My guest today is Karen M. Cox, author of Austen-inspired books like 1932 and Find Wonder in All Things. Read my interview with her, leave your comments/questions + e-mail address and get a chance to win 1 signed paperback copy of her latest novel, inspired to Austen's Persuasion, Find Wonder in All Things. This giveaway contest is open internationally and ends on October 10th. Enjoy our chat and join us!
How did it come that you started writing Austen – inspired novels?
Off and on during my life, since I was about nine years old anyway, I have written stories for my own enjoyment or as an outlet—to relieve anger, to soothe grief, to release pent-up creative energy. But I never shared my writing because I was afraid; I was shy about it. I found Jane Austen Fan Fiction in 2006, and devoured everything I could find until the spring of 2009, when I had a conversation with my son, who was then fifteen. We discovered that we both read fanfiction, but in different genres. As a mother, it’s hard to find something in common with your fifteen year-old son, so I kept talking with him about the stories we read, and the fandoms we were part of, and one day, he bowled me over by telling me that he also wrote stories...and posted them. I asked him if he ever got flamed, and he said he had a couple of times. When I asked him how he handled that, he just kind of shrugged and said, ‘I thanked the guy for his input and told him he could leave out the profanity next time.’ Well, all the Jane Austen fans seemed a lot nicer than THAT guy, so I decided to try my hand at posting a story too. I could be as brave as my kid, right?
So I posted a modern P&P story at A Happy Assembly called ‘D-Day: D Stands For...’ I had so much fun, I wrote another story, and another, and some short pieces, and then I wrote and posted 1932. Meryton Press expressed an interest in publishing it in the summer of 2010, and it was released in print and ebook formats later that year. 1932 won a Bronze medal in Romance at the 2011 Independent Book Publishers Book Awards (IPPYs), and that gave me the courage to try something else I’d always wanted to do, a modern variation of Persuasion. That book, Find Wonder in All Things, was released in February of this year, and I was thrilled when Michele Reed at Meryton Press submitted it for the 2012 IPPYs, and floored when it won the Gold medal in the Romance category. So, it’s been a whirlwind couple of years, full of lots of hard work , but I loved learning about book editing and publishing. It’s an opportunity and a privlege I never expected to have.
1932 , your first novel, was an attempt to modernize P&P . What is Mr Darcy like in the 30s of the 20th century? And what about Elizabeth?
1932’s William Darcy is just about the right age to have been a wild and crazy guy in the Roaring 20s, but similar to Regency Darcy, the burden of taking care of a rural estate and a younger sister perhaps prevented him from indulging in the more hedonistic pleasures of the times . His personal losses and leading his family through the aftermath of Black Tuesday and the Great Depression made him rather stern and stoic, but not quite so egotistical as the Darcy of Regency England. The Darcy pride is still apparent in William’s narrow views on education, his self-importance as steward of his family’s legacy during hard times, and the way he reluctantly carries his prominence in the community. On the other hand, he emulates Jane Austen’s Darcy in some very important ways. He’s smart and practical. He is a strong person, but not irreparably stubborn. He’s willing to change some of his ways in order to win the respect and love of a ‘woman worth being pleased.’ He’s also tall and handsome, which a man ought to be, if he can!
In the 1932 story, Elizabeth’s pride is shaken by the events her family has suffered during the Depression, and her prejudice toward Darcy grows out of a lack of self-confidence and a keen awareness of her new place in society. She feels defensive about the disparity in their economic situations, and the reality of living in reduced circumstances has made her even less sure of herself. She’s still the bright, honest, and charming Miss Bennet we readers love, but 1932’s Elizabeth has to face difficulties that Jane Austen’s character didn’t, and it changes her.
And that idea of change was what interested me when I wrote 1932. How would a difference in time and place affect the interactions between the Elizabeth and Darcy characters from Pride and Prejudice? Would they make different decisions? And how would the setting affect some of the minor players? Georgiana and Mrs. Bennet, for example, are two characters who are significantly altered by the particular setting of 1932.
Your latest novel, Find Wonder in All Things, is a modern day retelling of Persuasion . Can you tell us something about your Anne and your Frederick?
