Just in time for Valentine’s Day on February fourteenth, a new Jane Austen-inspired anthology has been published to fill our romantic hearts with Mr. Darcy and Elizabeth Bennet and many other characters from Austen’s beloved novels. A Very Austen Valentine contains six novellas by popular Austenesque authors: Robin Helm, Laura Hile, Wendi Sotis, Barbara Cornthwaite, Susan Kaye and Mandy H. Cook and includes stories inspired by Pride and Prejudice, Persuasion, and Sense and Sensibility. Featuring many of our favorite characters, readers will find sequels, adaptations, and spin-offs of Austen’s works in this new book.
I am very happy to welcome three of the A Very Austen Valentine authors to Austenprose today. They have kindly agreed to an interview.
Welcome ladies. Here are a few questions to introduce us to your new anthology, your writing process and philosophies, and an opportunity to tell us about your next project.
Can you share your inspiration for this Austen-inspired anthology?
Laura: Several years ago Robin Helm and I talked about putting together an anthology – no small feat, as Laurel Ann knows (Jane Austen Made Me Do It) – and last Christmas we banded together with Wendi Sotis and Barbara Cornthwaite to release our first. Who knew that Jane Austen and Christmas would combine so well? Our readers, that’s who! We were overwhelmed by the response to A Very Austen Christmas. Next, we decided to take on Valentine’s Day. This holiday was not widely popular during the Regency, but when we found extant Valentine cards from the period, we were off and running. A Very Austen Valentine is the result.
We call our anthologies “books that friendship built” because, this is absolutely true. They are our way of introducing our writing friends to our reading friends – like you. We plan to include guest authors in each. Susan Kaye (Frederick Wentworth, Captain Series) and Mandy H. Cook (The Gifted) are with us for this one.
Do you agree or disagree that Jane Austen is the mother of the romance novel?
Robin: Yes, I agree that Jane Austen is the mother of the romance novel, but I more definitively think of Austen as the creator of a smaller genre: the novel of manners.
A novel of manners re-creates a social world, conveying the customs, values, and mores of a highly developed, complex society.
To me, this is the area in which Austen shines most brightly. She left a wonderful legacy of her time period – the behavior of the classes in early nineteenth-century England.
Once you knew you were part of A Very Austen Valentine, how did you face the blank page and create your story?
Wendi: The first question for any story I write always is, “Where should I deviate from canon?”
I had already decided that the next variation I wrote would have the character Charles Bingley from Pride and Prejudice unconvinced that Jane Bennet didn’t love him and returning to Hertfordshire almost immediately after leaving it. Whether that was a main part of the story or not, it didn’t matter; that was set in stone.
I also knew right away that, for me, a Valentine’s Day theme had to involve valentine poems, so I researched what someone in that time period would write. Once I decided a good portion of it would take place in Kent at Hunsford parsonage and Rosings Park, I just had to include Anne de Bourgh and Colonel Fitzwilliam coming up with some kind of scheme. Everything else just filled in around that idea.
What is the biggest challenge for you in writing Austen-inspired fiction?
Laura: It might sound odd to confess that in addition to “classic” Regency authors like Jane Austen and Georgette Heyer, my favorite genre as a reader is a cozy mystery — especially the queens of mystery: Agatha Christie, Dorothy L. Sayers, Ngaio Marsh, etc. I love the intrigue of a puzzler, and this plays into my Austen-inspired fiction. The challenge is to come up with a fresh story that delights readers and yet at the same time remains true to the characters we love from Jane Austen’s novels. A tall order! I often move her secondary characters to center stage (Mercy’s Embrace trilogy), or I cause fun and unexpected twists (Darcy By Any Other Name). Also, I dearly love bringing together people from various Austen novels, just to see what happens. “Sir Walter Takes a Wife,” my contribution to our Valentine anthology, does just that.
How do you feel about historical accuracy, period language, and continuity in the Austenesque genre?
Wendi: One thing I’m strict about with period language is that, although even Jane Austen used a few contractions in her novels, the gentry in my own Regency stories do not use contractions in their speech. For example, I would have a lady or gentleman say I have not instead of I haven’t. However, the lower the class of my characters, the more contractions that character will use. A shop owner might use haven’t. A scullery maid would drop the H as well, saying ’aven’t.
I do research a lot, especially about life in the Regency era. I own books, use the library, and search the internet (though I’m careful about what advice I consider “facts.”) I use old maps, paintings, and even contacted the Archbishop of Canterbury’s office once.
