD remains their favorite book.
Q: Which characters are you most drawn to in Vampire Darcy's Desire?
I am desperately in love with Colonel Fitzwilliam. In all my other Austen novels, the Colonel’s first name is “Edward,” named for my father (Jane Austen never gives us a Christian name for the character), but in this one I wished to expound on that part ofPride and Prejudice where Austen hints that if the lady possessed a larger dowry, the good Colonel might be attracted to Elizabeth Bennet . (As a minor son, the Colonel must marry a woman with a larger fortune and is unable to act upon his interest in Elizabeth.) Therefore, in VDD, I gave the character a different name from my other Austen sequels because he was to act “differently”–act upon his interest in the woman his cousin desired. Colonel Fitzwilliam became “Damon.” The Greek story of Damon and Pythias is meant to symbolize friendship. My “Damon” is Darcy’s friend, but also his competitor.
Q: Which character in Vampire Darcy's Desire was the most fun to write?
George Wickham is so utterly despicable that one has to admire him. Fitzwilliam Darcy is the hero, but everyone loves a strong antagonist. Wickham comes up with delightfully evil ways to torment Darcy, but there is also a bit of vulnerability that makes him appealing to my readers. People cheer for his downfall, but they hold a bit of empathy for him because he is equally a victim in this tragic scenario.
Q: Can you briefly describe Darcy the Dhampir? How is he different from Jane Austen’s Darcy?
A Dhampir, the product of the union between a vampire and a human, probably finds its origin in Serbian folklore. Modern fiction holds many examples: Blade (a Marvel comic brought to life by Wesley Snipes on the screen), the character Connor in the TV seriesAngel (the show’s male equivalent of a Slayer), and Renesmee (the daughter of Bella Swan and Edward Cullen from Stephanie Meyer’s Breaking Dawn). Traditionally, a Dhampir has the ability to see vampires, even when they are cloaked with the power of invisibility. They generally have similar vampire powers with only a few complications.
This new Darcy possesses many of the qualities the reader notes in Austen’s character. He is “withdrawn” from society, is generous to those he affects, is protective of his sister and his estate, and has a sharp wit. He is amused by Elizabeth’s verbal battles and is attracted to her physically. Darcy denies this attraction initially and then makes changes in his life to win and to keep Elizabeth’s regard.
In order to end the curse of vampirism passed on to the first-born son of each generation, Darcy the Dhampir has decided he will never marry. He considers it to be the honorable action. No previous generation has ever succeeded in defeating George Wickham, but this Fitzwilliam Darcy is less likely to succumb to the temptation of eternal life, so Wickham must resort to different tactics to exact revenge.
Austen’s Darcy says, “I was given good principles, but left to follow them in pride and conceit…. I was spoiled by my parents…allowed, encouraged, almost taught to be selfish and overbearing....” This characteristic plays well in the Dhampir Darcy’s pursuit of Elizabeth. He more aggressively persists in winning her affection.
Q: About how long did it take you to research and write Vampire Darcy's Desire?
I spent approximately three weeks doing extensive research on vampiric legends, as well as the ways to kill a vampire. Choosing the setting for the story also required a bit of luck. In Austen’s original storyline, Wickham and Lydia Bennet are sent to Newcastle. As Northumberland (in which Newcastle can be found) is the county closest to Scotland, the Scottish vampire legends became the basis for my story. However, the research did not stop at that point. As I write, the story sometimes takes a twist or a turn, and that requires additional research.
Q: Do you prefer to plan and outline before writing or do you just jump in and see where it leads?
I am truly a pantser. I have a “list” of events that will occur in my piece, but I do notoutline and plot each detail. I open a spiral notebook and begin to write. Often times (ALWAYS!!!!), the story takes on a life of its own. It plays (as if it is a movie I can rewind over and over until I get it right) in my head as I seek sleep each night. I’m constantly saying, “He wouldn’t say that” or “She would act more surprised” or “That would be so cool.” The plot is the key through which the characters are defined.
Q: What is the most difficult part of writing for you?
I do not write comedic scenes well. With comedy, a person must not only take note of those characteristics that define his subject, but he must exaggerate those qualities in order to achieve a humorous effect. I possess a very refined humor, one generally based on word manipulation (no bathroom humor for me), but I have difficulty bringing the situation to a “ridiculous” conclusion. I do not do exaggeration and distortion well. I suppose that the line between tragedy and comedy does truly run thin and indistinct.
Q: What would you say is your interesting writing quirk?
