It was May 30, 1812, when fourteen women of Buenos Aires’ elite society gathered for a fund raising event. A collection was taken in support of the ragtag criollo army fighting against the Spanish crown. Each women —listed below—financed one pistol each. Obviously, it was not nearly enough to battle the Spaniards; but they inspired other women to do their part by crafting uniforms and eventually, as the story goes, stitching together the first Argentine flag.
My new novel, Celestial Persuasion, unfolds in the Viceroyalty of Rio de la Plata at the cusp of Argentina’s independence. After a series of astonishing events, the protagonist, Abigail Isaacs, finds herself in Buenos Aires. Here she writes to Captain Wentworth…
I received a missive this morning, presented by a liveried servant. It was an invitation from a Mr. and Mrs. Martin Thompson for Tuesday next. You can well imagine my astonishment, Captain Wentworth, as we are so newly arrived that I have not yet regained the use of my land legs. I have not a clue who these good people might be, or how they came to know of my arrival in the city. It was Mrs. Tavares who supplied the necessary information and assured me that I might respond to the invitation without compunction. It was all due to Lord Fife and his connections with society. I imagined the Thompsons were fellow compatriots, perhaps an elderly couple from Sussex or Bath. Imagine my astonishment when Mrs. Tavares explained the truth of the matter. Mrs. Thompson, in fact, is María Josepha Petrona de Todos los Santos Sánchez de Velasco y Trillo. The articulation of the lady’s name alone was quite an undertaking! It practically encompassed my daily Spanish lesson in its entirety. Mrs. Tavares was only too happy to impart her knowledge. To begin with, much to my relief, the lady is simply known as Mariquita Sanchez de Thompson. She is the daughter of a distinguished family of Río de la Plata, with an impressive lineage tracing back to Spain and Portugal. She married Martin Jacobo Thompson and the pair have become the toast of the town.
Mrs. Tavares’s countenance upon seeing the invitation was quite telling. I have never witnessed such excitement. It would seem that an invitation to Mrs. Thompson’s salon is paramount to taking tea with one of the patronesses of Almacks! One must understand, these social gatherings include some of the most renowned citizens of the Viceroyalty. I am to expect an introduction to compatriots and locals, aristocrats and artisans. If I am to trust in my housekeeper’s accounting, Mrs. Thompson is an extraordinary example of female ingenuity. She is known as a great advocate for the new republic. Mrs. Tavares assures me that a more fervent patriot cannot be found among those who support the cause. Not only did the lady donate three ounces of gold to the coffers, she lends her domestic skills for the sewing of uniforms.
In short, Captain Wentworth, I am undone at the thought of attending Mrs. Thompson’s salon. I fear I lack the talent of conversing easily with strangers; although you may believe that an odd statement after I have, after all, rambled on for two pages complete. Your close ties with Jonathan, and your own insistence, have made you less a stranger and more a relative.
I hope you enjoyed the excerpt! You can find Celestial Persuasion on Amazon in both digital and paperback formats. Happy reading!
I’m going back to revisit Day Three of the Blog Tour…you know, the day that didn’t go as planned. I am a believer that everything happens for a reason, so I am going to try something different. ¡Espero que les guste!
As you have read, Celestial Persuasion takes place during Argentina’s Regency period. I thought it would be nice to translate, and share, one of my Blog Tour entries with our Spanish-speaking Janeite friends. And so, without further ado, here is Day One presented in Spanish.
Hola Mirta y bienvenidos a My Jane Austen Book Club! Como de costumbre, pregunto ¿cuándo fue tu primer encuentro con Jane Austen”?
¡Hola María Grazia! Te agradezco tu bienvenida. ¡He estado esperando este día! Para responder a tu pregunta, tengo que volver a la clase de literatura inglesa de la Sra. Malm en la escuela secundaria. Estaba en el noveno grado cuando leímos Orgullo y Prejuicio. Era una ávida lectora de novelas en ese momento, pero si la memoria no me falla, me tomó varios años apreciar su genio y convertirme en una verdadera fanática de Jane.
Felicitaciones por el lanzamiento de Celestial Persuasion. ¿Descubriste algo notable sobre los personajes de Persuasión de Jane Austen mientras escribías tu libro?
De hecho, lo hice, pero comenzó cuando estaba escribiendo mi novela anterior, TheMeyersons of Meryton y tenía que ver más con la ambientación, que con los propios personajes. Tuve que crear una solución para disciplinar al Sr. Wickham, ¡ese sin vergüenza! Lo que descubrí no solo me proporcionó una alternativa de transportation a Australia, sino que me abrió los ojos a una historia que hubiese aprendido, si hubiera sido educada en mi tierra natal de Argentina.
A ver si me puedo explicar. En general, aquellos de nosotros que leemos Austen y disfrutamos de historias de la regencia estamos bien versados en las Guerras Napoleónicas. Es casi imposible recoger una novela centrada en esa época y no encontrar algo relacionado con ese conflicto. Fue parte de la vida de Austen; ¡impactó a toda Europa! Pero mientras Napoleón causaba estragos y marchaba por todo el continente, había otros que se concentraban en el Nuevo Mundo. Mi investigación me llevó por el proverbial agujero del conejo y aterricé a los pies de Lord Duff, el cuarto conde de Fife. Me enteré del patrocinio de Lord Fife de José de San Martín. Descubrí las conexiones entre los ingleses y el Virreinato del Río de la Plata. Entre las historias de oficiales navales, monarcas desterrados, y damas vestidas de regencia, comencé a formular una idea. Las piezas estaban allí sobre la mesa, esperando a ser ensambladas como un gran rompecabezas. Fue el capitán Wentworth quien lo pudo unir para mi y así fue que desarrollé mi cuento.
