It’s really a thrill for me to share an interview today with Christina Morland, who has just released her second JAFF story, “This Disconcerting Happiness.” Earlier this year, I reviewed her debut novel, “A Remedy Against Sin,” and I was very impressed with her writing style. My initial efforts to connect with her for an interview were futile, but today, I have a great interview to share with her for my Just Jane 1813 readers.
Please help me welcome Christina Morland to Just Jane 1813.
Christina, they say there’s delight in delayed gratification, and for me, that comes in the form of this interview because not only can we discuss your debut novel, we can also chat about your latest release, which I devoured over the weekend. Would you start by sharing with us a little bit about yourself and what inspired you to not only write your JAFF stories, but also to publish your stories as well?
Thank you so much for inviting me to be here! The JAFF community is such a warm, welcoming community, and your blog is a perfect example of this warmth. It’s precisely the openness of this community that inspired me to write and publish JAFF stories. I found the JAFF community way back in 2006 or 2007 and met, both online and in person, several wonderful women involved in reading, beta’ing, and writing JAFF stories. I’ve always loved writing but have been afraid of sharing my writing with others. The people I met, and the forums I visited, gave me the courage to begin sharing my first JAFF story, “Fate and Free Will.”
I began posting this story at A Happy Assembly in 2008, but a combination of real-life events (most of them lovely, such as the birth of my daughter) meant that I had little time or energy for continuing. Years later, I started a new JAFF story. I was determined to finish this one before I posted anywhere. The result was “A Remedy Against Sin.” By the time I had finished Remedy, self-publishing on Amazon had really taken off, and I decided to give it a try. This has been a really thrilling experience for me.
Can you share with us the premise of your new release, “This Disconcerting Happiness,”and how your online experiences with posting this story helped you shape it into the story that it is today?
“This Disconcerting Happiness” is actually an edited version of the story (“Fate and Free Will”) that I began back in 2008. In this story, Elizabeth and Darcy both face familial difficulties. Because of their shared hardships, they find in each other a source of strength. So, unlike “A Remedy Against Sin,” our dear couple is less adversarial from the start. But love born from hardship has its own set of challenges.
When I stopped writing “Fate and Free Will” in 2011, I really thought I had abandoned it for good, but after publishing “A Remedy Against Sin,” I found myself wishing I had finished that first story. Initially, it was tough to revisit a story I hadn’t worked on in years, but soon, I began to enjoy figuring out how to tie (or not tie) all the loose ends together. Because I didn’t want to leave any of my original readers hanging, I posted the completed version of “Fate and Free Will” on A Happy Assembly for a few weeks, and then edited it and published it on Amazon under a title I came to like better, “This Disconcerting Happiness.”
It is very important for me to acknowledge how much the JAFF community helped in the process of completing “This Disconcerting Happiness.” My original beta, Debra Anne, was such an inspiration to me, and remains my friend all these years later (even though we no longer live near each other). And the readers on AHA provided really useful feedback to consider as I edited what became “This Disconcerting Happiness.”
Your first story has 87 reviews on Amazon and a 4.4 average star rating, which is very impressive for a debut JAFF book. Can you describe for us your reactions to this initial success?
I have been honored that so many people have taken the time to read and respond to my work. In this crazy, modern life of ours, we all juggle so many different things: careers, family, community obligations, school… the list could go on. I’m so excited that there are people out there who are willing to spend their small sliver of free time reading! (And that they’d spend some of that reading time on my books… well, I’m incredibly grateful!)
I love the character-driven nature of your stories. When I was reading this new story, I had this ache within me almost the whole time, like I couldn’t stop feeling immersed within the storyline. Can you describe for my readers your approach to storytelling and what helps you write stories that make readers feel so connected to your characters?
First off, wow! Thank you for your kind words, and I’m so glad the stories have worked for you. There are, of course, many aspects of storytelling and writing that I’m still learning, and this learning process has been incredibly fun and challenging for me.
As for my approach, I start with the source. Can there be anything better than Jane Austen’s novels? Yet I also recognize that most JAFF stories, mine included, deviate from her work a good deal. What draws me to writing JAFF is the challenge of capturing (I hope) the spirit of Austen and combining it with a modern sensibility and my own personal love for romance. Austen was not, by her own definition, a writer of romances. As she wrote in a letter, she could not “write a serious romance under any other motive than to save [her] life” (Letter Letter to Mr. Clarke, 1816-04-01). Granted, romances then and now meant different things, but ultimately, Austen was a social critic — an incredibly insightful and humorous social critic. Darcy and Elizabeth were, for her, a way to explore the complexity, absurdity, and yet necessity of courtship and marriage in her day.
