Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Carrie Bebris and Jane Austen Make Mysteries

HALLIE EPHRON: Carrie Bebris writes a mystery series featuring Mr. and Mrs. Darcy -- you know them. In each book they encounter characters from a different Jane Austen book.

Carrie's six series novels are delightful historical mysteries with that slightly edgy/acerbic edge, like Jane Austen herself. Today Carrie is giving away a copy of her latest Mr. and Mrs. Darcy mystery "The Deception at Lyme" (based on "Persuasion"), to a lucky commenter!

Carrie, what was your first encounter with Jane Austen's work?

CARRIE BEBRIS: It was an excerpt from "Sense and Sensibilty" in a high school anthology, the scene in which John Dashwood promises to "take care" of his stepsisters after his father dies. In the course of the scene, his greedy wife talks him down from providing them an income, to dropping by occasionally with gifts of game. Even as a teenager I recognized great writing and went looking for the book.

HALLIE: Jane Austen is credited with created her own genre which you, in turn, have adapted.

CARRIE: She developed a style of third-person narration—free indirect discourse— in which you're right there in character's head using words that sound like the character's speech. And you have a narrator's voice with wonderful irony. Some of humor is subtle and some is biting. And she captures human nature so well.

HALLIE: The characters seem so real.

CARRIE: (Laughing) So often I'll meet a person and think they remind me of someone I know, and then I realize it's a character out of a Jane Austen novel.

HALLIE: Now I'm laughing, because I'm sure I'm not the only one who notices a distinct resemblance between you and Ms. Austen! Do you think she enjoyed being an author?

CARRIE: Remember, she published anonymously. "Sense and Sensibility" was "By a lady." "Pride and Prejudice" was "By the author of Sense and Sensibility." She didn't want her acquaintances to know she was the author. But in those days people gathered together and read novels aloud, and sometimes when there were guests in the house her mother would read from her books—never revealing that the author was in the room—and she enjoyed seeing their reactions.

HALLIE: She left behind a last, unfinished novel.

CARRIE: Single, living with her sister and her mother, she was in the middle of "Sanditon" when she died at 41, possibly of Addison's disease.

HALLIE: You’re currently working on a seventh Mr. & Mrs. Darcy Mystery. When you write, do you feel you're channeling Austen's voice?

CARRIE: I made a decision NOT to try to replicate her voice because nobody can. I don't want to be a soprano that almost hits the high notes. I try to capture the flavor and tone of her writing, but I also have my own author's voice.

HALLIE: Do you have any references that help you capture that period tone?

CARRIE: There's a great Web site, "Write Like Austen" (writelikeausten.com). You type in a word and it tells you if she ever used it and how many times. It also gives you period synonyms that she used in her work and more that she never used.

HALLIE: I had to check this out, so I went there and entered JUNGLE.
Back came:

Jane Austen never used this word.
In place of 'jungle' you could select one of the following words that was used by Jane Austen: (numbers in brackets tell you how often she used that word)
park (158), wood (26), woods (20), wilderness (10), forest (8), timber (7), mess (3), litter (3), scramble (2), bush (2), knot (1), chase (1), jumble (1), hanger (1)

You may wish to note that Jane Austen never used any of these related words:
shrubland, silviculture, skein, rummage, ravel, scrub, reforestation, scrubland, webwork, web, wildwood, woodland, timberland, snarl, tangle, snafu, dendrology, complex, forestry, afforestation, arboretum, bushveld, boondocks, greenwood, morass, mishmash, mesh, muddle, jungle, meander, maze, hugger-mugger, hash, jungles, mash, labyrinth, perplex
I was a HUGE fan of Jane Austen and powered through all of her novels, starting with Pride and Prejudice when I was about sixteen. Then I ran out of them, to my dismay. I love the writing of Barbara Pym and Carrie Bebris because they capture the essence of Austen.

Did you love Austen as a kid or discover her as a grownup? And which of her characters have stayed with you?

Chime in! And win a copy of the brand new paperback edition of Carrie Bebris's latest Mr. and Mrs. Darcy mystery "The Deception at Lyme" (based on "Persuasion").


