Mary Jane Hathaway is the pen name of an award-nominated writer who spends the majority of her literary energy on subjects un-related to Jane Austen. A homeschooling mother of six young children who rarely wear shoes, she’s madly in love with a man who has never read Pride and Prejudice. She holds degrees in Religious Studies and Theoretical Linguistics, and has a Jane Austen quote on the back of her van. She can be reached on facebook at her regular author page of Virginia Carmichael (which is another pen name, because she’s just that cool). She is here today to meet the readers of My Jane Austen Book Club and present her new " Emma, Mr Knightley and Chili-Slaw Dogs" . She has kindly accepted to answer some of my questions and to grant you a paperback of Pride, Prejudice and Cheese Grits or an e-book copy of her new Emma - inspired novel! (check the giveaway details below the interview)
Hello and welcome back to my little corner in the blogosphere! Here's my fist question for you: you seem to be rather appreciative of both Jane Austen and typical Southern dishes, Mary Jane. How does this odd pair came to your mind for a series of book?
I really wanted the title of the book to give the reader an idea of the story. There is the series title which is ‘Jane Austen Takes the South’ but it wasn’t enough. So, of course an Austen title should be first... but what about The South? What would really make every reader say ‘oh, it’s about The South’? So, I Googled for a bit, wondering if I should put in famous Southern sites, or perhaps Southern people like Elvis. Even though I’ve been to Tupelo (Elvis’ birth place) I can’t name more than two songs of his! In the end, I realized that I probably knew more about Southern food than I did anything else that came from that region.
Your first book in the series was Pride, Prejudice and Cheese Grits. Now you have Emma, Mr Knightley and coming out the 28th of Mayon Pride and Prejudice and Emma?
In these stories, the plot of the romance closely follows the plot of Austen’s novel. But many people may not have read any Austen novels at all (although it’s hard for me to imagine such a thing *ahem*) and I still wanted them to be able to enjoy the story. So, I introduce characters who love Austen, who drop lines from the books and poin out similarities to the characters. Of course anyone who has read Emma will know that our hero, Brooks, is Mr. Knightley, but I also have a character in the story pointing out the fact that Brooks is ‘just like’ Knightley and needs ‘an Emma’.
In both books it seems you believe in the fact that love comes when you least expect it …. Is this something you’re very sure about?
Well, strangely, I never thought about it... but you’re absolutely right!
I graduated with a college degree in theoretical linguistics and studied at the Warsaw School of Economics. I focused on Eastern European languages (but of course took the modern European ones, too). I came back to my tiny home town for just a summer while waiting to be accepted in the Foreign Service. My church’s youth group needed a helper, and although it was the Hispanic (Spanish-speaking) group, I still volunteered. I didn’t hardly speak a word of Spanish. J
I was working at Whitman College and could get free classes so I took Spanish. And the director of the youth group, Crusberto, didn’t speak much English but decided to take English classes. (You know where this is going...) Three months later we had our first real conversation and a year later we were married in Jalpa, Mexico.
Love is weird and a surprise love is the best kind.
Let’s focus on your Mr Knightley. What can you tell us about him?
Well, I do love academics, so this character is one who was cut from the last book about Midlans College. Brooks Elliot is a journalism professor, very happy in his current situation. He grew up in Thorny Hollow and is the heir to Badewood, one of the great antebellum mansions in his state. Through a field and over a brook, his childhood friend Caroline Ashley still lives in her family home. They’re in that shady area of almost-related, best friends, know-each-other-too-well-to-date. He doesn’t come home much but his father’s health is failing and he decides to spend the summer at Badewood. Everything is as it should be, nothing ever changes in Thorny Hollow... right? (You should know the answer to this question! Loves changes everything!)
And now Emma. Is she as spoilt and rather self – centred as the one we met in Austen novel?
Oh, boy. I really had no idea how hard this book was going to be until I started. First rule of a heroine is to make her likable. Emma is NOT likable. She’s sort of silly and snobbish and can be petty. But she does love to help people and she has a good heart.
