Nina Benneton and I discovered we share more than our love for Jane Austen ... Read through our lovely chat and try to discover what it is. Moreover, leave your comment to get a chance to win Nina's new amazing book: Compulsively Mr Darcy. You'll find the details below.
Q. Hello, Nina and welcome on My Jane Austen Book Club . Would you mind telling us about your book?
A: Compulsively Mr. Darcy is a modern, romantic comedy update of Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice. In this re-telling, Mr. Darcy is a control freak with obsessive-compulsive disorder who, during a trip to Vietnam to help the Bingley family adopt a trendy third-world orphan, meets an impulsive, carefree, infectious disease doctor Elizabeth Bennet.
Q: In one recent blog post, you wrote you started writing to conquer your fear of writing? Fear of writing? Why?
A: Because, besides that it's easier for me to do a complicated calculus problem in my head than write a sentence, in any language, I'm not a native English speaker. I struggled with English and writing through high school and college—in America— and it's the one subject for which I'd received very mediocre grades in school.
Q: Yet, your book received a Best Book rating from Long and Short Reviews, and the reviewer wrote, 'Some of Ms. Benneton's turns of phrase were brilliant and utterly entertaining.' When you read that, how did that make you feel?
A: Astounded. Tickled to death. Proud. That was the moment I felt I've finally conquered my fear of writing in English.
As a child, I'd been taught some rudiments of British English by French nuns, but not enough to be fluent. When I was a teenager, my family moved to America. American English confused me.
For example, in British English, it’s: 'The faculty are meeting in the teacher's lounge.'
In American English, it's: 'The faculty is meeting in the teacher's lounge.'
With American English, in this context, 'faculty' is a used as collective singular noun; 'faculty' is considered as 'one collective body.' But, it's more logical and natural to me to think of 'faculty' as plural, because there are more than one person.
There are other rules that have continued to confuse me, no matter how long I lived here in America.
You arrive at an airport, you don't arrive 'to' the airport—which would make more sense to me.
You wear pants, not pant. That extra 's' has always seems so inefficient to me. How many one-legged person there are wearing trousers?
'You have a butt, not butts, Nina,' my writing teacher recently pointed out. But, I argued cheekily, when I look behind me, I see two.
I don't know why, but my mind was not able to grasp the intricate and illogical rules of English grammar, British or American, until I took up writing to tackle my fear of writing a few years ago.
Q: Curiously, for your debut novel, you decided to tackle a retelling of one of the most beloved, classic English novels, Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice. Any trepidation with regard to the subject matter or writing fiction in a language not your mother's tongue?
A: Quite cheeky of me, was it not, to tackle a Jane Austen's novel?
Trepidation? Gosh, gobs and gobs of it, but not with the subject matter. I've loved Jane Austen's novels for years. I knew her characters as well as I knew my siblings and I felt, as a storyteller, I could tackle the subject. I wasn't so confident about the technical aspects of writing the story, however.
Fortunately, early in my writing journey, I found incredible, talented women on the Jane Austen fan fiction forum who loved Jane Austen as much as I did, and when I approached them for help with copyediting for grammar mistakes, they generously agreed.
One person in particular, Sharon, took the trouble to not only correct my grammar, she began to teach me—using my own words in my writing—why this rule was this and why this rule was that. Her physicist mother was from Cuba, so Sharon had grown up with a non-native English speaking mother. Sharon intuitively understood my difficulty. She could explain exactly why and where I—a non-native English speaker like her mother—was confused with regard to certain rules and conventions.
Best of all, Sharon corrected my mistakes, yet she didn't rewrite or change my 'writer's voice'—my writing still sounded like my writing instead of hers.
After Sharon, I’d gained enough confidence to hit the grammar books and enrolled in editing classes. Now, the rules begin to make sense because I could apply them to my own writing.
Q: In the acknowledgement of your book, you thanked your agent for 'believing in your writing voice. Above, you mentioned 'writer's voice' again. Every writer explains voice differently. Could you explain what you mean by 'voice'?
A: A writer's voice is an author's unique style—a quality that conveys an author's attitude, character, personality. The word-choice a writer chooses, the way the writer arranges and composes those chosen words in a sentence, the cadence of the words when a reader read the sentence aloud—all that is 'voice.'
Some writers struggle and write for years without attaining that recognizable, distinctive voice, because, as I mentioned, it's also 'attitude, character and personality' that go into the 'voice.' Yet, some writer's voice is very distinct—when you read a sentence they've written, you immediately recognize their 'voice' even if there's no signature.
Readers either like a writer's voice or they don't. It's very subjective.
Yet, this should not be an excuse for writers, native or non-native English writers, to not work hard to give clarity to their writing. The more I learned the rules and edit my work, the more my voice came out.
Q: Tell us one surprising thing you learned in your writing classes that you could share with other non-native English writers?
A: What's considered 'good writing' in another language is not necessarily 'good writing' in English. That surprised me.
