Interview with Novelist, Judith Harkness

This interview originally appeared in October, 2014. To celebrate the arrival of the books online, I am reprinting it.

It's with fiction writer Judith Harkness, a writer whom I’m privileged to claim as a friend.  Judith has published five wonderfully written Regency novels, which are finally released as e-books on Amazon, Barnes and Nobles and other digital stores.

A few words about her:
After a childhood spent traveling with her diplomat parents, attending seven schools in seven countries, Judith Harkness graduated from Milton Academy and Brown University, where she majored in Comparative Literature. She now lives in Southern Rhode Island in an old stone house that requires a lot of upkeep. That, and gardening, swimming, reading, and walking her dog in the beautiful woods and on the beach, take up most of the time when she is not writing. .  

SARETT: You’ve written five Regencies. What attracts you to the form?  What’s the most difficult part of writing these?
HARKNESS: I was encouraged to write a Regency years ago by my then literary agent, who took me to lunch, and said "Wouldn't you like to be able to afford a nice lunch one day?" At the time , I wrote poetry and the occasional free lance magazine piece. Of course, I said, yes! And she suggested trying my hand at the Regency genre. Since I had been an ardent fan of Jane Austen, I was enthralled, thinking I could knock one off in a few weeks. A year later, I was still trying to write The Montague Scandal. After many false starts, I got the gist. At one point I had about a thousand pages of internal monologue!

What I like about the genre is that there is a formal structure, with predictable elements -- the heroine, usually feisty, a villain, and the hero, who reveals his depth and strength of character towards the end. But within that structure, there is a lot of room for variety, and humorous insight into the characters. I am a big fan of human comedy in fiction.

SARETT: There are lot of rules about what’s good writing and what’s bad.  Is there any rule that you secretly enjoy breaking?  
HARKNESS:  I don't know that I consciously break any rules. To me the one cardinal rule of all good story telling is that whatever serves the story, works. So if you are writing a historical romance, you need to follow a different set of rules than if you are writing, say, a thriller.

SARETT:   Do you think that men and women have a different sense of what is romantic?
HARKNESS: I always assumed women were much more into romance than men, but as I've gotten older, I've been amazed to discover how romantic men (at least some men) can be.  For  instance, I have been amazed at the elaborate arrangements some men make for proposing marriage, which has gotten to be almost as big a ritual as the wedding. And of course, it depends on the man. Some men wouldn't be caught dead reading a Regency, even one written by the great Jane Austen. My own husband, on the other hand, loves Jane Austen, and read all five of my Regencies when we were first seeing each other. I thought that was very romantic!

SARETT:  You've published five Regencies-- do you have a favorite character or love story?
HARKNESS:  To say a writer prefers one character over another would be a little disloyal, like saying you prefer one child over another, but I do have some favorites: 
Lady Pendleton, in Contrary Cousins, is one. She is a tiny, round, and I think hilarious and charming impresario, who decides to take charge of the introduction of her young American niece to London Society, partly to spite her brother, the odious and stuffy Earl. Her nephew, Freddy, is also one of my favorite (and human) heroes, as is Lord Arden, from The Montague Scandal. And I love Charlotte, who seems like such a delicate flower, but proves she has a spine of steel in Lady Charlotte's Ruse. I have a special fondness for the characters who exhibit human foibles.

SARETT: We are both Jane Austen fans.  What do you think that modern Regency writers can learn from her?
HARKNESS:  In a word, everything! I think all writers have a great deal to learn from her: starting with her economy of words,  and her deft insights into the motivations of her characters. And, as I know you will agree, she never sacrificed comedy while creating some of the most romantic stories ever told.

SARETT: I’m always trying to discover new interesting (or forgotten) women’s writers.  Do you have suggestions for our readers?   
HARKNESS: Apart from Jane Austen: Nancy Mitford, Diane Johnson. They are all masters of comedy and also highly literate romance. I have to say, I am also an ardent admirer of Carla Sarett!

SARETT:  What are your current projects -- and is there any new fiction in the works?
HARKNESS: I am working on a family saga that takes place in the present -- or recent --day, which I've been thinking about for a long time. I am not working on Regencies for the time being, but would love to see any of my books made into films. Wouldn't that be fun?

Find Judith Harkness Regencies on Amazon:  The Montague Scandal; The Determined Bachelor, The Admiral's Daughter, Contrary Cousins, Lady Charlotte's Ruse.
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