I first had the pleasure of discovering Julie Klassen while on an camping trek along the East coast – I was looking for some late-night reading while tucked away in that comfortable Airstream bed. I cannot recall exactly how I first came upon The Apothecary’s Daughter – it may have been some kindle special, but though I didn’t know a thing about the author, nor that she was classified as a writer of “Christian fiction,” I loved the title and was hooked from the first page. Since then (and no longer stuck in that Airstream) I have read all of her eight novels, each of them a mix of mystery and romance, with gothic elements and literary illusions in abundance. You will find Jane Austen and the Brontes well represented, especially Jane Eyre.
Her first book The Lady of Milkwood Manor, tells the tale of unmarried motherhood, and each succeeding book focuses on a social issue of the Regency period and the plight of women in this constrained patriarchal world. And yes, there is the Romance, with various brooding Heroes vying for attention, great British houses with secrets to be unearthed, and lovely Heroines who are strong in the face of societal missteps, where faith plays a part in finding one’s way, and all adding up to a perfect read.
Today we are celebrating Ms. Klassen’s most recent book, The Secret of Pembrooke Park, currently on a blog tour sponsored by Laurel Ann at Austenprose, and where this book was awarded “Best Regency Era novel of 2014.” [the blog tour goes from February 16 – March 2nd]
In the spring of 1818, twenty-four-year-old Abigail Foster fears she is destined to become a spinster. Her family’s finances are in ruins and the one young man she truly esteems has fallen for another woman — her younger, prettier sister Louisa.
Forced to retrench after the bank failure of Austen, Gray & Vincent, the Foster family optimistically pool their resources for another London Season for her sister in hopes of an advantageous alliance. While searching for more affordable lodgings, a surprising offer is presented: the use of a country manor house in Berkshire abandoned for eighteen years. The Fosters journey to the imposing Pembrooke Park and are startled to find it entombed as it was abruptly left, the tight-lipped locals offering only rumors of a secret room, hidden treasure and a murder in its mysterious past.
Eager to restore her family fortune, Abigail, with the help of the handsome local curate William Chapman and his sister Leah, begins her search into the heavily veiled past aided by unsigned journal pages from a previous resident and her own spirited determination. As old friends and new foes come calling at Pembrooke Park, secrets come to light. Will Abigail find the treasure and love she seeks…or very real danger?
We are fortunate to have Julie join us here at ‘Jane Austen in Vermont’ for an interview. [Please see below for the Grand Prize Contest and book giveaway details]
JAIV: You heartily credit Jane Austen as the greatest influence in your writing – tell us how and when you first discovered her, and how she has continued influencing you. And what do you think it is about Jane Austen that she is more popular than ever, in both academia and popular culture?
JK: I have been a fan of Jane Austen ever since I fell in love with Colin Firth as Mr. Darcy in the 1995 BBC/A&E adaptation of Pride and Prejudice. Seeing it led me to read all of Jane Austen’s books and in turn, to set my novels in the Regency period, when her books were published. As far as her on-going popularity, no doubt experts could answer that better than I could, but for me her novels’ endless appeal lies in the ideal they depict–family affection, chivalry, romance, and true love triumphing over adversity–things so many of us long for. Jane Austen’s timeless humor is the icing on the cake!
JAIV: You have many references to Jane Austen’s characters in all your novels. The Girl in the Gatehouse for instance, reads like a sequel to Mansfield Park – a young woman sent from her home, her reputation compromised by the seduction of a rake of a man named Crawford – her name is Mariah, her sister Julia [though I do have to say I was happy not to see Mrs. Norris hanging about!].
In The Secret of Pembrooke Park, we have a handsome, intelligent and caring vicar – does he have a Jane Austen model? Tell us something of your research into the Anglican clergy during this time period.
