Monday, January 11, 2010

Interview with Mary Lydon Simonsen, author of Searching for Pemberley

Before the holidays, I reviewed Searching for Pemberley by Mary Simonsen and announced this, my first author interview, which will now come to fruition with great fanfare (read the review here). I have greatly enjoyed getting to know Ms. Simonsen since I started blogging and following; it is an honor to present this interview with her. Thank you, Mary, for your participation.

1. How did you discover your love of Jane Austen and what inspired you to write a book premised on Pride and Prejudice?

Jane Austen and I just had our 40th Anniversary. We met in my high school English class in 1969 when I was assigned Pride and Prejudice, and I loved it so much that I read all of her other books, one after the other. I chose to write about P&P in Searching for Pemberley because it is one of those stories where a young girl (e.g., me or my main character, Maggie Joyce) wants to be Elizabeth Bennet and meet her Prince Charming. It really is a Cinderella story, and Mrs. Hurst and Caroline Bingley are the stepsisters.

2. Happy Anniversary! Searching for Pemberley, published last year by Sourcebooks, is an expansion of Pemberley Remembered, the book you self-published in 2007. Please tell us more about the development of your relationship with Sourcebooks. Did they contact you or did you submit your work to them?

After seven months of trying to promote Pemberley Remembered, I e-mailed Sourcebooks and asked if I could submit my manuscript. That same day, Deb Werksman, the editor for Sourcebooks for all the Austen tie-ins, called me at home to say that they had read my book, that they had already had an acquisitions meeting on it, and that they wanted to buy the publishing rights. They were looking for my contact information when my e-mail came in. I saw it as a sign that we were supposed to work together.
3. Was the expansion of Pemberley Remembered into Searching for Pemberley suggested by Sourcebooks or were you already planning to expand on the relationship between Maggie Joyce, the heroine of the story, and Michael Crowell? How did you approach this process?

By the time Sourcebooks contacted me, I had already written a sequel, but my editor encouraged me to combine the two stories. The first book ended with Maggie’s love life up in the air, and Deb wanted to “wrap it up.” At first I balked, but she was right, and I’m pleased with the finished product.

Editing two books of about 210,000 words down to 130,000 is basically slash and burn, but Deb wanted me to make all the decisions in the first edit. I did have help in deciding what had to go. Between professional reviews and readers comments, I knew what had worked and what hadn’t. Unfortunately, at least from my point of view, a lot of the history had to go to get the word count down.

4. In Searching for Pemberley, Maggie becomes intimate with the descendants of the Lacey family, your historical counterparts to the Darcys. You create more than 140 years of history for the family: what research influenced the decisions you made concerning the Lacey's fate?

The only reason Austen’s Darcy and the elite of England could live the way they did was because they paid very little in taxes. The burden fell squarely on the shoulders of the poor and middle class, so something had to give. Once the rich had to pay taxes on the true value of their properties, these privileged few were forced to sell off houses, property, artwork, antiques, etc. to pay the tax man. The changes started in the mid 19th Century, but accelerated after World War I because Britain was basically broke after four years of war. The Lacey family would have confronted the same realities.

5. I was particularly struck by the stark juxtaposition between the stately beauty of the world portrayed by Austen, embodied in the image of Pemberley, and your depiction of post-war Britain in Searching for Pemberley. What inspired the choice of this particular time period as the setting for the book?

Because I am a baby boomer, I grew up hearing stories from my parents and all my aunts and uncles about World War II because just about everyone was somehow involved in either fighting the war or working for government agencies that supported the war effort. Because I found their stories so compelling, I became interested in the war and post-war periods. After the French surrender in 1940, Britain truly stood alone against Nazi Germany. In reading about that time, I came to know of the conditions under which the British lived during the war and in the years immediately after the war, and this is my way of honoring their sacrifices.

7. I was enthralled with your description of Montclair, the Pemberley of the story. Please tell us a bit about the process of creating the home in your mind. What influenced your decisions regarding the size and condition of the home?

I wanted Montclair to be a Georgian mansion in the Palladian style, but since Austen intimated that the Darcys were an ancient family, they would have had a manor house on the estate for many generations. So I had to tear down any earlier structure and replace it with one of my own design. Palladio’s creations are exquisite works of symmetry and so is Montclair. As for the interiors, I had a very clear picture in my mind of what they would look like because I am an admirer of Robert Adam’s work, especially the rooms I had seen at Culzean, a manor house in Ayrshire, Scotland.
8. Maggie is from a small, coal mining, Pennsylvania town called Minooka, where I understand your family has roots. How much of the book and which characters have autobiographical aspects?

