Dec 3, 2008

Q&A With Abigail Reynolds, Author of Pemberley by the Sea

Abigail Reynolds, author of Pemberley by the Sea, kindly agreed to answer some questions about her novel, her writing space, and her holiday gift ideas for writers and readers. I reviewed her novel this month, check it out!

Without further ado, here's my Q&A with Abigail Reynolds. Stay tuned for a giveaway from Sourcebooks. Thanks to Danielle Jackson at Sourcebooks.

1. Pemberley by the Sea is called a modern day Pride and Prejudice, but were there other literary couples or storylines that inspired Calder and Cassie's romance?

My original inspiration was to see what would happen if I put Darcy and Elizabeth together in the modern world, and that’s pretty much the way it stayed.

2. Elizabeth Bennet is considered to be a strong female heroine, much like Cassie. Was it hard not to outdo Elizabeth Bennet's strength and sharp wit when creating Cassie? Was it hard to keep Cassie vulnerable?

I found Cassie fairly easy to write, which is interesting since she is nothing like me. I had to give her a different kind of strength from Elizabeth Bennet, whose strength was displayed by turning down eligible men who could save her family from an impoverished future. That’s a bit hard to translate to modern day, so I changed Cassie’s struggle to one against an impoverished background. I think most women have vulnerable points, and Cassie does, too – especially around people she loves.

3. Did you feel obligated to maintain the happy endings Jane Austen continued to use in her novels?

Interesting question! I don’t feel obligated to maintain happy endings, but they seem to be a natural part of my writing. My goal is to write books that capture readers’ interest and leave them with a smile on their face at the end. A happy ending is part and parcel of that. Over time, I’ve moved towards endings that are happy but not fairy tale.

***This section of her answer may contain spoilers***

At the end of Pemberley by the Sea, Cassie’s brother is still in prison, and Joe Westing is lurking in the wings, bound to create some trouble sooner or later.

4. Politics is a touchy subject for novelists to tackle. Was there a great deal of research that went into those aspects of the novel?

It’s not only a touchy subject, it’s also changeable. At the time I wrote Pemberley by the Sea, Republicans were firmly in power, the Iraq war still had wide public support, and nobody was talking about national health insurance. But it was published in a completely different political climate, which takes away some of the power from Calder’s political rebellion, since he’s just saying things that are more mainstream than radical.

I didn’t do much political research, but I like to stay up to date in the news. If you listen to Senator Westing’s speaking style, I borrowed it pretty liberally from several different politicians. I didn’t intend the book to reflect a particular political reality – I left the war vague so that it could be Iraq, Afghanistan, the Gulf War, or some conflagration yet to come – because I didn’t want it to be dated.

5. Is the Westing family modeled upon a real-world political family?

It isn’t, but people usually think it is, because it’s set on Cape Cod and involves a wealthy political family. The Westings are quite different from the Kennedys, though – they’re Republican, Southern, old money. But I considered several prominent political families as I wrote it, including the Rockefellers and the Bush family.

***I didn't see a resemblance to the Kennedys at all, but I'm a New Englander, so that could be why.***

Right now I have a dilemma with Morning Light, the sequel to Pemberley by the Sea, which has been complete for several years, because a key part of the plot is that Senator Westing is diagnosed with a tumor and pulls some strings to get special experimental treatment. If I’m not careful, I think readers will assume I’m modeling the whole episode on Senator Kennedy’s recent diagnosis and treatment – life imitating fiction.

6. I loved the novel within the novel aspect midway through Pemberley by the Sea, very reminiscent of Shakespeare's play within a play. Writing this section must have been a joy. What prompted you to include this section and were there any particular triumphs or struggles you encountered while writing it?

When I first started writing, I was looking for some kind of plot device to parallel the letter Darcy gives to Elizabeth in Pride & Prejudice. But in Jane Austen’s day, an unmarried woman couldn’t respond to a letter from an unmarried man – it would have been a scandal if anyone discovered Darcy had written to Elizabeth – and Elizabeth had no expectations of ever seeing or hearing from him again. It was Darcy’s one and only chance to explain himself. It was hard to come up with something equally unanswerable in modern society. If Calder wrote a letter to Cassie, she’d be expected write or email back, to ask him questions about it. Having the letter be a novel established some of the distance I wanted.

