Q&A With Abigail Reynolds, Author of Pemberley by the Sea

Abigail Reynolds, author of Pemberley by the Sea, kindly agreed to answer some questions about her novel, her writing space, and her holiday gift ideas for writers and readers. I reviewed her novel this month, check it out!

Without further ado, here’s my Q&A with Abigail Reynolds. Stay tuned for a giveaway from Sourcebooks. Thanks to Danielle Jackson at Sourcebooks.

1. Pemberley by the Sea is called a modern day Pride and Prejudice, but were there other literary couples or storylines that inspired Calder and Cassie’s romance?

My original inspiration was to see what would happen if I put Darcy and Elizabeth together in the modern world, and that’s pretty much the way it stayed.

2. Elizabeth Bennet is considered to be a strong female heroine, much like Cassie. Was it hard not to outdo Elizabeth Bennet’s strength and sharp wit when creating Cassie? Was it hard to keep Cassie vulnerable?

I found Cassie fairly easy to write, which is interesting since she is nothing like me. I had to give her a different kind of strength from Elizabeth Bennet, whose strength was displayed by turning down eligible men who could save her family from an impoverished future. That’s a bit hard to translate to modern day, so I changed Cassie’s struggle to one against an impoverished background. I think most women have vulnerable points, and Cassie does, too – especially around people she loves.

3. Did you feel obligated to maintain the happy endings Jane Austen continued to use in her novels?

Interesting question! I don’t feel obligated to maintain happy endings, but they seem to be a natural part of my writing. My goal is to write books that capture readers’ interest and leave them with a smile on their face at the end. A happy ending is part and parcel of that. Over time, I’ve moved towards endings that are happy but not fairy tale.

***This section of her answer may contain spoilers***

At the end of Pemberley by the Sea, Cassie’s brother is still in prison, and Joe Westing is lurking in the wings, bound to create some trouble sooner or later.

4. Politics is a touchy subject for novelists to tackle. Was there a great deal of research that went into those aspects of the novel?

It’s not only a touchy subject, it’s also changeable. At the time I wrote Pemberley by the Sea, Republicans were firmly in power, the Iraq war still had wide public support, and nobody was talking about national health insurance. But it was published in a completely different political climate, which takes away some of the power from Calder’s political rebellion, since he’s just saying things that are more mainstream than radical.

I didn’t do much political research, but I like to stay up to date in the news. If you listen to Senator Westing’s speaking style, I borrowed it pretty liberally from several different politicians. I didn’t intend the book to reflect a particular political reality – I left the war vague so that it could be Iraq, Afghanistan, the Gulf War, or some conflagration yet to come – because I didn’t want it to be dated.

5. Is the Westing family modeled upon a real-world political family?

It isn’t, but people usually think it is, because it’s set on Cape Cod and involves a wealthy political family. The Westings are quite different from the Kennedys, though – they’re Republican, Southern, old money. But I considered several prominent political families as I wrote it, including the Rockefellers and the Bush family.

***I didn’t see a resemblance to the Kennedys at all, but I’m a New Englander, so that could be why.***

Right now I have a dilemma with Morning Light, the sequel to Pemberley by the Sea, which has been complete for several years, because a key part of the plot is that Senator Westing is diagnosed with a tumor and pulls some strings to get special experimental treatment. If I’m not careful, I think readers will assume I’m modeling the whole episode on Senator Kennedy’s recent diagnosis and treatment – life imitating fiction.

6. I loved the novel within the novel aspect midway through Pemberley by the Sea, very reminiscent of Shakespeare’s play within a play. Writing this section must have been a joy. What prompted you to include this section and were there any particular triumphs or struggles you encountered while writing it?

When I first started writing, I was looking for some kind of plot device to parallel the letter Darcy gives to Elizabeth in Pride & Prejudice. But in Jane Austen’s day, an unmarried woman couldn’t respond to a letter from an unmarried man – it would have been a scandal if anyone discovered Darcy had written to Elizabeth – and Elizabeth had no expectations of ever seeing or hearing from him again. It was Darcy’s one and only chance to explain himself. It was hard to come up with something equally unanswerable in modern society. If Calder wrote a letter to Cassie, she’d be expected write or email back, to ask him questions about it. Having the letter be a novel established some of the distance I wanted.

There were two hard things with writing those sections. The first was keeping it from slowing the pace of the story. Originally there were far more excerpts from Calder’s book, but it ended up feeling repetitious because the reader had already seen those scenes from Cassie’s point of view. In the end, I cut a lot out. The other challenge was writing the part where it cuts back and forth between Calder’s book and Cassie’s reaction to it. The pacing was really challenging there, not to mention that I had to make sure that Calder’s book was written in Calder’s writing style, but that Cassie’s reactions were in my own style.

7. Please describe your ideal writing space and how it compares to your current writing space.

They’re dramatically different! My ideal space would be sitting quietly at a table with a water view. It would NOT involve being constantly interrupted by two kids, dogs wanting to come in and out, cats who think that I should type around them as they sit on my lap, and chaos everywhere, which is how I usually write.

8. With the holidays approaching, do you have any gift recommendations for those of us with writers and readers on our lists?

My writing friends are all getting small blank books to leave scattered around the house, car, purse, wherever, because you never know when you’ll suddenly come up with the perfect line, and if you don’t write it down that second, it’s gone forever.

