“Then comes Winter with bluster and snow, that brings to our cheeks the ruddy glow…”
~ Gertrude Tooley Buckingham
If you long for a toasty snuggle on a cold winter’s night, this compilation of original short stories inspired by the magic of the holiday season—and more than a nod to Jane Austen—is fancied as a sublime wintertime treat. Featuring short stories by four Meryton Press authors and seven up-and-coming winners of their Holiday Romance contest, Then Comes Winter offers a mix of contemporary and Regency musings.
I’m very happy to welcome one of the contributors, Maureen Lee Lenker, to Skipping Midnight today. After the interview, follow the Rafflecopter link to win a free copy of Then Comes Winter!
Laura: Why did you decide to enter the Holiday Romance contest? What were you hoping to get out of it?
Maureen: Well, I love to write, but often find my time to do so limited, so I really enjoy writing short stories as a way to get some completed ideas out into the world. I figure it’s good practice both writing and working with publishers and editors to work on short stories, so that if I ever do have time to write a novel, I know my way a bit already.
I entered the Holiday Romance contest because I’d already entered the summer anthology contest with Meryton Press and narrowly missed getting selected. I received really helpful, wonderful feedback on my writing, so I thought that I might have a decent shot at getting in and at any rate, I would get more great feedback just like I did last time. I’d been published once before, in a holiday anthology last year entitled “Christmas Nookies,” and I loved that experience so I was eager to try again. I am obsessed with Christmas and with romance, so it feels very natural (and fun!) to write about both of those things at once.
Previously, I’ve only ever been published in e-book form, so I was hoping to get selected for the thrill of being able to see my work in a tangible book. I can’t believe this dream came true! And on top of that, I’ve been able to work with a top-notch editor who really made my work better and had the opportunity to meet more folks in the romance and Austen-esque community who are either other writers in the anthology or supporters of it.
What is your story about?
My story is set in the Regency era. It’s about a young lady, Anne Riley, who eagerly awaits the arrival of her cousins and an accompanying mysterious and charming gentleman, Monsieur de Brun, who has recently fled France. Set against the backdrop of Christmas-time, Anne, her cousins, Monsieur de Brun, and her neighbor, James Turnbull, endeavor to put on a production of “Twelfth Night” for the holidays. Issues of love, friendship, and loyalty arise amidst the flutter of the holidays and rehearsing Shakespeare’s iconic comedy.
What inspired you to write it? How do you find your ideas?
This story was inspired by several things–first, by my own love of Christmas, Christmas trees, and snowy, beautiful British landscapes and gardens. I loved the idea of placing a story in that setting because to me, it is one of the most romantic, idyllic places and times of year. I’m a hopeless romantic and Christmas-time is my absolute favorite time of year, so it’s easy to be inspired by the things I love.
As I think most of the writers in this anthology do, I owe a huge debt to Jane Austen. Her characters and situations inspired a great deal in this story (even though it is wholly original and not a spin-off of her works). Anne Riley has shades of Marianne Dashwood and Emma Woodhouse; Mr. Turnbull clearly is heavily inspired by Mr. Knightley; Monsieur de Brun owes his personality to the best of Austen’s cads, Wickham and Willoughby. The idea for a play and a group putting on a play as a diversion in a country house, of course, heavily borrows from “Mansfield Park.” But then, I also am an actress–I love the act of putting on a play as a narrative device, and it’s always terribly romantic to me to think of two people falling in love while working on a production. I’m as passionate about Shakespeare as I am about Austen, so it filled me with endless glee to think about combining those two inspirations into one story. I do think they both thought about and wrote about love and relationships in some of the most indelible, profound language ever put to paper, so what better people to use as inspiration for a love story?
In terms of more particulars, I find inspiration all over the place, but largely from my own life. Harlow House and Mr. Turnbull are names I borrowed, as they are both last names of dear friends. I just thought they sounded properly British and Regency, so I lifted them, and then they can be little nods to the people I hold dear in my own life.
My ideas come from so many places–most often I’m struck with story ideas when my mind wanders, so typically when I’m driving or laying in bed trying to fall asleep. Sometimes though a really beautiful landscape or a book I’m reading will cause an idea to erupt. For instance, I frequently get story ideas when I go back to the UK and am walking through Oxford or taking the train somewhere. The beauty and history of the landscapes and buildings I’m surrounded by often cause me to think, “what would happen if This happened here?” Other fiction provokes a lot of ideas though–usually whatever time period I’m reading about is where I want to set my next story. Then, the characters, especially the men, come from my own likes and fantasies about what I think makes an ideal or romantic partner.
I have not yet had the chance to read any of the other stories (still waiting for my hard copy to arrive), but I think people will love the combination of romance/happy endings, Austen inspiration, and the wintry/holiday settings. Austen is not often necessarily that specific about time of year, seasons, weather, etc. So, I think people will appreciate the magic of the holiday season and wintry delights paired with her themes and concerns. I know that’s what I’m looking forward to anyway!
