Risky Regencies

Janet talks about The Rules of Gentility

Almost two years after her first book Dedication Janet Mullany’s Avon A, The Rules of Gentility, was published this week. Your comment or question could win you a signed copy–but remember, the usual rules apply: We know if you’re appearing under several names; we will give you the cut direct and you will never receive those precious Almack vouchers.
The winner will be announced on Saturday morning.

What it was like to have written a book for a canceled line and how did you keep your mojo going?
Not only was I a Signet Regency refugee, but my editor at NAL left, and I was restricted for a long time by a rather vague option clause–business as usual in the publishing world. I also had a major case of second book syndrome where I was awed by the reaction to Dedication and felt I couldn’t possibly live up to expectations after that. But I found an agent who really believed in what I was doing; and just as important, I had a great support group here and at the Wet Noodle Posse and with other writer friends.

Your Publisher’s Weekly review stated: “Mullany’s saucy narrator and bubbly tone won’t convert many classic Regency fans, but the combination should entice romance readers who’d otherwise sidestep the flurry of petticoats.” So how is Rules of Gentility different than your not-so-traditional Traditional Regency, Dedication?
Apart from the stylistic stuff (tense and voice), it’s funnier. Dedication had its moments, but The Rules was written as a comedy and I fool around with various styles–there’s a French farce scene, for instance, quite near the beginning. I don’t quite have banana skins but it’s pretty close at times. Oh, and there’s very little sex–well, actually there’s quite a lot but not in any sort of explicit way. Sorry.

Was the release of your book planned to coincide with the release of the new Jane Austen movie?
Yes, although it has virtually nothing to do with Jane Austen–my opening sentence quotes the beginning of Pride & Prejudice (I didn’t realize everyone else would be doing it too) and I think it’s Inigo’s mother who describes Philomena as a silly husband-hunting butterfly, paraphrasing that famous description of Austen herself. Philomena was somewhat inspired by all of the Bennett sisters; her mother is a hybrid of Mrs. Bennett and Miss Bates (Emma)–she talks so much and so fast she has no punctuation.

We’ve heard you don’t read much romance. Is this true?
I have to read this stuff on public transport; I don’t want to flash mantitty! I read Heyer years ago, alternating between her and Hemingway, but haven’t re-read either. I like books where people fall in love and mess each other up and that covers a very wide spectrum; I also like books that use language in a thoughtful sort of way. Sometimes romance does it for me, but I’m quite happy to shiver my timbers in other genres.

Your wonderful review on Dear Author (which was syndicated on USAToday and Reuters online) made the point that you spoofed nearly all the Regency romance conventions. Had you planned the book that way from the beginning?
Definitely, but it’s a very affectionate spoof. I started writing it as Bridget Jones’s Diary set in the Regency, to see whether I could do it and to entertain myself. After a while I realized it was getting a plot and I began to take it seriously, or as seriously as I could take anything that was such fun to write. But yes, there’s the Secret Engagement, the Falling Off the Horse in a Park, the High Adventure in Low Places, the Unexpected Proposal, and so on. But I do consider it the most romantic thing I’ve ever written, and I think it works both ways.

What was the hardest thing about writing in first person?
I love writing in first person, but you have to have a tremendous amount of (invisible, I hope) author involvement–you have to sift and organize and edit the solo voice to avoid a blow-by-blow narrative. I actually found it rather scary how easily I could adopt the persona of a “Regency Miss,” and I think it’s a cosmic joke on me, after my claims that I’d never write about a nineteen-year-old virgin prancing around in drawing-rooms.

Would you ever consider writing a contemporary?
It’s funny how reviewers commented on how contemporary my voice is in The Rules after I tried so hard to sound authentic ca. 1816! I don’t think I could sustain a contemporary voice. I don’t have modern American speech patterns in my head, or, at this point, modern English speech patterns either. Sometimes, though, I long for a real infrastructure. Wouldn’t it be nice to just use a cell phone rather than send the footman across town…

Who/what is your authorly inspiration?
Wives and Daughters by Mrs Gaskell for its lush romanticism and exquisitely observed comments on family life and class differences; Daniel Deronda by George Eliot as a brave experiment that doesn’t quite work; Villette by Charlotte Bronte for its subversiveness and passion; and Emma by Jane Austen for its brilliant plotting and ambiguities.

