Karen V. Wasylowski is a former accountant from Chicago, Illinois now residing in the Tampa Bay area of Florida. Karen and her husband Richard spend much of their time volunteering with Project Light, a free literacy center in the Bradenton area, and also with Stillpoint House of Prayer, an outreach program for the homeless.
Karen's debut novel, Darcy and Fitzwilliam, is published by Sourcebooks Landmark. It is available NOW and I've recently read, liked and reviewed it (HERE).
You can win a copy of Karen Wasylowski's brand new spin-off story based on Austen Pride and Prejudice commenting this interview and adding your e-mail address. The giveaway is open internationally and ends next 23rd February.
First of all, welcome back to My JA Book Club, Karen, and thank you so much for taking the time to answer my questions. Your debut novel seems to be the book of the moment! I’ve seen reviews and snippets and interviews all over the Austen-dedicated blogosphere. You must be proud of your “Darcy and Fitzwilliam”!
I’ve read some Austen fanfiction in the last couple of years , especially novels inspired to Pride and Prejudice. What I particularly love in your “Darcy and Fitzwilliam”, is the idea of a male perspective on facts. How did you come to the decision of writing from an entirely new point of view?
I think I am just a product of the movies. I love buddy films and find male friendships so much more exciting than female ones to watch on the screen. Besides, I really like good decent men and the way they relate to each other.
I got the impression your Darcy was rather influenced by the 2005 Darcy interpreted by Matthew MacFadyen. Your hints at his being shy , suggested me this idea. Am I wrong? Do you agree with that interpretation of Darcy’s behaviour?
I suggested his being reticent because Darcy was moral, he was gorgeous and he was rich – a perfect storm for any matchmaking mama. He was in charge of a great estate at a very young age and as I said in the book, to preserve his family inheritance he needed to move into older circles that were more conventional and conservative than he would have if left a callow youth. I envisioned a young man setting up defenses for his self preservation, trying to hold his own with older, more experienced, men – a world more his father’s age than his own. I saw him more as reclusive then shy because of this.
Since we mentioned P&P 2005, what is your favourite adaptation and why?
My favorite adaptation is the mini-series because it follows the book so much more closely than the movie; there is no one more witty than Jane Austen. And, like most women, it wasn’t difficult to fall in love with Colin Firth either. However, then came the 2005 movie which was excellent on its own merits, but not as a strict Austen interpretation. And again, it was not at all difficult to promptly fall in love with Matthew MacFadyen.
I am nothing if not fickle - I was, at one time, also in love with Laurence Olivier’s Darcy. I have come to accept the fact that it is just plain old Darcy that I love and not necessarily the men who play him.
The other characters Elizabeth, Jane, Mr and Mrs Bennet , Georgiana Darcy, on the whole keep the traits of their personalities Austen gave them. While I find Lady Catherine or Colonel Fitzwilliam rather changed respect to my memories of them. I love both characters, of course, but could you explain why you decided to give them new life?
To my mind Lady Catherine was behaving properly for her times and for her position in society – in her mind she was protecting her nephew. I don’t see anything terrible in what she did. She was rude by our standards certainly but we had the advantage of knowing Lizzy intimately by the time they met, and loving her. Lizzy was a poor stranger to Aunt Catherine. I don’t know why anyone would think Colonel Fitzwilliam was changed at all. He was played as a much older man in the Laurence Olivier film, he was not even referred to as a cousin in 2005, but I always liked the character. He made Lizzy laugh; Jane Austen describes him as charming and affable, someone with whom you could easily converse. I tried to write him that way and give him a story, taking great liberties with time lines and the Peninsular War and Waterloo so that I could make him a media hero. The war trauma aspect was a result of speaking with my best friend’s husband, a Purple Heart recipient from Viet Nam. He talks about his wound very seldom and we both had tears in our eyes once he did.
Where did you find the inspiration for new characters, such as Amanda or Doctor Anthony Milagros?
I loved Dr. Milagros. In my mind he is Antonio Banderas (I told you I was from the movie generation). Tall, dark, handsome, funny and a good friend. He and Amanda are both Catholics, looked down upon for their religion. There was only one church that I could find that would even allow a Catholic service in those days and then only one service per week; devout Catholics would have met and bonded there, no matter how different their circumstances. I have no idea where Amanda came from. Honestly, it sounds trite but sometimes I think these characters write themselves and you need to type fast to keep up with them.
What do you like best in Darcy and what in Fitzwilliam?
I love Darcy’s brilliant mind, his wit, his loyalty to his family and his natural leadership. He has an ability to stand above the crowd, not needing the approval of others. He doesn’t need fawning attention, quite the contrary – he shies away from it- it aggravates him. I love Fitzwilliam’s recklessness and love of life, his magnetism, his struggle to fit back into the world he left to defend his country. And of course I love his affection for his cousin, a man he still sees as a pesky little brother.
I know it is a very difficult choice but… Have you got a favourite one between the two of them?
Not really. I love them both for different reasons. My husband is moral, quiet and very charming so I suppose he’s a combination of the two of them. If only he were rich…
Elizabeth and Darcy often arguing and discussing are rather hilarious. Do you really imagine their ménage as so animated?
I don’t see why it wouldn’t be animated. Both are very smart, both strong willed, both in love. Most stories end with the wedding, everyone dewy eyed; but, in reality, the marriage part takes a while. Hopefully at some point you sense you really are one person in two bodies, but that doesn’t happen overnight. It takes time, great love and a lot of misunderstandings to find your common ground, an accomplishment some couples never achieve.
