Jennifer Ziegler is the acclaimed author of Alpha Dog and How Not to Be Popular. She lives in Austin, Texas with her family. Her latest release is Sass and Serendipity, the story of two teenage sisters, Daphne and Gabby, which is meant to be a homage to one of her favourite novels, Sense and Sensibility. Jennifer is my guest today to talk Jane Austen with me. Join us and welcome Jennifer on My Jane Austen Book Club.
Hello, and thanks a lot, Jennifer, for accepting my invitation. My first question is, of course, when and how did you discover Jane Austen?
Hi! Thank you so much for inviting me!
Jane Austen first came into my life when I was in high school. I wish I could remember who persuaded me to read her because I owe them at least a box of chocolates. I’m ashamed to say that at the time I was of the mindset that older, classic novels were all boring and didn’t relate to my life. Jane Austen sure changed my mind! Sense and Sensibility quickly became a favorite of mine – a book that I would read and reread throughout my life. And each time I read it, I’d find something new about it to love.
As a writer of YA literature do you find she can still teach/be a model for nowadays youth?
Most definitely! Teens may not realize it, but they can truly relate to her characters and their predicaments. Austen’s protagonists deal with problems of love, identity, friendship, family, economic hardships, and reputation – all issues that modern youth have to contend with. Plus, she’s funny! I think there is a misconception among those who haven’t read Austen that her stories are all polite tales about manners and society. Although she does address class struggles, her storytelling is playful and gently mocking, and she always populates her stories with hilarious individuals.
What do you especially like in the world she created?
Her characters. They are so finely drawn that they seem familiar. You can’t help but root for her protagonists, but even the rogues and curmudgeons are likeable in their own way. Plus, they add sauce and spice to the stories.
What do you especially admire in her style?
Most of all, I love her playful, slightly ironic tone. Her narrators are like off-screen, all-knowing characters. Consider the first line of Pride and Prejudice – the best, most finely crafted opening sentence ever. It simultaneously introduces the main topic, sets the tone, and makes an amusing point.
I read that you “played Austen” writing your latest novel, Sass and Serendipity. What do you mean?
Ha! That was a frame of mind I tried to get into while drafting the book. Although I knew I couldn’t channel Austen or emulate her style, I wanted to feel as if I could climb into her mind. When I decided to seriously pursue this project, I purposely stayed away from all things Austen (not easy for me) so that I wouldn’t feel intimidated by her greatness, nor pressured to translate every brilliant detail of the original. Instead, I worked from the themes and plotlines that had been filed away in my memory. This also made it easier to feel a sense of complete ownership, to pretend that it was my idea and not something I was borrowing from the classics. Thus, in a way, I was pretending to be Austen stumbling upon the story.
It’s rather serendipitous that it came out in 2011. It is the Sense and Sensibility Bicentenary this year. Did you plan that?
No! It was serendipity! When I was finishing up my final draft, a friend asked me when Sense and Sensibility came out. I wasn’t sure exactly, so I looked it up. I was stunned when I realized the coincidence.
It is clearly a homage to Austen and a retelling of her Sense and Sensibility, with Daphne and Gabby as modern Dashwood sisters. Which of them resembles you? Are you more Elinor or Marianne?
In a way, I’m both. I’m Marianne (Daphne) with an Elinor (Gabby) exoskeleton. I am the oldest of three siblings, and I strive to be responsible and take care of others, just like Gabby and Elinor. However, deep down I’m romantic and silly and prone to getting lost in my daydreams, just like Daphne and Marianne. It’s an eternal struggle – one that my subconscious probably tried to work out as I drafted the book.
Have you got a sister? Did you take inspiration more from your personal experience while writing Daphne and Gabby or from Austen siblings?
At the concept stage, I was inspired by Austen’s characters, but the reason her story resonated so much with me was because I have a sister and could relate to the dynamic between Elinor and Marianne. It’s tough to trace inspiration sometimes, but I suspect that my characters’ arguments, careless assumptions, suppressed jealousies, and fierce sense of loyalty and protectiveness stemmed more from my own experiences than from Austen’s work.
What about the heroes in Sense and Sensibility?
Willoughby, or Edward Ferrars? Brandon
My favorite of the male suitors in Sense and Sensibility is Colonel Brandon. But I have to confess that I would have completely humiliated myself over someone like
as a young girl. When I was a teen, I thought I wanted romance and drama. Now that I’ve lived longer and understand myself better, I have a very different view on relationships. Both of these mindsets – my present one and that of my younger self – influenced the love relationship plots in the novel. I didn’t directly draw from personal experience (disclaimer: no former boyfriends are exemplified in the novel), but I did work from the emotions of past relationships. Willoughby
In what ways are today’s young heroines and heroes like Jane Austen’s? In what ways do they differ?
I think they are very much alike. Of course, they express themselves with different vocabulary and play video games instead of taking “turns about the room,” but overall they are the same. They still crave real friendships and true love and a feeling of belonging in the world. They still need to understand who they are, realize their inner strengths, and overcome their weaknesses. In short, both Austen’s young protagonists and today’s youth need to come of age.
Family relationships, love, and friendship are fundamental in Jane Austen’s work. What about in your novels?
They are pervasive in my books, as well. Not only do such themes interest me as a reader, I enjoy exploring them as a writer, too. Often there’s no need to add life-threatening circumstances, supernatural elements, or other dire situations to teen lit because being a young adult is inherently full of drama and life-changing events – particularly regarding relationships. We are all works in progress, so our connections with others must be constantly redefined. Moreover, it is through these bonds that we best learn about ourselves. The challenges of communicating effectively … the emotional risks of admitting your feelings for someone … seeing ourselves reflected back in the eyes of our loved ones … these things force us to grow as individuals. As a novelist, I find family, friendships, and love interests to be the most telling aspects of my characters – and the most fascinating.
Which adaptation of Sense and Sensibility do you prefer? The 1995 movie directed by Ang Lee or the recent Andrew Davies’s BBC series (2008)?
I haven’t yet seen the recent miniseries. I absolutely adore the movie, and it would be tough for another screen version to take its place in my heart. However, miniseries are longer and can stay closer to the novel. And I do love Davies. Tell you what – I’ll watch it and let you know my verdict!
And this is my final question. Present your book, Sass and Serendipity, to our readers in max 50 words.
Sass and Serendipity is the story of two sisters, Gabby and Daphne Rivera, who have very different views on life and love. As the girls deal with emotional and economic set-backs, they end up growing closer to people they never thought they would – including each other.
Thanks a lot for taking the time to answer my questions, Jennifer. It’s been a pleasure to have you as my guest on My Jane Austen Book Club.
The pleasure is all mine! Thank you for hosting me on your lovely blog.
Leave your comment + e-mail address to enter the giveaway of a copy of Sass and Serendipity. Open worldwide, the giveaway ends August 30 when the name of the winner is announced.