LAN: Welcome Beth. Congratulations on the launch of The Dashwood Sisters Tell All on April 1st. Following Jane Austen Ruined My Life (2009) and Mr. Darcy Broke My Heart (2010), this is the third novel in your “Formidables Series,” inspired by the fictitious secret society of guardians of Jane Austen’s lost letters, manuscripts and diaries. I love this concept, especially since your heroines get to go on an adventure of Austen history and self-discovery. How were you inspired to write this new novel, and what did you learn while writing it?
BP: For a long time, I have wanted to write about Jane’s sister, Cassandra, who in my fictional world founded the Formidables. I knew that the book would need to be about sisters. In my first book, I used the imagined existence of Jane Austen’s lost letters. In the second book, it was a fictional early version of Pride and Prejudice. For this book, I decided the next logical step would be diaries, and The Dashwood Sisters Tell All focuses on Cassandra’s diary. I don’t have a sister, but I’ve heard enough tales of sisters reading each other’s diaries to know that the premise had a lot of potential!
LAN: Many elements in The Dashwood Sisters Tell All parallel Jane Austen’s own novel, Sense and Sensibility. Could you share some of your research into the characters and how they are similar and different from your own?
BP: I used some basic elements of Elinor and Marianne Dashwood to bring my own characters to life. In my novel, Ellen and Mimi’s mother is a huge fan of S&S, so it’s a bit hard to say how much of the similarity between the pairs of sisters is nature and how much is nurture! The idea of the bond – and the struggle – between sisters also carried over into thinking about Jane and Cassandra themselves. In part, I wanted to show that whether sisters were fictional or real, modern or historical, their relationships carried some common themes.
The differences came in the distance between my characters. Jane and Cassandra Austen were always very close, as were Elinor and Marianne in the novel. My sisters are estranged at the beginning of the book and have a much further emotional distance to travel before they can come to appreciate one another and their relationship.
LAN: Your two heroines Ellen and Mimi Dodge travel to England and embark on a walking tour of Hampshire. To write about their adventure accurately, I understand that you had to do some hands on research by walking in Jane Austen’s footsteps yourself! Having not had that pleasure, I am very curious about your experience. Were your expectations met, and what was your favorite place that you visited?
BP: I spent a wonderful week in Hampshire on a walking tour of Jane Austen Country with a marvelous company called The Wayfarers. We had a group of ten participants, a fabulous tour leader, and a whirlwind of a tour manager. Walking in Jane Austen’s footsteps (sometimes literally!) helped give me a wonderful sense of place, which I hope comes across in the book. We visited the usual sites – the church at Steventon, the Jane Austen House Museum, Chawton House Library, Winchester Cathedral – but we also spent long hours tramping across the fields and through the woods where Jane herself would have walked. In my book, Ellen and Mimi take almost exactly the same journey that I did. It’s hard to pick a favorite place, but staying at Oakley Hall was a highlight. This beautiful country home is now a hotel and conference center and is said to be the model for Mansfield Park.
LAN: John Willoughby is one of Austen’s bad boys. Many have different opinions as to what degree he is a creature of his times: driven by his family expectations or by his own greed. Your parallel character Ethan Blakemore is a hunk and a half that Mimi is immediately attracted to, but the reader is wary of. What message do you think Austen was trying to reveal in her characterization of Willoughby, and how did you make his dilemma relevant to 21st century readers?
BP: I love the contrast between Willoughby and Colonel Brandon, and I tried to mirror that with Mimi’s dilemma in choosing between Ethan and Tom. The romantic appeal of the bad boy is universal, but I think Austen was telling us that time will eventually show the true nature of a man. That was certainly true in Sense and Sensibility and it’s true in my book as well.
LAN: It is no surprise from my previous reviews of your Formidables novels that you are one of my favorite Austenesque authors writing contemporary fiction today. After enjoying three engaging stories, I am of course very curious about what is next in your writing career. Will we see more in the Formidables Series, and can you share any news about other projects you have in the queue?
BP: My editor would like to know the answer to that question, too! Seriously, after writing so many books in the last few years, I’m taking a little breather to rejuvenate and fill my creative well. I don’t think I’m done with the Formidables, because readers are asking for a sequel to Jane Austen Ruined My Life, but that’s still in the brewing stage. I’m also ready for a little change of pace, so I’m working on something new that’s not Austen-inspired but I think it’s something that Austen fans will love. My devotion to Jane, I have to say, remains constant and abiding!
LAN: Now for a bit of fun. If you could be introduced to any of Jane Austen’s colorful heroes or villains, who would it be, and what penetrating question would you ask them?
BP: Oh, dear. That’s a difficult one. I’d probably want to meet Willoughby because I’d like to know more about how he came to be such a rake and a rogue. I also think he has the potential for redemption because unlike a hardened scoundrel, he did come to acknowledge his wrongdoing and feel true remorse. Hm. Maybe I have another Austen-inspired book in me somewhere after all…..
Thanks for joining us Beth, Best of luck on your next book.
Beth Pattillo is the author of ten novels, including The Dashwood Sisters Tell All, Mr. Darcy Broke My Heart and Jane Austen Ruined My Life. She is also known for her popular Sweetgum series about a knitting book club in small-town Tennessee. In 2006, Beth was awarded the RITA Award for Best Inspirational Romance from the Romance Writers of America for her novel Heavens to Betsy.
A graduate of Trinity University, San Antonio and the Divinity School of Vanderbilt University, Beth is an ordained minister in the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ). She served churches in Tennessee and Missouri before founding FAITH LEADER, a nonprofit spiritual leadership development program.
Beth makes her home in Tennessee with her husband and two children. She enjoys reading, knitting, travel, college basketball, and her DVR.
Enter a chance to win one of three personally inscribed copies by the author of The Dashwood Sisters Tell All, by leaving a comment answering what intrigues you most about the “Formidables,” the secret Jane Austen society in Beth’s novels, or which of Austen’s novels you would like to see Beth be inspired by next, by midnight PT, Wednesday, April 13, 2011. Winners announced on Thursday, April 14, 2010. Shipment to US and Canadian addresses only. Good luck!
- Read my review of The Dashwood Sisters Tell All
- Read my review of Mr. Darcy Broke My Heart
- Read my review of Jane Austen Ruined My Life
- Order The Dashwood Sisters Tell All online
2007 – 2011 Laurel Ann Nattress, Austenprose