Hello readers! I’m very excited to welcome back one of my long-time favorite authors, Karen M. Cox, to Austenesque Reviews today! If you are unfamiliar with the captivating novels by Karen Cox, her specialty is Austenesque retellings that take place in different time periods, and she is phenomenal at finding inventive ways to tie her story into the unique setting she chooses!
Karen is here to celebrate the re-release of one of my favorite books! Originally published as At the Edge of the Sea, Son of a Preacher Man has received a new title and new cover! And I hope many more Austenesque readers will be picking it up soon (if they haven’t already) because it truly is a sensational and moving story!
Hi Karen! I’m so excited to have you visit my blog and to have this opportunity to finally interview you! I cannot believe in all eight years of book reviews, blog tours, and author visits we’ve never done an interview together! I’ve got to make this is a good one (the pressure’s on!)
Thanks for inviting me, Meredith!
For my first question, I would like to learn a little about your approach to writing. What kind of aspects of your story do you plan in advance? Do your muse or characters ever take you in directions you’d not expect?
I guess you could call my approach to writing a “hybrid” approach—I’m neither a strict plotter nor a fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants-er. Usually, I have an idea for setting, time period, characters. My natural inclination is to write character-driven stories, so any major plot points need some extra attention before I start. If the story is Austen-inspired, I puzzle out what things in my chosen setting fit well alongside the novel I’m working with. I also decide what character traits I want to bring forward; for example, when I wrote I Could Write a Book, I wanted to spotlight Emma’s love for her family and friends as motivation for her actions (even though she is sometimes misguided) and her sheltered life, based on the choices she made.
I make a general outline of events that move the story, but I’m not tied to it. Things change, characters insist on one thing, refuse to do the next. So, yes, sometimes they surprise me!
What aspects of Son of a Preacher Man did you have planned or outlined in advance? Did anything alter or surprise you along the away?
Son of a Preacher Man grew directly out of a discussion about how “bad” Lizzy Bennet could be and still be Lizzy, and what the biggest differences in status between Lizzy and Darcy would look like in various time periods. In Son of a Preacher Man, the “Darcy” character, Billy Ray Davenport, is the son of an itinerant minister who is in town for the summer to intern with the local doctor before going to medical school. He meets Lizzie, who is (as I think you first described her) the town’s “sadder but wiser” girl. Because the book is informed and inspired by Pride and Prejudice, I knew the stories would have certain elements in common: an insult, some early animosity, some unwanted attraction to our heroine, a letter. But along the way, other elements appeared. Lizzie, in particular, is the wild card—what is her real story? What will she do next? As the tale veered farther and farther from P&P, it really became something other than a variation, which is why I call it an “original story inspired by P&P.” Those types of stories are a time-honored tradition, appearing in movies such as “You’ve Got Mail” and “Bridget Jones’s Diary”, and in books such as E.A. Adams’s Green Card, and Beau North’s Modern Love (to name a couple from our own JAFF community.)
So, did Billy Ray and Lizzie surprise me? Continually!
I love stories like yours and the ones you’ve mentioned above especially because they don’t follow the same exact formula of Pride and Prejudice. It is interesting to see a more unique interpretation. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed the many time periods and settings you’ve used in your stories, and I can only imagine how much research it takes to get such an authentic (yet beautifully understated) vibe and backdrop for each time period!! Can you tell us a little about your process? What made you choose the late fifties/early sixties for Son of a Preacher Man? What were some of the challenges of writing in this time period?
I chose that time period for the story so long ago, I hardly remember exactly what I was thinking! I did want a time when men’s and women’s roles were more “traditional” (even though, as Mrs. Gardener says in the book, it’s debatable whether that post-war idea of “traditional” life is valid). The interesting thing about the 1950s/early 60s is I think you can see the rumblings of the cultural shift that is to come—the Sexual Revolution, the re-emergence of women in the outside-the-home workforce, political changes like the Cold War—it’s a really interesting time. Things haven’t changed yet, but in hindsight, we know they’re about to. It must have been an intriguing time to come of age; Billy Ray and Lizzie are defining themselves at the end of an era when many young people’s lives were rigidly defined for them. That idea fascinated me.
The challenges of writing in that time period? Well, mostly, I felt I had to resist the urge to either romanticize the time and the small-town setting, or on the other hand, to demonize it. Like any time and place, there is good and bad, and I tried really hard to reflect that complexity in the book.
I think you struck a very good balance of the two in this story (in fact, in all your stories!) I thought it was unique that this story was told from the hero’s perspective and focused on his coming-of-age story. So many times (especially in the Austenesque genre) we encounter stories that focus on the heroine’s journey and development. What inspired you to tell this story from Billy Ray Davenport’s point-of-view?
The story started coming to me in his point-of-view from the very beginning. Lizzie’s the mystery; Billy Ray is the observer, the storyteller. Everything went along swimmingly, until about 2/3 of the way in, when there were important plot points that needed to come to light and no way for Billy Ray to know them unless Lizzie told him. Then, I had to decide what she would say and what she wouldn’t. I let her character make that decision for me, and I think that actually makes the story deeper and more compelling.