JK: The Girl in the Gatehouse is one of my favorites. I fondly call it my “ode to Jane,” since it has the most nods to Miss Austen. In The Secret of Pembrooke Park, the character of William Chapman was in a great way inspired by Austen’s wry and witty Henry Tilney in Northanger Abbey. (Although he is more like Edward Ferrars in that he hasn’t a living of his own, nor a wealthy benefactor). Mr. Chapman is handsome and humble, godly and kind, but also a man’s man—athletic, good-humored, and hardworking. To research Anglicanism, I read biographies of 19th-century clergymen, attended several Anglican services in the US and England, and consulted the Book of Common Prayer. But it would take much more than that to become expert, so I had a London vicar’s wife read the manuscript to help me avoid errors. Her husband kindly answered questions as needed.
JAIV: You write what is termed “Traditional Regencies” – i.e. more like Jane Austen and Georgette Heyer than Eloisa James and other “bodice-ripper” writers – Romance for sure with lots of butterflies, quivering lips, and stolen kisses, but no explicit sex scenes. [Jane Austen approves heartily!]. Has it been easy to find a publisher for your Christian-based tales? And have your three Christy Awards helped in spreading the word about your books?
JK: When my first novel was published seven years ago, most historical fiction from Christian publishers was set in post-Civil War America. Now, there are many authors writing traditional regencies. Because of this, I am often credited with inspiring the growth of the genre in the inspirational market. I don’t know if the awards have helped or not, but I am certainly grateful and humbled to have won them!
JAIV: Your books all strongly emphasize the power and presence of a Christian God – both your Heroines and Heroes go through times of doubt and loss and then embrace their faith to find themselves. Do you think this aspect of your work limits your readership? How has your own faith influenced your writing?
JK: I came to faith in my twenties. Like the characters in my novels, I have made many mistakes in my life and am still far from perfect. But I have experienced forgiveness and second chances and this naturally weaves its way into my novels. Considering the time period, it would be more unnatural not to include things like church services and family prayers, which were a regular part of Jane Austen’s life as a clergyman’s daughter and common in society in general. As far as limiting readership, that’s the wonderful thing about publishing—we all like different kinds of books. A good thing, too, or we would need only a few authors rather than the broad spectrum writing today! As writers, the content we choose to include—or not to include—affects our readership. Some people avoid steamy novels, for example, and some avoid sweet ones. The books I write reflect the kind of fiction I like to read and who I am as a person. I appreciate reviews like this one from Booklist, that says, “…the author’s deft incorporation of the faith-based component of her story means this well-crafted romance will have wide appeal beyond inspirational romance fans.” And thankfully, this seems to be the case, because I hear from readers from various backgrounds who enjoy the books.
JAIV: Your epigraphs show a wide reading of early women writers, as well as Jane Austen’s works and letters – is there anyone you have read that you have enjoyed as much as Austen or Bronte [I know you love Jane Eyre!] who has influenced your own writing?
JK: Thank you. I also love Elizabeth Gaskell, Frances Hodgson Burnett, and Georgette Heyer. And no one created characters like Charles Dickens!
Elizabeth Gaskell (1832) – Wikipedia
JAIV: Each of your eight novels has a strong heroine who finds or places herself in a situation that reflects her limited choices as a woman: servant, governess, teacher, medicine healer, a novel-writer [think “Anonymous”!], etc. You cover the topics of unwed motherhood, the life of servitude, loss of inheritance, loss of reputation, herbal medicine, the “evils” of dancing, and more … all about women trapped in social and personal prisons. As a woman of the 21st century, it is difficult to imagine that world of 200 years ago. How do you get it right?
JK: I am sure it helps that I love this time period—my favorite novels, costume dramas, blogs, and research books, are all set in or around this era. I spend a lot of time in Jane Austen’s letters and check my dialogue on an online etymology dictionary to make sure each word spoken was in use at the time. I sometimes have experts read sections or answer questions on certain topics (the military, cricket, blacksmithing, English country dancing, etc.). I am a member of JASNA and learn a lot through their meetings and speakers. And I go to England when I can. It’s an ongoing education! I am certainly fallible and make my share of errors, but I do my research and work hard to accurately portray the era. That said, I write fiction, not history, and occasionally take liberties for the sake of the story. When I do, I acknowledge this in my Author’s Note at the back of the books.
