I'm glad to welcome a new guest on My Jane Austen Book Club, a new name in the world of Austen-related fiction. Scott D. Southard is the award-winning author of MY PROBLEM WITH DOORS and MEGAN. His novel MY PROBLEM WITH DOORS was called “big and entertaining” (AnnArbor.com) and “an absorbing, thought- provoking tale” (Lansing State Journal). His books can be found on amazon.com . Scott was the creator and writer of THE DANTE EXPERIENCE, a radio comedy series produced by Mind’s Ear Audio Productions. It was the winner of the Golden Headset Award, the Silver Ogle Award, and second place for the Silver Microphone Awards. It was called by AudioWorld “…a cross between Monty Python, the Marx Brothers, and the Airplane movies.”
Scott received his MFA in writing from the .
Scott’s most recent novel, A JANE AUSTEN DAYDREAM is being released in installments by the literary Web site, Green Spot Blue. Previous installments in the novel (as well as information on his other writing) can be found on his blog.
Inspired by Jane Austen’s own work and “partially” by her life story, this is Jane’s life reinvented in fiction. Filled with references to her works and characters and many new literary twists, Jane experiences the adventure her mind and spirit deserved and the love she always wished she could find.
A book for both the novice Austen reader to the professional Austenite, this humorous and moving tales follows the growth of Jane into the great writer we know today... with a lot of love and tribulations along the way... and maybe a hint of pride and something.
My Confessional: An Introduction to A Jane Austen Daydream
Over the last decade people have done everything possible to make a dime off of Jane Austen. From a time-travelling TV series about her, to a “biographical” movie, to an intrusion of zombies and sea monsters in her books, Jane is flourishing and filling the bank accounts of lesser writers.
I come from a background where I believe an artist and their work should be protected. They are jewels to be collected and protected, not Play Doh to be manipulated for one’s own devices.
Yet, I have something to admit and in many ways this introduction is my confessional; but whether I have done a sin is up for you to decide. Let me tell you about my experience with Jane Austen.
Jane and Me
I was first introduced to Jane’s work in a college classroom run by Dr. Brent Chesley at Aquinas College. To say that Dr. Chesley is obsessed with Austen and Pride and Prejudice is to put it mildly. He passionately strove each day to convince the class during their reading of its importance and perfection. For me, I didn’t need the convincing. From the opening paragraph, I was immediately taken by her voice.
Throughout Pride and Prejudice Elizabeth and her wit really impressed me; to such an extent that I even wondered if Darcy deserved her. Over the summer break I went through all of her other work. And when I graduated from college, I visited England by myself and on one day—with a copy of Emma in my backpack—I explored Chawton and Jane Austen’s house; wandering the same trails, halls, and gardens. I even visited her final resting place, and it, frankly, depressed me. I didn’t feel like it celebrated her; it felt cold, hard, and far distant from the snappy, brilliant woman I felt I discovered in her work. It was the resting place of a proper reverend’s daughter, not the most important voice in English literature.
It was after that trip that I began to investigate more into her. Sadly, while there are many books about her life, there is very little that can be really said. Jane lived, in many ways, a quiet life. She did not have great adventures or scandals, or, sadly, earth-shattering loves. And that last fact tainted in many ways my future reading of her books. A sense of melancholy seemed to enter her fiction that wasn’t there before, a want for love. While it can be said, that there are some autobiographical allusions in her work, most prevalently in Persuasion, in her own stories she paints a better picture, a better ending than she was ever given.
An ending she never had but obviously wanted.
Yet, when one picks up her few still-in-existence letters to read, you can’t help but be impressed by the wit. In many ways, she is a little of all of the daughters in Pride and Prejudice. She is smart and loves books; she is far too witty; and she is also a little bit of a dangerous flirt. She was the sarcastic voice mumbling inappropriate jokes to her friends at a dance. She was the young woman who could keep up in any conversation with any gentleman, probably taking them by surprise; not expecting a response like that from a reverend’s daughter.
That is the Jane I wanted to explore in my own writing. And it was then that the initial spark began for A Jane Austen Daydream.
The Writing Process
To create the book, I spent about seven years off and on studying her. This was not about diving into each biography available, but more about reading and re-reading her works again and again. My paperback copies of her work are covered in yellow, orange, and blue highlighter ink (I had a system). And I knew, in many ways, before I decided to investigate what actual little facts we have about her what I wanted to have happen in the book. See, her books, her words and stories, had already showed me the path that was best.
It must be emphasized that A Jane Austen Daydream is not a biography. It’s not even close to that. Yet, Jane is the basis for the novel, and I am “trying” to give her the life, adventure, and the love she might have written for herself.
To accomplish this goal, changes had to be made to the biography throughout the telling. For example, to fit the structure of the tale, the ages of some of her siblings were changed. Also, some of the timeline around her own life and publishing were changed as well. The other major changes I will leave for the reader to discover and be surprised by in its pages.
However, there was one last trick I needed to accomplish to make this book something true to her essence. I needed to include Jane in all her perfect (and imperfect) glory. And in deciding that I wanted to embrace her in the work, I turned to her own writing as a source. This novel is filled with references, characters, quotes, excerpts, and other hints from her books, letters, and unpublished snippets. I think, almost every paragraph includes at least one allusion to her. For the Austen fan, I hoped that this inclusion would add something to the work for them. Maybe in a way, turning it into something akin to a treasure hunt to find where Southard ends and Austen begins.
One interesting snag I had in finishing the book is that in including Austen into the work, I needed to change my own post-modern American voice. Yet, I didn’t want to create a voice that was too period; so a new voice for me emerged; something between Austen and my own. It is simpler than Austen (we do live in simpler times in many ways in our fiction writing); but still I believe it makes the transition between her and my voice many time seamless… Well, I like to believe it is so.
I recommend the reader give the book a few chapters to get used to this voice and the style of the work. I promise the journey is worth the trip. This is not a typical post-modern novel (Save the fun and unpredictable “twist” that comes later, which I will NOT ruin here), it is more of its own entity. Unique… and in many ways I am very proud of it.
A Final Argument
Before I end, I want to answer any complaints that might come up from readers saying I am behaving no differently from the people I criticized at the beginning.
First off, I believe I am coming from a more celebratory position. If any reader would like to know about her real life there are a lot of good books out there, but I would recommend starting with her letters. This is a “wink” merely to the actual Jane. Finally, I do not ruin or change any of her novels. If this leads people to reading her books, I would be very pleased. In other words, from my perspective this is a gift I am attempting to give to her and the readers that enjoy her books. How arrogant that may be is for the readers to decide.
Second, I never thought of this as an attempt to “cash in” on her popularity, and if it ever found publication or success, I was always planning to share a percentage with the Jane Austen’s House Museum.
Do those two points save me from my own ridicule? I hope so, because I love the story and the characters in it, especially the rambunctious and spirited Jane.
I hope you enjoy A Jane Austen Daydream.