Caroline Bingley is one of the wicked characters in your story. Not that I have ever sympathized with her but… Would you excuse her behavior, anyhow?
“Royal morals before Queen Victoria came to the English throne in 1837 had been so disreputable that a Puritan-style reaction was inevitable.” Victorian Morality – Reaction to the Outrageous Hanoverians, by Brenda Ralph Lewis.
From what I have read the Regent’s royal court was quite wild, which set the tone for a certain segment of the aristocracy. I envisioned Caroline as striving to fit into that society and using her feminine wiles to land a husband. After all, she had no aristocratic pedigree to recommend her - she was merely a shopkeepers daughter. In that level of society, in that time period, I imagine her behavior was not unheard of, being that the social set she moved in was not overly moral by our standards. It was not until the period after the Regency, the Victorian Era, that strict moral codes were insisted upon, due particularly to the influence of the moralist Prince Albert.
Now get ready to defend your “creature”, Karen. First claim: I wasn’t disturbed nor offended by your decision to add scenes where we enter the very private, and even the sexual, life of the characters. But this might create embarrassment in many Austen readers, who are used to Jane’s complete censorship and definite prudery when it comes to the intimate relationships between her lovers. What are the reasons of your choice?
First, Jane Austen wrote her stories two hundred years ago, she was restricted by the era in which she wrote.
Second, I cannot believe anyone would think my scenes were even remotely sexy. I have read stories by many women writers that are much more explicit, much more graphic than anything I expressed.
Third, I was completely unaware that Jane Austen sequels were forbidden to have sex in them. I thought I had read one or two that were very graphic. It never entered my head that, in this day and age, anyone would think twice about describing, however slightly, physical love. I apologize to those who were offended.
Claim 2 : Some may not like your choice to follow your own style and tone in the narration. You didn’t try to sound like JA, but created your own narrating style and voice. That was brave, I think, and the result was remarkable. But what about the blunt usage of naughty words? Can you motivate that decision of yours?
I was writing about the men, not the ladies. There was no language used in Darcy and Fitzwilliam that was not freely in use during that time period by men. None. I repeat – none. I was proofread at least four times by experts of that period and I was forced to scramble and replace various terms because they were out of period, but not once was I asked to replace a swear word; unfortunately swearing has been with us since the dawn of man. And although cursing was not allowed in 1800’s literature, in day to day life the men swore when they conversed with each other, as evidenced by research into personal letters and journals from that time.
Colonel Fitzwilliam was a soldier, used to living with other men in unbelievably harsh conditions. I cannot imagine him being a prissy little fop who wouldn’t say boo. He cusses and swears, mostly in his head or mumbling to himself, or to his best friend – Darcy. And Darcy swears after a great upheaval nearly destroys his family. He’s alone with his friend and he lets himself vent his anger.
I think Austen fanfiction must be just fun. It can be well or badly written but it can’t be nothing like the original. Do you think there are limits a fanfiction writer shouldn’t overcome?
I personally don’t enjoy the fan fiction that brings Jane Austen characters into the modern age, or that mixes up the couples that were settled and in love in her novels. But that is my preference because I have a bookkeeper brain that likes everything neat and tidy. No disruption.
I don’t understand those who always search for the real Austen, her style or etiquette in stories written or adapted for the screen nowadays. Many criticize P&P 2005 or Emma 2009 for their being too modern or not very truthful to the original stories, but many can bear wet shirts and other untruthfulnesses in other adaptations. I love the adaptations, most of them, with all their different interpretations of Jane Austen’s works. When I want real Jane Austen, I just open her books and read them. What is your attitude to adaptations?
I love all the adaptations that are true to the original intent of the story. There is no one who can write like Jane Austen and I would not insult her or demean myself by trying to copy her style. No one should. She worked very hard on her books and to steal her style from her would be awful. That’s why I love both the mini-series and the movie, just for different reasons. One is rather stuffy and formal but the beautiful words are intact while the other has all the emotion of the story with annoying modern tinges (no hat on Lizzy, no gloves! Really!). I think Jane Austen was lucky in that she had no idea she would be worshipped two hundred years later. What a terrible burden for a young woman to carry!
I’m sure films and adaptations have misinterpreted Austen a lot (re: the lack of romanticism and sentimentalism in the novels, which are instead the main ingredients in most film versions) . I like them a lot, anyway. Is this a crime … can you bear it? ;-)
I love them too; obviously, since I put kissing and touching into my book (horrors!). I love the romance of Pride and Prejudice - that haughty man falling so hard for the country girl, thinking she’ll be flattered and getting the stuffing kicked out of himself for his arrogance. And how long would he have stayed interested in Lizzy if she had accepted his original ghastly proposal. Not too long. Then he moves heaven and earth to win her. How many variations of that theme have there been over the years, all an homage to Austen’s great forerunner. There is something magical in that story, her characters and their motivations stand the test of time, can be understood just as much now as they were back then. She deals with common human emotions and simple human frailties – no subplots about kidnappers or secret rooms. The conventions of modern times may dictate the interpretation of her work but they can’t change her beautiful stories. They go on and on.
This is all, Karen. Thanks again for your kindness and availability. I wish you great success with your "Darcy & Fitwilliam" and hope to read a new novel soon!
And now to our readers, good luck in the giveaway! Don't forget to add your e-mail address. The giveaway is open worldwide and ends February 23rd.