  1. I enjoy Austen myself, but my wife more so. She's not a crime fic fan yet. I'm going to see if your books are an effective gateway drug!

  2. Love that idea, Thomas -- and we all dearly hope you are right. Hopefully she'll get seriously addicted.

  3. Good morning, Thomas! There are many "Janeites" (myself and P.D. James included) who make cases for reading Austen's EMMA as a mystery, so if your wife is already an Austen fan, it might not take too much persuading to bring her over to the dark side of crime fic fandom :-) As for my books, you may want to start her off with NORTH BY NORTHANGER -- its plot is a treasure hunt, not a murder investigation. We'll ease her in gently!

  4. I'm chuckling: a synonym for "jungle" is "hanger"?

    If I end up spending every dime of my retirement on books, JRW is the reason! This sounds like a really fun series, Carrie. Thanks for the interview this morning.

  5. Emma a mystery, most definitely! Here's what Dame James had to say about it "Talking About Detective Fiction": "...perhaps the most interesting example of a mainstream novel which is also a detective story is the brilliantly structured Emma by Jane Austen. Here the secret which is the mainspring of the action is the unrecognised relationships between the limited number of characters. The story is confined to a closed society in a rural setting, which was to become common in detective fiction, and Jane Austen deceives us with cleverly constructed clues (eight immediately come to mind) — some based on action, some on apparently innocuous conversations, some in her authorial voice. At the end, when all becomes plain and the characters are at last united with their right partners, we wonder how we could have been so deceived."

  6. Welcome Carrie--such an interesting comment about her writing anonymously. Assuming of course, that her mother did know she was the author...It makes me wish I knew more about how those books were received back in the days she was writing them?

    And that is a dangerous website to check out words Jane would have written--I think it might take me a week to get one page written!

    Congrats on the book--I look forward to reading it!

  7. This is SO fascinating..you know, I don't think I remembered she published anonymously.

    And wouldn't it be fun to have your stuff read in front of people without knowing you were the author? Hmm. I guess...

    Have any of you ever done that? Or had your work presented at one of those panels?

    Anyway, Carrie! Very exciting..and what fun to be two people. Again. ..I guess.. Or maybe all authors are many people!

  8. Another new (to me) series in which I can immerse myself! Thank you, JRW.

  9. Hi Carrie,
    Welcome to Jungle Red! I am also a big Jane Austen and Barbara Pym fan.

    I'm right now reading the Three Weisemans of Westport, which is a parody of Sense and Sensibility, so I'll have to check out your work!

  10. Carrie,

    SO very glad you could join Reds today!

    What do you think of the recent school of thought that Jane Austen's writing is, in point of historical fact, the forerunner of the entire romance genre?

  11. Thomas, that cracked me up! (Hi, my name is Debs and I'm a crime-fic-holic...) Actually, I've never understood how anyone who likes to read could NOT like crime fiction--there's so much to choose from--but then perhaps I'm slightly biased.

    Carrie, I don't know how I've missed your books, but I will remedy the omission! I grew up reading Georgette Heyer, who I think was an Austen fan... I've been to the Jane Austen house in Hampshire, and imagined her there, writing in the parlor.

    As for Jane's books, Emma was my favorite, but it's been much too long since I've read it and never thought of it as a mystery. Must re-read!

  12. Welcome, Carrie! Your series is going on my TBR list now that I'm aware of it. It sounds great!

    Hallie, thank you for bringing Carrie's work to my attention. I'm a huge Austen fan and turned my youngest son into one also at an early age. I first met Austen at age 9 or 10 when I encountered Pride and Prejudice, which remained my favorite of her books for many years. As I've matured, though, I think Persuasion is my favorite now--though it's hard to choose among them since each is such a gem.

  13. Persuasion? Really?? Why that one in particular, Linda?

    Of course I've read them all but the one I go back to (perfect treatment for the flu: served up with chicken soup and ginger ale) is Pride and Prejudice. And yes, Julia, it's the ROMANCE. And the sly humor. (I wonder how her sibs felt about her characters??)