But I think a lot of us today want to spend more time with Darcy and Elizabeth than Pride and Prejudice allows. That is, we see glimpses of these amazing characters, and (at least in my case) we want to know what they would talk about over breakfast or (again, in my case) how they feel when they first kiss! The modern romance genre gives us that opportunity. So, ultimately, my approach is this: how can I get Elizabeth and Darcy in a room together so they can talk (or do other things!) since Jane Austen’s brilliant original source material didn’t give us as any chances to see them interact?
Your stories seem to steer away from having a conventional type of ending in a JAFF story. Can you tell us about why you have made this decision with both of your stories?
To be honest, I wasn’t aware that they did steer away from a conventional ending until I started getting reviews! And I have to say this: while of course, I love positive reviews, I’m also grateful to hear from people who didn’t like my books or didn’t like the endings. Again, I’m honored they took the time to read and respond.
Perhaps one of the reasons I deviate from a more traditional ending is that I try to straddle that space between pure escapism and dogged realism. I love a novel that takes me to a place and a time I’ll never experience, and I also love happy endings. But, I love real life, too — even when it stinks! I’m one of those very fortunate people who live a happy life; I have a husband I love dearly and a clever, kind, and creative daughter. For all the happiness they bring to me, though, there are still challenges. That’s just the way life is. And so I suppose I want the same for Darcy and Elizabeth: joy (which I define as happiness gained through both love and struggle).
Why do think after 200 years, so many people are still reading Jane Austen’s books?
This is such a good question; it’s also one that scholars have written tomes on, and still have not answered. To me, it all comes down to Austen’s wit and her characters. She somehow captures, with an elegance of language that I’ll never approach, the spirit of humanity in her characters — both the good and the bad! And she’s just so funny. I’ve been rereading Sense and Sensibility lately, and as much as I love the relationships between Elinor and Marianne and Elinor and Edward, I realized after my reread how much I adore the humor, as well. For example, here’s one of my favorite put-downs in all of Austen (she’s describing John Dashwood): “He was not an ill-disposed young man, unless to be rather cold-hearted, and rather selfish, is to be ill-disposed” (Sense and Sensibility, Volume I, Chapter 1). If I could insult my own characters with half so much brilliance, I would be a happy woman indeed!
Can I assume you are an avid JAFF reader, and if so, where do you find JAFF stories that you enjoy reading for yourself?
I was indeed an avid JAFF reader in 2007-2008, when I read many great stories on A Happy Assembly and the Dwiggie board (which I think has moved to a different site?). When I returned to writing in 2015 and 2016, I purposely avoided JAFF sites for a while, as I didn’t want to unintentionally borrow, and I also needed the time to write rather than read. But I’ve since returned to A Happy Assembly and enjoyed many new stories there! I’m also open to suggestions, as I’d love to read what others are writing now in the P&P world now that I’m taking a break from our dear couple and turning to a Sense and Sensibility variation. I can’t wait to check out the many reviews here on Just Jane 1813 to see what else I’ve missed since I’ve been away.
What can readers expect from you in the future in regards to your plans for publishing additional JAFF stories?
I hope to finish a Sense and Sensibility variation/sequel sometime in 2017, and then I’d like to return to P&P for one more story I have in mind. I’d also like to write a Persuasion variation, but I think that would be the most difficult for me to write. We’ll see! I’m excited to keep practicing writing and looking forward to reading more of what others have to offer!
What can readers do to support your work and where can readers connect with you online?
I do have a website where I occasionally post about writing and reading. I’m also on Goodreads and Amazon, and available by email at email@example.com. As far as support goes, I hate to be a broken record, but I really am grateful that you took the time to interview me, and that readers are spending their time on my writing. That’s all I could ask for! Thanks again!
Thank you, Christina, for your interview. It’s a real pleasure to share this conversation with my readers! And what’s even better than our interview may just be the excerpt you have shared with us below, which is from one of my favorite scenes in your new book,”This Disconcerting Happiness.”
With sudden fervor, Darcy slammed his fists against the keys of the piano, hoping the dissonance would jolt him out of his morose mood.
“First Mr. Bingley’s book, now his pianoforte. You are not a very considerate guest, are you?”
He was not surprised to see her in the doorway, silhouetted against the flickering candlelight in the corridor.
