Welcome back to Duck Chat!
Monica has been a fan of Ms. Austen’s for quite some time, cutting her Regency teeth reading that legend’s work, then later deciding to try writing inspired by the Pride and Prejudice author.
Now living in London, Monica moved around the U.S. a bit, living in Illinois, Los Angeles, Seattle, Texas, Oregon, and Boston while she was a student and then a professor. Be sure to leave a meaningful comment or question for Monica. Sourcebooks is donating copies of The Other Mr. Darcy for two lucky commenters in the U.S. and Canada only, please.
Now let’s chat!
DUCK CHAT: Monica, let’s get right to it and talk about your latest book, The Other Mr. Darcy, which hits the shelves today. Congratulations! Would you tell us first how the idea germinated to give Fitzwilliam Darcy an American cousin? And did the book evolve as you had originally envisioned?
MONICA FAIRVIEW: It started with two things: a title, The Other Mr Darcy, and a desire to rescue Miss Caroline Bingley from oblivion. I wanted another Mr Darcy for her, because Fitzwilliam Darcy was snatched from under her very nose, and it was a painful experience. At the same time, she couldn’t stay the way she was. The only way I could think of to help her change was to have her meet someone who was an outsider, yet who knew the culture well enough that the two parties weren’t on different wavelengths. It was very conceivable that someone more adventurous in the Darcy family could have gone to America. After all, America was the land of new beginnings.
Once I worked that out, the story took off.
DC:If you could retire any writing related question and never, ever have it asked again, what would it be? Feel free to answer it.
MF: So far I don’t have any questions I don’t like. Ask me in ten years time.
DC: I’ve heard writers often say their stories take them in surprising directions, or dialogue flows from some unknown place. Is it the same with you? Do your characters surprise you sometimes?
MF: Dialogue does flow from some unknown place. It seems that the moment you invent the characters they start to talk to each other, and they don’t care if you’re there or not. I’m sure they gossip about me when I can’t hear them. It’s like the Gingerbread Man who gets up and runs once he gets out of the oven. That’s what my people do.
I had the idea initially of having Robert Darcy be a very cheerful, roguish type of hero, one who takes everything in his stride. But before long he began to show a shadowy side to him, with a hint of angst that I didn’t expect. I’m tempted to tell you that I didn’t write that part, but of course I did, though I don’t know how it happened. And then I discovered several things about him that I didn’t know, especially things to do with his family, and how he felt about the war. It’s so strange, because you’re the one inventing the characters, but then they turn round and invent themselves.
MF: Since it’s called The Other Mr Darcy, it is about Robert Darcy to a large extent, but the story is from Caroline Bingley’s perspective, so we see him through her eyes, first as a threat and an unwelcome presence, then as one of those people that won’t let well enough alone. He keeps pushing her to her limits. At one point, I was convinced he would go too far and … snap! But it turns out Caroline is up to the challenge. The story after that point is how they both slowly evolve towards first accepting each other, then liking each other, then one step beyond.
The novel is also very much rooted in Pride and Prejudice, so that, once Caroline and Robert reach Pemberley, they interact quite a few characters from the original novel, including Eliza and Darcy, the Bennets and others. At one point in the novel, Caroline wonders if there is something about Pemberley that makes her lose her perspective on things, so Pemberley itself, too, is part of the story.
Excerpt from The Other Mr. Darcy:
Caroline Bingley sank to the floor, her silk crepe dress crumpling up beneath her. Tears spurted from her eyes and poured down her face and, to her absolute dismay, a snorting, choking kind of sound issued from her mouth.
“This is most improper,” she tried to mutter, but the sobs — since that was what they were — the sobs refused to stay down her throat where they were supposed to be.
She had never sobbed in her life, so she could not possibly be sobbing now. But the horrible sounds kept coming from her throat. And water — tears — persisted in squeezing past her eyes and down her face.
Then with a wrench, something tore in her bosom — her chest — and she finally understood the expression that everyone used but that she had always considered distinctly vulgar. Her heart was breaking. And it was true because what else could account for that feeling, inside her, just in the centre there, of sharp, stabbing pain?
And what could account for the fact that her arms and her lower limbs were so incredibly heavy that she could not stand up?