Who/what do you read? Is romance your favorite genre?
I read so many different things! Lately I’ve been on a female comedian memoir kick, reading Amy Poehler, Mindy Kaling, and some Nora Ephron for good measure. I love their mix of humor and vulnerability and life advice. Historical fiction is probably my favorite genre, and that is how I came to romance as a genre. I started with things that sort of are halfway between historical fiction and romance like the work of Philippa Gregory and then tipped all the way over into romance. I also have always and still adore Meg Cabot, who wrote “The Princess Diaries.” She started as a romance writer, and once I was old enough and had read all of her YA fiction, I started reading her adult, contemporary romance/chick-lit novels, all of which I love, especially her “Queen of Babble” and “Boy” series. That’s how I first got invested in the genre. But I’m all over the place–I love classics (from Austen to Fitzgerald to the Brontes); I like a good thriller or mystery (have read all of Gillian Flynn, love Hammett and Chandler); and I enjoy literary fiction (David Mitchell, Ian McEwan) as well. Period pieces of some kind, whether it’s Sarah Waters or a romance novel or a classic actually written in that era, are what grab my attention most often. And even though I read a wide variety of things, I prefer everything I read to have romance in them. I never enjoy the book as much if it doesn’t have a good love story or romantic relationship somewhere in it.
What other projects are you working on?
The short story I wrote to submit to the Meryton summer contest got a lot of feedback saying that they loved the story, but felt the length made it too condensed and rushed. So I’ve been mulling over how I might expand it into a novel. I’d like to write it as a full-length book, and I’ve even realized it has series potential, so just trying to outline that and push forward into making it something more than the 10,000 or so word story it exists as currently. This requires a lot of research and outlining, so it’s still in fledgling stages. I’m also working on developing a journalistic piece I did last year into a full-length nonfiction book and shopping that around.
Finally, I write regularly for several places, including a column on groundbreaking women in classic Hollywood called “Dame in the Game” for the website Ms. in the Biz, as well as regular theatrical reporting and coverage for @ This Stage and Neon Tommy. Plus, I’m still in the midst of finishing my Master’s in Specialized Journalism (reporting on entertainment/the arts), so I’m consistently writing things related to that. So I’m always writing something!
What do you do besides write?
Many things– I’m an actress. I just finished a run in William Inge’s “Picnic” at the Antaeus Company in Los Angeles this past summer, which was a wonderful experience and my professional stage debut. I work with Antaeus regularly both as a student in their acting academy, and I have assistant directed a few of their plays. I’m a journalist and freelance writer — I have written for Turner Classic Movies, RYOT, Stage Raw, and more, and as I mentioned above, I’m still studying to get my Master’s in Specialized Journalism at the University of Southern California.
I also work full-time at the University of Southern California. I’m a Program Assistant in the USC Libraries, where I work on student programming, events, and exhibitions. I particularly love our exhibitions work because I was a history major, and I love the opportunity to research so many diverse subjects and learn a wealth of information about whatever topic we’re featuring at the moment. Right now, we’re working on an upcoming exhibit on detectives, and it’s been fascinating to learn about the history of detecting in reality and in fiction.
Finally, I have a really active interest in classic film and entertainment, so anytime I get the opportunity to work on something related to that, whether it’s volunteering at the AFI Film Festival or working on the Emmy’s staff, I jump at it. I just love to be apart of the hubbub and the cinematic world that I am passionate about.
Anything else you’d like readers to know?
I’m just getting started in this amazing world of romance writing, and so I love to hear from people who like my stories or just want to know more. Feel free to reach out! I absolutely adore social media (probably to an unhealthy degree), so I’ll definitely respond to you.
And if you liked this story, check out my other short story “From Keats With Love” published in a different holiday anthology “Christmas Nookies” (I know, I know!) last holiday season.
Favorite season – Autumn–I love leaves, pumpkin, spices, football, Halloween, Thanksgiving, and the joyous approach of Christmas as winter nears. Not to mention, I’m an Autumn baby.
Favorite fairy tale character – Belle from “Beauty and the Beast” but I am also obsessed with the story/origins/backstory behind Peter Pan and will watch endless spin-offs, prequels, adaptations, etc. of that story.
Guilty pleasure – I have no guilt about any of my pleasures.
Last book you read – Yes, Please by Amy Poehler
Favorite animal – Monkeys –not chimps, but little capuchins. So cute! I also love Meerkats!
Book or e-book – The impossible question for a bibliophile. But I’ll say Harry Potter–I’ve been obsessed with it since I was 11, and my devotion is unwavering.
Best fictional couple ever – For happiness–Darcy and Elizabeth. They are truly such a good match for each other in every way. For magnetism and appeal–Scarlett O’Hara and Rhett Butler. Did romance ever look more glamorous or tempestuous?
Social media info: