An Interview with Linda Beutler
While on Her
My Mr. Darcy & Your Mr. Bingley
What a treat it is to be hosting Linda Beutler on her current blog tour! Her bolder Jane and Bingley make for an intriguing variation. I hope you enjoy getting to know her a bit better in the interview here and have a chance to check out her newest book as well. Welcome Linda!
Before I dive into your many “home questions”, as Colonel Fitzwilliam would say, I just want to thank you for making the time for this interview and for me! We live in busy times, and for you to have signed on to the blog tour and then read My Mr. Darcy & Your Mr. Bingley to prepare is kindness plain and simple, and very much appreciated. As you commented as we communicated in advance of this, there are so many JAFF titles out right now, how do we authors distinguish ourselves? I’m hoping that’s a rhetorical question, because there are as many answers as there are readers! Perhaps the best way is to just keep at it? And of course inspiration striking is always helpful.
With that thought in mind—how does inspiration come?—I’ll get right down to addressing your questions.
Thanks again for hosting MMD&YMB,
Q: When did you first find Jane Austen’s books? How did you discover them?
LB: There is a pesky little memory in the back of my mind of watching what must have been a TV dramatization of Pride and Prejudice with my mother and sister when I was quite small (maybe a rerun of the 1958 version?). I only recall not liking any of the men, and wondering why Jane got to have Bingley and Lizzy didn’t (now there’s a plot bunny). As I say, I was quite young. It wasn’t the Olivier/Garson production, because I’d have remembered when we watched it in high school. That was memorable because one of my friends, who went on to become a costumer for the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, was appalled at the antebellum gowns. She was so deeply offended that she spent days designing proper costumes, earning a massive extra credit points in our theater class. Maybe the woefully anachronistic hoop skirts worn by Greer and the gang are what sent my schoolmate off on her successful career! At the time, my heart was not so easily touched.
During my years as an English major—studying Wilde and Shaw and F. Scott Fitzgerald—I picked up Jane Austen’s Sanditon on the paperback rack at the five-and-dime where I worked. It was fascinating to think of her dying in the middle and others presuming to finish it. I’ve come to many famous authors the same way, wriggling my way in through minor works. In 1980 I was an interested follower of the BBC P&P TV adaptation (Elizabeth Garvey and David Rintoul), and sometime during my career at the Multnomah County Library I purchased Jane Austen’s collected works (the six novels) and barreled through the whole thing.
Q: How did you find Jane Austen inspired literature?
LB: Sometime in early 2011 I read a review of one of Abigail Reynolds’ books in the Sunday arts & leisure section of The Oregonian newspaper. I thought it a highly singular thing to have done, audacious and arrogant, but gave it no more thought. That September, during the break between summer and autumn teaching terms, there was What Would Mr. Darcy Do? on the “staff recommendations” shelf at my local library. Everything about it blew me away. It was a portal to a world I had never dreamed existed. I read everything Abigail had written up to then, and moved on to everyone else. Even then there was a wide array of great, good, bad, and indifferent and at a certain point, I started doodling my own paragraphs and storylines. By December of 2012 I had written two novels. On January 10, 2013 I hit the “send” button to Meryton Press with the first three chapters of The Red Chrysanthemum. It was published that year.
Now mind you, to that point, I had no idea of the even larger online world. When I signed my contract with MP, they suggested I have a look-in at the Meryton Literary Society and their A Happy Assembly forum (AHA), and I’ve been happy there. I have not posted online anywhere else, and I have stayed with Meryton Press as my publisher.
Q: Did one of the Austen film adaptations become part of the reason that you found Jane Austen inspired literature?
LB: The 1995 BBC production of Pride and Prejudice wasn’t the reason I found the “JAFF-o-sphere”, as I call it, but it is by far the version exerting the greatest influence on my work. If I try to be high-minded I credit Andrew Davies’ screenplay, but if I’m honest, it is the casting. I saw the mini-series when it first ran, but after reading Abigail Reynolds, I watched it again and bought my own DVD set.
As to Austen’s other novels, I have found much to like in each of their adaptations, but something about how those novels are plotted keeps me from venturing away from P&P for source material.
Q: Is there anything about your life outside of writing that was part of your creative decision to write your latest book?
LB: Life outside of writing? Between garden writing, technical writing for work, and all of the writing involved with teaching horticulture, I am pretty much writing something or other everyday! But I don’t necessarily work on Jane Austen-esque writing everyday.
My current novel started out as a brief short-story wherein Bingley’s sisters are not at home when Jane Bennet calls in London, but Bingley learns she’s there and sweeps her off her feet. I’ve always thought Louisa and Caroline took a big risk not responding to Jane’s letters telling them she was coming—quite a thing to leave to chance. In one of the discussion forums at AHA, a spirited debate (one wouldn’t want to say heated at an assembly such as that) arose about Bingley and the nature of personal responsibility. Rather than engage in the discussion, I scuttled off for a little consultation with Mr. Bingley and began writing Your Mr. Bingley, as the present novel was first known.
How does inspiration come, and how did I create a stronger Bingley and Jane? The story really did flow out of that online debate. If Bingley did as I’m sure every Austen reader wishes and returned to Netherfield on his own, how does that tilt the story? What if Jane is still in London? How does Darcy take it when his duplicity to Bingley is revealed? What if Jane doesn’t want to appear to be chasing Bingley by returning home? This one action by Bingley opened a whole glorious and fun-to-write can of worms!
