Giveaway & Interview with Renée Beyea, author of Fine Stout Love

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Fine Stout Love and Other Stories by Renée Beyea is a collection of short stories based on Jane Austen’s Pride & Prejudice and is part of the Pride & Prejudice Petite Tales series.  The second volume, What Love May Come and Other Stories, will be released winter 2016.

A Fine Stout Love.inddAbout the collection:

Discover what happens when Elizabeth Bennet and Fitzwilliam Darcy meet fancy and fantasy in this novella-length ensemble of Regency stories.

– What if two inexplicable trails of words led to the Meryton churchyard on the same blustery morning?
– What if Darcy stumbled across suggestive lines of verse following Elizabeth’s stay at Netherfield?
– What if a rumored engagement so thoroughly shocked Lady Catherine that she could not interfere?
– What if Elizabeth learned the last man she would ever marry was the only man she could marry?
– What if every Bennet family member read the love poem Darcy intended only for his bride?

With all the intimacy and lyricism of a chamber concert, these five whimsical shorts will inspire the heart, prompt a smile, and entice readers to many happy returns.

Intrigued? I know I am.

Please give Renée Beyea a warm welcome.

When did you first read Pride & Prejudice? And what about the story stuck with you enough to write short stories about Jane Austen’s characters?

Credit goes to my mom for introducing me to Emma in fourth grade. I fell in love with Mr. Knightley and devoured Jane Austen’s oeuvre–including Pride & Prejudice–within the next few years. Since I loved fairy tales as a child, Pride & Prejudice initially enthralled me as a grown-up version of Cinderella and an escape to what seemed like a fairy tale world. It wasn’t until the many re-readings in high school and college that I began to appreciate Austen’s light touch in sketching characters, her sparkling dialogue, and the subtlety of her wisdom, wit, and humor. Though each reading brings new insights, these qualities have stayed with me over the years.

After so many decades reading Pride & Prejudice–not to mention wheedling friends and family into countless movie viewings–what joy was mine to stumble into the world of Jane Austen fan fiction! I was introduced once again through my mom, this time to Persuasion from Captain Wentworth’s point of view in Susan Kaye’s None But You. Retellings and variations sparked my imagination, and that’s when I began writing the short pieces that comprise A Fine Stout Love and Other Stories. Though I don’t seek to emulate Austen’s voice, I do strive to employ era-appropriate language and to honor those qualities I appreciated from the first–her canon characters, fresh dialogue, subtle humor, and naturally, a dash of fairy tale romance.

Many fans of Austen often do not like to read the Brontes.  Do you read the Brontes and enjoy their work? If not, why?

I do read and enjoy the Brontes, though not all of their works. Charlotte’s Jane Eyre and Anne’s The Tenant of Wildfell Hall are on my re-read list. Anne’s first novel, Agnes Grey, still languishes in my TBR pile. Charlotte’s Shirley and The Professor have yet to sufficiently pique my interest. As for Charlotte’s Villette and Emily’s Wuthering Heights, I’m prepared to admire them from a literary perspective, but I find them too dark, depressing, and disturbing to expect much pleasure from repeat visits. My approach to the Brontes’ novels is similar to how my husband and I approach movies. We enjoy diverse genres and savor a good drama, but for repeat viewing, nine times out of ten we’ll choose romantic comedy or action adventure. The Brontes’ works are dramas; Austen’s are romantic comedy.

Since I’m on a roll with comparisons… Comparing Austen and the Brontes is like comparing an airy chiffon pie with a dense flourless cake. Both delicious but for contrasting attributes. Or in terms of art, the Brontes paint with oils, layer upon layer of light and shadow skillfully executed–not unlike Helen Huntingdon’s talent in Wildfell Hall. By contrast, Austen sketches no less skillfully but provides just enough to tell the story and to color casts of enchanting characters. Austen leaves more to the imagination. She doesn’t indulge in lengthy moralizations or detailed descriptions. We don’t know what Longbourn house looks like, let alone Elizabeth Bennet, save for her beautiful dark eyes and light and pleasing figure. As a reader, I enjoy both methods, but as a writer, it’s Austen’s works that invite variations.

When working with someone else’s beloved characters, what do you keep in mind when writing new stories for them?  What are the challenges? advantages?