Debido a que las guerras napoleónicas y la lucha por la independencia del Virreinato ocurrieron en el mismo período, pude tejer una historia en torno a mi protagonista, Abigail Isaacs—una joven que se encuentra en una situación desesperada—y el buen capitán del HMS Laconia. Al igual que el trabajo de Austen, una parte de la historia es epistolar. La correspondencia entre Abigail y el capitán Wentworth habría sido bastante escandalosa en circunstancias normales. Pero, la narrativa exige la comunicación; y al final de mi novela, el escenario está preparado para que Anne Elliot y el capitán comiencen su camino —tal como Jane Austen lo imaginó.
2. ¿Cuál es la conexión entre Persuasión de Austen y tu Celestial Persuasion?
Quise que mi libro sea una precuela; pero en orden para presentarlo como tal, necesitaba comprender plenamente el estado de Frederick Wentworth antes de su puesto en el HMSAsp. Y de hecho, leí Persuasión devuelta. Al mismo tiempo—mientras tropezaba por ese agujero de conejo que mencioné en la pregunta anterior—descubrí a una fascinante mujer que ustedes conocen bien: Mariquita Sánchez. Descubrí que su historia de amor con Jacob Thompson era similar a la de Anne Elliot y su capitán. Tanto las opciones de Mariquita como las de Anne fueron rechazadas por sus familias. En ambos casos, las familias afirmaron que oficiales navales pobres y jóvenes — desconocidos y sin experiencia— no eran candidatos para sus hijas. Donde Anne y Mariquita difieren es en su manera de reaccionar. Anne se dejó convencer de retirarse de su apego. Si lo hizo por el bien del capitán o por el de ella, es una pregunta que muchos lectores todavía debaten. Mariquita, en cambio, luchó por su elección y le costó caro. Mi protagonista, Abigail Isaacs, también se encuentra en aguas turbulentas y se le pide que tome una decisión que le altera la vida. No tiene ni amante ni familia que la convenza de una manera o otra. Abigail es una mujer sola; y siendo una criatura racional, ella hace su elección basada en los hechos tal como se presentan.
Había muchas similitudes entre la época de la regencia argentina y la de la obra de Austen, y no pude evitar unir las historias. Creé una conexión entre el capitán Wentworth y el hermano de mi protagonista. Es esta amistad la que obliga al capitán a entrar en la vida de Abigail Isaacs y pone a ambos en una nueva trayectoria.
3. ¿Hubo alguna escena que te gusto escribir particularmente?
¡Esta es una pregunta difícil! ¡No quisiera arruinar la lectura para tu audiencia! Solo diré que mi escena favorita fue muy satisfactoria de escribir. Sentí que la voz de Abigail sobresaltó más fuerte y más allá de cualquier cosa que había imaginado originalmente. Me conmovió la escena a mí misma, como si la estuviera observando como un extraño. Espero que también sea la favorita de un lector.
Otra escena involucraba la inclusión de una leyenda guaraní. Necesitaba inspiración para algún diálogo entre el teniente Gabay y Yasitata, una sirvienta guaraní. Pensé que tendría que pasar horas investigando en internet sobre esta cultura indígena, pero tuve suerte. O tal vez, me conmovió un ángel que vigila a los autores con bloque de escritor—¡no estoy del todo segura! Sólo voy a decir esto: Fue una gran satisfacción poder incluir esta fábula en el libro.
4. ¿Tienes una novela favorita de Austen? ¿Quiénes son tu heroína y héroe favorito?
Por mucho que disfruté Orgullo y Prejuicio—y he visto la adaptación cinematográfica de 1995 una y otra vez—Persuasión me conquistó. El crecimiento que vemos en Anne y el capitán Wentworth es poderoso, la constancia de su amor es conmovedora. Escribí sobre estos atributos en otro de mis libros: Destiny by Design~ Leah’s Journey. Si bien esta novela no es un verdadero “J.A.F.F.”, el libro fue definitivamente inspirado por Austen; y la transformación de Anne en Persuasión se discute con gran fervor entre mis dos protagonistas. Me encantó la determinación y amabilidad de Anne y su fuerza templada. Me encantó que el capitán Wentworth, aunque se sintió traicionado y mal utilizado, nunca amó a otra mujer.
5. ¿Cómo te ha inspirado Jane Austen?
Su Realismo me inspiró. Su afán por mostrar la vida tal y como la veía me inspiró. Austen, como sabemos, escribió sobre su mundo y su entorno. Aunque era ingeniosa y un poco sarcástica, nos trajo temas profundos para considerar y apreciar. Por supuesto, había historias de amor, pero en esencia, Austen nos permitió mirar a un mundo diferente, una cultura diferente. Con mi herencia cultural y mi origen étnico, seguir los pasos de Jane Austen me da una plataforma para compartir mis pasiones por la Judaica y mis raíces argentinas, con la ficción histórica. Desde luego, no pretendo tener su genio; su estilo e ingenio son legendarios. Sólo siento que ella abrió la puerta para los demás quienes tenemos historias para compartir, en un estilo propio…como Austen solía decir.