She was heartbroken. Her Mr Darcy had married that very morning. In church, in front of everyone, and she had been unable to prevent it.
He had preferred Elizabeth Bennet. He had actually married her, in spite of her inferior connections, and even though he had alienated his aunt, Lady Catherine de Bourgh, whose brother was an earl. Caroline simply could not comprehend it.
She had that tearing feeling again and she looked down, just to make sure that it was not her bodice that was being ripped apart. But the bodice, revealing exactly enough of her bosom as was appropriate for a lady, remained steadfastly solid. So the tearing must have come from somewhere inside her. It squeezed at her with pain hard enough to stop her breathing, and to force those appalling sobs out even when she tried her best to swallow them down.
She rested her face in her hands and surrendered to them. She had no choice in the matter. They were like child’s sobs, loud and noisy. More like bawling, in fact. Her mouth was stretched and wide open. And the noise kept coming out, on and on.
On the floor, in the midst of merriment and laughter, on the day of William Fitzwilliam Darcy’s wedding, with strains of music accompanying her, Miss Caroline Bingley sobbed for her lost love.
A long time later, someone tried to open the door. She came to awareness suddenly, realizing where she was. The person on the other side tried again, but she resisted, terrified that someone would come in and catch sight of her tear-stained face. No one, no one, she resolved, would ever know that she had cried because of Mr Darcy.
Whoever was on the other side gave the doorknob a last puzzled rattle, then walked slowly back down the corridor.
She rose, straightening out her dress, smoothing down her hair with hands that were steady only because she forced them to be.
She needed to repair the ravages her pathetic bawling had caused. At any moment, someone else could come in and discover her. She moved to look into a mirror that hung above the mantelpiece.
And recoiled in shock…
DC: Do you ever argue with your characters while you’re writing? Who usually wins?
MF: There’s no sense in arguing with my characters because they always win.
DC: What is sure to distract you from sitting down and working/writing?
MF: The internet is deadly. I spend far too much time catching up on Facebook, Twitter, e-mails, blogging, and reading other people’s blogs. It really cuts into my writing time. But I wouldn’t give it up for anything.
DC: Any other ideas you’re tossing around about some other relatively unknown Darcy relatives or is The Other Mr. Darcy all Fitzwilliam can expect?
MF: Oh, Fitzwilliam isn’t about to be left in peace. The onslaught has only just begun.
DC: How do you feel your male or female characters have evolved over your career? Do you think you write them differently now than you did when you started?
MF: Well, my first novel, An Improper Suitor, was more genre fiction, and so in some ways the characters are more clearly defined because Regency has certain types and you work within the framework of those types (which I’m very fond of, BTW). When I moved to Jane Austen-inspired fiction, I was working with incredibly delicately and intricately written characters. People talk about Fitzwilliam Darcy as a “brooding hero,” but that hardly accounts for his popularity. Compare him with Mr. Rochester and you’ll see that they’re nothing alike, for example. There’s a freshness to Jane Austen’s writing that goes beyond these cast types. I learned a lot from Austen about characterization (and I’m still learning). I think it has made my characters less easy to define.
DC: You’re a former literature professor. When teaching students a love for reading, other than Jane Austen, who we know you love, what other authors/books did you rely on to open students’ eyes to embrace books?
MF: Funnily enough, when I was teaching, my area was 20th century literature. For students who had no experience of literature, I felt that short stories worked very well. Short stories from a variety of world authors from Isabel Allende and Jorge Luis Borges to Ama Ata Aidoo and Derek Walcott, Grace Paley, James Joyce, and Hemingway. For twentieth century novels I taught novelists such as Toni Morrison, William Faulkner, John Fowles (The French Lieutenant’s Woman is a fascinating study of the Victorian period, by the way), Fay Weldon, Margaret Atwood, John Irving, E M Forster, George Orwell, Ursula Le Guin, Maya Angelou, Sandra Cisneros, William Golding, and Jamaica Kincaid. It ultimately doesn’t matter what you teach, because these are all great writers. The important thing is to show students how to project themselves into the text.
DC: Is there a genre you haven’t tackled but would like to try?
MF: I’m full of so many ideas, I want to write ten different things at the same time. Of course I can’t. I would like to write fantasy. I’d also like to write children’s books. And contemporary romantic comedy. There aren’t enough hours in a year for what I’d like to do!