My Anne, whom I renamed Mountain Laurel Elliot, begins the story as a charming girl-next-door. Her life in the rural foothills of Appalachia (in addition to her red hair and long, pretty legs) makes her unique and exciting to James Marshall, the Mid-Western college student who has taken a summer job at her father’s marina. What ensues is a first love that burns bright and hot, and then crashes due to the typical pitfalls of youth—a quick succession of life-altering events like leaving for college, unforseen family problems, impulsive decisions, taking the ‘wrong’ advice, and fear of the unknown.
I always wanted to experience the Anne/Wentworth backstory in real time, as it happened, so I wrote that history in Find Wonder in All Things. The last two-thirds of the book, though, follows the Persuasion story arc pretty closely.
When Laurel and James find each other again years later, they have matured, yet each has nursed past hurts in his or her own way. Now, everything is different; they are different. It appears that the world has been James’s oyster, but he’s still searching for something. Laurel has been hidden away in the Kentucky mountains, living a solitary existence, yet there’s a strength in her that only needs a push to bring her into her own.
In a Wentworth /Darcy challenge, who do you see as your champion?
Oooh, tough question. Darcy is the enigma—he’s a mystery for most of the novel. Readers get these little glimpses of him—a smile at Netherfield, the Hunsford proposal, the kind consideration at Pemberley. But for the most part, we don’t get to know him too well. This is one reason I think so much fan fiction is written about Pride and Prejudice, in order to flesh out his character more. I don’t think it’s a weakness of the novel; in fact, I think it’s genius, because, especially after Hunsford, we’re always wondering what Darcy’s thinking.
In Persuasion, we get to know Wentworth much better. He talks more, so we see his faults— his anger, his bitterness, his incondiderate flirting with other women. We also see his strengths: We watch him pull a rowdy nephew off Anne’s back, appreciate him finding her a ride when she’s tired of walking, hear him say that there is ‘no one better than Anne’ to nurse Louisa. The Letter, one of the most swoon-worthy collections of words I’ve ever read, shows that rare combination of passion, impulsivity and innate goodness that make a compelling hero. So, if I’m going on what Jane Austen told me about them, I’d have to say Wentworth would be the more likely champion. Plus, he’s got that Captain thing going for him.
But either one would do in a pinch!
Jane’s world is so down-to-earth, all sense and balance do you think fan fiction mostly respect those features?
These days, I think there is a variety of Jane Austen fan fiction that ranges from the ‘sense and balance’ of the canon to the fantastic and romantic. I enjoy the variety myself, but I’ve noticed that some of the most popular stories aren’t necessarily full of sense and balance, and aren’t that down-to-earth. Romance is often what readers like, and I like it too, but Miss Austen didn’t begin and end with that. There’s more to her novels. It’s a slow burn to read her prose with our 21st century eyes sometimes, but when you finally get into the story alongside her, it’s like a different world has been opened to you.
What is the appeal of Jane Austen and her world to nowadays readers? What’s the secret of her huge global success ?
It’s her ability to open that world, the way she makes you feel like you belong there, that is responsible for the universal appeal of her work. The underlying themes in her stories—mistaken impressions in Pride and Prejudice, making the right decisions for your own life in Persuasion, for example— are still relevant in modern times. That’s because we’re still human beings, and Jane Austen wrote most of all about the joys and foibles of being human. Also, because she was a pioneer in literature, and a female author to boot, she appeals to the part of us that wants to be smart and classy—like she was.
If Jane had lived nowadays what kind of novels would she have written?
I can see her writing about the everyday lives of people in the midst of society’s upheaval: times like the Great Depression, or the collapse of the Berlin Wall, or the Sexual Revolution. I can also see her writing mystery novels. I think she’d like constructing the puzzle inside the plot, leaving clues for readers to catch—things like that.
What is it that you best love in her world and in her work?
In the Regency world as Jane Austen wrote it, there’s an order and traditional structure to life, yet there’s this underlying sense that EVERYTHING is about to change (and it did, with the arrival of Queen Victoria and the Industrial Revolution). That makes her stories familiar, yet exciting.
What I love best about her work is her dialogue. It’s marvelous, witty, sly, snarky, sweet, funny, poignant, charming... it’s darn good writing. Her gift for writing dialogue lends a natural progression to getting to know her characters, a smart way of ‘showing, not telling.’ She’s telling, but through the lens of the character, setting that point of view against that of the omniscient narrator, and we the readers are in on the secret.