JAIV: The Secret of Pembrooke Park is your longest novel to date, offering again your reader-pleasing combination of mystery, scary gothic elements, and of course Romance, to tell a tale where the reader is never quite sure who the Hero might be and how the mystery will play out – did you know when you set out on your writing journey how it would all be resolved? Which brings us to: can you share with us your writing process? – do you start with a social issue, or a character, or a mystery to be solved?
JK: I submit a synopsis to my publisher in advance, so I have a fairly good idea of how things will be resolved, but there is always room for surprises along the way. My process has evolved over the years and I’m still fine-tuning it. But I usually begin with a situation that intrigues me, e.g. a lady who finds herself working as a wet nurse, or having to go into hiding as a housemaid or, in this case, moving into a long-abandoned manor. From there, I think about what kind of character would be most interesting and satisfying to see in—and grow through—that situation. Specific plot points and twists develop from there.
JAIV: Your next book is already available for pre-order: Lady Maybe, due out in July 2015. Can you tell us something about it? And, what’s up next??
JK: Lady Maybe (Berkley) is about a woman whose startling secrets lead her into unexpected danger and romance in Regency England. And then in December comes The Painter’s Daughter (Bethany House), which is my first novel with a marriage-in-name-only premise.
JAIV: Thank you Julie for so generously sharing your thoughts on writing, your faith, and your forays into the Regency period! I very much look forward to your next two books – such a treat to have two in one year!
Please leave a comment or a question for Julie and you will be entered into the Giveaway Contest!
Grand Giveaway Contest
Win One of Four Fabulous Prizes!
In celebration of the release of The Secret of Pembrooke Park, four chances to win copies of Julie’s books and other Jane Austen-inspired items are being offered.
Three lucky winners will receive one trade paperback or eBook copy of The Secret of Pembrooke Park, and one grand prize winner will receive one copy of all eight of Julie’s novels:
- Lady of Milkweed Manor (2008)
- The Apothecary’s Daughter (2009)
- The Silent Governess (2010)
- The Girl in the Gatehouse (2011)
- The Maid of Fairbourne Hall (2012)
- The Tutor’s Daughter (2013)
- The Dancing Master (2014)
- The Secret of Pembrooke Park (2014)
…and one DVD of Northanger Abbey (2007) and a Jane Austen Action Figure.
To enter the giveaway contest, simply leave a comment on any or all of the blog stops on The Secret of Pembrooke Park Blog Tour starting February 16, 2015 through 11:59 pm PT, March 9, 2015. Winners will be drawn at random from all of the comments and announced on Julie Klassen’s website on March 16, 2015. Winners have until March 22, 2015 to claim their prize. The giveaway contest is open to residents of the US, UK, and Canada. Digital books will be sent through Amazon or Barnes & Noble. Good luck to all!
Julie Klassen loves all things Jane—Jane Eyre and Jane Austen. A graduate of the University of Illinois, Julie worked in publishing for sixteen years and now writes full time. Three of her books have won the Christy Award for Historical Romance. She has also been a finalist in the Romance Writers of America’s RITA Awards. Julie and her husband have two sons and live in St. Paul, Minnesota. Learn more about Julie and her books at her website, follow her on Twitter, and visit her on Facebook and Goodreads.
For more information:
-Twitter handles: @Julie_Klassen, @Bethany_House
-Twitter hashtags: #PembrookeBlogTour, #JaneAusten, #HistoricalFicton, #RegencyRomance, #Reading, #GothicRomance, #Austenesque
Publication info on The Secret of Pembroke Park:
Remember, please leave a comment or a question for Julie here or at any of the other stops on the blog tour to qualify for the book giveaways by March 9, 2015. Blog tour stops are listed here: http://austenprose.com/2015/02/15/the-secret-of-pembrooke-park-blog-tour/
Thank you again Julie!
c2015 Jane Austen in Vermont