After I was several chapters into the thing, I sent it off to a cold-reader. She quite brutally said it was an interesting premise, but she would not continue reading if Darcy wasn’t given a bigger role. Truth to tell, neither would I, were I reading and not writing. I modified the outline and went from there. Some early reviewers have said it is as if the book has two halves, the Bingley half and the Darcy half. I think that’s a fair observation.
Q: I find it interesting that there are a couple characters from the original that are almost entirely absent from your story—Carolyn Bingley and Mr. Collins. There has to be a reason. Do tell us...
LB: I’m not sure I’d call Caroline absent, exactly. But the poor dear never shows up without Darcy delivering a set-down. Mr. Collins got a lot of face-time in my last novel, A Will of Iron, and here, the story at Rosings and Hunsford really drills into Elizabeth and Darcy misreading each other. Wickham is mentioned for the canker he always is, but with his true character becoming more generally known through other means, his only appearance merely serves to strengthen Elizabeth’s resolve to do the right thing. I usually do not add outside-of-canon characters, but in this story a mysterious lady emerged. The next thing I know, she’s the love interest for Colonel Fitzwilliam! Yes, characters can take over!
Q: Do you have certain actors that are 'cast' in your story?
LB: Oh, I do. But it has become a thing with me to not impose my cast on my readers. I think cover-artist Janet Taylor was really clever to keep us from seeing all of Bingley’s face and only Jane’s hands. I suppose I’m this way from reading so much at AHA. I get entranced with a story, then it publishes and the characters on the front don’t look a thing like I imagined. I don’t want to do that to my readers. Now that you’ve got me thinking about this, I have to laugh. My covers are almost totally hands or feet!
Q: What was your favorite part of your own novel?
LB: The scene at the theatre in London, followed second by the scene in the streets of Meryton when Darcy returns. The theatre scene happens when Darcy and Elizabeth are back in London just after the Hunsford contretemps. They are in no way emotionally prepared to see each other so soon. All of their feelings are completely raw. They think they’re being cool, but their friends and family are well aware of the tension. At the opposite end of the emotional spectrum, the scene in Meryton is written for laughs and finds some characters way, way out of their comfort zone.
Q: Are you currently writing anything else?
LB: A friend has been encouraging me to write a Jane Austen/P.G. Wodehouse mash-up, set in the 1920s. I have an outline, lots of research done, and a few chapters written. I’ve promised to post it at AHA, but I am not sure about publishing it. That will depend on if copyrights to Wodehouse’s early work have been renewed. This will put my reputation for comedy to a real test. It’s like putting a big, hilarious puzzle together and hoping others are amused, too.
Barbara—Thanks enormously for allowing me to natter on. Your questions helped me reveal a few insights into My Mr. Darcy & Your Mr. Bingley about which I haven’t said much thus far. But I am quite sure that by now your readers are hoping you will get back to writing, too!
I am indebted to your generosity! —Linda B
One never quite knows where the inspiration will strike. For award-winning author Linda Beutler and My Mr. Darcy & Your Mr. Bingley, the moment of genesis arrived in a particularly contentious thread at the online forum A Happy Assembly. What is the nature of personal responsibility? Where do we draw the line between Mr. Bingley being too subject to Mr. Darcy’s “persuasion” and Mr. Darcy playing too heavily on Mr. Bingley’s “sensibility”? This is a conundrum guaranteed to raise even more questions.
What happens to the plot and character dynamics of Pride & Prejudice if Mr. Bingley is given just a dash more spine? Or if Jane Bennet decides enough embarrassment is too much? How does Mr. Darcy manage the crucial apology a more stalwart Mr. Bingley necessitates he make? What if Mr. Darcy meets relations of Elizabeth Bennet’s for whom she need not blush on their home turf rather than his? Suffice it to say, this is a story of rebuked pride, missing mail, a man with “vision”, a frisky cat, and an evening gown that seems to have its own agenda.
Linda Beutler’s professional life is spent in a garden, an organic garden housing America’s foremost public collection of clematis vines and a host of fabulous companion plants. Her home life reveals a more personal garden, still full of clematis, but also antique roses and vintage perennials planted around and over a 1907 cottage. But one can never have enough of gardening, so in 2011 she began cultivating a weedy patch of Jane Austen Fan Fiction ideas. The first of these to ripen was The Red Chrysanthemum (Meryton Press, 2013), which won a silver IPPY for romance writing in 2014. You might put this down as beginner’s luck—Linda certainly does. The next harvest brought Longbourn to London (Meryton Press, 2014), known widely as “the [too] sexy one”. In 2015 Meryton Press published the bestseller A Will of Iron, a macabre rom-com based on the surprising journals of Anne de Bourgh.
Now, after a year-long break in JAFF writing to produce Plant Lovers Guide to Clematis (Timber Press, 2016)—the third in a bouquet of books on gardening—we have My Mr. Darcy and Your Mr. Bingley bursting into bloom.
(Each website is linked to the name.)
The eBook is available on Amazon. The Paperback should follow in two to three weeks.
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