For the Jane Austen lover, I’d recommend In the Garden with Jane Austen by Kim Wilson, the author of Tea with Jane Austen, and, of course, any of my Pemberley Variations! In the next couple of weeks, Affinity and Affection by Susan Adriani will be available, which is a Pride & Prejudice variation by an excellent new writer.

My favorite book about writing is Annie LaMott’s classic Bird by Bird.

Thanks again to Abigail Reynolds! Thank you to Danielle at Sourcebooks for sending me this fantastic read.

And now for what you’ve all been waiting for. . . the contest to win your own copy of Pemberley by the Sea, which I highly recommend for the Jane Austen book lover on your holiday list.

1. For one entry, leave a comment here–something other than “enter me” or “pick me.” Don’t forget an email address or active blog that I can use to contact you.

2. For a second entry, leave a comment on the review post, here. If you’ve already posted on the review, I will count it as a second entry into the contest, but only if you enter on this post first. Boy, I’m diabolical!

3. For the ambitious few, blog or post the contest in a sidebar, and you get a third entry.

Deadline is December 10, Midnight EST. Sorry U.S. and Canada addresses only!

Because I am a dumbass, I am going to let you know about a contest that ends today at Diary of an Eccentric for a copy of Off the Menu by Christine Son! Don’t miss the Deadline, which is December 3, tonight! HURRY!

Pemberley by the Sea by Abigail Reynolds

Abigail Reynolds’ Pemberley by the Sea is a retelling of Pride & Prejudice by Jane Austen, but in modern times and with modern sensibilities. Who would have Elizabeth Bennet been in today’s world, and who would have been Fitzwilliam Darcy?

In Reynolds’ modern day romance, which is set on Cape Cod and in Pennsylvania, Dr. Cassie Boulton is a marine biologist who loves a good book so long as the ending is a happy one–because there are just too much unpleasantness in real life. In many ways Cassie and Elizabeth are both strong women with a sharp wit, but Cassie also is an accomplished career woman with serious ambitions and a dangerous past. One of my favorite scenes is when she and Calder are in a charming bookstore and he has merely followed her around and not said much (from pg. 29).

She paid for her purchase, and said good-bye to Ed, and then turned back to Calder. He held a book in his hand now but was still looking at her with disturbing intensity. She smiled with apparent sweetness at him and said cheekily, “Lovely chatting with you, Calder. We’ll have to do this again some time.” She made a quick exit, leaving the bells on the door jingling behind her.

The tension here is palatable, and it remains so throughout the novel, and Reynolds does a great job showing and creating sexual tension, charisma, and release between these characters.

Calder Westing III is the son of a rich, Republican, and southern political family. Like Mr. Darcy, Calder Westing is the consummate blue blood with his chiseled features, highbrow manners, and cool temperament, but passion runs deep beneath the veneer as does his loyalty and vulnerability.

Their summer romance hits them hard and fast, but it quickly fades into the background as each deals with the unpleasantness of their every day lives and the qualms they have about fitting into one another’s world. Calder fights for his love through an adaptation of Cassie’s favorite novel, while Cassie has to fight her basic instinct to flee when harsh times approach. She manages to overcome her innate, biological responses and confides in Calder, trusting that they can work through anything together.

Not only are we thrust into their romance, but the reader is introduced to Erin (i.e. Jane Bennet) and Scott (i.e. Mr. Bingley), whose romance falls off track and only rights itself on its own, not as cleanly as it happens in Austen’s novel. Caro, Calder’s mother, is another fascinating character, along with the Jim, Cassie’s mentor, and Dave Crowley, attorney and long-time friend of Calder’s family and Cassie. Joe, Calder’s father, is a force to be reckoned with, and the tension in the novel becomes almost stifling when he enters a scene. There is a wide range of supporting characters in this novel, and each has a significant role to play, which makes this more than just an Austen do-over.

Not only has Reynolds eloquently captured the tension between the characters and developed their relationships believably throughout the 400+ page novel, she has taken the time to put the reader in Woods Hole with her descriptions. It was like taking a vacation and getting lost on the seaside or in the marsh. Check out this description from pg. 422.

Cassie stood on the beach in front of the house, her arms wrapped around herself. Finally some peace and quiet. A cool breeze blew in over Buzzard’s Bay, whipping up whitecaps that broke on the shore, coming closer and closer to her feet as the tide came in. Around her lay the flotsam of the last high tide, strands of seaweed, broken shells, and here and there an empty shark egg case. Mermaids’ purses–that was what children called the egg cases when they discovered them on the beach. A used-up dead shell that once protected a baby dogfish or skate, and now it would be a child’s treasure.

Not only do the descriptions do justice to the setting and put the reader in the midst of the scene with the characters, they serve to put the reader in the characters’ minds. What is Cassie thinking? How is Cassie reacting? In some cases, the scenes serve to foreshadow upcoming events, feelings, and trials, but in others the scenes symbolize overarching themes in the text.

From the beginning to the end, this is an engrossing novel that takes the reader on a deep ride into the romance and struggles of these two characters. They are memorable, and I was sad to see them go. I hope we hear more from these characters. In terms of Jane Austen spin offs and redos, this is one of the best and could even stand on its own without the references to Pride & Prejudice, which is a clear testament to Reynolds’ talent as a writer.

I want to thank Danielle Jackson at Sourcebooks for sending me this novel to review.

Also Reviewed By:
Jackets & Covers


Don’t forget my contest for the writing guide Grit for the Oyster. You have two chances to enter: the review and the guest post

Deadline is December 1, Midnight EST.