  14. Karen - Yes, some of the synonyms on Write Like Austen make me chuckle, too. I used it when trying to come up with an alliterative title for my EMMA-based Darcy mystery, but somehow "Hugger-Mugger in Highbury" didn't have quite the right ring to it! (The title wound up being "The Intrigue at Highbury.") And Lucy - I confess to falling prey to Shiny Object Syndrome nearly every time I visit the site - once I type in a word and see some of the results, I can't help typing in others just to see what comes up :-)

  15. I'm a Persuasion fan, too. Love the theme: Anne discovers that she had allowed herself to be led by people she trusted -- who did not in fact have her best interests at heart. She gets a 2d chance. Now what must she do? And of course the discussion of whether men or women love more deeply is priceless.

    Must go re-read Emma ... .

  16. Hi Carrie.
    So sad that Jane didn't use Jungle. Now we'll have to call ourselves the "Pleasant little wilderness red writers!"

  17. Lucy and Hank - While Austen published anonymously, her parents, siblings (6 brothers and a sister), and older nieces and nephews knew about her authorship. And her identity did slip out toward the end of her life. Her brother Henry, who acted as her agent, was so proud of her that when he learned through a mutual acquaintance that the Prince Regent was a great fan of her books (he kept a set in each palace), he couldn't help but mention that the author was his sister. This eventually led to poor Jane receiving word from the prince's librarian that should she ever wish to dedicate one of her works to His Royal Highness, she had his permission. Talk about awkward! Jane had no respect for the prince and his libertine lifestyle, but couldn't exactly ignore the hint. So that's how EMMA,though still published anonymously, came to be dedicated to the PR, and after that knowledge of her identity started to quietly spread.

  18. Hallie, it was the romance, of course, which made Pride & Prejudice my fave for years, and I still love it. If I were to name a perfect romance novel of literary worth, P&P would be it.

    Persuasion, though, is more than romance. It has a great romance storyline, yes, but it's also the story of a woman coming into her own and learning to stand up for herself and what she really wants and needs. I also think Austen really came into her own literary power with Persuasion. She really brings society's open and hidden control over women to light in this book and examines it with a more mature eye than the earlier books. Austen notes how, given woman's position in society, even a well-meaning relative or advisor can force a woman into a narrow, stultifying role.

    Sorry about that. Old academic background took control of me for a second.

  19. And Rhys, I love the "Pleasant little wilderness red writers!"

  20. Digging through my shelves now for a copy of Persuasion. Must reread.

  21. Carrie, the WriteLikeAustin site is very addictive. Thanks for the link.

    Linda, I'm so glad to find another Persuasion fan.

  22. Great interview - thanks for introducing me to a new author !

    Carrie's books sound like a super read


  23. Yes, I will always love Elizabeth Bennet and P&P, but
    Persuasion is my favorite Jane Austen novel. I can't wait to read this new mystery

  24. I'm an Austen Fan, and I'm also a Carrie Bebris fan! I have read all your books, and I look forward to the next. The books are fun, informative, and the relationship between Mr. Darcy, and Elizabeth is delightful fully realized.

  25. Linda, Leslie, Darlene, Susan - I love Persuasion, too, for all the reasons you stated. And for these 4 words: "You pierce my soul." Captain Wentworth's letter to Anne gets to me every time, no matter how often I reread the book. (Add to that his Royal Navy uniform, and I'm lost :-) I also adore Pride & Prejudice, and which book I gravitate toward depends upon my mood, for the books themselves have different moods and textures. First drafted in her youth (revised and published years later), P&P has a springlike feel to it, whereas Persuasion, her last completed novel, has a more autumnal feel. One of the joys of writing THE DECEPTION AT LYME was bringing these two worlds together, and the greatest challenge was developing a plot worthy of Mr. Darcy, Elizabeth, Captain Wentworth, and Anne - a mystery that only the four of them, working together, could solve.

  26. "What do you think of the recent school of thought that Jane Austen's writing is, in point of historical fact, the forerunner of the entire romance genre?"