6. Contame más sobre tu investigación para Celestial Persuasion. ¿Qué te atrajo a esta historia en particular?
Supongo que mi radar de inmigrante atrae palabras que otros podrían no notar. Por ejemplo, si estoy leyendo, o viendo una película, y palabras como “el argentino” o “la pampa“ aparecen de repente, ¡me siento inmediatamente atraída! Aunque se suele mencionar de pasada, autores de la Regencia y las épocas victoriana han aludido a menudo a la participación inglesa en el Virreinato del Río de la Plata. En la miniserie de la BBC de la novela de Edith Wharton, The Buccaneers, el actor Greg Wise (también conocido como Willoughby) interpreta el papel de Guy Thwarte, un joven que se va a construir ferrocarriles en Argentina. En la miniserie de 2004 de Elizabeth Gaskell’s North and South, el Sr. Bell deja a Margaret Hale un legado antes de zarpar a la tierra de las pampas. Así que ya ven: sólo quería seguir el ejemplo que se puso delante de mí.
Debido a que me crié en los Estados Unidos, mi comprensión de la lucha argentina por la independencia era bastante deficiente. Pasé algún tiempo investigando la historia de la influencia de Inglaterra en el nacimiento de la República Argentina. Además, tuve que estudiar temas como la astronomía y la astrología en forma muy básicas, pero desde la perspectiva hebraica. Debido a que Abigail Isaacs “estudió los cielos”—al igual que su heroína, Caroline Herschel—quería que las fechas hebraicas correlacionaran con las actividades celestiales en y alrededor de 1812. El calendario hebreo está basado en la luna y, por lo tanto, difiere del calendario gregoriano. Tuve la suerte de incluir datos históricos y fiestas judías en la novela, y hacer que coincidan con lo que estaba sucediendo en los cielos. Esto fue particularmente importante en el capítulo que enfoca a la famosa batalla de San Lorenzo.
7. Mencionas temas que no se encuentran generalmente en una novela de Regencia: Argentina, Caroline Herschel y los temas judíos. ¿Cómo llegó a escribir sobre tales temas y el lector necesita tener una comprensión del judaísmo para disfrutar de tu libro?
¡Gran pregunta! Espero poder representar el judaísmo de Abigail Isaacs y Raphael Gabay al igual que los personajes anglicanos de Austen. Su fe forma parte de lo que son; está ahí, en el fondo…simplemente añade otra dimensión. Escribir sobre personajes y temas judíos es importante para mí, porque lo que nos han dado autores como Chaucer, Shakespeare, Dickens e incluso Heyer, no me agrada. Las caricaturas de los judíos codiciosos, malvados y de nariz grande es una parodia y debe ser impugnada. Del otro lado, hay una multitud de material de lectura que trata de la historia trágica del Holocausto. Esto es como debe ser. Deberíamos saber, y nunca olvidar lo que sucedió durante ese reinado de terror; el judaísmo es una religión que aprecia la vida. ¡Hay mucho más en nuestra historia que la tragedia y el dolor! Y es por eso que escribo ficción histórica judía ambientada en la Regencia y la época victoriana.
Sobre el tema de Argentina: ¡la respuesta es igual de sencilla! Como inmigrante, mi experiencia fue como dice la canción: No soy de aquí, ni soy de allá. Descendiente de rusos, Judía, nacida en Argentina, pero fanática de mi país adoptivo…me llevó casi toda mi vida (ya pronto cumplo 60) aceptar quien soy, cuales son mis raíces. Batallé en contra de un complejo de identidad. ¡Pero ya no más! Mi primer libro: With Love, The ArgentinaFamily, una especie de autobiografía, fue terapéutico y abrió la puerta a otras oportunidades y formas de pensar. No pretendo que mi trabajo sea académico; ¡no está destinado a serlo! Espero que les resulte leve y entretenido… e incluso ilustrativo.
En cuanto a por qué elegí a Caroline Herschel: Estaba buscando un modelo o héroe para mi protagonista, pero descubrí que había pocas mujeres matemáticas y científicas a principios de 1800. Descubrí a Sara Guppy, Mary Edwards y Mary Somerville y quedé completamente impresionada con sus logros. Luego me encontré con Caroline Lucretia Herschel. Sus extraordinarias contribuciones al mundo de la ciencia y la astronomía fueron sin duda una inspiración, pero ella tenía otros dos atributos interesantes que me llamaron la atención. Una era su herencia judía y la otra era su relación con su hermano, William. La relación con Abigail y su hermano, Jonathan Isaacs, fue bashert: Estaba destinado a ser.
8. ¿Por qué los lectores de Austen deberían obtener una copia de tu Celestial Persuasion? ¿Cómo los invitarías a hacerlo?
¡Gracias por preguntarme! Sabemos que hay una gran cantidad de variaciones de Austen disponibles para una audiencia mundial. Creo que es significativo que el trabajo de Austen continúe inspirando a un grupo diverso. Se nos han presentado interpretaciones modernas, historias de viajes en el tiempo, y narrativas que se centran en cualquier número de etnias y culturas. Esto habla de nuestra sed de nuevas y tentadoras tramas y temas austenescos. Celestial Persuasion no cambia a nuestros queridos personajes, pero llevará al lector en un viaje fuera de Inglaterra. Conocerás nuevas personas y culturas, y con suerte, te enamorarás de otra pareja cruzada por las estrellas.
Celestial Persuasion es definitivamente una novela independiente; y aunque he tratado de emular a Austen, la historia es única y propia. Permítanme terminar con los pensamientos de Austen:
“No podía sentarme seriamente a escribir un romance serio bajo ningún otro motivo que salvar mi vida, si fuera indispensable para mí mantenerlo – nunca relajarme en reírme de mí misma o de otras personas, estoy segura que debería ser colgada antes de haber terminado el primer capítulo. No – Debo mantener mi propio estilo y seguir a mi manera; y aunque nunca vuelva a tener éxito en eso, estoy convencida de que debería fracasar totalmente en cualquier otro.”
