I’m happy to welcome Pam Mingle, author of The Pursuit of Mary Bennet: A Pride and Prejudice Novel, and Kissing Shakespeare.
Diana: The Pursuit of Mary Bennet: A Pride and Prejudice Novel, like Kissing Shakespeare, your first book (which was for young adults) starts with a well-known story—in this case, Jane Austen’s fabulous Pride and Prejudice—and imaginatively takes off. Can you tell us a little bit about how you got the idea for this book?
Pam Mingle: Joining JASNA (the Jane Austen Society of North America)was a huge influence on me. I re-read all the novels and developed an interest in the Georgian and Regency periods in England. The members of JASNA introduced me to the world of Austen sequels, Austen scholarship—really, all things Austen. While I was waiting for the editorial comments on Kissing Shakespeare, I needed a new project and decided to give an Austen sequel a try. I wrote a good bit of the book while waiting to begin Kissing Shakespeare revisions. I should say, however, that even before JASNA, I loved Austen, especially Pride and Prejudice. It would have been impossible for me to write a The Pursuit of Mary Bennet without loving Pride and Prejudice.
Diana: You were a teacher and a librarian and now you have a third career as a writer. How do you think your past careers have helped you in your writing and how did you take the leap?
Pam Mingle: All my careers have been centered on books. Like so many people, I’d always wanted to write, but never had the time. During my last few years of teaching, I asked myself when I ever thought I’d take the plunge if I didn’t do it now–which led me to take early retirement. Good decision, because it took nearly nine years to sell a book. As a librarian, you always have your finger on the reader’s pulse. And as a school librarian first, then a teacher, I knew what kids were reading and what appealed to them. The authors I read during my career as a teacher and librarian were my inspiration. But like most writers, I’m a lifelong devourer of books.
Diana: You have included in The Pursuit of Mary Bennet some surprising turn of events in the lives of the Bennet sisters. The language is vivid and real, set in the historical past. Can you tell us a bit about your writing style? What are some rules you follow for your writing? Do you write an outline? Did you know the end of your novel before you got there? And what are you working on now?
Pam Mingle: My writing style: I’m a good imitator! I’ve read enough historical fiction that I can do a decent job of sounding like the period–be it Elizabethan or Regency–to be credible. And works written during those periods, of course. For The Pursuit of Mary Bennet, I quickly discarded any thought of trying to sound like Austen. Instead, I went with a slightly more formal, British-English sounding narration, making sure to use words and expressions Austen would have used.
Kissing Shakespeare was unusual in that I had both contemporary and Elizabethan language to deal with. The main character, Miranda, struggled at first with understanding the language when she was in Shakespeare’s time, but that was part of the fun of writing the book. Stephen, her time travel guide and the man she falls for, had the same trouble when he traveled to the present.
Language is so intertwined with voice; it’s hard to separate the two. Voice really controls the language a writer uses.
As far as a routine, I write in the mornings. That’s when I do my best thinking. Often, after a break, I write into the afternoon as well. I revise the previous day’s pages each morning. I know some writers write until they’ve finished a first draft before revising, but I’m just not wired that way. I do pre-writing exercises, like writing character sketches, trying out different point-of-views, and the like, but I don’t outline until I’m several chapters into the book. That’s when I usually hit the wall. I outline from then on, but piecemeal. If I write a scene that’s not in the outline, I go back and put it in. When I’m done, I find it helpful to have that completed outline to check during the revision process.
This is not a rule, but it’s really important to me to be part of a critique group (I’ve been in mine for 10 years now). Aside from critiquing, a vital step in the process, we celebrate success and support each other during the tough times. Attending conferences and workshops is indispensable, in my view. There’s always more to learn.
I only have a vague sense of the ending. For me, the ending comes as a result of what has unfolded in the story, and sometimes I don’t know what that’s going to be. I have several writing friends who always write the end of their books first, however. I know that method works for some, just not for me.
My work in progress is a historical romance, also set in the Regency.
Diana: Your story of your writing success is inspiring. How did you land your literary agent, Steven Chudney? Do you have a snippet of your query letter to him that you can share? Can you share your thoughts or suggestions for aspiring writers?
Pam Mingle: I found Steven Chudney through the Publisher’s Marketplace “Who Represents Whom” feature. I was looking for agents who represented historical fiction. When I queried Steven, I decided to be concise and sincere. My query letter was very short, and in it I said something like this: “You love historical fiction. What more could I ask?”
Steven requires fifty pages of your manuscript, a paragraph on what you’re currently working on, and a brief bio. So I decided he had enough information without belaboring the point in the query letter.
I think writers sometimes try to include too much in their queries. Keep it as brief as you can and let your writing speak for itself. Also, make sure you’ve looked at the agent’s web site so you can follow the guidelines they’ve set out. Don’t query an agent who doesn’t represent your genre.
Diana: Finally, www.thebestchapter.com explores how to write your best chapter and also how to live your best chapter each day in the story of your life. You said that you and your husband go on long walks. What are some of the things you do to take care of yourself each day?
Pam Mingle: I walk or go to the gym each day, and do relaxation exercises (while listening to New Age music!)