Thursday, February 11, 2010

In Love with Austen

by Marilyn Brant

Thanks to Susan and everyone here at the Stiletto Gang for letting me visit today. Happy (early) Valentine's Day, too!!

My debut novel, ACCORDING TO JANE, is the story of a modern young woman who has the ghost of Jane Austen in her head, giving her dating advice. The number one question I've been asked since the book came out this past fall is: "Why Austen? What is it with everyone choosing HER to write about lately?!"

Well, the short answer is that for me, anyway, Austen-love was in no way a recent phenomenon. I was first given PRIDE AND PREJUDICE as a 14-year-old high-schooler in English class, and I raced through the novel way ahead of the reading assignments. I loved both the story and Austen’s writing style immediately. She was so insightful about the way human beings thought and acted. Her characters were fascinatingly flawed, multidimensional and very real to me, and their stories timeless and universal. Reading Austen's work instantaneously changed the way I perceived the behavior of everyone around me, and I spent the rest of freshman year (and much of the 1980s) trying to figure out which Austen character each of my friends and family members most resembled. I, of course, was the beloved and witty Elizabeth Bennet--at least in my imagination--LOL!

Even years later, as a teacher, when I found myself encountering difficult administrators, staff members or parents, it helped me to think of what Jane might have said about them. How she would have instructed her most heroic characters to deal with these frustrating individuals. So, my love and appreciation for the author started decades before any kind of zombie/sea-monster/vampire craze and it even pre-dated the famous Colin-Firth-as-Mr.-Darcy version of the P&P film!! (Although, who wouldn't be inspired by seeing him all wet from jumping in lake, hmm?!)

I also spent a fair amount of time during my dating years thinking about how beneficial it would be to get romantic advice from such a wise and perceptive woman like Miss Austen, not to mention one who was a respected author and the person who'd written my all-time favorite love story. So when, as an aspiring writer myself, someone asked me which classic author I'd most want to borrow a few plot points from, I thought first of Jane. I wasn't a historical writer by any stretch of the imagination, so I found myself wondering what a modern girl's P&P experience might be like... What would Jane have advised a teen (one who was sort of like me or my friends) to do in tricky situations if, let's say, she were witnessing prom night maneuverings or an evening at a local pick-up bar.

Since I was thinking about this and writing the first draft of the story in 2004, there were only two examples of modern Austen re-imaginings that I'd seen way back then: "Bridget Jones's Diary" (the film and the novel) and "Clueless" (the film). Those were both certainly influences--and I loved them!--but films like "The Jane Austen Book Club" and wild novel spinoffs like PRIDE & PREJUDICE & ZOMBIES had yet to be released. And, though I'd read some Regency continuations, I hadn't come across anything else in the contemporary realm back then, even if it might have been available.

I suspect that degree of unawareness wouldn't be possible now. With so many sequels and variations on Austen-related books and so very many movie remakes, it would be incredibly difficult to avoid them these days. Had I known just how many writers were working on something Austen-esque during the time I was writing mine, I might've been too overwhelmed or intimidated to continue. I didn't even know that Austen fan fiction existed until after my book was under contract--and there are thousands of avid fans writing it!

For someone like me who can't get enough of Austen, though, being a reader and a movie-goer during this current boom of Jane books and films has been awesome. I think interest in her work reached a tipping point and crashed into the mainstream, largely because of the attention the stories got onscreen. With actresses like Gwyneth Paltrow, Kate Winslet, Keira Knightley and many others playing leading Austen heroines, and Anne Hathaway playing "Jane" herself in "Becoming Jane"--not to mention the allure of good-looking actors like Colin Firth, Hugh Grant, Matthew MacFayden, Jonny Lee Miller, etc. jumping in to take on the roles of the heartthrobs--it's not surprising that Austen's characters started to appeal to a wider audience.

So, I guess that's my longwinded way of saying that even though I had no idea there would someday be such a huge Austen craze, I'm still very glad to be a tiny part of it!

My next book, though, takes a different women's fiction turn and doesn't follow any of the Austen novels. It comes out on October 1st and is called FRIDAY MORNINGS AT NINE. It's a modern fairy tale about three very different forty-something women, their three very different marriages and what happens a decade or two after the "happily ever after"...

And, because Susan's my friend and the most excellent author of THE COUGAR CLUB, I'll add that there's one hot cougar-ish scene in my upcoming book that I had a blast writing!! My husband rolls his eyes whenever I talk about this male character, but I find the guy to be very charming (as figments of the imagination often are) and I wish I could meet him in real life. Plus, unlike my (pretty wonderful) husband, my hot fictional man COOKS! For me, this is an element of fantasy that I'd love to see more of in reality--LOL! What about you all? Do any of you have a fantasy trait like that? One you wish your mate would surprise you with?? If so, do tell!