Are you making any personal appearances?
Later today I’m doing a radio interview that you can listen to on your computer by clicking here. It’s at 4 pm PST/6 pm EST on World Talk Radio, and I’ll be Cynthia Brian’s guest on a show called Be The Star You Are! You can call in toll-free at 1-866-613-1612 in the US/Canada and 001-858-268-3068 around the world. So come on over and chat!

And if you’re in the Washington, DC area I’ll be reading and signing on Saturday August 11 at 1:30 pm at Riversdale House Museum, which is holding the annual Battle of Bladensburg Encampment–lots of fun activities, costumed historical reenactors, and refreshments.

Thanks, Riskies, for letting me talk about myself and The Rules!

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Elena Greene
15 years ago

Thanks for the great interview, Janet.

I found the reviewers who thought you have a contemporary voice interesting. I haven’t read RULES yet but I know from DEDICATION that you are very good at period voice. I wonder if it’s just “contemporary” when compared to Austen, i.e. in period but more accessible. Or perhaps these reviewers are reacting to the universal elements in your story. IMHO that’s much of Jane Austen’s appeal. The setting may be historical and escapist to modern eyes but the characters remind you of people you know.

Keira Soleore
15 years ago

Excellent interview, Riskies!! I can’t wait to read RULES, especially Janet at her funniest. If my photos from the Beau Monde conference are any indication, the book’s going to be a riot. Glad to see so much excitement over it. At the Conference, editors were picking it up and touting it.

Tracy Grant
15 years ago

Wonderful interview! And the book sounds like so much fun. You paint such a vivid picture of the characters in the interview, I can’t wait to read about them. Congrats on the book’s release!

Maureen
15 years ago

Congratulations on the new book. Are you happy with the cover? No one should be embarrassed by it.

Janet Mullany
15 years ago

Elena, I think they really did mean accessible rather than contemporary–I didn’t, for instance, use Austen’s famous long, involved latinate sentences, but it’s “historical” enough not to sound anachronistic–or at least, that was what I was aiming for.

Keira, hi–she was taking pics when I was determining whether a lady removes her gloves to drink a bottle of beer. (She doesn’t.)

Janet Mullany
15 years ago

Hi Tracy, and Maureen, I love this cover. Love to the Nth. The original art is by Marcus Stone, 1907, an oil painting called In Love (aaaw). Stone was a friend of Dickens and illustrated some of his later books.

Haven Rich
15 years ago

Janet, a lady only removes her gloves if she must remove the beer bottle cap. After all, a lady doesn’t want to tear the glove. Hehe!!

Great interview! And I will admit that this was the first historical that I read that was written in first person. I really enjoyed it and think more authors should do it!

P.s. I’m really excited, I’ll be starting Tracy’s Secrets of a Lady soon!!

Cara King
15 years ago

Oh, I totally agree on the cover — it’s gorgeous!

Good luck with the interview, Janet!

Cara

Tracy Grant
15 years ago

Hope you enjoy “Secrets of a Lady”, Haven! Thanks for getting it. Btw, “Secrets of a Lady”, like “Dedication” was moved to this month because of the opening of the movie “Becoming Jane”, which I find very cool–there’s something wonderful about being connected as a writer in any way to anything to do with Jane Austen :-).

Janet, I meant to say something about the first person-person writing style . Both the style and the story of “Dedication” sound so innovative, I love the Regency era, and I love books that offer a fresh take on it.

jennybrat
15 years ago

This comment has been removed by the author.

Cherie J
15 years ago

Thanks for being here Janet. I enjoyed the interview and must say The Rules of Gentility sounds delightful.

jennybrat
15 years ago

Hi Janet, I love Wives and Daughters too. I’m very much intrigued by the sound of The Rules of Gentility.

Janine
15 years ago

Hi, Janine from Dear Author here. I’m glad you enjoyed my review — we actually had two at Dear Author; Jayne did one too, which can be found here:

http://dearauthor.com/wordpress/2007/07/30/the-rules-of-gentility-by-janet-mullany/

I’m not sure if you are referring to my comment about the style having a “hip, updated feel,” but if so, I did not mean to say “accessible,” though the book is certainly that.

