Marilyn Brant is the award-winning women's fiction author of ACCORDING TO JANE (2009), FRIDAY MORNINGS AT NINE (2010) and her upcoming novel, A SUMMER IN EUROPE (November 29, 2011), all from Kensington Books.
As a former teacher, library staff member, freelance magazine writer and national book reviewer, Marilyn has spent much of her life lost in literature. She's been told -- and not always with the intent to flatter -- that she's "insatiably curious" and "a travel addict." She admits to combining these two passions by taking classes in foreign countries whenever possible and, consequently, she's been able to learn lots of fascinating things in Australia, in England, in Italy and in universities across the United States.
She studied the works of Austen at Oxford University and is an active member of the Jane Austen Society of North America. Her debut novel featuring "Jane" won the Romance Writers of America's prestigious Golden Heart® Award.
Marilyn has travelled to 45 states and over 30 countries (so far -- she's not done yet!), but she now lives in the Chicago suburbs with her family. When she isn't rereading Jane's books or enjoying the latest releases by her writer friends, she's working on her next novel, eating chocolate indiscriminately and hiding from the laundry.
Marilyn Brant has kindly offered to give away a free copy of According to Jane. The giveaway is open WORLDWIDE and ends on 19th January when the name of the winner will be announced. Leave your comment - answer Mailyn's question about adaptations or ask her one - add your e-mail address to enter the contest. Good luck!
MG: According to Jane is your Austen-related novel set in today’s American reality . What inspired you to write this story?
Marilyn: Maria, thanks so much for having me on My Jane Austen Book Club today. I'm delighted to be here and love talking about all things Jane!! As for my debut novel, it's the story of a woman who has the ghost of Jane Austen in her head giving her dating advice. I was first inspired to write According to Jane because of my great admiration for Austen's insight into human nature combined with my less-than-steller high school and college dating experiences (LOL). Austen understood the tangles of courtship, the pressures of family, the pull of attraction to someone who might not be of your social circle, etc. I'd wished on many occasions as a young adult that I would have had the guidance of Austen's wisdom as I tried to navigate the dating waters, especially in my later teens and early twenties. Her understanding of how men and women behaved struck me as both timeless and universal, and since I didn't have a big sister to badger with questions, I found myself wondering, "If Jane were to give me advice, what would she say?"
MG: In this novel you deal with young people and let the protagonist, Ellie, be guided by Jane Austen in her choices. Do you really think Jane Austen can have great appeal on our teenagers? (As a teacher of English literature to teenagers I find the task of introducing Austen’s work to them not easy at all)
Marilyn: You do have a difficult task! My husband taught high-school English lit as well as world history, and it's really tricky to make teens see how authors from the past are relevant to their lives. I believe that's why it can be helpful to modernize some Austen novels and, if necessary, introduce teens to those first. The centuries may pass and customs, social mores and acceptable behaviors may change, but human nature really doesn't. I found Austen's genius was in depicting with perfect clarity the character of a range of people just by showing their manners, letting us hear their dialogue and see them interacting with others on the page. Many of my classmates found Austen boring when I was a teen, but I don't think they were able to fully comprehend how similar our situations were to those Austen's characters experienced. At its essence, how different is a high-school prom from a Regency ball, really? To me, they're incredibly similar exercises in social posturing. In regards to people, I've found that someone who makes a habit of behaving dishonorably toward women, like Wickham or Willoughby, doesn't only exist in the past or in fiction. Men like that are alive and well in today's world, too -- teenage girls should be aware of this! -- as are gossipy, meanspirited women like Caroline Bingley and her sister. So, I think Austen provides ample lessons in why we should all pay more attention to human behavior and learn from the mistakes of her characters. That said, just because my heroine Ellie was fortunate enough to be the recipient of Jane's insight and perception, that doesn't mean Ellie was always mature enough to follow that wise advice!
MG: When did your encounter with Jane Austen take place? At school as it happens to Ellie in According to Jane? Was it love at first sight?
Marilyn: I first read Austen's Pride and Prejudice when I was a fourteen-year-old high-school freshman as part of a reading assignment in my English class. And, yes, it was absolutely love at first sight! Jane became my favorite author practically overnight, and my love of her work hasn't wavered in almost 30 years. After reading that first story, I devoured her other books and the biographies about her and, while I was doing my graduate work, I was lucky enough to get to study Austen's novels formally in a summer seminar at Oxford. It was a short but memorable course made extra enjoyable because I got to share the experience with my husband (who'd read and loved Austen before we'd ever met -- good man :).
MG: What do you find most fascinating in Austen’s style and world?
Marilyn: Austen was way ahead of her time in so many ways. She didn't preach as a narrator -- she truly let the characters' words and actions speak for themselves. She understood the power of "show, don't tell" long before fiction instructors advocated it as a writing method. Her sense of humor couldn't be more delightfully ironic, in my opinion, and the social situations she puts on display are perfect examples of humans behaving very well...and very poorly. She nailed the social dynamics between people and managed to bring the Regency to life for me because I could recognize friends and family members in her portrayals. (I knew a modern-day Mr. Collins! Same obnoxious pandering to people he felt were "important." I knew a Lucy Steele or two, as well, a dear, always-forgiving Jane Bennet, and a very sensible Elinor Dashwood-type.)