May you all have a fun and romantic Valentine's weekend. Thanks again for letting me spend a little time with all of you ;-).

Marilyn Brant lives in the Midwest where, before she became a full-time novelist, she worked as an elementary school teacher, a library staff member, a freelance magazine writer and a national book reviewer. She’s blessed to have a genuinely supportive husband and son, a loving family and a truly amazing group of friends, all of whom keep her grounded, sane and away from dangerous things like chocolate martinis (usually). She’d love to say she also has killer abs but--so far--this is still a fantasy.

Marilyn, thanks so much for visiting us today! We loved having you, and we can't wait to read FRIDAY MORNINGS AT NINE! As an early Valentine's Day surprise, Marilyn's giving away one signed copy of ACCORDING TO JANE to a lucky reader who comments today. So comment away, and Marilyn will randomly draw a winner! We'll let you know if it's you!

19 comments:

  1. I am lucky in that my husband CAN cook (and well), but there is a little gap in the follow-through on that skill! That is, he doesn't often cook. On the plus side, he loves and regularly shows appreciation for my cooking, which is just nice. He doesn't just eat and ignore.

    I think a great man wouldn't need as much "reminding". In my experience, a man can be a great helper/partner/even assistant and will do about anything he is asked or reminded to do, but I get pretty tired of having to be the agenda setter and do the asking and reminding.

    Wouldn't it be great if they just up and DID IT, without any prompting!?! I think we women, as multi-taskers who seem to see and listen to so much at once are just flummoxed by a man who is smart, is hard working, etc., but who can't see that the laundry basket at the foot of the stairs surely needs to be grabbed and taken up on his next trip past it! Nope, you have to ask him to take it up!

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  2. Vicky, your point about wishing we didn't have to remind them (even the smart, hard working ones!) is SO true! It's the old "all you have to do is ask" routine, to which we women forever respond, "But I shouldn't have to!" Maybe it's programmed in both sexes' DNA. ;-)

    Marilyn B., thanks for stopping by today! Love your post (and I loved ACCORDING TO JANE!). :-)

    Cheers,
    Susan

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  3. Hi, Vicky, thanks so much for stopping by! I know *just* what you mean about needing to ask for that follow through--LOL! After almost 20 years together, I'm fairly certain nothing is going to get my dear hubby to cook (full disclosure: there are actually 2 things he can/will make, but he does them so infrequently and he always leaves the clean-up to me that I find it hard to count these :), but I do wish he'd do other related tasks without me always needing to state it (i.e., putting dishes away sometimes, buying *real* groceries vs. his usual few items: chips-n-dip and ice cream sandwiches!!)

    Susan~thanks so much for having me here today!! *hug* Hope you're staying warm down there...

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  4. Fascinating entry--I enjoy Jane Austen stories and movies too.

    My husband is great about doing things that need doing. He grocery shops and helps put the groceries away and puts the dishes away too. But we've been married for nearly 59 years and it wasn't always that way.

    Marilyn
    http://fictionforyou.com

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  5. Hi, Marilyn!
    I have always had a love for Jane Austen's stories, though I must admit that it was through the movie adaptations, in the beginning. But after reading so many Austen inspired books over the last couple of years, I have decided to read all of the originals.
    Margay

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  6. Marilyn M.~How wonderful to meet another "Marilyn"! Thank you for sharing your story...you're giving me hope!! My husband and I met in 1990 and have been married for almost 17 years. I can only hope that we'll reach 59 years together someday--congrats!--AND that he'll finally get into the swing of grocery shopping in another decade or two ;).

    Margay!!! *hug* Thanks so much for visiting me here :). With the exception of P&P, it has been years since I've read each of the original novels, too. I've really gotten caught up in the film adaptations as well, but I think your idea is a great one! It would be really fun to reread all of the books now after having seen so many different movie versions...

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  7. Marilyn, did you watch the PBS showing of the newest Emma? It was pretty good - love, love, love Johnny Lee Miller - but I still love Gwynneth in the title role. She will always be Emma to me.
    Margay

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  8. I'm from Spain and I'm sure I would love the book very much!
    and that surprise could't be more perfect!

    Bea

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  9. To Susan's point on the split between "all you have to do is ask" and "why do I have to ask for everything?!":

    Yes, I know you are completely right and accurate. That really does just seem to be a real gender-split point! I wonder why? It's obviously deep in our separate socialization, but it just seems one to get over. (As it seems Marilyn M implies more years of partnership will get us over!)