To expound on my comment and hopefully clarify it, I also did not intend to say that the voice itself was contemporary, at least, certainly not compared to modern-day speech. I wasn’t, in my own mind, comparing to Austen either. What I was thinking of was the use of present tense throughout. I don’t have the book in front of me, so I’m going to quote from the excerpt on Ms. Mullany’s website:

“He takes a step closer while pulling me towards him, and I am now pressed close to him. Some bits of me, despite my stays, squish up against him…and he is interesting. Bony and hard, and very, very warm, with a faint scent of lavender. He is not so tall as that great gangly Elverton, so he has only to bend his head a little to…”

I think the writing is lovely. I was admiring the creativity of meshing what I think of as a contemporary writing technique with a Regency-era flavored syntax. Correct me if I’m wrong — I very well may be — is the use of present tense narration (especially when combined with first person) not a contemporary writing technique?

If I am wrong, it is just something I associate with contemporary fiction. Not romance so much, but literary fiction. And the journal entries, though they’ve been used in fiction since Robinson Crusoe, reminded me of chick lit in this book, perhaps because of the lists.

Thanks for writing such a fun book; it is always nice to be able to say good things at DA.

Haven Rich
15 years ago

Oh man, I didn’t know they moved the release date up on Secrets of a Lady. That kinda puts my review as running late…since I just now got the ARC.

Janet Mullany
15 years ago

Janine, welcome, and thanks for your kind words about The Rules. Yes, I believe present tense-1st person is a contemporary literary device altho now I’m racking my brains trying to remember if Sterne lapsed into it in Tristram Shandy (he probably did). It’s a style a lot of contemporary British authors use–Anna Maxted and Nick Hornby, for instance, who are two of my favorite writers.

Susan Wilbanks
15 years ago

Janet–Congratulations on your book! I’m looking forward to reading it soon.

Do you have any thoughts/advice on how to write a spoofy story without letting it get too over-the-top? Because my muse, pesky creature that he is (and I’m sure my muse is male; don’t ask me why because I don’t know) has served up an idea that is undeniably a spoof, and campy as all get-out. I’ve tried ignoring him, but he keeps insisting that he’s the cleverest muse ever and knows me better than anyone. But I have no idea how to balance the spoof/camp aspects with taking the story and characters seriously, or if it’s even possible. I do know that I can’t sustain a pure camp/spoof, Austin Powers sort of tone for 100,000 words. Just not my voice. My husband would say I take myself too seriously. 🙂

Any thoughts? Am I even making sense?

Janet Mullany
15 years ago

Interesting question, Susan. The problem with writing a spoof, as the two Janes and some other perceptive people have pointed out, is that the readers are distanced from the characters. So you’re never going to get a huge amount of empathy. And there’s also the issue of pacing, as you point out–100,000 words of banana skins, ladders, mirrors, and funny bits with dogs would be pretty exhausting.

I think comedy is serious business; you can’t have the really funny stuff without high stakes. I think one of the funniest scenes in The Rules is also one where there’s potential tragedy (you’ll know what I mean when you get there–I’m not doing spoilers!)–it’s a sort of Four Weddings and a Funeral moment –not that I liked that movie particularly, but I admired the way comedy and tragedy were juxtaposed; and the way we were taken by surprise.

I’d say start writing, don’t edit, and see what happens. That’s how I started this book.

Kalen Hughes
15 years ago

Janet, a lady only removes her gloves if she must remove the beer bottle cap. After all, a lady doesn’t want to tear the glove. Hehe!!

That, my dear, is what the male species was put on this earth to do: Open things, kill things, carry things, etc. *tongue firmly in cheek*

I wouldn’t have said TROG (trog, LOL!) has a contemporary voice, but I can see how maybe the way in which it is humorous would give someone that impression (though Austen was also a master of the sly dig).

I loved it, though I’m not quite convinced that Inigo will be satisfied with his flibbertigibbet of a wife. I think he’d be much happier with me. *grin*

Kalen Hughes
15 years ago

Susan, what about George MacDonald Fraser’s Flashman novels? Those are something of a spoof, no? I love them!!! And his book The Pyrates is very spoofy (if that’s a word) of the Capt Blood books.

anne
15 years ago

What an interesting and informative interview. Thanks so much. This novel sounds wonderful. I would love to read it and the characters and period are great.

