|A Most Peculiar Circumstance|
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Miss Arabella Beckett has one driving passion: to help the downtrodden women of America. Naturally, she supports the women's suffrage movement and eagerly attends rallies and lectures across the country. On her travels, she makes a simple offer of assistance to a young woman in need that goes sadly awry and lands both ladies in more trouble than they can manage. An independent sort, Arabella is loath to admit she needs help and certainly doesn't need help from an arrogant, narrow-minded knight in shining armor.
Jen Turano is a graduate of the University of Akron, Ohio with a degree in Clothing and Textiles. When she's not writing, Jen can be found watching her teenage son participate in various activities, taking long walks with her husband and dog, socializing with friends, or delving into a good book. She lives in Colorado.
Favorite verse: Isaiah 30:21 - Whether you turn to the right or to the left, your ears will hear a voice behind you, saying, “This is the way, walk in it.”
Christianbook.com Interview with Jen Turano
Please tell us a bit about yourself.
I’m originally from St. Clairsville, Ohio, a delightful town where I had a marvelous childhood and made friends with a great bunch of girls whom I’m still friends with to this day. After high school, I pursued a bachelor’s degree in Clothing and Textiles, and after graduation, I moved around quite a bit with different jobs until I finally ended up in Buffalo, New York.
When the department store I was working for went out of business, I decided my next career move would be that of trying my hand at being a stay-at-home mom. As my son got older, the less he wanted to hang out with his mom. I needed something to do and the urge to write kept calling me, so…even though everyone kept giving me very peculiar looks when I mentioned the fact I was writing books, I pressed forward and…met with more failure than I’d ever experienced in my life.
Rejections were swift, and occasionally brutal, but I’d discovered a love for the written word and wasn’t quite ready to give up. I finally managed to snag an agent and then she very kindly went out and sold my series to Bethany House. It’s been a fabulous experience and I now get to spend my days writing quirky stories and living in my imagination.
What is your favorite Bible verse? Why? Translation too, please.
Isaiah 30:21 Whether you turn to the right or to the left, your ears will hear a voice behind you, saying, “This is the way, walk in it.” I love this verse. For me, it speaks of all the times I’ve had decisions to make and have relied on that voice, the voice of God, telling me which way to turn. Every time I’ve listened, wonderful things have happened.
What sparked your interest to write about your main character, Arabella, being involved in Women’s Rights?
I took a class completely devoted to the suffrage movement my freshman year in college and since then, I’ve always been intrigued with the women who were responsible for securing us the right to vote. They were often vilified, thrown in jail, and disciplined by their husbands, and yet, they persevered and finally won the day.
How did you choose NYC as your setting?
I knew as soon as the first book in the series, A Change of Fortune, popped to mind that the four books would take place in New York City. During the Gilded Age, NYC was the place to be if you were socially inclined, and what with the grand mansions marching up Fifth Avenue, the exquisite department stores displaying any and everything a person of wealth could imagine, and the seedier aspects of the city, such as the tenement slums, it was the perfect setting for novels that have head-strong ladies running amok.
Do you have any background and experience in the art of private investigation?
Not really, but…I was occasionally asked to step in and monitor known shoplifters when they disappeared into the dressing rooms at the department store I managed. Alas…I was apparently not very stealthy at it because the criminals always seemed to abandon the merchandise they were trying to stuff down their pants whenever I appeared, and not once was I ever responsible for bringing any of them to justice. It’s probably a fortuitous circumstance that I set my sights on writing instead of law-enforcement.
Is your favorite color, pink?
Funny enough, it is, although I also adore purple.
How much research did A Most Peculiar Circumstance take?
Quite a bit, especially because I stumbled on a great read by Greg King entitled The Court of Mrs. Astor in Gilded Age New York, which completely distracted me and made me delve into even further research because he mentioned such interesting ladies in his book, more specifically, Mrs. Mamie Fish. She was notorious for insulting her guests on a regular basis, and yet, what amazed me was that society willingly embraced her and always accepted invitations to her home. There was such a contrast between Mamie Fish and Caroline Astor that I suddenly needed to create a character to contrast with Arabella, which is how Theodore’s sister became such a big part of the story.
Do you have a background and passion for history?