I still hand write my novels. I write with a black ink pen and use a wide ruled spiral notebook. Then I word process the pages. By that time, the book has had several rewrites (arrows up and down the page, White Out, scratched out lines, inserted words, etc.). All these checks and rechecks affect the writing process. When the novel goes to print, there are few major rewrites with which to deal.
Q: Do you have advice to give young or beginning writers?
Writing professionally is more than “putting pen to paper.” The publishing world is in transition. It is more difficult to find a traditional publisher. Agents and editors are picking up fewer authors. There is also the number of hours that a person must spend in self-promotion. I spend a minimum of three hours daily on social media. Keeping one’s name in the public is essential, and publishers expect their authors to take some of the responsibility for the book’s success. We have seen phenomenal stories of success, but for each of those who skyrocket to fame, there are thousands of writers who struggle to know a modicum of success. There is little glory. One must write because he can do nothing else. It must be an “obsession.” One does not write for fame and fortune.
Q: What is your favorite Pride and Prejudice adaptation? Why?
I assume you mean the favorite from among my seven. This is a difficult question for I love each for different reasons. Darcy’s Passions was my first novel. It is a retelling ofPride and Prejudice from Mr. Darcy’s point of view and was the idea of my Advanced Placement students. Its sequel, Darcy’s Tempation, was a Booksellers Best Award Finalist in 2009. It proves that Darcy and Elizabeth are the perfect couple. Captain Wentworth’s Persuasion retells Austen’s novel from Frederick Wentworth’s point of view. I would love to do a sequel for this story line. Christmas at Pemberley is a finalist in Inspirational Romance for the Write Touch Readers Award. It speaks of the true meaning of Christmas.Vampire Darcy’s Desire provided me the opportunity to experiment with the paranormal genre, but I am most proud of how the characters stay true to Austen’s originals while delving in the bizarre. The Phantom of Pemberley was my first cozy mystery and is one of my most successful novels. I recently followed (April 2012) with another cozy entitled The Disappearance of Georgiana Darcy. Ulysses Press has contracted for a third cozy for release in the spring of 2013. Needless to say, my publisher believes that I have a voice in this genre.
All that being said, I had the most fun writing The Phantom of Pemberley. I am a big mystery fan, and the challenge of writing a story where the readers did not figure out the ending prior to the last chapter appealed to me.
Q: What subjects, themes and dilemmas of the Regency period do you return to time and again? What subjects have you introduced?
The true Regency Period lasted only nine 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. In my original 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.
The Regency is characterized by both elegance and vulgarity. Social norms and interactions were carefully scripted. Society’s tone was set by the ever-decadent Prince Regent. George IV was a man of intelligence and impeccable manners, when the situation so suited him, but he was also notorious for his appalling extravagances. Society in the early nineteenth century had become more egalitarian, and the nouveaux riche had loosened the standards of acceptance. It was a time of great transition. Yet, it was still a time when a pauper with a title had more influence than the richest tradesman. Women’s lack of choices remains a consistent theme.
I like to discover unusual facts and incorporate them into my story lines. The events of Peterloo appear in “His Irish Eve”; the efforts of Lord Cochrane to bring “chemical warfare” to the Napoleonic Wars can be found in Captain Wentworth’s Persuasion; the legend of the Shadow Man is a central part of The Phantom of Pemberley; well dressing ceremonies play out in Darcy’s Temptation; and the “rebirth” of St. Cuthbert in Vampire Darcy’s Desire; I also like to add what we think of as “modern” issues to the past: dissociative identity disorder; sexual abuse; OCD; and the infamous generation gap.
My latest book, The Disappearance of Georgiana Darcy, includes the Scottish legend of Sawney Bean, the weather conditions at Waterloo, and the first railroad system in Scotland.
Book Blurb for The Disappearance of Georgiana Darcy:
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.
Website – www.rjeffers.com
Twitter - @reginajeffers
Publisher – Ulysses Press http://ulyssespress.com/
BioRegina Jeffers, an English teacher for thirty-nine years, considers herself a Jane Austen enthusiast. She is the author of 13 novels, including Darcy’s Passions, Darcy’s Temptation, The Phantom of Pemberley, Christmas at Pemberley, The Scandal of Lady Eleanor, A Touch of Velvet, and A Touch of Cashémere. A Time Warner Star Teacher and Martha Holden Jennings Scholar, as well as a Smithsonian presenter, Jeffers often serves as a media literacy consultant. She resides outside of Charlotte, NC, where she spends time teaching her new grandson the joys of being a child.
Thank y'all for reading today's post. HUGE THANKS to Mrs. Jeffers for taking the time to do this interview! =D
Until the next time,