“You have a talent,” he replied, knowing he should stand but strangely unwilling to do so, “for making an appearance when I would much rather be alone.”
It was a savage thing to say, delivered in an even more savage tone. But if he had expected her to recoil and leave him in peace, he would have been disappointed.
Odd that he was not disappointed.
“Mrs. Hurst was under the impression that this room was empty,” she said, glaring—or at least, he thought she glared. With only the red embers of the fire and the dim light from the corridor, it was too dark to be certain. “She said I could rest here.”
“Rest? Have you been dancing so much then?”
“I danced with one of your acquaintances,” she replied, taking a step into the room.
He looked up at her, knowing exactly which acquaintance she meant. “And was he charming?”
“Oh, very much so.”
“No doubt he smiled and paid you many pretty compliments.”
“You know Mr. Wickham well.”
“Far too well.” Standing abruptly, he waved an arm. “The room is yours, Miss Bennet.” He was halfway to the door before he stopped. “Do you believe him?”
“You do not even know what he has said about you.”
“It does not take much imagination to guess. I cheated him out of his rightful inheritance, is that not so?”
She said nothing for a long moment. Then, “No, I do not believe him.”
He released a long breath.
“But you make it very easy for him to be believable,” she added. “Had we not spoken privately, your behavior in public would have convinced me that he was telling the truth. Given different circumstances, I would have believed him.”
“As many others have. He is an accomplished liar.”
“And you are an accomplished misanthrope, which is why so many people in Meryton have accepted his story.”
“Misanthrope?” He felt his lips tug at the word.
“Are you smiling?” she asked, taking a hesitant step toward him. “That is not fair. You are disproving my assertion without a word.”
“You make it difficult for me to remain misanthropic.”
“So you agree with my assessment? You are a misanthrope!”
“I neither agree nor disagree.”
“Vacillating is an even more despicable tactic than smiling! I no longer find it shocking that you abuse books and pianofortes, even instruments as beautiful as this one.”
He should have let the conversation come to an end; he should have finished his trek to the door; he should have returned to the ball.
Instead, he asked, “Do you play?”
“A little. Not very well.” Then she smiled. “Better than you do, though.”
“My teacher would take umbrage at that characterization.”
“If you paid a master to instruct you, I would ask for a return of your payment.” “My sister’s only tuition was a new piece of music and a little patience on my part. I found the former much easier than the latter to give.”
“In that case, your sister should be congratulated for her efforts.”
“Yes, I think so. She managed to teach me a little.”
“Does your sister have a favorite composer?”
“Mozart, for the moment. Do you know this piece?” he asked, taking a seat at the instrument. He stared at the keys, difficult to see now in the near dark. It struck him then, the unseemliness of the situation: the door, half closed, the fire nearly extinguished, the two of them only steps away from each other while the ball continued merrily in the next room. There was something about being alone with her, though, that made him believe that the rules of society did not apply. So, he let his fingers search for the right keys until he was punching out an arrhythmic melody.
“Sonata in A perhaps?
He glanced up at her; she was standing just at the edge of the bench.
“I am uncertain. Could you play it?”
“If you move, yes.”
It was the darkness that inspired in him the courage—or the impudence—to slide to the edge of the bench, giving her just enough room to sit. She glanced at him, the piano, and the bench, and he wondered if she would turn and leave the room. Given Wickham’s stories of his cruelty and Collins’s claims of his engagement to Miss de Bourgh, he should have behaved with more, not less, propriety, if only to convince her that he truly was not a misanthrope. Instead, he found himself acting the fool, as if he were challenging her to like him in spite of himself.
So, it felt right, if not correct, when she smoothed the front of her dress and sat down beside him. No part of her—not the ribbons in her hair, the tip of her elbow, or the toe of her shoe —touched any part of him, yet that inch of space between them felt as provocative as a caress.
She placed her fingers on the keys and began to play. It was a common enough piece, one he had heard many young women of his acquaintance play: his sister played it with a steadier tempo; Miss Bingley never missed a note; his cousin Sophia achieved a better dynamic range. Yet he could not say he had ever truly enjoyed the sound of the music until it had been accompanied by the click of her nails against the ivory and the unsteady rhythm of her breathing.
“I have lost my place,” she whispered, looking up at him.
Ah, wasn’t that just lovely?
Next week, I plan on sharing a review and a giveaway for “This Disconcerting Happiness.” I hope you take the time to drop a note here for Christina to help me welcome her to Just Jane 1813!
Visit Amazon to add both books to your bookshelf.
Both books are also available through KindleUnlimited.