Mary Lydon Simonsen is the author of the recent December release of Searching for Pemberley. She is also the author of the The Second Date. Please give her a warm and friendly welcome!
Thank you very much for stopping by today. I have been waiting anxiously for this interview ever since we started chatting. So let's get started.
Thank you for inviting me to appear on your blog, and I’m glad you like the cover. I do too.
I read that you have done extensive research on your family’s history and ancestry. Did this start out with stories you remembered from your grandparents, or was it something that interested you?
Searching for Pemberley actually started as a family research project, something of a passion for me. My ancestors sacrificed so much to come to America from Ireland. I wanted to make sure their stories were recorded. My main character, Maggie Joyce, grew up in a coal-mining town near Scranton. A lot of her experiences are those of my parents from the Depression Era and early World War II, including her desire to get beyond the Pocono Mountains and see what was out there in the wider world. Maggie travels to Germany and England. My parents made it as far as Washington and New Jersey.
You have incorporated this research into your storyline for Searching for Pemberley. How did these two pieces come together? Did a light bulb go off one day or did the idea percolate as you researched your family history?
I’ve often felt that I was born one generation too late. Except for not eating regularly and foreclosures, I liked everything about the 1930s and 1940s—the clothes, music, movies, etc. So I knew that any novel I wrote would be set in that time period, but I needed a hook. I thought about my other love, Regency England and Austen’s novels, and worked out a plot where I could combine the two interests.
[I also feel the same. Maybe that's why we clicked.]
What is your next favorite Austen novel? For me it’s a tie between Persuasion and Northanger Abbey.
Definitely Persuasion. Every time I read the letter from Captain Wentworth to Anne Elliot, I melt. “You pierce my soul.” Who wouldn’t want a guy who can write like that? Also, I like the idea that Anne is not a wide-eyed innocent. She knows how the world works.
I’ve read your fan fiction piece A Walk in the Meadow at Rosings Park. What was the inspiration for this?
I was thinking about what Darcy and Elizabeth’s relationship would have been like if Darcy had skedaddled after the disastrous first encounter with Lizzy at the Meryton Assembly. When Lizzy sees Mr. Darcy in Kent, would she be able to forgive, forget, and look at Mr. Darcy in a more sympathetic light? Because Lizzy is intelligent and not one to hold a grudge, I decided to have her overlook Darcy’s abominable pride, and then I had the Master of Pemberley fall for her fast and hard. Of course, it was a short story, so I had to do that.
Have you always wanted to write or was it something you developed an interest in?
I’ve been writing since junior high school, whether it be short stories, bad poetry, or a neighborhood newsletter, but I never thought I’d actually publish a book. Writing Searching for Pemberley came about because I had knee replacement surgery, and I had a lot of time on my hands. So why not write a 400 page novel?
What is your writing process? Do you carry a notebook around or go to a separate room in your home? Do you dedicate time everyday to writing?
I don’t actually start writing until I have spent a lot of time thinking about the characters and the dialog. Only then do I sit down and start fleshing out my ideas. I might write down the odd note, maybe a historical nugget I happened upon, but 99% of it comes right out of my head. However, once I start putting the novel on paper, I am a virtual writing machine. I do all my writing in an office that I share with my husband, Paul, who is an architect. Our chairs are back to back for hours a day, and although we don’t talk much, we enjoy each other’s company.
You have written another book, The Second Date, Love Italian-American Style. How do you know about “gravy?” I live in South Philly and make a big pot of gravy and meatballs myself every Sunday. I have never heard anyone outside my neighborhood use this expression. I love it!
I’m of Irish descent, but growing up in North Jersey, I had a lot of Italian friends. I noticed that their families were more interesting than mine, and they ate better—a lot better. Lasagna versus ham and cabbage. The boy I dated all through high school and beyond was half Italian, and his mother never called her tomato sauce anything other than gravy (also pot cheese for ricotta and mozzarelle for mozzarella—no “a”). I received an e-mail from a reader who grew up in Delaware for that very reason. She wrote, “You say gravy, not sauce, and North Jersey, not New Jersey.”
Besides Austen, who are some of your favorite authors?
I love Charles Dickens. When I relax, I like to read mysteries where the author has a sense of humor. My favorite is probably Jamie Harrison who writes about a quirky town in Montana and its sheriff. I also like Clyde Edgerton.
What books are you currently reading?
I just finished Murder at Longbourn by Tracy Kiely, and I’m currently reading a biography of Andrew Carnegie.
Do you have any future projects in mind that you would like to speak about?
Thanks for asking. I have an Austen re-imagining coming out next December called Longbourn to Pemberley (working title) with Sourcebooks. As much as I love Pride and Prejudice, I feel that some of the characters lacked depth. In my novel, Anne De Bourgh and Georgiana Darcy are the ones who move Darcy and Lizzy through the story to their rendezvous with destiny at Pemberley. Anne is not the wooden Miss De Bourgh who sits on the couch and says nothing, and Georgiana is a vibrant teenager, who secretly writes romance novels. There is a lot of humor in the story because I am an admirer of Austen’s wit and wanted to be faithful to her style.
Thank you so much for stopping by today. I had a great time and feel I know you even better. Here's to that cup of coffee some day :)
About the Author
Mary Simonsen grew up in North Jersey with the exciting venues of New York City easily accessible. She is largely self-educated and is especially interested in American and European history and 19th Century novels. In Searching for Pemberley she was able to combine her love of history (World War II and postwar England) with Austen's characters, Miss Elizabeth Bennet and Fitzwilliam Darcy, and being a romantic, the novel includes three love stories from three different time periods, all thanks to Jane Austen. She lives in Peoria, Arizona. For more information, please visit http://searchingforpemberley.weebly.com/
SEARCHING FOR PEMBERLEY—IN STORES DECEMBER 2009
Set against Regency England, World Wars I and II, and postwar England, three love stories intertwine in surprising and fateful ways.
American Maggie Joyce, touring Derbyshire in 1947, visits, Montclair, an 18th century Georgian country house, that she is told was the model for Jane Austen's Pemberley. More amazingly, the former residents of the mansion, William Lacey and Elizabeth Garrison, were the inspiration for the characters of Fitzwilliam Darcy and Elizabeth Bennet in Pride and Prejudice.
Through letters, diary entries, and oral history, Beth and Jack Crowell, a couple who lives in the nearby village of Crofton, share stories of the people they say inspired Jane Austen. They also tell their own love story, made difficult by their vastly different backgrounds—she was one of the social elite while he was the son of a servant. When their son, Michael, travels home from his RAF station in Malta, Maggie may have just found her very own Mr. Darcy.
I have two copies of this wonderful read to give away!
1. Open to residents of U.S. and Canada only. No P.O. boxes please.
2. Leave a comment with your email address so I can get in touch with you.
3. +1 entry for posting about this contest on your blog or side bar. Leave me a link please :)
Since it's such a busy time of the year, I am going to run this contest a little longer than usual.
Contest will end at midnight on Monday December 28th.
Good luck everyone!
Thank you to Danielle from Sourcebooks for arranging this interview and giveaway.