DC: You’re now living in London. What was it that took you across the pond? What’s the one thing you’ve found in England and couldn’t live without if you headed back to the U.S.? And just the opposite: what’s the one thing from America you miss the most and can’t find in Britain?
MF: It was a family decision – a job opportunity came up and it made sense to take it. I was born in England, so in some ways it’s always been home. When I lived in the US, I had a British accent, so people were always asking “where are you from?” In England, people think I’m American, or perhaps Canadian.
I love the sense of history here – you just have to drive around a bit and suddenly you’re in a Tudor village, or on the set of Pride and Prejudice. I’d miss that if I moved back to the US. I also have many good friends in the Romantic Novelists’ Association, which is a lovely organization that’s very supportive.
As for the US. I miss quite a few things, some silly things for example, places like Trader Joe’s and natural health stores which are very small here and just carry basics. And then the bigger things (literally) – there is a lot more space in the USA (here quarters are a bit cramped). I love the variety in the US landscape. I love the atmosphere of college towns, which I’m used to. I like the sense of energy there.
DC: What advice would you give to your younger self?
MF: Go for what you really want, not what you feel you should do.
DC: If you were a book, what would your blurb be?
MF: A rolling stone, she never thought she would settle. She did her own thing, and she was perfectly happy doing it. But then a new profession appeared in her life, and she fell in love…
DC: What would be your “voice’s” tagline?
MF: “Tongue-in-cheek, with smooth edges”
DC: Let’s talk about your first publication, An Improper Suitor. Would you tell us where the idea for the book came from and then give us some insight into the relation between Julia and Lord Thorwynn?
MF: I plucked the idea out of thin air, the way these things happen. I knew who the characters would be, and I knew they’d meet on horseback, not in a ballroom or a house. I wasn’t very clear how and when. I wanted a story with momentum. Then I wrote the first chapter, and it all became clearer. My ideas for a novel generally begin with a first chapter.
A large part of the novel is about social expectations and social perceptions. As a bluestocking, Julia is fiercely independent, and she remains proactive all the way through. She is certainly not a passive heroine. Thorwynn wants to be the stereotypical gallant gentleman, but somehow he never quite manages it with her. He thinks he’s rescuing her from a runaway horse at the beginning of the novel, for example, when she’s trying to rescue someone else, so he actually hinders her instead of helping. Ironically, it’s because he never pulls off the charmer act with her that he becomes acceptable!
DC: If you had never become an author, what do you think you would be doing right now?
MF: I’d be an acupuncturist, which is also a profession I love, or I’d return to teaching. But writing has taken over.
DC: What’s on the horizon for Monica Fairview?
MF: Immediately, two more Austen sequels, and possibly more Regencies. And other things…
– dark or milk chocolate? – Milk chocolate for the taste, bitter dark to break the habit
– smooth or chunky peanut butter? – Neither
– heels or flats? – Flats
– coffee or tea? – Tea, of course. I’m British.
– summer or winter? – Give me sun any time
– mountains or beach? – Mountains, because I burn too easily on the beach.
– mustard or mayonnaise? – Mustard and mayonnaise
– flowers or candy? – Chocolate.
– pockets or purse? – Pockets because I can find things
– Pepsi or Coke? – Can’t tell the difference. I don’t drink them often.
– ebook or print? – Print because I like carrying a book, ebook because it’s more practical
Even after all this time, they’re still a lot fun:
1. What is your favorite word? – Really
2. What is your least favorite word? – “Like”: “He like talked to me and I like answered.”
3. What turns you on creatively, spiritually or emotionally? – Poetry
4. What turns you off creatively, spiritually or emotionally? – Practicality
5. What sound or noise do you love? – People sounds in a noisy neighborhood
6. What sound or noise do you hate? – Drilling
7. What is your favorite curse word? – Bloody hell (it’s the only one my daughter has learned from me)
8. What profession other than your own would you like to attempt? – None. I love my profession.
9. What profession would you not like to do? – Dentist
10. If Heaven exists, what would you like to hear God say when you arrive at the Pearly Gates? – “You did your best.”
DC: Monica, thank you so much for spending the day with us!