Interview & Giveaway: The Portrait by Cassandra Austen

Hello Cassandra and welcome to Passages to the Past! Thanks so much for stopping by today to talk about The Portrait!

To begin, can you please tell us a little about yourself and your writing?

I like all kinds of fiction, but I think I gravitated toward historical fiction because I grew up in Honolulu, Hawaii, and I’m from an Asian background. Hawaii is a very diverse place, and I grew up speaking two languages. I like all kinds of interesting settings, in many different cultures and time periods. I studied international economics in college and then medieval Japanese history in graduate school, and I eventually joined the State Department and worked overseas in the Middle East until I had kids. Right now I’m living in a ramshackle old farmhouse that dates back to the 1780s! After homeschooling four children, I finally have enough time and energy to focus on my fiction.

What inspired you to write The Portrait?

I’ve always been a little bit obsessed with the Regency period. It’s strange, because I grew up very far away from England and didn’t get a chance to visit until I married my husband, who went to Oxford. But I read a ton of Georgette Heyer novels as a teenager, and have always loved Jane Austen. What always struck me, however, was how there is always an undercurrent of scary reality in all of those books. The humor in Jane Austen’s books has to be tempered with genuine worry about the fate of a single woman at the time, and fears related to illness and childbirth. Even Georgette Heyer’s tall-dark-and-handsome “rakes” scare me a little. Some of them behave really badly! And some of the women make such incredibly dumb, risky decisions. I wanted to write a book where the Regency period felt a bit more “real” than a fun comedy-of-manners, while still honoring the happily-ever-after that I always crave when I read a Regency historical.

What research did you undertake when writing The Portrait?

The Portrait is about a woman whose family loses its earldom because she was born a girl; there are no male heirs and the title reverts to the Crown when her father dies. However, she learns that her late mother was actually a countess in her own right, which means that she inherited the title through a patent that permitted the passing down of the title to both sons and daughters. Catherine is therefore a countess in her own right, and if she were to marry and have a child, she could pass this title down and continue her mother’s legacy. This is an unusual, but not unknown, set of circumstances in the British peerage. On the one hand, I could have gone down a crazy rabbit hole of mimicking the exact situations where this has happened, but I also tried to keep in mind that my novel is fiction, not history. It needs to be possible, but it doesn’t have to be fact. I tried to keep this balance in order to not bore my readers with details that don’t really matter for these characters, but to otherwise stay faithful to what we generally know about British history.

What would you like readers to take away from reading The Portrait?

I would like readers to step out of the twenty-first century for just a few hours, and contemplate an age where you didn’t have the freedom to say and do whatever you wanted at the drop of a hat. We are surrounded with so much “talking” via social media right now. It seems as if we could and should just speak up when we’re unhappy, that we should expect immediate results all the time. I know that if a vendor doesn’t offer me two-day shipping, I feel dissatisfied. I’ve now been trained to expect a rapid response no matter what I’m trying to do. But my book is a slow, patient read. I’m hoping that this is a good thing, that readers can decompress from our hectic world a little bit by considering a time where everything moved more slowly, and where social structures prevented people from blurting out in the moment everything they thought and felt.

When did you know you wanted to be a writer?

I started writing fiction when I was seven. I remember writing out stories on a yellow legal pad and hiding them in a dresser drawer with my Barbies. My first one was about a prince and a princess during the French Revolution. I also remember that my mother and sister got hold of the legal pad somehow and were laughing hysterically because my characters were listening to the radio. It’s funny now, but at the time I was mortified! Eventually, I somehow got hold of my father’s old manual Royal typewriter and started writing, stream-of-consciousness-style. I would just type, type, type for hours on weekend afternoons. I had to learn how to change the ribbons on those things because I used up so much ink! In those days I dreamed of owning an IBM Selectric like the ones I used at school! What’s strange is not that I am writing novels now—what’s strange is that I went for so many years NOT writing novels! But I suppose we all need things to write about, and I’ve done and seen a lot of interesting things by working, traveling, and having a family.

What does your daily writing routine look like?

I’m terrible first thing in the morning. I need my coffee! So I take at least an hour to have my coffee, read, meditate, and think about my day. I then try to work on my current work-in-progress for several hours. I save afternoons for email and admin chores. I still have two children at home, and because they are homeschooled, they are free to interrupt me at any time. And in the afternoons, we are at the gym, where my kids are competitive swimmers and where I am forced to actually do something healthy for a change! If not for my kids I think I would never break a sweat, at least not voluntarily.

What has been your greatest challenge as a writer? Have you been able to overcome it?

