We were able to snag Regina, a few weeks before her Christmas at Pemberley arrives!
Thank you for joining us for the Teatime Ten! I'm especially glad to be interviewing a fellow teacher! It's a job that comes home with you. How do you balance your time between writing literature and teaching it? (And how have your students received it?)
I jokingly say that “I do education” very well. Holding multiple degrees and spending 40 years in the public classrooms of three different states, teaching has provided me the skills to handle just about any situation. I know the drama associated with putting 1700 hormonal loaded individuals into a confined space for eight hours without any chance of escape other than when a bell sounds, and they are free to respond as completely as Pavlov’s dogs. Such forced interactions bring a new understanding of the human condition, and that is what makes for a great story.
When I was still in the classroom, I would sit at my desk each evening until seven. I would grade papers, curse my decision to teach English composition rather than physical education, handle the logistics of managing three of the largest organizations on campus (each with over 100 members), complete lesson plans, address departmental issues, etc. Then I would make my way home where I would write my novels for three to four hours before falling in bed to start all over again the next day. Six of my novels came from such discipline, but I admit to having no life. That was also before social media consumed three to four hours of my day in networking and self-promotion, both a major component of the current publishing business. I am not certain I could manage it all if I had not recently retired.
As for my students, it was their impetus that began this madness. They challenged me to write my first book, helped to edit the chapters, and have been some of my biggest supporters. Look at my Facebook page, and you will find numerous students listed among my “friends.” There are even some one hundred plus from my earliest years as a teacher in Kenova, West Virginia. To them, I am still “Miss Jeffers.”
Well, you can take the teacher out of the classroom, but...! One of the things I love best about your work is how versed you are not only in the novels from that time period, but also in the norms. 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 Regency offerings, I tend to place my characters in situations that occur between 1810 and n1815. 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 early 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’sPersuasion; 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 is in VampireDarcy’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.
I love that. Too often information (and monsterization) is used just as a prop; it's great that you incorporate the ideas thematically. And your fans also will be glad to know that this month you're releasing Christmas at Pemberley. What can you tell us about it?
I set the story two years into the Darcys’ marriage. Elizabeth has been plagued by several miscarriages, and she is haunted with the idea that the “shades of Pemberley had been thus polluted” by her inability to give Darcy an heir. She is struggling with whether she is worthy of his devotion. Encouraged by her physician to bring some joy into his wife’s life, Darcy has invited the Bennets and the Bingleys to spend Christmastide at Pemberley. To that effect, to allow time for his guests’ arrival, Darcy has taken Elizabeth with him on a business trip Upon their return to Pemberley, the Darcys are, unfortunately, unable to outmaneuver a blizzard, and Darcy and Elizabeth are stranded at a small inn, along with a young couple, whose name ironically is Joseph and whose first child is likely to be born during the night.
Meanwhile, Georgiana tries desperately to manage the chaos surrounding her brother’s six invited guests (Mr. and Mrs. Bennet, Kitty, Mary, Jane, and Bingley) and the eleven unscheduled arrivals, including Mary Bennet’s betrothed Mr. Grange (who Mrs. Bennet invited without asking the Darcys), Lady Catherine (who has not been at Pemberley since that infamous argument with Elizabeth and whose sudden presence will only confirm Elizabeth’s feeling of inadequacy), Anne De Bourgh (who can no longer be her mother’s pawn), Mrs. Jenkinson (who staunchly guards against Anne’s heart being broken), Mr. and Mrs. Collins (who Lady Catherine invited without anyone’s knowledge), Caroline Bingley (who decided to spend the holidays with the Bingleys rather than the Hursts), Mr. Winkler (the local minister who, during the storm, escorts the Collinses to Pemberley, but who is really there to woo Kitty Bennet), Colonel Fitzwilliam (who has returned from the American front), his aide-de-camp, Lieutenant Southland (whose cousin once held the living at Rosings Park and who is “fascinated” with the De Bourgh family), and an American, Beaufort Manneville (who the colonel has been ordered to escort to London, but of whom he is suspicious).
With a mix of eclectic characters all residing under one roof, it is not surprising that bitter feuds, old jealousies, and intimate secrets quickly rise to the surface. Has Lady Catherine returned to Pemberley for forgiveness or revenge? Will the manipulative Caroline Bingley find a soul mate? Shall Kitty Bennet and Georgiana Darcy know happiness? And what does all the disorder have to do with the Prince Regent? Yes, I even work our favorite indulgent monarch into the story line. Despite the bedlam, for all involved, a reminder of the love, the family spirit, and the generosity, which remain at the heart of Christmas, prevails.
You've dabbled in quite a few subgenres of Regency writing - including paranormal, supernatural, and in The Realm series, political. What do you find the most fun aspect of writing each of these different variations? What do you find the most challenging?
I suppose the most difficult of the books to write was the vampiric version of Pride and Prejudice. It was my publisher’s idea, and I admit to, at first, not liking the idea. 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.” 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 devoured Anne Rice’s stories of Lestat de Lioncourt, this was a real challenge. For many of my fans, VDD remains their favorite book.
Hey, I'm of the Lestat era myself. (None of this Twilight stuff for me!) However, I'm very interested in your Realm series! What do you get to explore in those books that you may not in your Austenesque literature? And what's next in the series?