What is your favourite Austen novel, hero and heroine?
Another tough one! You’re making me think, Maria! I like each of the novels for different things: Emma for dialogue, Pride and Prejudice for story, Mansfield Park for psychological and sociological depth. But I think the best novel—for the overriding themes, the elegant structure of it, the characters’ growth and change— is Persuasion.
Favorite hero: if I stick with my earlier answer, I have to choose Wentworth. But then, Darcy’s so interesting, and Knightley’s dashing and gentlemanly. Hmm.... it would probably be one of those three. I don’t think I can choose just one!
Favorite heroine: Anne Eliot and Fanny Price tug at my heartstrings more, and Emma Woodhouse makes me laugh, but Elizabeth Bennet is ultimately my favorite Jane Austen heroine. I love her engaging personality, and I love how she’s honest about the world and about herself. Darcy chose wisely in my opinion, and snagged one of the few women in Regency England who could have made him truly happy.
As a lover of the Regency and a Janeite what are you next projects to spread more Austen passion?
I have yet to try writing a full-length Regency story, although I have written a couple of short pieces set in that time. I just don’t have the historical knowledge at this point to do it justice, to write it the way I’d like to. It would be a big learning curve for me, although it’s something I might try in the future. I like learning new things.
I do have a couple of projects currently in the works, though. One is a topsy-turvy take on Pride & Prejudice set in the rural South circa 1960, called Son of a Preacher Man. An online version is posted at A Happy Assembly.
Also, I’m continuing with my 20th century take on Jane Austen’s stories, trying to entice modern readers to dive in and enjoy the original novels. I’m working up a first draft adaptation of Emma that takes place in Bluegrass horse country around the time of the US bicentennial, which was in 1976.
And finally, I enjoy posting and participating on Jane Austen fan fiction and other related sites—conversing with others who share my love for her work, discovering new books to read (fiction and nonfiction), and just ‘hanging out’ with the very interesting and varied Janeite crowd.
That's all for this session of "Talking Jane Austen with ...". Thanks for being my guest, Karen. It's been a pleasure to hear about your passion for Austen and her work and to discover more about your published and upcoming works.
Thank you so much Maria, for your kind invitation to come and chat with you and your readers! I’d love to hear readers’ thoughts on the questions you’ve posed. See you all around the comment thread...
Karen has been a Jane Austen fan since she read Pride & Prejudice as a diversion from the grind of graduate school. Years later she found Jane Austen fan-fiction, lurked for a couple of years, and began writing and posting stories in 2009. Her first book, a variation on Pride & Prejudice called "1932", won a Bronze medal in the Romance category of the 2011 Independent Publishers Book Awards. Her second book, the Persuasion-inspired modern, Find Wonder in All Things, was released in February, 2012. This title recently won a gold medal in Romance for the 2012 Independent Publishers Book Awards.
Karen was born in Everett, Washington, and at age 11, after a somewhat nomadic childhood, moved to her family's home state of Kentucky. She lives in a quiet little town with her husband, son, and daughter.
The book - Find Wonder in All Things
James Marshall and Laurel Elliot are out of sync. After a whirlwind summer romance during their youth, he is ready to zoom ahead to Happily Ever After, but she is persuaded by family pressures and her own doubts and uncertainties to remain behind. Years later, Laurel has carved out a quiet, self-sufficient existence in the Appalachian foothills of Kentucky while James has taken a more illustrious road filled with extraordinary accomplishments and successes neither of them could have imagined. Now, their paths cross once again, but it appears both have moved on with their lives. Could a spark from the past still ignite between them? Can they find their way back to each other, or has too much time passed? Will their timing ever be right for a happy ending? Find Wonder in All Things is a new, modern romance from award winning author Karen M. Cox, inspired by the classic Jane Austen story, Persuasion.
Connect with Karen
on facebook by liking her facebook Author Page http://www.facebook.com/karenmcox1932
reading her blog http://karenmcox.merytonpress.com/
or following on Twitter @KarenMCox1932
Leave a comment (answering one of my questions as Karen M. Cox suggests at the end of the interview) or a question for the author + your e-mail address and you'll get a chance to win 1 signed paperback copy of Find Wonder in All Things. Open internationally. Deadline October 10th. Good luck!