Austen variations come in as many flavors as Ben & Jerry’s ice cream. Some authors tweak the plot, some the characters, and some both. Each change is located along a spectrum of minor to major. Of course, every Austen reader will happily defend her or his favorite flavor–sometimes quite ardently. Where do I fall on this spectrum? As a reader, I can appreciate a fairly wide variety. As an author, I endeavor to keep the characters within the social mores and moral values of Austen’s milieu as well as in step with how she wrote them. Or at least in step with how I interpret her characterization, knowing full well readers will debate ceaselessly a range of interpretation.

Perhaps the greatest advantage to borrowing someone else’s characters is that they already exist in readers’ imaginations. Isn’t this in large part what fuels the seemingly insatiable appetite for Austen retellings and variations? Readers covet more time with the characters they’ve come to know and love. Names like Elizabeth, Darcy, and Mrs. Bennet serve as a kind of shorthand to their back stories and character traits. I’ve found this to be a tremendous boon in writing short fiction. A short story’s limited length and tight construction place relatively greater weight on each word choice, and I need not spend words introducing the cast. This also means readers are more swiftly immersed with beloved characters as they are plunged into new circumstances.

As is often the case, the corollary presents the greatest challenge. Because reader expectations already exist along a range of interpretation, those expectations are destined to be either satisfied or disappointed in a way that original characters are less apt to incite. Then there’s the challenge and limitation of creating characters consistent with the originals. Does Elizabeth speak and act with that “mixture of sweetness and archness” that makes it difficult to affront anybody, or does she cross the line into harshness or cruelty? Is Jane “firm where she feels herself to be in the right,” or does her gentleness make her seem a pushover? Austen had the advantage of writing when narrative, exposition, and omniscient narrators were de rigueur, but the burden is on today’s authors to show these subtle distinctions.

If you had to describe Mr. Darcy as readers know him, not as he is perceived by Elizabeth Bennet, what four words would you use and how did you come to choose those terms?

Only four words? You drive a hard bargain! One beauty of Austen’s writing is her restraint in Darcy’s portrayal, which only multiplies his mystique. Readers and Austen-inspired authors have the irresistible gratification of completing the picture, and we do so with an endless variety of media. Below are the four words that best capture my mental image. I’d love to hear which four words your readers would choose…

Proud:  Darcy is sometimes justified as shy and misunderstood, but Austen leaves little room for doubt that Darcy enters the story as proud and haughty. He takes pride in his heritage, his family, his station in society, his estate. As Charlotte says, he has an excuse to be proud. Really, can we blame him? Perhaps we wouldn’t blame him at all if his pride were as properly regulated as Darcy assures Elizabeth it is. We can laugh, even if Elizabeth does not, at the irony and his unwitting hypocrisy. Darcy’s pride continues to surface in the superiority of his perceptions and interactions–at least until we meet him again at Pemberley, having been properly humbled by Elizabeth’s refusal and learned his lesson.

Reserved:  While I won’t grant Darcy a pass for being shy and misunderstood, Austen does tell us he’s reserved, his manners are uninviting, and he’s continually giving offense. She sketches Darcy in contrast to his good friend. Bingley is effusive, gregarious, and charming–everyone’s a friend. Darcy on the other hand stands about and doesn’t care to dance or even to make small talk with people he doesn’t know. He explains himself to Elizabeth as not possessing such social skill. Only in his own circles, among his intimates, and at Pemberley does Darcy become less reserved. And on those lovely long rambles with Elizabeth near the end, her easy playfulness begins to soften his reserve, which only serves to whet readers’ appetites for more.

Reflective:  When Darcy is quiet, Austen frequently shows him watching and observing, or readers can reasonably make that inference. Darcy watches Elizabeth. He watches Jane’s interaction with Bingley. He observes the Bennet family’s behavior. He watches Collins tread on Elizabeth’s toes and his cousin Fitzwilliam flirt with her. Darcy does all this watching, but no matter what Elizabeth may think, the reader knows it’s not a vacuous stare. Austen tells us that Darcy is clever and boasts superior powers of understanding. So in those long silences his clever mind is occupied evaluating everything he observes and drawing conclusions. Not always accurate conclusions, mind. He determines that Elizabeth favors him while Jane doesn’t favor Bingley. Oops. But confronted with Elizabeth’s rejection, Darcy’s clever mind once again engages in reflecting on what she said, painful though her words are. And this time he determines that he’s the one who needs to change. That’s our hero.