    Julia,I think there's some validity to that. Though there were more female novelists writing before and during Austen's lifetime than most people realize, most have faded into obscurity,none matched her genius, and modern romance novelists certainly owe her a debt. It bothers me, though, that as popular as Austen is now, mainstream media too often reduce her work to being *just* romance, when her books are in fact about so much more than that. The romance pulls you in - that's what I read her for when I was 16 - but it is her exploration of human nature, her deft social criticism, and her humor that keep me coming back. (Okay, the romance is still a draw - see comment about Capt Wentworth above :-) Writing my series, I'm constantly rereading Austen, and I find something new every time.

  27. LOL, Rhys, at your "pleasant little wilderness red writers." With this group, I'm betting the wilderness would become sinister pretty quickly!

  28. arlanmeCarrie, I too am one of your biggest fans, and of course, Jane Austen's. I have read Jane's books several times and have all six of the videos that I view often. I also have all of your books and look forward to 'The Deception at Lyme'. Persuasion is one of my favorite books. Welcome to Jungle Red Writers.

  29. My first experience with Jane was a rented video of Persuasion. We were living overseas in Japan, and had a very tiny video store near our home. I had never read Jane Austin, but had heard how good her books were from friends. I had began reading mysteries at a young age with Harriot the Spy, then Nancy Drew, Agatha Chrisiti...and never bothered to take up a new genre.I happen to see the movie Persuasion, and the author Jane Austin, but the cover was a woman with a LOW cut dress being ravished by a handsome man! I read the back cover and discovered it was based on the well known book. I took it home and my husband said "What have you brought home?" Well, I watched it and laughed about that unfortunate cover, but I have been hooked ever since! Now my four daughters and I love all the books and movies (some better than others) and never miss a chance to watch them when we are together!

  30. I absolutely LOVE all of these mysteries. They are beautiful masterpieces of writing. I have read the first four so far and am in the process of going through the fifth. I get quite excited every time I hear of any new ones. I would absolutely love to own the Deception at Lyme.
    Unfortunately, I have only read Pride and Prejudice out of Austen's seven novels; I started Sense and Sensibility, but its pace seemed just a bit too slow for me. Does anyone have an opinion on what Austen novel would be good for me to read next..?
    Sorry, I'm sure no one ever wanted to read this much about my boring ventures in what I've read (and haven't).
    PS. May I ask (should Ms. Bebris see this) what characters the seventh mystery will center around?

  31. Just wanted to make one more post, thanking you all for a great day. In Persuasion, Anne Elliot defines "good company" as that of "clever, well-informed people, who have a great deal of conversation," and I found that here. What a fun group this is! I will definitely drop in again.

  32. I am really amazed. Today I spent a lot of my spare time trying to find something interesting on this topic. Finally I found your site. Thanks for that!

  33. With the last name Virtue, I had to see how many times Jane used the word (22), and what else could be used in its place. I rather like Rectitude for a surname, and just think: had I had twin girls, I could have named them Piety and Probity.

  34. Another Austen fan here, as well as a Bebris fan. My favorite of Carrie's books is The Intrigue at Highbury, though I've enjoyed them all. Emma is definitely a mystery, and Northanger Abbey is a forerunner of the classic romantic suspense novel (and a spoof).

  35. Carrie Bebris and Rhys Bowen! two of my favorites! am (im)patiently waiting for each of you to release your next book (Royal Spyness series for Rhys) - have read each series in total and am totally hooked! always looking forward to the next adventure...thank you ladies!

  36. I am such a Janite! Carrie, I've read all but the last of your books, and look forward to this one as Persuasion is my favorite Jane book. I see Linda likes it to and was asked why. Well, because Ann and Captain Wentworth have such an interesting back story, and so much to overcome especially Ann's family and her so called best friend.
    I like the sequels that move the secondary characters along, but do not like rewrites or modern versions of her work. There is a series of books about Ann Elliot's sister Elizabeth that are very good and humorous.
    I believe The Watsons was another unfinished of her books. I've read the completed 'versions' of both incompletes by modern authors.
    A toast to our beloved Jane.

  37. Love Carrie! Read all her books and enjoyed her take on Jane's characters Write more, Carrie....

  38. I am really Suprise. Today I spent a lot of my spare time trying to find something interesting on this topic. Finally I found your site. Thanks for that!

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