For example, in Spanish, a beautiful, melodious language, good writing means long sentences to express a general idea. Good writing in Arabic is ornately decorative with adjectives and loaded with proverbs. Good writing in Chinese can be full of flamboyant cliches. I hope readers well versed in those languages will forgive me for being simplistic here.
In comparison, good English writing is plain. Concise. Boring to non-native writers.
Non-native writers like myself tend to be too wordy when writing in English. Always, less is more, Nina. That's probably the most surprising and important thing that I've learned from my writing teachers.
In first draft, write as wordy as you want to freely express yourself, but in editing, you want to cut and cut and cut until you can have imparted the same message in as fewest number of words. It's the editing that allows a writer's voice to come out more vividly in English.
There are some writers who manage to successfully carry the style of their native language over to English. Isabelle Allende or Rudolph Anaya—two of my favorite non-native English writers—for example, can write in long sentences overflowing with decorative adjectives and proverbs and still be appreciated by the native American ear. But I think this is uncommon and requires an unusual amount of talent.
Q: How did you come to know so much about different languages? Are you multi-lingual?
A: No. I do not consider myself multi-lingual, for I'm unable to retain any language I've learned in my too-small brain. At one point, I was fluent in French as a child, but when I was last in Paris, I found myself speaking very bad Spanish to our French friends.
As to where I came upon my knowledge from languages, from my father. He's multi-lingual. He knows how to read, write and speak in at least probably seven or eight languages. When I was young, he used to freelance as a translator for children's books and even a few romance novels. I used to sneak into his office and tried to read the books in foreign languages. I just loved the sounds of foreign languages. Unfortunately, I didn't inherit my father's facility with languages, just the fascination.
In Compulsively Mr. Darcy, I indulged myself by including a scene where Elizabeth and Darcy discussed the linguisitic difference.
A small Vietnamese man smiled at him. He pointed to the cyclo behind him and said something Darcy couldn’t understand.
“No, No. I’m waiting for my friend.”
The man began to talk in a conversational manner.
Darcy couldn’t decipher a word the man spoke. He wondered how to walk away politely. Spotting Elizabeth at a distance, he breathed a sigh of relief.
“Sorry to keep you waiting.” Elizabeth reached them, smiled at Darcy, and turned toward the cyclo driver. “Hello. I’m Lizzy. Are you busy today with many rides?” The driver responded and Elizabeth answered, “We go to Marble Mountain. Too far for cyclo.”
The cyclo driver spoke again and pointed at the ocean.
“Enjoy the beach. It’s beautiful.” Elizabeth said good-bye.
Once they were settled in the backseat of a taxi and had given the driver their destination, Darcy asked, “How did you under- stand what he said?”
“What do you mean? He was speaking in English.”
Distracted by the view behind her of a passing bicycle carrying tied-up pigs, he didn’t reply for a moment before he confessed, with some embarrassment, “I had a hard time.”
“I’m used to my aunt Mai’s relatives back home. I learned to keep it simple. They don’t have verb tenses or plurals. You don’t say ‘He walks’ but ‘he walk.’ You don’t say ‘I went to the market yesterday’ but ‘I go market yesterday.’ ‘Two apples’ becomes ‘two apple’—details like that.”
Q: After Pride and Prejudice, tell us what Jane Austen novels is your second favorite and why?
Mansfield Park, perhaps because I identified with Fanny Price— uprooted from her home in Portsmouth and transplanted in the 'foreign' soil of Mansfield Park. At the end, she came to the startling realization that Mansfield Park is home, not Portsmouth. That's exactly how I feel about America.
Q: What's next for Nina Benneton the writer?
Juggling multiple projects. I'm editing a Pride and Prejudice Regency Romantic Suspense I'd challenged myself to write last year. I'm about to tackle revision of another contemporary romantic comedy next month. I'm writing first draft a romantic time-travel story. I also write short stories for a change of pace and to have fun. And, of course, I'm taking writing classes.
The Author: As a child, Nina Benneton promised the French nuns who taught that she would grow up and find the cure for cancer, effect world peace, and win a Nobel Prize for something, anything. Alas, her own Mr. Darcy and the requisite number of beautiful children interrupted her plans. Tired of alphabetizing her spices and searching for stray Barbie shoes, she turned to writing.
Compulsively Mr. Darcy, earned a Best Book review and the Reader's Poll Book of the Month February 2012 from Long and Short Review, 'Hands down…a must read for lovers and fans of classic romance.' Fresh Fiction Review called it a 'tenderly written novel.' Savvy Verse and Wit described it as ' 'More than a love story, Compulsively Mr. Darcy is about loving someone faults and all, accepting and not changing who they are, and growing together in love. Steamy, sexy, and fun, it will have readers giggling and blushing at the same time.' Publishers Weekly wrote, 'Die-hard fans of everything Austen will enjoy this update of her classic tale.'
Sourcebooks will offer
1 Paperback copy to US readers
1 e-book copy to readers from the rest of the world
Please specify which country in the world you live in in your comment and don't forget to add your e-mail address. This giveaway ends on March 1.
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Find her on Twitter: @NinaBenneton
or on her groupblog: www.AustenAuthors.com