My greatest challenge as a writer has been sharing. For many years I told myself that I didn’t want to publish anything, that I just wanted to research and write. I don’t like being under a spotlight. But all of my kids are athletes, and after years of talking them through the hard weeks of training and the scary adrenaline of competition, I began to see my own writing in a similar light. If I never share my work, it’s kind of like going to practice forever, and never competing. I had to admit that if I didn’t share my work, I was basically spending a lot of time writing a diary. So I almost felt as if I had to share, in order to be an honest example for my children, and to feel as if I had completed the journey. So yes, I would say that by publishing The Portrait, I’ve at least begun to overcome my aversion to sharing! I still have a long way to go because it’s still nerve-wracking. But as I’ve told my kids, if it doesn’t feel a little bit hard, you’re probably not stretching yourself.

What do you like to do when you aren't writing?

We are serious foodies and huge music nerds! We are always looking for the next amazing meal at a down-home diner or unusual ethnic eatery. I am a classically trained pianist and clarinetist, and we also go to rock concerts every several months. My kids have kept my musical taste young!

Lastly, what are you working on next?

I am publishing a contemporary romance set in New England called Coming Home to Greenleigh in the fall, which is about a young woman trying to figure out if she has the courage to ditch her run-down family home in order to seek her fortune elsewhere. There’s a love interest, a love triangle, and a happily-ever-after, but as with The Portrait, this is a slow-burn, quiet romantic novel with a strong “sense of place.” I happen to know a lot about run-down family homes, also! I’m also working on another Regency historical, which I’ve got outlined but haven’t quite finished a first draft on. I’ve shared about a third of my first draft with my mailing list, and the response has been good! If you’d like to give it a read (even though it’s a first draft!) just sign up for my list and I’ll send it out to you!

Those sound great, Cassandra! I can't wait to hear more! Thank you for stopping by today! Have a great rest of your tour.

The Portrait by Cassandra Austen

Publication Date: December 31, 2018
Apollo Grannus Books
eBook & Paperback; 340 Pages

Genre: Historical/Romance/Suspense

Lady Catherine, banished to the countryside as a useless girl with a lame leg, got her revenge by playing a dangerous game. And now it will ruin her.

When the old earl dies, his only child feels no sorrow. The earldom will now revert to the crown and Lady Catherine will continue to live life exactly as she pleases. But when she learns that she is the heir to a secret family title, everything changes. Marriage had once seemed unnecessary and out of the question; now it is the only thing she wants. The two men in her life both need her influence and wealth. Whom shall she choose? The kind but secretive Captain Avebury? Or the notorious Sir Lyle, the handsome smuggler? Both men deal very differently with honor. And when Catherine's secret self-destructs, which man can be trusted to save her?

The Portrait is about a strong woman, foolish decisions, trust, and the definition of honor. Fans of Jane Austen's independent women will recognize in Catherine a voice which will not be silenced.

Amazon | Barnes and Noble

About the Author

Cassandra Austen writes historical and contemporary fiction set in both old and New England. She is the author of The Portrait, a historical romance that takes place during the Regency period in England, and Coming Home to Greenleigh, a contemporary New England romance. She lives and works in her 1700s farmhouse in northern New England, but you are welcome to visit her at her virtual home: You can also find Cassandra on Facebook, Instagram, and Goodreads.

Blog Tour Schedule

Monday, July 1
Feature at Myths, Legends, Books & Coffee Pots

Tuesday, July 2
Feature at A Holland Reads

Wednesday, July 3
Review & Excerpt at The Book Junkie Reads

Thursday, July 4
Interview at Passages to the Past

Friday, July 5
Review at A Chick Who Reads
Excerpt at Encouraging Words from the Tea Queen

Monday, July 8
Interview at Let Them Read Books

Tuesday, July 9
Feature at CelticLady's Reviews

Wednesday, July 10
Review at McCombs on Main

Thursday, July 11
Feature at What Is That Book About
Review at Historical Fiction with Spirit

Friday, July 12
Review at Coffee and Ink
Review at Book Reviews from Canada

Monday, July 15
Review at My Vices and Weaknesses


During the Blog Tour, we are giving away two copies of The Portrait! To enter, please use the Gleam form below.

Giveaway Rules

– Giveaway ends at 11:59 pm EST on July 15th. You must be 18 or older to enter.
– Giveaway is open internationally.
– Only one entry per household.
– All giveaway entrants agree to be honest and not cheat the systems; any suspicion of fraud is decided upon by blog/site owner and the sponsor, and entrants may be disqualified at our discretion.
– The winner has 48 hours to claim prize or a new winner is chosen.

The Portrait

1 comment:

  1. Nice to get to know Cassandra better and get an exciting peek at her novel. Thanks!


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