I enjoyed seeing Billy Ray as the storyteller. Speaking of, let’s talk more about your memorable and dynamic characters from Son of a Preacher Man – Lizzie Quinlan (the sadder but wiser girl with a reputation) and Billy Ray Davenport (the reserved and fastidious son of an evangelist preacher). Many readers, I am sure, will instantly see the connections and similar traits to Jane Austen’s Elizabeth Bennet and Fitzwilliam Darcy, but what is something else you hope they see/understand about these characters throughout your story?
Sure, there are similarities to the Lizzy and Darcy characters, but these people have a tale of their own to tell. For one thing, Billy Ray’s minister father plays a significant role in the story—not because he’s on the page all that much—but because, like many of our parents, Reverend Davenport casts a long shadow over his son’s life. It’s neither a completely good thing nor a bad thing; it just is. Billy Ray has to determine which parts of his father he will keep, and which he will put aside. (By the way, I actually love the reverend a lot. He is a good man, coming to grips with the reality of letting a beloved child become an adult. As a parent, I can totally see his dilemma, even if I don’t always agree with him.)
Lizzie is a survivor, a scrappy, little firebrand; she has a side that I think many of us can relate to. We all fall a little bit in love with Lizzy Bennet—her charm, her wit—but I think modern readers may be able to empathize more with Lizzie Quinlan. What the two characters share, however, is the ability to see their flaws and grow into better people at the end of the story than they were at the beginning.
It is so rewarding and gratifying to see a character do that, isn’t it? I love stories that highlight personal growth. Can you tell us what is next for you? I know you might have a short-story in the works, is there anything else you can share with us?
My short story for the Quill Collective anthology, Rational Creatures, is titled “A Nominal Mistress” and features the elegant and kind Eleanor Tilney, sister of muslin-connoisseur Henry Tilney. Catherine Morland (the heroine of Austen’s Northanger Abbey) says that “no friend can be better worth keeping than Eleanor.” Jane Austen herself said, “I know no one more entitled, by unpretending merit, or better prepared by habitual suffering, to receive and enjoy felicity.” Read the Rational Creatures anthology this fall and see if you agree!
After that, I’m not sure where I’ll go next: I have a women’s fiction piece about 50% written, a return to the 80s with a coming-of-age romance which is about 80% written, and ideas for an early 20th century western and a Regency novel. Any thoughts on what I should prioritize, readers?
Ummm you can definitely count on us reading Rational Creatures!!! We can’t wait!! And what great projects you have in the works! I think they all sound amazing! I’ll be curious to see what others think! How about we switch it up with some Quick-Fire Questions?
- If you could live in one of your novels, which one would you choose? I Could Write a Book – nice Woodhouse mansion, most of the wonders of modern medicine and indoor plumbing, and handsome, gentlemanly Mr. Knightley. Yessir, that’s where I’d like to be!
- Of all your characters in all your stories, which one is your favorite? That’s like asking me which of my children is my favorite – it varies from day-to-day, lol. But honestly, Billy Ray and Lizzie are probably my favorites so far: complex and loyal, a couple with amazing chemistry, and the potential for true, lasting love against the odds.
- Of all Jane Austen’s characters, which one is your favorite? If I have to choose just one…Anne Eliot – there’s an elegant competence to her that I admire. You see it in Elinor Dashwood too, but in Anne, I think there’s mature acceptance but hopefulness for the future.
- What time period or setting do you one day dream of writing a story in? World War 2 – I don’t have the story yet, but it intrigues me. Or maybe the Jazz Age of the 1920s.
- What time period or setting do you definitely not see yourself writing a story in? I almost hate to jinx myself – as soon as I say it, a story idea will occur to me, but…I don’t know, Ancient Egypt? Or Ancient Greece?
- What is one of your favorite scenes from Son of a Preacher Man? I love the scene where they meet and go swimming at the lake. They are so Lizzy and Darcy in that scene: Billy Ray is all haughty and judgmental, and Lizzie is all spunk and bravado.
- What is one of your favorite quotes from Son of a Preacher Man? “I watched her walk away, fading into the purple ink of tree shadows until she disappeared completely.”
- What would be one of the biggest challenges for you if you lived in during the time of Son of a Preacher Man? No cell phone and no internet. Can you imagine?
It would be pretty tough to adapt to that, I agree! Thank you so very much for taking the time to answer my questions, Karen! It was such a special treat to have the opportunity to interview you! Congrats again on the re-release of your beautiful story – Son of a Preacher Man!!
Connect with Karen
In conjunction with our interview, Karen is generously giving away a $10 Etsy Gift Card to ONE lucky winner!
To enter, leave a comment below answering Karen’s question about her upcoming projects, or with a question of your own, a comment, or some love for Karen!
- This giveaway is open worldwide. Thank you, Karen!
- This giveaway will end July 30th.