Invito a tu audiencia a dar una vuelta alrededor del mundo conmigo. Si las estrellas se alinean, Celestial Persuasion estará disponible en Amazon tanto en formato digital como impreso el 30 de junio de 2021. ¡Espero que disfruten de la lectura! Gracias por invitarme. ¡Fue divertido! Si desean más información sobre cualquiera de mis libros, les invito a visitar mi blog: mirtainestruppauthor.com
If you have been following the series of author interviews on this blog, you might have noticed a particular question that I often pose. Are you a panster or a plotter? I am most definitely a plotter, needing an outline and a spreadsheet with dates, names and personality traits. That being said, there comes a point, while one is furiously typing away, that the characters take over. Their own unique voice will be heard, even if that means deleting the last chapter and rewriting the trajectory for the entire story. Mrs. Meyerson is one such character in The Meyersons of Meryton. But rather than telling you about the rebbetzin, allow me to introduce you to the lady, as I conduct a brief interview with Hertfordshire’s newest arrival.
Host: Greetings, Mrs. Meyerson and welcome to my blog.
Guest: Thank you, my dear. Pray forgive my ignorance. I am not at all familiar with your modern-day colloquialisms.
Host: I do apologize, madam. A blog is a—well, the arrangement is of little consequence. Suffice it to say, you are joining us today to discuss your arrival to Meryton. Tell me, what was your first impression of that small market town?
Guest: It certainly was vastly different from London, nonetheless, we were greeted graciously by the Bennet family of Longbourn on our first night. I was later pleasantly surprised when we met the congregants of the little synagogue, and understood straight away, the importance of my husband’s presence in that village.
Host: Vastly different from London, you say? What was it that you missed the most? The routs? The balls? The fashionable society?
Guest: Oh no, my dear! We lived in Cheapside—not quite the center of fashionable society. Do not misunderstand me. We had our share of good society. My cousin—rather distant, needless to say—is Moses Montefiore. He and his lovely new bride, Judith, are related to Nathan Rothschild by marriage. I have had the privilege of collaborating with Mrs. Montefiore in doing charitable works within the Jewish community. As to your question, I miss my family naturally. I miss my many acquaintances. And I miss the good work, the tzedakah, I was privileged to undertake. But God is good! Baruch Hashem! I have made new friends in Meryton and have been kept busy with… perhaps, it is best, my dear, if I do not delve into matters that might be too delicate in nature.
Host: Let’s change the subject then. Tell me of your new friends, the Bennets. As a mother of five yourself, what did you think of their daughters?
Guest: Oh! The Bennets! What a delightful family! They were a God-send to us. Jane is an angel, a sweet angel. What more can I say? Mary reminds me of a beautiful, but untended, flower. A bit of attention and some loving kindness is all she needs. Lydia, poor dear, was a whirling dervish when I met her—a Chanukah dreidel spinning out of control! Kitty, or Catherine as I prefer to call her, has been like a daughter to me. In some ways, she has also been my teacher. As the rebbetzin, I am called to lead the women of my husband’s congregation. I am supposed to be learned in the ways of our culture. I am expected to be a good example for the women of my faith. But Catherine reminded me of something very important, when I lost my way, and I am truly grateful.
Host: But you have only mentioned four, Mrs. Meyerson. I believe you forgot someone.
Guest: Heaven’s no! I left Elizabeth for last. Elizabeth is a true Eishet Chayil—a Woman of Valor. I realize that the proverb usually is sung to honor the mother, or the matriarch of the house; nonetheless, Elizabeth has earned this title in my eyes. She exudes the qualities which are attributed to such a woman: Feminine strength, intelligence, wit, and compassion. Even so, I witnessed how she struggled, how she fought to overcome her less than admirable traits, and this made her even more estimable in my eyes. Her worth is far beyond that of rubies, as I am certain Mr. Darcy would agree.
Host: I have no doubt! Now, in order to entice my audience further, what do you say to my sharing a snippet of the story?
Guest: I can only repeat that which someone else wiser, and more clever than I, once wrote: “I declare after all there is no enjoyment like reading!” By all means, my dear, lead on.
It was many hours later, in the darkest part of night, when a series of harried knocks were heard upon the door that caused the Bennet family to stir in alarm.
“What is it, Mr. Bennet? Who is at the door?” cried Mrs. Bennet pulling the bedclothes under her chin.
“I have not a clue, but I doubt we will learn the meaning of this rude interruption by hiding under the linens!” Mr. Bennet declared in a huff as he pulled on his dressing gown and stuffed his feet into his slippers. Carefully managing the staircase as he held a flickering chamberstick in one hand and wiped the sleep out of his eyes with the other, the master found himself at his front door just as Hill came from behind with a few coins from the household funds at the ready.
“For the runner, sir,” she said with a shaky curtsey.
“Thank you, Hill,” he replied gratefully, for he had not thought of compensating the errant messenger.
Mrs. Hill bobbed once more and stumbled back to her quarters as the master made quick work of opening the door. The messenger grinned an apology at the lateness of his arrival. Handing over the missive, he touched his cap and bounded off into the night. Mr. Bennet, now fully awake and justifiably curious, held his hand high and allowed the candle to illuminate a path to his library. Once there, he quietly shut the door, sat down in his familiar welcoming chair and was adjusting his spectacles when Mrs. Bennet came rushing in, followed by his two eldest daughters.