    Is it because women are raised to take care of others more and so actually search out doing these types of tasks but men are raised to be more receiving of that kind of care, while we do make them responsible for the "manly" side of things (the yard, the cars, the bigger paychecks in many cases, the plumbing and other repairs, etc.)?

    Well, regardless, I love when I don't have to ask for what seems such simple and easy to assume things around our lives and home. And to be fair, I guess I love not having to ask for the lawn to get mowed or for rotted garage door trim to get replaced, etc. That just "happens" as magically as the dishes getting washed just "happens". My stuff is just more recurrent and frequent, it seems!

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  10. Great post! I've been an Austen fan since I was about fourteen. P&P is my favorite.

    I would love it if I could talk about my writing to my husband, but it no more interests him than his recent discussion about the plumbing problems in my FIL's house. But I'd love it even more if he were technically inclined, and could do all my updates and know what to do with computer problems. Sigh.

    Forget abs. My dream man is a nerd.

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  11. Margay~I've seen the first 2 hours of it and am looking forward to finally getting to watch the rest this weekend. I agree with you 110% on Gwyneth as "Emma"--she was, hands down, my favorite. And Jeremy N. in that adaptation was a great Knightley. But, yes--Jonny Lee Miller is playing this role wonderfully well and is SUCH a cutie!! He's the reason I can't wait to get back to the film...

    Bea~It's so nice to meet you!! Thanks for visiting and taking time to leave a comment. BTW, my husband and I were in Spain for the first 2 weeks of our honeymoon and we LOVED it. What a beautiful country ;).

    Vicky~This is an argument I've had again and again. Yes, my hubby takes care of the cars, but an oil change is needed only once every few months...we need dinner *every day*!! Ahhhhh!

    Edie~LOL!!!! I love your idea of a "Dream Man"...and, wow, you're SO right on that. I think (after cooking), I'd love it if I had a computer geek in the house to help me with all of this website stuff. For a writer, we don't need a guy at home sweet-talking us in French (that's what fictional heroes are for), we need a man conversant in HTML! xo

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  12. Oh, oh, I have a computer geek in the house! Marrying a software engineer does come in handy when it's 4 a.m., and I'm screaming, "The computer froze and ate my last chapter! Aaaaaah!" And a bonus for my mom: since Ed has his doctorate in computer science, she can tell her friends, "my daughter's husband is a doctor" and not be lying. ;-)

    Vicky, yes, maybe that's it...the things they do without us asking are less frequent things (and in the winter, no lawn mowing needed at all!). Like you and Marilyn B. both said, the stuff we do needs doing all the time! I do think a lot of it is learned behavior through generations. Marilyn M., you give us all hope! ;-)

    Cheers,
    Susan

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  13. My husband shovels. That came in handy yesterday when we got a foot of snow dropped on us. And he also descends into the dark depths of the basement prior to my going down there to check the rat trap. (insert sigh) And every day I was dealing with my diagnosis, he told me that I would get better. So what if his idea of cooking is a hot dog on a toasted bun? I love that man. I couldn't come up with anyone better in my overactive imagination. Maggie

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  14. Maggie, nicely put! That's true love, baby! :-)

    Cheers,
    Susan

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  15. I *adored* According to Jane, and this from a woman who's never been able to finish P&P!

    Can't wait for Fridays at Nine!!!

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  16. Susan~You have a computer doctor in the house! THAT is very cool ;).

    Maggie~I really appreciated your story! Thank you for helping to keep all of this in perspective. And, yes--I'll admit it--my husband deals with any and all rodents, too...which is an absolutely priceless gift!! (one dead mouse that I don't have to look at = unlimited hot dinners :)

    Aw, Pamela, thank you!!! Secretly, though, I just *know* you're longing to have an Austen movie marathon with me during Spring Fling, right? Right??!

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  17. Our lovely guest blogger today, Ms. Marilyn Brant, has drawn a winner from the commenters...and it's Vicky! So, Vicky, I'll be in touch to get your snail mail address so Marilyn can send you a signed copy of ACCORDING TO JANE. Congratulations and Happy Valentine's Day a little early!

    Cheers,
    Susan

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  18. Thanks, Susan!

    And congrats, Vicky!! I hope you'll enjoy the book :).

    Everyone, thank you all so much for visiting me today and sharing your thoughts. It was such a treat to be here with you!!

    Happy (Chocolate) Hearts Day to you all!

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  19. Thanks! This is a pretty fun little Valentine's surprise for me and I'll enjoy it thoroughly (with maybe a little candy on the side table).

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