Thursday, December 6, 2012

Suspense in Cornwall

 I went to my local Christian bookstore to support a group author book signing, but most of what I saw was prairie romance—not my favorite genre. And then, up a few steps into the card section, I discovered Julie Klassen. The slender woman with long blond hair was promoting her first novel—The Maid of Milkweed Manor, about the consequences of an unwanted pregnancy in Jane Austin’s England. Yes, there was a bit of romance, but it was much more about the characters caught in that time and place—my kind of fiction. I bought it, loved it, and I’ve been a fan ever since.

Julie joins us today to talk about her latest novel, The Tutor’s Daughter, releasing this month. It appears to be more of a romance than her first, but I have no doubt that it will continue her usual high quality of writing and depth of character development. The setting is a manor that may be haunted on the windswept coast of Cornwall.

Here’s the blurb:
Emma Smallwood, determined to help her widowed father when his boarding school fails, accompanies him to the cliff-top manor of a baronet and his four sons. But soon after they arrive and begin teaching the two younger boys, mysterious things begin to happen. Who does Emma hear playing the pianoforte at night, only to find the music room empty? And who begins sneaking into her bedchamber, leaving behind strange mementoes?

The baronet's older sons, Phillip and Henry Weston, wrestle with problems—and secrets—of their own. They both remember the studious Miss Smallwood from their days at her father's academy. But now one of them finds himself unexpectedly drawn to her....

When suspicious acts escalate, can Emma figure out which brother to blame, and which to trust with her heart?

Julie, I would have described your previous books as dramas and character studies. This sounds more like romantic suspense, even gothic with the suggestion of the supernatural. What led you in this direction?

Julie Klassen: This book does have more of a gothic feel to it--a little more suspense a la Victoria Holt. My editor is a big fan of hers, so she had a hand in leading me in this direction. However, the book still has all the elements readers expect from me: drama, history, character development, faith and romance.

LH: I believe all your books have been set in England. What do you especially like about that setting?

JK: I have been drawn to England ever since reading The Secret Garden and Jane Eyre as a young girl. I have also greatly enjoyed the books of Jane Austen (and movies based on them). My husband and I have been able to visit England twice now in person, and we are both taken with the rich history, beautiful landscapes, and friendly, interesting people with delicious accents.

LH: So what do you like best about Jane Austen's writing?

JL: I admire her dry wit. She was a keen observer of people and her varied and compelling characters reflect this. And of course her heroes are unforgetable: Mr. Darcy, Captain Wentworth, and Mr. Knightley, just to name a few.

LH: Who or what (besides Jane Austen) has had the biggest impact on your writing?

JK: I have always wanted to be a writer--I believe God wired me for this from a young age. But certainly working at Bethany House Publishers (sixteen years altogether, first in advertising then editorial) taught me a great deal not only about writing but also how to go about crafting an entire novel, which is a lot more work than I ever imagined! It was a great privilege to work with talented authors and editors over the years and I doubt I would be where I am today without that experience.

LH: You are a committed Christian and a sensitive writer. How do you find the balance between message and story?

JK: I believe that a novel must first of all be a good story. I strive to entertain readers and keep them guessing (and hopefully turning pages). Yes, I want my novels to have depth and lasting value. Yes, my deepest hope is to glorify God. But I don't believe issue-driven, "message" fiction is the way to accomplish this--at least not for me. I do hope to incorporate Christian content and inspirational themes, but hopefully in a way that is interwoven and natural--not tacked on or preachy. Granted, this is diffucult to do well. Many authors I know struggle to find the right balance for them. There are readers who want more, and readers who want less message. So the challenge is to find the right balance for your audience. I find myself asking God what He wants me to communicate through my stories. No doubt I still have a lot to learn.

LH: Many of our readers live outside the US and want to write about their own cultural heritage. Do you have any advice for them about selling to a US audience, the biggest buyers of Christian fiction?

JK: I recently had the privilege of traveling on a mini-book tour in the Netherlands and Germany. As you probably know, Christian publishers in those countries publish both translations as well as original fiction. One editor told me something along the lines of, "America has a strong tradition of storytelling. American authors know how to tell stories. But not everything "translates" well to our country. So, we are publishing more of our own authors as well." So the only advice I can offer is to read well-crafted American Christian fiction and learn what you can from it, but then write the story of your heart, bringing to life your own culture.

LH: Some of our readers participated in NaNoWriMo last month. Did you? How useful is something like that to you as a professional?

JK: I have participated in an unofficial writing challenge during the month of November for the last few years. I find the accountability and encouragement of fellow writers to be helpful in keeping me on track. I would recommend such accountability (whether official NaNoWriMo or not) for any writer who'd like to increase her output.

LH: What's next for you?

JK: I am working away on my next novel, also set in Regency England. It's premature to give a title, as those sometimes change, but Lord willing, it will come out a year after The Tutor's Daughter. Thanks for asking!

LH: I thought the model in the trailer her publisher put together looked a lot like Julie, but she assures me it's not. Sigh. Wouldn't it be fun to dress up like this and pretend to be your character? 


Thank you for joining us today, Julie. I know I'm not the only one looking forward to The Tutor's Daughter.


LeAnne Hardy loves the wind-swept cliffs of Cornwall, which she visited one Christmas while living in Berkshire and nearly got blown off into the sea. LeAnne's novels for children and young adults reflect the various places she has lived. Learn more at .


  1. Thank you for the interesting interview. I love your books Julie and look forward to reading this one.

  2. This is one I'll have to get hold of for sure. I've loved Julie's other books. Anything set in Jane Austen's regency Britain is a real treat.

  3. The book cover looks interesting. I hope there is an e-book version of this.
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