“How cozy you are, Mr. Bennet!” cried she. “With no consideration to my poor nerves, you have sequestered yourself without further thought of your wife or children who lay trembling in their beds. What has happened?” she beseeched. “Is it from Lydia?”
As he unfolded the object in question, Mr. Bennet peered over his spectacles and looked at his girls. “Jane? Lizzy? Were you all a tremble?”
“No indeed, sir, but we are anxious to know what news comes at this hour,” Elizabeth replied, taking hold of her sister’s hand.
The women gathered in front of Mr. Bennet as he silently read through the brief message. Satisfied that he was at liberty to share the contents, he cleared his throat and turned to his fretful wife.
“I trust you have ordered a good dinner for tomorrow evening, my dear, for I have just been informed we may expect an addition to our family party.”
“Pray, who would be so indelicate as to awaken us in the middle of the night for such a matter? Who, may I ask, wishes to trespass on our hospitality without so much as a by your leave?”
“‘Tis your brother who has written…”
“Edward? Whatever is he about?”
“If you would but calm yourself and allow me to read the letter, all will be explained.”
Jane gently guided her mother to a seat, as Elizabeth lit the candles on the mantelpiece to better illuminate their surroundings. Mr. Bennet hemmed and hawed before commencing:
Gracechurch Street, London
Dear brother, I know you will understand when I say things are well in hand here in town. I have met with Mr. Moses Montefiore and found him to be the best of men, brilliant as he is honorable! Upon his expert understanding of the current situation, Mr. Montefiore conveys the Meyersons to your good care. This letter is to be accepted as means of an introduction for the rabbi and his family into Meryton society. You can expect a party of three—husband, wife and child—to arrive by four o’clock on Wednesday. I have assured them of my sister’s fine hospitality, but tell Fanny not to fuss for their accommodations; they will only be staying the night. Montefiore has made arrangements for a living to be had in town. Fanny, I have no doubt, will be happy to know the Meyersons have need to be settled in that establishment by Friday afternoon! Now, with regards to…
Mr. Bennet stopped at this juncture, folding and placing the letter most purposefully in his pocket.
“I believe therein lies the crux of the matter. The rest involves business that I will need to attend in the coming weeks.”
“How extraordinary!” exclaimed Jane. “Whatever does my uncle mean by ‘things are well in hand in town’?”
“Are you at liberty to divulge anything further on these people and their business in Meryton?” Elizabeth asked, covering a yawn with the back of her hand. “Who is this Montefiore? Can he be a sensible man, ushering these people to us in this manner?”
Mrs. Bennet had more pressing matters to discuss and would not be silenced. “We are in the midst of planning our daughters’ weddings! My poor nerves cannot take much more agitation, Mr. Bennet. What does my brother mean by sending strangers to our home? And what, pray tell, is a rabbi?”
The hour being late and with no desire to entertain any further debate, Mr. Bennet stood and waved his hand, signaling towards the door. “Off with the lot of you. Tomorrow is another day and it will come soon enough. I am to bed and will brook no argument, Mrs. Bennet. Good night, Jane. Good night, Lizzy,” he said, with a kiss to each daughter’s brow.
Elizabeth blew out the candles and followed her father and sister as they wearily climbed towards their warm and welcoming beds. Mrs. Bennet, alone in the darkened room, sat down on Mr. Bennet’s favorite chair and indulged in a good cry, presumably relieving her poor nerves.
THE MEYERSONS OF MERYTON is FREE today on Kindle Unlimited!
A few weeks ago, as you know, I decided to launch this blog. As an indie author it is imperative to market and promote your work and to remain in the public eye. But maintaining a blog is time-consuming and takes a toll on the limited brain cells (and creative juices) I have left remaining after a 10-hour workday. Just writing about my books wasn’t going to cut it; and to be honest, the blog would certainly not keep anyone’s attention for long. By inviting other authors to share their work, I hope to shed light on this genre of Jewish Historical Fiction. Its diversity and educational significance, as well as its entertainment value is sure to please. Having said that, I couldn’t be happier to present today’s guest.
Caroline Warfield is an award-winning author of family-centered romance set in the Regency and Victorian eras. She has been many things, but above all she is a romantic. She began life as an army brat who developed a wide view of life and a love for travel. Now settled in the urban wilds of eastern Pennsylvania, she reckons she is on at least her third act.
When she isn’t off seeking adventures with her Beloved or her grandson down the block, Caroline works happily in an office surrounded by windows where she lets her characters lead her to even more adventures in England and the far-flung corners of the British Empire. She nudges them to explore the riskiest territory of all, the human heart, because love is worth the risk.
Host: Caroline, you will forgive me, but I’m a little star struck. I’ve read your work and appreciate your standing in the Regency world. It goes without saying, I pretty much loved everything about your book, An Open Heart. There was a certain lightness to it, similar to any other Regency romance, but there was no denying the substantive material in the narrative. I was bursting with pride when the storyline touched upon the contributions and achievements of Anglo-Jews, but I believe my favorite scene had to be the impromptu Shabbat service held in the Duchess of Haverford’s drawing room. What motivated you to write this book?
Guest: I belong to The Bluestocking Belles, an authors’ support group and marketing co-op. We do an anthology or a “boxed set” every year, often with loosely connected stories. The year I wrote this we had a house party theme. The Duchess of Haverford invited young women who worked with her on charity projects to sponsor a holiday ball for charity. We all added characters to her committee. Jewish characters popped into my head that year; stories sometimes happen that way. Esther, a wealthy, but not aristocratic, young lady was part of the planning committee from the beginning. An Open Heart is a standalone book, but there are minor characters who appear in the other stories, and Esther and Adam appear in some of the others. The collection as a whole was called Holly and Hopeful Hearts.