There were two hard things with writing those sections. The first was keeping it from slowing the pace of the story. Originally there were far more excerpts from Calder’s book, but it ended up feeling repetitious because the reader had already seen those scenes from Cassie’s point of view. In the end, I cut a lot out. The other challenge was writing the part where it cuts back and forth between Calder’s book and Cassie’s reaction to it. The pacing was really challenging there, not to mention that I had to make sure that Calder’s book was written in Calder’s writing style, but that Cassie’s reactions were in my own style.

7. Please describe your ideal writing space and how it compares to your current writing space.

They’re dramatically different! My ideal space would be sitting quietly at a table with a water view. It would NOT involve being constantly interrupted by two kids, dogs wanting to come in and out, cats who think that I should type around them as they sit on my lap, and chaos everywhere, which is how I usually write.

8. With the holidays approaching, do you have any gift recommendations for those of us with writers and readers on our lists?

My writing friends are all getting small blank books to leave scattered around the house, car, purse, wherever, because you never know when you’ll suddenly come up with the perfect line, and if you don’t write it down that second, it’s gone forever.

For the Jane Austen lover, I’d recommend In the Garden with Jane Austen by Kim Wilson, the author of Tea with Jane Austen, and, of course, any of my Pemberley Variations! In the next couple of weeks, Affinity and Affection by Susan Adriani will be available, which is a Pride & Prejudice variation by an excellent new writer.

My favorite book about writing is Annie LaMott’s classic Bird by Bird.

Thanks again to Abigail Reynolds! Thank you to Danielle at Sourcebooks for sending me this fantastic read.

And now for what you've all been waiting for. . . the contest to win your own copy of Pemberley by the Sea, which I highly recommend for the Jane Austen book lover on your holiday list.

1. For one entry, leave a comment here--something other than "enter me" or "pick me." Don't forget an email address or active blog that I can use to contact you.

2. For a second entry, leave a comment on the review post, here. If you've already posted on the review, I will count it as a second entry into the contest, but only if you enter on this post first. Boy, I'm diabolical!

3. For the ambitious few, blog or post the contest in a sidebar, and you get a third entry.

Deadline is December 10, Midnight EST. Sorry U.S. and Canada addresses only!

Because I am a dumbass, I am going to let you know about a contest that ends today at Diary of an Eccentric for a copy of Off the Menu by Christine Son! Don't miss the Deadline, which is December 3, tonight! HURRY!


Linda said...

I noted that Ms. Reynolds mentioned buying books with blank pages for writers to jot down lines they might use later. I am not a writer, but I am an avid reader (of books and book-blogs) so I keep a writing journal to jot down lines from books and novels that really appeal to me, and that I don't want to forget. I enjoyed the interview; the books sounds great.
lcbrower40 at gmail dot com

Gottawrite Girl said...

Abigail, thanks so much for sharing with all of us!

I read one author's opinion that we read, in part, for ORDER. Cause we don't get much in real life. I agree. Maybe this is part of why you and I (and many of us) tend to close our stories with something of a satisfying, happyish ending?

Great post, as usual, Serena! Thanks, and talk soon!

Anna said...

What a great interview! Keeping a bunch of blank books in various places is a great idea. I should do that myself.

No need to enter me since I've already read the book, but I'll post it in my sidebar.

Diary of an Eccentric

Serena said...

Thanks for generously posting the contest in your sidebar!

Darlene said...

Yippppeee, great giveaway Serena. With your glowing review and the fact that I'd love to read a modern day Pride & Prejudice, I'm throwing my name in the hat. YOu know I already commented on your review and I'll put this in my sidebar straight away. Thanks!

teabird said...

Blank notebooks are the best presents for writers (except, of course, for fountain pens) - I always have a stack to use for little presents.
I would love to win this book...

teabird 17 *at* yahoo * com

Serena said...

Teabird you are counted for the contest! I can't wait to see who wins this one.

Susan Helene Gottfried said...

No need to enter me, my friend. I'm just dropping in to say thanks for the mail(s); I've got this posted at Win a Book now.

The Bookworm said...

This book is on my wish list now :)
It sounds so good!
Great interview.

Alyce said...

This story sounds like it would be fun. I've never read a modern day adaptation of Pride and Prejudice before.
akreese (at) hotmail (dot) com

Serena said...

Susan: Thanks.

Naida: This is a great book.

Alyce: this is a great book.

Unknown said...

I also think the blank books are a great idea and not just for writers, any creative person could use one. Also you can't go wrong with Bird By Bird!

Unknown said...

I just blogged about this in my right sidebar at:

Anonymous said...

I recently came across your blog and have been reading along. I thought I would leave my first comment. I don't know what to say except that I have enjoyed reading. Nice blog. I will keep visiting this blog very often.


stacey @ bookthirty said...

I often wonder which one best fits me: pride? or prejudice? I'll wander off to ponder that. Carry on!

(and thanks for the giveaway!)

Unknown said...

Great interview, and a very interesting sounding book. I haven't read Jane Austen recently, but I've always had a soft spot for her. Especially since she's written a book with my name as the title :) I love the idea of taking current events and making them vague enough that you don't date the book.

Emma Larkins, Emerging Author

Margay Leah Justice said...

I'm fascinated by the idea of this book one, because I like things based on Pride and Prejudice which is just beyond compare, and also because I'm a New Englander myself and like to read things based in my area, especially the Cape. I twittered about it here:

Becca said...

It is interesting to hear her talk about trying to keep to the feel of Pride and Prejudice in a modern setting and all the plot points that would not work and had to be changed. I like the idea of a book based on Pride and Prejudice the interview makes me want to read it even more.

Anonymous said...

I have always loved Pride and Prejudice and would love to read this one. Thanks for entering me.

djecse at yahoo dot com

Shana said...

I have this one and am looking forward to reading it. I didn't realize there is a political element - that will be fun.

And Serena, you are NOT a dumbass :)


Serena said...

Shana: I can't wait to see what you have to say about the book. And sometimes I am a dumbass.

Unknown said...

Great interview! I love to read a little more about the authors thoughts on their books! I find it makes reading the book even better.

Your interview has been added to About the Author - An Author Interview Index!

:) Wendi

Unknown said...

Hi Serena,

Please include me in the drawing - I'd love to read this book. Pride and Prejudice is one of my all-time favorites, and I'd love to read a modern adaptation of the book!

I'm off to go read your review - ;) I've got to increase the odds. . . .

:) Wendi

Unknown said...

I've also added your giveaway on my sidebar at:

:) Wendi

Wall-to-wall books said...

This looks like a real nice book!
I absolutely love the cover! I love book cover art. I have had many discussions with others about choosing a book by the cover, and this is truly a book I would choose simply because of the cover!

I would love to win this book.

eyesawood at yahoo dot com

Carolyn Sharkas said...

Well, who wouldn't want a chance to read a modern day Pride and Prejudice. Please count me in and thank so much for the review. Sometimes there are books that you just would never know about, but thanks to bloggers like you, we have the opportunity to find out about them and pick them up.

thanks for sharing

ceashark at aol dot com

The Giveaway Diva said...

i love reading pride and prejudice and enjoy the characters so i would love to win this book so i can read her rendition of this classic novel and what her take was of it

Suey said...

Did I not enter this one already? I'm so losing track of where I've been and not been! Anyway, I'm sure I'd love this one. I need to get going on all these Pride and Prejudice books that are out there!

Serena said...

Suey: You have been behind on my blog these days haven't you! LOL That's ok. I forgive you. This was a great book.

Gwendolyn B. said...

I'm setting up a Jane Austen challenge for myself and would like to include some current authors. This book would be perfect! Thanks for the chance.
geebee.reads AT gmail DOT com

Serena said...

Gwendolyn: Thanks for entering the contest. This will be a good one for your challenge.

Suey said...

Serena, I have been behind on all blogs lately! And you have been very prolific these days. I think I might have to do what I hear many people are doing... give up, mark all as read, and start over!

Serena said...

Suey: I hope not...what I do is select the blog name, check the titles of the posts and read books that might be interesting and memes, etc. It saves time. I would feel awful skipping posts simply by marking them all as read, but hey I give myself guilt trips daily.

Jo-Jo said...

Please enter me for this contest. I read Pride and Prejudice about a year ago and I would have to say that it is my all-time-favorite love story!