Maggie is based on my mother and my father’s sisters, all of whom went to work for the government in Washington, D.C. during the war. My father’s sister, Miriam, worked for the State Department in Berlin immediately after the war, and I used some of her story as part of Maggie’s story when she went to work in Frankfurt before going to England. Like Rob, my mother’s brother was a bombardier on a B-17, and one of the waist gunners was killed on a mission over Germany. That was the basis for the loss of Rob’s friend, Pat Monaghan. Minooka is a tiny town (since the mid 1940s, a part of Scranton), and it lost so many of its young men, including my father’s first cousin, Patrick Faherty, who died when his ship was sunk by a U-Boat off the coast of Georgia. He is also mentioned in the book. The priest in the story, Father Flynn, is based on the real Father Flynn who supposedly breathed fire, and nosy Mamie Lenehan is based on my father’s Aunt Mamie. The story of Irish Bobby Lenehan falling in love with Italian Teresa Mateo is completely true. Their real counterparts are Bobby McLane, who owned an Esso gas station, and Anna Paffi, whose parents owned a bar on the Scranton city line.

9. You have been writing a serialized story on your website Austen Inspired Fan Fiction by Mary Simonsen entitled Mr. Darcy on the Eve on All Saints Day. Please tell us a bit about writing in this manner and your plans for the story.

I accidentally fell into writing fan fiction when someone I had met as a result of publishing Pemberley Remembered told me about I posted three vignettes, which were well received, and so I expanded on them. Because I received so much encouragement, I kept writing, and ended up with a full-length novel, From Longbourn to Pemberley, which will be published by Sourcebooks in December. The same thing happened on a second story, More Than Tolerable, which Sourcebooks will publish in the spring of 2011. Because of all the comments I get from my readers, writing a work-in-progress is a lot of fun, but there are drawbacks. For example, I may want the story to go in a different direction, which might necessitate changing something in the earlier chapters. Major changes don’t work in a work-in-progress. However, if I am merely tweaking, I just put a note at the top of my story explaining the changes, and everyone goes along with it.

What are my plans for The Eve of All Saints’ Day? This was supposed to be a short story for Halloween, but I didn’t finish it until the second week in January, and it ended up being 39 chapters with an epilogue. As I said, there are problems with a WIP, and there are several inconsistencies that need to be corrected, and I want to add a prologue to explain what happened to Darcy. After that, who knows.

10. Are you working on or planning to write more Austen inspired fiction? If so, can you tell us a bit about it?

I have two stories in my head. In one, Mr. Darcy travels to America following Wickham’s attempted elopement with Georgiana Darcy, where he meets Elizabeth Bennet, an American. Because she is an American, my Lizzy is even more independent than she was in P&P, and since Darcy is not on his home turf, he is kept off balance. Another is a time travel story in which an American goes back to Regency England.

Thank you for having me.

It was my pleasure!

Both Searching for Pemberley and Ms. Simonsen's second book, The Second Date, have links to the region where I grew up, in and around Philadelphia, which makes them particularly interesting to me. I have yet to read The Second Date but Ms. Simonsen assures me that, though there is no direct Austen tie in, the heroine is an Austen fan. Here is the book description from Amazon, where it has received excellent reviews:
"Sonia Amundsen looks like a Nordic goddess on the outside, but her heart, soul, and stomach are all Italian. She is also a successful professional who is about to celebrate her 30th birthday. Although friends have been setting her up on blind dates for two years, she never goes out on a second date with any of them because she is still looking for that perfect guy. The problem is that she has very specific criteria as to who Mr. Right is. Sonia is beginning to think that such a man is not out there until.... Set in the late 1980s, Sonia is surrounded by an extended Italian family, a caring, but over-bearing mother, warring aunts who use family funerals to stage full-blow tragedies, and a close friend, whose main goals in life are to get pregnant and to help Sonia find true love. The Second Date explores friendship and love in the heart of the Italian-American community where food is second importance only to love."


  1. What a lovely interview!! That is so interesting that you contacted Sourcebooks the same time they were wanting to contact you! And cutting 210,000 words to 130,000 must have been very hard! But the finished product is excellent in my opinion. :)

    Mary - I love learning more about you and "Searching for Pemberley"

    Alexa - This was such an enjoyable and informative interview. I hope more are forthcoming!

  2. Thank you for inviting me to visit your blog. Your questions gave me pause for thought, and I really had to think about the answers. It is obvious the affection you have for Austen and her work.

  3. Thanks Meredith. It was fun and I will definitely think about doing this again.

    And thank you again, Mary, for sharing this time with me. Please feel free to respond as much as you like to any comments posted. I actually have a follow up question or you: are any of your stories atill available at I took a peak but couldn't find you.

  4. The first thing I noticed was the beautiful cover. :-) I can't imagine cutting all those words out. I agree with Meredith that it must have been hard.

    It was a great interview!

  5. I agree Ruth; Sourcebooks does an excellent job on their covers.

  6. I forgot to mention that I love the premises for both of the new stories! I would love to see an American Elizabeth Bennet!

  7. Wonderful interview! The book sounds very good. P&P is one of my favorite Austen novels.
    It would be intersted to see Darcy go to America after Wickham and find an American Lizzie there.

  8. As you see Mary - we are all excited about your novels to come. Thanks for commenting, Naida & Meredith.

  9. Alexa and Mary - congrats, it was a very interesting interview !

  10. Thanks Lory! I really appreicate the comment.