As an aside, we’re a multi-faith family. While Beloved and I are Catholic, we often celebrate with our daughter and her family who are Jewish. Our grandson celebrated his bar mitzvah last year.
Host: Mazal tov to the Bar Mitzvah and to the whole meshpucha! I love the name, “Bluestocking Belles.” Sounds like my kind of group. But my goodness! A boxed set every year? Tell us, why do you think we are so fascinated with this particular time period?
Guest: The Regency era is a mythical Romantic era. I say that because of the sheer volume of stories classified as “regency.” They don’t always necessarily reflect history. I like to hope mine do.
Host: I, for one, can attest to the historical content of your work. In fact, I am striving to achieve that educational and enlightening component myself! Jewish Historical Fiction is an important, stand-alone, genre in my view. What are your thoughts?
Guest: Good question! I’m not entirely sure I’m qualified to answer that. Insofar as it contributes to the body of truth about history—emphatically yes. My own concern is that the historical romance genre in general realistically portray the diversity of previous eras. Realism matters, and, frankly, all that white bread story telling gets boring.
Host: Since we are speaking of weaving accurate historical events into our storylines, tell us about your research. Were you surprised by your findings?
Guest: I was struck by the efforts of the Jewish community of London to make certain their sons had access to high quality education. They were less concerned about educating their daughters, a blind spot they shared with the rest of England, one my heroine complains about vociferously. Women’s education has always been a passion with me. Several of my books touch on it.
Host: Ah—I think I may know the answer to my next question. Which of your characters resonate with you most?
Guest: Actually, Adam does. His struggle to maintain his identity, his faith, and his attachment to tradition while working in the larger culture was something I relate to strongly. My daughter once told her rabbi that her mother can’t have too much tradition, and she was right. We best appreciate the traditions of others when we cherish our own. The richness of sharing is dear to me.
Host: I would have thought you’d choose Esther; but having read your response, I can clearly see why you went with Adam. To be honest, either character would have been a great pick! Here’s another question along those same lines. Do you have a favorite scene in the book?
Guest: I love the scene in which Adam arrives at the home of his former teacher, Rebbe Benyamin Nahmany, “the finest Talmudic scholar in Europe,” who lives in a house nestled on the French side of the Pyrenees with his large family. Adam and an English officer are on a mission to bring funds to Wellington and the family is helping them. He realizes with surprise that he has forgotten Chanukah (which after all was a minor feast) when he sees the mother lighting five candles. He enjoys the warmth of the family’s celebration, and I love that he gets his comeuppance by the scholarly learning of one of the daughters. Afterward he is forced to rethink many of his assumptions.
Host: Yes! That was a great turning point in the story and your research served you well. Tell us, are you working on something now?
Guest: I’ve reached the point of projects accumulating in my mind faster than I can write them. I’m working on two new series at the same time. One is set in a small village in England and centers on two interrelated families. It has less of that diversity I value, but a lot of strong family ties, which are also important to me. The first book The Wayward Son will be launched in July.
At the same time, I’ve been working on a new series that continues my Children of Empire series. The hero is an English archaeologist working in Egypt and Nubia. The heroine is a French woman who is also a hakima, a medical professional trained to treat women, more of a nurse practitioner than a midwife. It is heavy on history and has a very diverse cast of characters, including Muslim colleagues of the main characters. That will be published by a different publisher, also in July. It is called The Price of Glory.
Host: I’m in awe, Caroline. I can’t imagine undertaking two projects at once. I currently have a Work-in-Progress that started off with a bang, but now is competing with everyday life and a million other distractions and commitments. Which brings me to my closing point. I appreciate your time and thank you once again for your participation today. I’m delighted you’re sharing an excerpt and your social media links with the audience.
Guest: Thank you for inviting me, Mirta. A last note: I will happily send an eBook copy of An Open Heart to one person (randomly selected) who comments.
An excerpt from An Open Heart:
“—I don’t understand how your father could send you to that school. Your parents are entirely too secular in their outlook. The Talmud suggests—”
“I wouldn’t know what your precious books suggest. I’m excluded from that kind of learning.” There. She had given voice to her greatest resentment. Let him make what he would out of that.
“Leave my mother out of this. My mother taught me what I need to know about Shabbat and the holy days. And who are you to criticize?”
Adam colored, red blotches staining his cheeks. “Of course, I have no right. I had hoped before I left—”
Esther felt light-headed for a moment. Had he spoken to Papa? Breath rushed back into her lungs, but she raised her chin. “What is it you hoped, Mr. Halevy?”
Adam’s eyes softened, and Ether found herself leaning slightly toward him. A moment later, he stiffened and took a step back.
“My wife will respect our traditions and keep a traditional home,” he announced.
“I wish you luck finding such a paragon, Mr. Halevy,” Esther responded, pulling herself up as tall as she could. “My home will respect tradition and the people we meet.” When he simply glared at her outburst, she went on, “And my daughters will know as much about our faith as you do!”
“Good luck to you in that endeavor, Miss Bauman,” he said with a jerky nod. He tapped his hat on his head with more force than needed.
When he stepped out the door, Esther couldn’t control the urge to dart out after him. “Adam—Mr. Halevy—wait!”
His frown looked more puzzled than angry when he turned to her.
“Where you’re going—it will be dangerous.” Her lack of breath made the words sound uneven.
“I—” The expression on his face stopped her before she could continue. “I’ll pray for you,” she finished at last, “and the success of your journey, of course.”
A sad smile transformed his face. “I would be grateful for your prayers, Miss Baumann.”
I’m delighted to welcome today’s guest. Libi Astaire is the author of the award-winning Jewish Regency Mystery series; Terra Incognita, a novel about modern-day descendants of Spain’s secret Jews; and The Banished Heart, a novel about Shakespeare, secret Jews, and 1930s Berlin. She lives in Jerusalem, Israel.
As an avid fan of all things Austen and being hot-wired for Jewish historical fiction, I was thrilled to discover Libi’s collection of Jewish mystery novels. The Banished Heart most certainly does not take place in London’s Regency period; my heart was not all aflutter for a Mr. Darcy or a Captain Wentworth, but there is a certain Austenesque quality to Astaire’s story about Herr Hoffmann that set my heart pounding. Austen was known for her shrewd observances of communal mores. The biting social commentary within Astaire’s The Banished Heart cannot be denied. Without further ado, let’s get on with today’s author’s interview.
Host: Libi, I’m excited to hear about your new release. Please tell us all about it.
Guest: The Wreck of Two Brothers, the sixth novel in my Jewish Regency Mystery series, is about two young men who share the same name, Judah Herzveld, but different fates. One is a member of London’s Jewish community, the other is a visiting non-Jewish Dutch diplomat. When the diplomat is found murdered in London’s Great Synagogue, suspicion naturally falls upon his English namesake. But is there really some long-buried connection between the two men that has led to the fatal encounter? Or is the shared name just an unfortunate coincidence that threatens to destroy the life and happiness of an innocent man? As usual, my detective, Mr. Ezra Melamed, has only a few clues to help him unravel the tangle of lies and deceptions behind the mystery of who killed the young diplomat.
Host: Number Six? Kol Hakavod! I’ve enjoyed following Mr. Melamed throughout your previous novels. What draws you to this particular time period?
Guest: When people think of the Regency, which lasted from about 1790 until 1820, they usually think of the novels of Jane Austen. Even though Austen’s novels are wonderful, there was much more going on than young people getting married! For instance, the Industrial Revolution was beginning to make changes in everyday life, including the creation of an increasingly prosperous middle class, while the Napoleonic Wars were very much on people’s minds. So, the Regency was a time of change and social instability, in many ways, which creates lots of possibilities for mystery and intrigue.
I was also intrigued by the Ashkenazic community living in England at this time. While many people are aware there was a Sephardic community, most don’t know there was a sizeable Ashkenazic community too. So, I’ve really enjoyed researching this community and sharing this information with my readers.
Host: I appreciate authors who weave accurate history throughout the storyline. While doing your research, did anything affect or move you? Did anything come as a surprise?
Guest: I used to write about Jewish history for several publications, and I was often asked to write about the Holocaust, which is of course very sad and moving; but it’s hard to stay in that dark place for long stretches of time. I therefore looked upon my mystery series as a kind of escape. Yes, it’s Jewish history. But it’s fun! Of course, there was plenty of poverty—the vast majority of the Ashkenazic community in London was extremely poor. And there was anti-Semitism, as well as discriminatory legislation. All that is in my series. But I’ve also tried to capture the positive energy and optimism of an immigrant community on the move—hopefully upward, although some of my characters do stumble. Otherwise, there wouldn’t be a mystery for my detective to solve.
Host: That is exactly what attracts me to your work and storylines. Your characters are nuanced and diverse. Do you have a favorite among them?
Guest: I started writing the series a decade ago, and there are about a dozen characters who have recurring roles in the stories—sometimes playing a major role and sometimes appearing in just a scene or two. It’s a little community, and I love spending time with all of them. Having said that, I do have a special place in my heart for my two narrators, who take turns narrating the stories—Miss Rebecca Lyon, a Regency miss who aspires to being an author, and General Well’ngone, a young Jewish pickpocket who aspires to eating a good meal by a warm fire.
Host: Have you visited any of the locations you have written about?
Guest: I’m a big believer in visiting locations you write about, and I’ve been to England several times, including a year I spent studying theatre in London. Unfortunately, many of the Jewish locations I write about no longer exist or they look very different today. For instance, the Great Synagogue was destroyed during the Blitz of World War II. Fortunately, there is an abundance of visual history from the period—maps, aquatint prints, etc.—and so I’ve been able to reconstruct some of my locations from these images.
Host: As I’m relatively new to the craft of writing novels, I am curious to know your process for putting “pen to paper.” Are you a panster or a plotter? Do you begin with an outline and know how the story ends from the get-go; or do you go with the flow, and allow your characters to lead the way?
Guest: I’m definitely a “pantser.” I do write a brief synopsis before I begin writing—and have a good laugh when I read it over after the book is finished. The kernel of the story is there, but the personality of the new characters is usually different from what I originally imagined. And then there are the characters who appear out of nowhere and end up playing an important role. I think if I knew “whodunnit” from the get-go, I’d never write the book. Part of the fun of writing the series is that I’m often surprised by what happens.
Host: Are you working on something now? What was your motivation for this new project?
Guest: I’m about to begin work on two holiday-themed novellas for a new collection of short mystery stories. I like the challenge of the novella—writing a satisfying story in less than 40,000 words—and I like the challenge of including information about the Jewish holidays without sounding too preachy. I hope to have the collection on sale around Purim.
Host: I wish you the best of luck with your projects and applaud your dedication and creativity. I’m excited to read the excerpt you’re sharing today! Is there anything else you’d like to add?