My dad was a huge history buff and was forever dragging me to old battle grounds throughout the south, but I never developed a great liking for the Civil War, much to his disappointment. My true interest in history started when I was in high school and my mom gave me her copy of Kathleen Woodiwiss’s The Flame and the Flower. I fell in love with the historical setting and from that moment on, historical romances were always my favorite reads. I adore the Regency Era, mostly because it was such a short span of time where all sorts of mischief occurred, but I obviously adore the Gilded Age because that’s where I set my stories. I’m fascinated with the gentlemen who built this country such as John Astor, Cornelius Vanderbilt, J.P. Morgan and Andrew Carnegie. Their lives have been wonderful fodder for story ideas and many of my heroes are patterned after them, especially in regard to how they acquired their fortunes. Theodore’s family, for instance, came to be after reading about J.P. Morgan and his rise through finance. I didn’t want Theodore to be a gentleman of business though because that would hardly have been very exciting, but I could have the family fortune stem from finance which would allow Theodore to have a tidy bit of money set aside for his use. Since he’s independently wealthy, he was given the privilege of being able to choose his path in life, and that path is one filled with danger and intrigue.
How much of the story is factual information?
The plot is obviously fiction, but the setting is fairly true to what was found in New York in the 1880’s. My heroines are always independent ladies and while most ladies of that time are believed to have been rather demure, accounts of women such as Mamie Fish and Alva Vanderbilt suggest that this wasn’t always the case. Their stories are what led me to create Miss Arabella Beckett and Miss Agatha Watson, two ladies who embrace their intelligence and don’t abide by the strict rules of their time. The matchmaking mothers I use in every story came about from research pertaining to a family by the name of Wilson who managed to make advantageous matches for all of their children even though they weren’t considered completely socially acceptable, at least in regard to old society.
What are the most interesting facts that you learned while researching and writing A Most Peculiar Circumstance?
I’d often seen pictures of the big houses going up on Fifth Avenue during the Gilded Age, but what I wasn’t aware of was the fact that a lot of the architecture for these houses was taken from Europe. The nouveau rich were intent on outdoing each other and one would build a French chateau right next to someone who would build an English manor house. There were no rules back then, no HOA’s stating what could or couldn’t be built, so I’m sure Fifth Avenue must have been a sight with all the mismatched buildings, but completely delightful to view.
What other new writing projects do you have on the horizon?
Book three, A Talent for Trouble, will release in November 2013, with book four, currently untitled, releasing in 2014. I’m working on a first draft of a new project, but can’t say much about it other than the fact the heroine’s name is currently Miss Harriet Peabody, but that could always change.
What message would you like your readers to take from reading A Most Peculiar Circumstance?
One of the underlining themes of this book is judgment – how we look at others and immediately assume something. I hope readers will take a moment and think about that as they read the story, especially the part where Arabella comes to a few nasty conclusions about herself while she’s languishing in jail.
What organizations are you involved with?
ACFW, Parker Writers Group, Words for the Journey.
What are some of the challenges you face as an author?
There aren’t really that many challenges. It’s a great job, I love doing it, and I have no complaints. I treat writing as a business, which means I have daily goals and as long as I stick to those goals, life is good.
Who is the person who most influences your writing?
That’s a tough one, but I’m going to say the author who influences me most would have to be Julia Quinn. Her plots are always unusual and filled with humor, her writing is fast, and her heroines are a little zany.
What aspects of being a writer do you enjoy the most?
I get to work out of my home, wearing my fuzzy pink slippers no less, and it’s now fine if I talk to myself while taking my walks because everyone on the trail knows I’m a writer and I guess it’s just expected that writers are supposed to be a little…odd.
What do you do to get away from it all?
I power walk almost every morning and I don’t work on the weekends unless I’m in the middle of an edit. I’d love to be able to say I enjoy cooking and crafts, but…I really don’t. Instead, I spend most of my free time out and about with my husband, although not golfing, even though he keeps trying, and when we’re not with our son or friends, both of us like to stretch out and read a good book.
What were your favorite stories as a child?
When I was really little, my favorite book was Little Yip Yap – I think it was a golden book, but I’m not certain, and it seems that besides reading books as a small child, I also liked to gnaw on them because my mom finally had to throw that book away and we never found another copy. As I got older, I devoured Nancy Drew and Trixie Beldon books (although not in the same way I did Little Yip Yap,) along with old copies of my mom’s Beverly Gray books.
Is there anything else you’d like to add?
Thank you so much for your interest in my book. It’s been an honor to answer your questions, and I’m hopeful readers will enjoy Arabella and Theodore’s story.