MG: Is there anything you do not like?
Marilyn: Short answer: no!
MG: What is your favourite among her novels? Would you write a sequel or spin-off story based on it?
Marilyn: My favorite will always be Pride and Prejudice, but Persuasion comes in second. As for writing a sequel or spin-off, there were elements of both of these books in According to Jane -- although, of course, my version took place in contemporary times in the U.S.A., rather than 200 years ago in England. I don't see myself writing a novel set in the Regency anytime soon -- much as I love reading historical fiction. I've been asked by some readers if I'd ever consider writing a follow-up story to my debut novel that might involve Austen's ghost as a character yet again, and that I might do... However, I'd need the right situation for Ellie to struggle with and I haven't been able to figure out what that would be yet.
MG: Thinking of Jane Austen’s successful matches ( i.e. Darcy and Lizzie, Knightley and Emma) and failed matches (i.e. Marianne and Willoughby, Emma and Frank Churchill ), is there anything that you would have changed? I mean, would you change the fate of any of her characters?
Marylin: Well, I wouldn't dare touch Darcy and Lizzie as a match -- nor would I want to!! Or Anne and Captain Wentworth. I'm not sure I ever fully understood the attraction between Fanny and Edmund but, if he brings her joy, I wouldn't want to be the one to pull them apart, LOL. As for the failed matches, while I felt Marianne's agony at Willoughby's betrayal, I learned so much from reading about it as a teen that I'm afraid I can't spare her the pain. She came to some much-needed and hard-earned wisdom as a result, and I'm too grateful to her for having gone through it (instead of me) to wish the experience away. And Emma needed the social missteps caused by her flirtation with Frank Churchill in order to grow up, appreciate Knightley and treat people better in general. So, no, no...I wouldn't change any of their fates.
Marilyn: I *love* the various adaptations, and I watch them all with almost no favoritism. Honestly, I can enjoy Laurence Olivier playing Darcy nearly as well as seeing Matthew or Colin in the role. I just bought the BBC set of 6 DVDs, and that one features David Rintoul playing the part. He was the first Darcy I saw on film, so it was fun to see that adaptation again. I did particularly enjoy Gwenyth Paltrow as Emma, and Amanda Root as Anne in Persuasion, but I've enjoyed a number of movie versions of Mansfield Park and Northanger Abbey. The Emma Thompson/Hugh Grant/Kate Winslet adaptation of Sense and Sensibility is also a favorite. I also really enjoyed the film version of "The Jane Austen Book Club" and the hilarious series "Lost in Austen." And, oh, "Bride and Prejudice" and "Clueless" are such fun, too! There are so many great ones, aren't there? I'd love to know which films the Austen fans reading this blog enjoy most... What are your faves??
MG: Your latest novels are not Austen-related, but has Austen influenced you in writing them anyhow?
Marilyn: My second novel is called Friday Mornings at Nine, and that's the story of three 40-something suburban moms who meet each week for coffee and conversation. They think they know each other but, one day, one of the women admits she's been getting secret emails from her college ex-boyfriend. This was the guy she thought she was going to marry 18 years ago...but he left her suddenly and she never got the emotional resolution on the relationship that she needed. On the rebound, she married someone else but, now, being in contact again with the man who'd broken her heart, she begins to wonder if she made the right choice. And the fact that she is questioning her marriage also leads the other two women to examine their lives and the marital choices they made. (Much drama and soul-searching ensues!) It was a more complicated story to write than my debut novel, and more serious in tone, but Austen references make a few brief appearances in the book, and the things I loved best about Jane's writing style (especially letting dialogue and action reveal character) are elements I try to emulate in all of my stories. The book I have coming out at the end of this year -- A Summer in Europe -- has a touch more of Austen and a great deal of E.M. Forster, though, since it's a very modernized play on A Room with a View.
MG: What are you working on at the moment?
Marilyn: I'm just finishing up revisions on my third novel, A Summer in Europe, which will be released by Kensington on November 29, 2011. As I mentioned, it's kind of like a modern A Room with a View in that the heroine's perspective on the world -- and on love -- is changed by her experiences abroad. My main character is given a five-week vacation to Europe as a surprise 30th birthday gift from her eccentric aunt. The only catch is that the trip is part of a senior-citizen bus tour comprised of members of her aunt's Sudoku and Mah-Jongg club. (I had fun writing this!) Of course, she meets lots of unusual people, sees many awe-inspiring European sites, eat TONS of gelato (!!) and finds herself caught up in an unexpected romance. It's a story I'm very proud of and I'm really looking forward to sharing with readers this fall.
MG: Thanks a lot for taking the time to answer my questions, Marilyn, and for accepting to be my guest on My Jane Austen Book Club.
Marilyn: It was a pleasure to visit, Maria! Thanks so much for inviting me. Wishing everyone a very Happy 2011!!