Guest: Thanks so much for inviting me, Mirta! Please see the links below:
You can get introduced to the Jewish Regency Mystery series for free with the first volume in the series, Tempest in the Tea Room
Excerpt from Chapter Four of The Wreck of Two Brothers:
“I AM NOT AGAINST PROGRESS,” said Mrs. Lyon, “but I do think some young women today are much too forward. I should hope none of my daughters would rush to view a dead person’s body.”
Mrs. Lyon cast a stern glance in the direction of her daughter Rebecca, who had been gazing intently at the sketch of the Dutchman’s face. It was not because Rebecca thought she knew him, but because, being something of an artist herself — as the collection of painted dishes in the breakfront in her family’s drawing room testified — she wondered how the Bow Street Runner had achieved so much with so few strokes.
Mr. Melamed had returned to his home on Bury Street, bringing with him a copy of the sketch the Bow Street Runner had made earlier. This sketch he was now showing to those still gathered in his drawing room: Mr. and Mrs. Lyon and their daughter Rebecca, Mr. and Mrs. Baer, and Daniel and Mordechai Deerfield. Esther Deerfield was upstairs in the nursery, where her son and the younger Lyon children were having a light supper.
While the servants had cleared away most of the remains from the party, the drawing room, which was usually kept in immaculate order, was still in a state of casual disarray. Those who had remained were also making themselves more at ease than a visit in that drawing room usually permitted. For while their degree of intimacy with Mr. Melamed differed, the tragedy had created a connection between them more quickly than a purely social engagement could have done. Thus, a stranger looking upon the scene could have been forgiven for thinking he was observing an extended family at rest on a long Sunday afternoon at home instead of a gathering discussing a murder.
“If you had been blessed with more sons, Mrs. Lyon, you might be more charitable,” said Daniel Deerfield, politely coming to the defense of his absent sibling. “If Eva seems unusually bold for her sex, I am afraid it is because Mordechai and I treated her more like another brother than a sister.”
Mordechai Deerfield, who had already consumed several small fish sandwiches and had now drifted back to the buffet table to see what else there was to eat, commented, “Yes, the fault, if any, is entirely ours. But in one respect I do agree, ma’am, her behavior today was odd. Eva never struck me as the fainting kind.”
“I doubt she has had a wide experience with viewing human corpses,” said Daniel.
“And I hope she does not intend to remedy her lack of experience,” said Mrs. Baer, who had assumed the duties of hostess and was busy with pouring out more tea. “I cannot think why she insisted on going to the synagogue before going home.”
“She said she had misplaced some notes she had written during the previous committee meeting, which she needed to help her prepare for the meeting tomorrow,” said Mr. Melamed, who was looking fatigued from the long day. “She thought someone might have found them and placed them in the cupboard in the upstairs room.”
“Were they there?” asked Mr. Baer.
Mr. Asher Baer and his wife were the owners of a kosher coffee house on Sweeting’s Alley. Like his wife, he possessed an abundant supply of plain common sense. That, along with his ability to think through a knotty problem with clarity, had made him a welcome confident when Mr. Melamed was confronted with some puzzling crime affecting the Jewish community.
“No, they were not,” replied Mr. Melamed. “Thankfully, the Runner accepted her explanation and allowed the Deerfields to go home.”
“I am sure that is all very well,” Mrs. Baer commented. Then, turning to Daniel and Mordechai Deerfield, she said, “But you, gentlemen, are her brothers, and you might drop a word in Miss Deerfield’s ear that now she is engaged she should be more worried about finding ways to please her fiancé than finding committee meeting notes.”
“Herzveld surely knows what he is in for,” said Daniel Deerfield. “He practically grew up in our home. By the way, sir,” he said to Mr. Melamed, “you did not mention the murdered man’s name. Is the information being kept secret, or have they not yet identified the body?”
Mr. Melamed had been expecting the question. In fact, he was mildly surprised no one had asked it earlier, while they were passing around the sketch of the Dutchman’s face. It could be explained, he supposed, because the murdered man was not a member of their community, and so no one in the room expected to know him. Therefore, the man’s name was just one detail among many — and not one of the more interesting ones. As for why he had not mentioned it, on that point Mr. Melamed was clearer. First, he wanted to know if anyone had seen the young Dutchman — where, at what time, and with whom — and for that the sketch was enough. Mention of the name would only lead to useless speculations, after a suitable period of stunned silence.
But because his son-in-law had voiced the question, Mr. Melamed replied, “It is no secret. He carried a card-case. And he was identified by an acquaintance, a Mr. Hendriks, who is a member of the delegation from Holland. His name was Judah Herzveld, and he was also part of the Dutch delegation.”
As he expected, his announcement was greeted with astonishment — looks which ranged from slightly puzzled to outright, open-eyed amazement.
“There are probably dozens of Judah Herzvelds in Holland,” said Mr. Lyon, the first to recover and break the uncomfortable silence.
“Still, it is a strange coincidence,” said Daniel Deerfield.
“It is positively ghoulish,” said his younger brother. “Almost like a ghost rising from his grave to—”
Miss Lyon gave a little gasp. For an admirer of the Gothic novel, which she was, this surprising turn of events was thrilling — almost like one of Mrs. Ann Radcliffe’s stories come to life! She could almost hear the iron chains, which had surely been wrapped around the poor ghost’s legs, clanging in the hallway when —
“Stuff and nonsense,” said Mrs. Baer. “If it had been a ghost, it would not have allowed itself to be killed.”
“I stand corrected, ma’am,” said Mordechai Deerfield, with a mischievous twinkle in his eye. “What would a ghost have done?”