A heroine with money on her mind
There are many reasons an author might have a tough time meeting a deadline, from writers’ block to family drama to, say, a hurricane hitting her house even though she lives hundreds of miles inland.
Despite Hurricane Irene’s unlikely arrival at Patrice Kindl’s rural upstate New York home last August, the author kept things moving along on her YA novel, Keeping the Castle, albeit from an office not her own, because her usual writing spot was thoroughly waterlogged. “It’s been a difficult seven months,” she says by phone from her home, during a break from lugging ruined furniture to the curb. “There was eight feet of water outside and four inside. It was a major blow.” Another, longer-term challenge for Kindl was an illness that led to a decade-long pause in her writing career (she published four YA novels from 1993-2002, including the critically lauded Owl in Love). Fortunately, “major surgery a couple of years ago resolved the worst problems,” she says.
Keeping the Castle represents her return to writing, as well as the author’s own pursuit of truth in fiction: She was motivated to create her own Regency novel because, she says, “I’d read one too many historical fictions in which the heroine is totally opposed to getting married and goes off to London and becomes a detective. They didn’t do that!”
In fact, she says, during the early 19th century, “Women got married because they had to; there were just so few choices, aside from becoming a governess, which is one step up from a servant, or a hat maker or dressmaker. These were very dependent positions with no security, so marriage was the best option—unless, of course, they were in the unusual position of being independently wealthy. A woman in control of her own money was very rare.”
And another thing: Kindl’s a bit indignant about writers who shirk Regency conventions. She “looove[s] Jane Austen” and doesn’t understand “why writers want to take a period and violate all the rules and conventions of society at the time. Half of the ones I’ve read, women had sex outside marriage. That’s something they just didn’t do. It would’ve had serious repercussions. I wanted to do something appropriate for the genre, and it’s nice having the framework, like with a sonnet or haiku—you know the rules.”
Thus, Kindl’s heroine, 17-year-old Althea Bears, doesn’t swan about the countryside while pondering which glamorous career will suit her, should she feel like having one. Instead, she worries every day about whether she can find a financially solvent husband in time to save the elegant yet crumbling castle in Lesser Hoo, Yorkshire, where she lives with her widowed mother, stepsisters and young brother.
She also feels responsible for the fate of their servants—a devoted, resourceful bunch who gamely help Althea engage in social subterfuge as a means to preserving the family’s we’re-doing-just-fine facade.
Althea’s worries are especially timely, and some young readers will find themselves identifying with her money-centric concerns. But even those who are blissfully unaware of financial matters will find themselves caught up in the humor, suspense and moral dilemmas Kindl has conjured up.
For example, Althea may seem a bit mercenary, but is it wrong to think of marriage as a means to an end first, an opportunity for love second, if it means saving her family from ruin?
Creating a protagonist with such mature (and, it must be said, often hilarious) concerns is another departure from Kindl’s previous books. She says, “One of the limitations of doing a romance with a 14-year-old is there can’t be any closure. You’d be surprised how many kids write to me and ask, ‘Did they get married?’ So, doing a 17-year-old in this time period is fun, because I get to marry her off. It’s satisfying.”
Another reason Kindl enjoyed Althea’s story arc: “I am definitely pro-marriage. When it works, there’s nothing like it, and I’m in a position to know,” says the author, who has been married to her husband, Paul, for 35 years.
She adds, “I do think any time you give women power in society, divorces are going to go up because [women] don’t have to put up with creeps anymore . . . but that doesn’t mean marriage isn’t going to work. You have to be lucky, and it’s not something everyone is going to be able to achieve, but I do think it’s a worthy goal.”
The author’s current goals include doing more hurricane cleanup and continuing Althea’s story. The manuscript for book two is under way, and readers will delight in catching up with the goings-on in Lesser Hoo.
As Kindl notes, “no one at [Althea’s] age realizes how long life lasts,” but it’s going to be fun following along as she figures it out.