Janet Mullany
15 years ago

Kalen, I love George MacDonald Fraser’s Flashman series, and I’d be proud to think he was an influence. I’ve always thought the end of The Rules was rather like Fanny marrying Henry Crawford (Mansfield Park) altho the alternative (again, no spoilers) would have been like Emma and Mr. Knightley, which I’ve always found a spectacularly dull prospect for both of them.

Tracy Grant
15 years ago

I so agree that it’s high stakes that make a book work, whether it’s comedy or tragedy or something in between (“Four Weddings and a Funeral” does move brlliantly between the two). As a reader, I’m not engaged unless I can get emotionally involved with the characters, even if I’m laughing at their foibles.

Haven, “Secrets of a Lady”‘s official release date was July 31st, but I’m just thrilled you’re reviewing it :-).

Janine
15 years ago

You’re welcome, Janet. I confess I’ve never read Tristram Shandy, though I’ve had it on my bookshelf for years. I’ve been daunted by its length. But I’m finally reading Trollope’s Ayala’s Angel now, and it’s a tome too, so maybe someday I’ll actually get to Sterne. Any author was taking such chances back in the 1700s has to be worth reading.

As long as I’m here, I’ll add a question: What other books do you have in the works? I’m intrigued by Forbidden Shores, and wondering what other irons may be in the fire.

Susan Wilbanks
15 years ago

Susan, what about George MacDonald Fraser’s Flashman novels?

I hate to admit this, because I feel like it makes me look stupid, but I don’t like the Flashman books. I tried the first one and forced myself through several chapters because they’d been so highly recommended to me, but I didn’t enjoy them. I totally understand the concept and can see why so many people whose tastes overlap mine like them, they’re just not my thing.

The problem with writing a spoof, as the two Janes and some other perceptive people have pointed out, is that the readers are distanced from the characters. So you’re never going to get a huge amount of empathy.

Yeah, that’s an issue for me. I prefer to connect to characters as a reader, and I have to connect to at least some of my characters as a writer. Anyway, my idea is one that I could play almost completely straight, except that it’s a rather obvious riff on a piece of pop culture from my youth–one of those high-concept, “It’s X, but in the Regency!” things. So if I took it too seriously, it’d seem weird, like I wasn’t acknowledging its playful roots, but if I don’t take my characters and setting seriously, I wouldn’t enjoy writing it.

Maybe I should tell the muse to go bug someone else with this one, not that that made him go away the LAST time I told him I wasn’t that kind of writer.

Santa
15 years ago

Wow! This is like deja vu’ all over again!

A big HUH? to those reviewers!

I think you have a great voice and couldn’t be more delighted that we get to hear, er, read it again!

Diane Gaston
15 years ago

I am so thrilled that Janet’s The Rules of Gentility is getting such wonderful attention!

I thought Janet was using an old fashioned fiction technique, the epistolary novel, like Richardson’s Pamela and Clarissa and Jane Austen’s Lady Susan. It amuses me that it is thought of as something brand new!

Janet Mullany
15 years ago

What other books do you have in the works? I’m intrigued by Forbidden Shores, and wondering what other irons may be in the fire.

Most of the irons are twinkles in my eye at the moment (how’s that for a mixed metaphor!). I’m mulling over a new idea for Avon that my editor sounded very enthusiastic about when I sent her a one-sentence vague description; I have another erotic historical in the works and more twinkles in the form of erotic novellas. So I’m going to be busy!

Janet Mullany
15 years ago

I thought Janet was using an old fashioned fiction technique, the epistolary novel
Not really, Diane, since it’s more internal ramblings than formal letters (although there are some exchanges of letters too). Didn’t someone publish something recently that was all e-mails?

Maggie Robinson
15 years ago

Just repeating myself as I follow you around the blogosphere, but I’m really looking forward to reading this book. People I know are still talking about Dedication, so I guess I should read that too!

Pam Rosenthal
15 years ago

What I found so charming about it, and so gotcha, is that I came to care for these lightweights — who are true lightweights instead of the faux lightweights romance often gives us (those heroines who are really horsetrainers or nuclear physicists avant la lettre). It caused me to laugh at my own preoccupations with high seriousness.

Lois
15 years ago

Hi!!! Looks like I’m late to your party here! LOL 🙂 I can’t wait to get my hands on a copy, I’ve seen so many people say great things about it! And it is quite a nice cover, if I may add as well. 🙂

Lois

tetewa
15 years ago

Glad to have you here today. I enjoyed the interview and I’m looking forward to the read. Hope you sell many many books!

Kalen Hughes
15 years ago

I’ve always thought the end of The Rules was rather like Fanny marrying Henry Crawford (Mansfield Park)

OMG, this is the PERFECT discription!

Janet Mullany
15 years ago

Thanks, Pam–one of the challenges (I guess that’s the right word) of this book was to take fairly ordinary people with historically correct aims in life and make them interesting and likeable. (That is, ordinary as applied to a stinking rich heiress and a member of a noble family can be.)

Janet Mullany
15 years ago

Maggie, Haven, Cherie, Jennybrat (did you name yourself after a sausage?), and Santa (again!) thanks for stopping by and for your interest in the book.
I should explain that Santa and I have had near misses in meeting each other at at least two conferences but bump into each other frequently online.
Janet

janegeorge
15 years ago

I haven’t been to the bookstore yet, but from the excerpts on your site I’d say that the first person POV gives TROG great vivacity and immediacy, but what’s coming out of Philly’s mouth is hardly contemporary.

I think satires can be devastatingly moving. It’s the holy fortress of cynicism that keeps readers’ emotions at bay. That’s why I applaud wit and tend to avoid “snark.”

Can’t wait to read TROG, you had me as soon as I learned of your hero’s name:In I Go. Gotta love it!

robynl
15 years ago

“but The Rules was written as a comedy and I fool around with various styles”
Hi and welcome; are you a comedic sort of person all the time? Does the comedy come naturally? Thanks.

Janine
15 years ago

Thanks for answering my question. I look forward to whatever future works spring from your pen (or computer, as the case may be).

Keira Soleore
15 years ago

More grumbles from Keira about Barnes & Noble. No stock yet of “Rules,” “Notorious,” or “Secret Lady.”

I’m hoping to be able to go pay homage to Austen at a matinee on opening day tomorrow. Hope Hathaway lives up to the legend.

Lindsey
15 years ago

Another fabulous Risky interview! Congrats again on your fabulous new release, Janet, and thanks for blogging with the vagabonds yesterday!

ChristyJan
15 years ago

Wonderful interview!
The Rules of Gentility sounds like it will be a great read.

Janet Mullany
15 years ago

Robynl, I am considered a funny person, although I remember being a very serious child. Maybe humor is something that hits at adolescence? As a defense or coping mechanism?

Lindsey, I had a grand time with the Vagabonds yesterday. Today, btw, I’m at Jaunty Quills.

you had me as soon as I learned of your hero’s name:In I Go. Gotta love it! tsk tsk, Jane. You are a bad girl.

Donna Hatch
15 years ago

I enjoyed your interview. I mourned the death of the Signet Regency Line, both as a reader and an aspiring writer, but I’m, glad you’ve found a new home. I am looking forward to reading your new book.
Donna

Janet Mullany
15 years ago

Hi Donna,
thanks for dropping in! Have you tried any of the Cotillion Regencies?–I have a friend who writes for them, Kate Dolan, who’s really good.

HeatherB
15 years ago

This comment has been removed by the author.

HeatherB
15 years ago

Sorry – messed up my last comment. I’m late to the discussion, so I hope that I’m not asking something already asked that I didn’t notice.
I like the name Inigo. How did you choose it? I’ve never heard it before. I look forward to reading Rules of Gentility, it seems like it will be a fun read.
HeatherB.

Janet Mullany
15 years ago

Heather–it’s a name I had knocking around in my head, although the only Inigo I could think of is the architect Inigo Jones who designed the Queen’s House at Greenwich, in London.
And I think it’s a cool name!

Keira Soleore
15 years ago

“I am Inigo Montoya. You killed my father. Prepare to die.” …From the movie Princess Bride

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