With Austenesque literature, the characters are prescribed by what Austen gave us. If a writer does something out of the ordinary with a character, Heaven help him/her. Austen’s fans will light up the internet with their censure. If Darcy has too much angst, is not self-assured enough, is too “dark” in his treatment of Elizabeth, etc., then the author will know immediately that it is not always a good idea “to think outside the box.” He must treat the characters with a certain reverence. With the Realm, the seven members are my creation. They live in my head. They act as I prescribe them.
Ulysses Press has passed on the sequels to The Scandal of Lady Eleanor, but another publisher has offered for A Touch of Velvet. As soon as I secure the rights of last refusal (common in publishing contracts), I hope to have it released. For the time being, I have self-published A Touch of Velvet (book 2 – Brantley Fowler and Velvet Aldridge’s story) and A Touch of Cashémere (book 3 – Marcus Wellston and Cashémere Aldridge’s story). A Touch of Grace (book 4 – Gabriel Crowden and Grace Nelson’s story) is planned, but not written. A Touch of Mercy (the one for Aidan Kimbolt) will follow that one.
Can you tell us a little bit about the jump from indie publishing to working with Ulysses Press? What have you found beneficial or surprising?
Ulysses has treated me quite well, and I would never criticize them. They have offered me a professional relationship, and they have provided me the opportunity to develop my writing. My only regret is that Ulysses is not a romance publisher, which means that I must develop new ties for my Regency romance line.
When I originally self-published, I enjoyed the experience. Now, not so much. I despise the constant phone calls to sell me some ridiculously expensive marketing plan. The last couple of books that I self-published, I did so because my fans requested copies of ATOV and ATOC. Otherwise, I would not have considered it. Those who choose print-on-demand options must know beforehand that for every service the publisher provides, the author will pay a hefty premium (not always with the result the author hopes to achieve). Luckily, I can do most of my own editing, etc. Therefore, my expenses are less than some other writers might encounter. With Ulysses, I work with the same copyeditor, and they handle the cover images, etc. Also, they provide a certain amount of publicity. In the indie realm, this is very much an author’s responsibility.
What do you read in your spare time? Are there any books or authors, which have particularly inspired you (outside of Austen)? (Dear readers...do look these up!)
I devour books. I am generally reading 2-3 novels at the same time. I regularly revisit the classics, as well as old favorites. For leisure reading (right before I drift off to sleep or sitting under the weeping willow in my backyard with a relaxing cup of tea), I fear I am a hopeless romantic. Give me a Regency romance, and I am happy.
I would not say there are certain authors or books, which have inspired me (other than the Bible), but there are certain stories that I would stop everything I am doing to reread them. I love Ambrose Bierce’s short story “A Horseman in the Sky,” as well as the poems “The Highwayman” (Alfred Noyes) and “Pershing at the Front” (Arthur Guiterman). I reread parts of Ellen Emerson White’s Echo Company series about the Vietnam War over the weekend. Ronald Joseph has one of those family saga trilogies (The Kingdom, The Power, and The Glory) that is imbued with fond memories of sharing the books with my mother. Sharyn McCrumb writes haunting tales of Appalachia. Her “Ballad” series is a personal favorite. Betty Mahmoody’s story of her life in Iran (Not Without My Daughter) brings chills. I like Mario Puzo and Joseph Wambaugh. As far as the classics go, besides Shakespeare, I prefer Ernest Hemingway and Agatha Christie. As one can see, my tastes are quite eclectic.
Of all the Austenesque characters you've written, who speaks the "loudest" to you, and whom do you dread to write for? Why do you think that is?
Although I appreciate Austen’s sardonic wit, I struggle when it comes to writing lines for her more comical characters, especially Mr. Collins and Mrs. Bennet. I am essentially not a funny person. I have not the talent to tell a joke properly. (Truthfully, I rehearse the ones I want to repeat to my friends.) I am much better with the “double entendre” found between Darcy and Elizabeth. I love paronomasia, witticisms, and bon mots.
A wormhole opens before you, pulling you into one of your books. Which book do you enter, and what adventure do you have?
I am certain most people assume I would choose to replace Elizabeth Bennet and meet Mr. Darcy. However, I prefer him in all his mythical perfection. I would not mind meeting my own “Mr. Darcy” in real life, but despite thoroughly enjoying Lost in Austen, I cannot imagine him with anyone but Elizabeth.
For two very different reasons, I would probably enter The Phantom of Pemberley. First, I would enjoy matching wits with the characters in the book to solve the mysteries plaguing Pemberley, and, secondly, it is the first time Adam Lawrence has a major role in one of my story lines. Lawrence has appeared in several of my books as a “walk through.” He is a rake and a womanizer and absolutely “sexy.” He is also honest and honorable. I liked him from the first time he entered one of my stories. In fact, I have written a novella, “His Irish Eve,” to share with my readers, who also love him, what happens to Adam six years after Phantom.
What's next for Regina Jeffers?
At the moment, I am finishing the last chapters of The Disappearance of Georgiana Darcy, which is scheduled for release in February 2012. Based around two Scottish legends, it is another cozy mystery, very much in the style of The Phantom of Pemberley. I have taken the characters from Christmas at Pemberley and thrust them into a situation none of them would expect – a bizarre environment that leaves the reader speechless.
In my personal life, my son Joshua and his wife Stephanie are welcoming their first child in early November. They are having a boy, whom they will name “James.” From October through mid December, I shall be out promoting the Christmas book.
Congratulations! And thank you for joining our Teatime Ten!
You can follow Regina on her blogs: Regina Jeffers, Austen Authors, and English History Authors. You can also find her on Facebook, and Twitter.
You can also buy her books at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Books-a-Million, and Xlibris.