When I first started writing, I was more insistent about my stories being precisely period-correct, but over time, I’ve found there are a lot of things contemporary readers understand as fact because other authors have included in those situations in their books. Now, I weigh both sides into my decision: should I rely on the common misconception, or what I’ve found in my research? What matters more, my need for accuracy or the entertainment I hope to provide? It’s not always an easy decision to make.
What is up next for the Austen Anthologies series?
Robin: Laura Hile, Wendi Sotis, Barbara Cornthwaite, and I hope to do at least three more anthologies. The next will be A Very Austen Romance, to be released at the end of 2019. Various guest authors will join us in the different books of the series.
All of the stories in the anthologies will be Austen-based Regency sweet romance, but we allow prequels, sequels, mashups, variations, and humor, as well as “what ifs.” Each of us has a specialty of sorts, but all our stories are clean reads with happily-ever-after endings.
Thank you, ladies, for visiting with us today. A Very Austen Valentine would make the perfect gift for a friend or loved one who enjoys Austen-inspired books – or a special treat for yourself.
If this interview has not piqued your interest yet, here are more details about each novella in the anthology to tempt you:
“I Dream of You,” by Robin Helm
Newly-married Elizabeth Darcy has a plan: to charm her too-busy husband into desiring her company as much as he did when he was courting her. A series of romantic dreams gives her just the push she needs to put that plan into action.
“Sir Walter Takes a Wife,” by Laura Hile
Faced with a lonely future and finding himself strapped for cash, Persuasion’s Sir Walter Elliot manfully decides to marry again. But his careful plans go sadly awry! A lighthearted Valentine mash-up featuring two of Jane Austen’s worst snobs.
“My Forever Valentine,” by Wendi Sotis
Jane and Charles Bingley have married, even though Miss Elizabeth Bennet remains certain Mr. Fitzwilliam Darcy gave his best effort to keep them apart. After Mr. Darcy refused to stand up with Bingley and did not attend the wedding, she despises the gentleman more than ever and finds his company intolerable. How will she endure her visit to Kent if Mr. Darcy turns up everywhere she goes?
“Pretence and Prejudice,” by Barbara Cornthwaite
A chance encounter with a handsome stranger forces Elizabeth Bennet to resort to subterfuge in order to discover his true intentions.
“My Valentine,” by Mandy H. Cook
Little Charlotte was always determined and independent, traits which served her well as she battled a serious childhood illness and later as she took on Polite Society. Will those traits now deprive her of true love? Or would her lifelong Valentine win her heart?
“The Lovers’ Ruse,” by Susan Kaye
In this Persuasion alteration, Anne is so altered by Wentworth’s love in the summer of 1806, she refuses to give him up when both her godmother and father try to persuade her. “The Lovers’ Ruse” follows Frederick and Anne through their whirlwind courtship and their secret engagement. When Wentworth returns for his Annie girl, the cat comes out of the bag.
This is the last stop on the A Very Austen Valentine Blog Tour. You can enter the giveaway being offered by the publisher of one eBook (international) copy of A Very Austen Valentine: Austen Anthologies, Book 2 by leaving a comment below, and by also visiting the other blog stops on the tour. The giveaway is open through January 22, 2019. Here is the list of the blogs with direct links to the posts. Good luck!
A Very Austen Valentine Blog Tour Schedule
01/06 Just the Write Escape; Guest Post, Giveaway
01/07 Margie’s Must Reads; Review, Giveaway
01/08 So Little Time…; Guest Post, Excerpt, Giveaway
01/09 Babblings of a Bookworm; Author Interview/Character Interview, Giveaway
01/10 Half Agony, Half Hope; Review, Excerpt
01/11 Austenesque Reviews; Vignette, Giveaway
01/12 My Love for Jane Austen; Vignette, Giveaway
01/14 From Pemberley to Milton; Excerpt, Review or Vignette, Giveaway
01/15 My life journey; Review, Excerpt, Giveaway
01/16 My Vices and Weaknesses; Guest Post or Vignette. Excerpt, Giveaway
01/18 Diary of an Eccentric; Review, Giveaway
01/20 Darcyholic Diversions; Author Interview, Giveaway
01/21 Austenprose; Author Interview
A Very Austen Valentine: Austen Anthologies, Book 2, by Robin Helm, Laura Hile, Wendi Sotis, Barbara Cornthwaite, Susan Kaye and Mandy H. Cook
Independently published (2018)
Trade paperback & eBook (477) pages
Cover image courtesy of the publisher © 2018; text Laurel Ann Nattress © 2019, Austenprose.com