Principled:  Late in the book, Darcy tells Elizabeth that he was “given good principles but left to follow them in pride and conceit.” But before we hear this confession from his mouth, we see Darcy’s principles in action. He honors the spirit of his father’s wishes for Wickham without violating his better informed conscience. Mrs. Reynolds confirms Darcy is conscientious in the management of his estate and respected by his tenants and servants. Darcy is committed to his sister’s care and earns consistent high praise for his efforts there. He’s a faithful friend. Misguided and influenced by selfish motives though Darcy may be, he still seeks to protect Bingley from a marriage of unequal affection. He abhors disguise and endeavors to correct Elizabeth’s misapprehensions. And Darcy owns it himself that he intervenes with Lydia and Wickham because he has Elizabeth’s interests at heart. Honor, integrity, selflessness, and generosity to name a few–what woman would not be won by the love of a tall, handsome, rich man motivated by such principles?

Do you read poetry?  Who or what collections would you recommend?

I do read poetry, though not as much as I did before children. Somehow the raucous joy of boys rocketing through my home isn’t particularly conducive to reflection. These days I treat poetry like espresso. When I need a quick shot, it’ll usually be old friends from the classics. Shakespeare’s sonnets are well-thumbed. I’m a huge fan of John Donne and Gerard Manley Hopkins, and both find passing reference in the first two volumes of my Pride & Prejudice Petite Tales. Sometimes I’m in the mood for the Brownings, Keats, or Dickinson. These poets also inspired the verses I wrote for A Fine Stout Love and Other Stories–poems with more traditional form, meter and rhyme, and thus more apt to have been composed by Elizabeth or Darcy.

In terms of contemporary poets, several of Jane Kenyon’s slim volumes populate my shelves. Let Evening Come moves me every time–I feel her words like sunset on an evening breeze. And while it’s not poetry, Annie Dillard’s prose in Holy the Firm and Pilgrim at Tinker Creek is often sublime and poetic. Her striking imagery, rich metaphors, and lyrical voice impact me like verse. I likewise relish applying poetic sensibility to writing prose fiction.

As for current poets, if the poet dances words onto the page and the reader dances them off, then occasionally I accept the invitation and take new verses for a turn about the room. Regretfully, it’s rarely long enough to find new favorites. So I’m not in a position to make recommendations, save to affirm experimenting, reading broadly, and sampling everything. In fact, Savvy Verse & Wit provides an excellent resource to do just that (thank you, thank you!). My taste may be to waltz and another’s may be to salsa, but you never know when you will chance into the perfect combination of words that makes your soul dance.

Thank you so much, Serena, for hosting me at Savvy Verse & Wit, stimulating my thoughts with your insightful questions, and for participating in the blog tour for A Fine Stout Love and Other Stories.

International giveaway: (8 books, including up to 4 paperback)

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Renee Beyea (author)About the Author:

Renée Beyea holds an undergraduate writing degree from Taylor University and a Master of Divinity from Fuller Seminary. She serves as full-time wife, mother to two sons, and ministry partner with her husband, an Anglican priest and chaplain. Her free time is devoted to crafting stories and composing poetry that delight the senses and touch the soul. Connect with her on Facebook.

  • Anna (Diary of an Eccentric)

    Fantastic interview! I really enjoyed this story collection.

  • Dung Vu

    Great interview! I never thought of comparing P&P to Ben & Jerry’s ice cream, but it’s true… there are so flavors and everyone has their favorites!

    • Renee Beyea

      Glad you enjoyed it, Dung–thanks to Serena for asking great questions! Yes, the trick is matching up authors and readers who enjoy the same flavors of P&P. 🙂

    • Thanks for stopping by!

  • Ginna

    Thank you for the interview. Seriously hoping to be one of the winners in the giveaway for this book.

    • Renee Beyea

      Thanks for following the tour so closely, Ginna! Seems like you must have a pretty good chance to me… Best of luck!

    • I’ll keep my fingers crossed for you!

  • Michelle

    It’s fun to read about the Darcy characteristics.

    • I really liked that too.

    • Renee Beyea

      It’s always fascinating how differently (and similarly) people interpret Darcy… Wonder what Jane Austen would think now? LOL!

  • Caryl Kane

    Wonderful interview with Renée. This collection sounds lovely.

    • I really enjoyed this interview.

      • Renee Beyea

        Me too! Thanks for taking the time to read, Caryl, and thank you again, Serena, for asking great questions and for hosting.

  • Vesper Meikle

    I would recommend reading Agnes Grey probably my favourite Bronte book

    • I have not read that one.

    • Renee Beyea

      Will have to nudge AG closer to the top of the stack–thanks for the rec!