I hope the reader can excuse some of Caroline’s pettiness when they find out she used to have a very good job at The Washington Post (she saves Shelby’s reputation in the first book). But after the death of her father, her mother asks her to come home. So she does. And she lives a frustrated life that revolves around throwing parties and being set up with eligible men. That’s probably enough to drive anyone to a little petty behavior.
Caroline also has a good heart and truly wants to help people. But her plans aren’t really well thought out. She and Brooks argue over these plans, especially when they involve young, impressionable people he’s been hoping to see leave Thorny Hollow and get a college education.
Another thing: Jane Austen loved to read, and she made Elizabeth a reader. People reading Pride and Prejudice now identify with Elizabeth because we’re.. readers. Emma is always meaning to read, but never really getting around to it. How can an author make a reader lvoe a main character who... doesn’t like reading? It’s enough to boggle the mind! But Jane Austen did it and I love Emma even though she’s not a bookworm.
When does your obsession with everything Austen come from?
At age 13, I read Emma. I thought she was hilarious and I laughed all the way through! Don’t kick me off the site, but I actually thought Mr. Knightley was kind of yucky. I was 13 and a 16 years age difference would be 29, which was practically dead. I couldn’t imagine Emma, at 21 with someon 37. GROSS. I just tried to ignore that part. Now that I’m almost forty, it all seems sort of normal.
Jane Austen, for me, is sharp and witty. To skewer the current customs, slip in her own opinion, and still tell a beautiful love story? Genius.
If you could live in one of her novel which one would it be? And which character in it would you like to be? Why?
Emma!! She’s funny, rich, can paint, and pretty much does whatever she wants. I just love her. J
What is it that you find most amusing in writing Austen-inspired fiction?
The funniest moment for me is to find something about the modern South that correlates to Jane Austen’s Regency world. Southerners are different. If no one has told you that, there it is. There is a quote that I think sums up what is really at the heart of the misunderstandings by Northerners and Westerners. This is from a non-fiction book called Confederates In the Attic. The book traces the path of the Civil War through the South and explores the current obsession with the war. This quote actually refers to Shelby Foote, for whom I named my heroine of the first book. J
“I also sensed that Foote’s initial aloofness, which I’d taken for a distinctly un-Southern frostiness on his part, was more akin to gentlemanly reserve; an old-fashioned, rather English sense of frienship and respect for personal space. There are people one knows and people one doesn’t. One shouldn’t cheapen the former by feigning intimacy with the latter.”- Tony Horwitz
If that doesn’t scream ‘Regency manners’, I don’t know what does!
Do you think you share anything with Jane Austen?
I’ve read that Jane Austen was very sensitive to the plight of women in her society. I hate the disparity of pay and other benefits for women. There are states where a woman with a law degree with the same number of years experience, will earn 61.6% of what a man will earn. The gap begins right out of college, so it’s not women taking time off for a family.
This makes me sad on many levels, but it also makes me determined to raise my daughters to be aware of the disparity. You can’t change what you don’t know. When they work, I want them to value their own work and expect to be paid accordingly. When they participate in projects, I want them to be able to evaluate their contributions in a reasonable way. Too often, I think women are afraid to rock the boat. We feel we should be happy with what we’re given. But work is work, pay is pay. Gender should not enter into the equation.
Jane was making a statement in a really effective way. The reader truly feels Elizabeth’s plight over the prospect of them being forced from their home. In a time when that was legal and right, she created sympathy for Elizabeth, and hopefully a small movement of change.
What instead do you think Jane would have appreciated of our world, if she could have lived nowadays?
She would have loved the ease of the technology. In her personal letters she complains about breaking pens, losing pens, being out of paper. Can you imagine how prolific she might have been if she’d had a laptop?? :D
She also would have appreciated reading all the wonderful romances out there. For the thinking woman, I bet she would find quite a few favorites.
Are you planning to write other novels Austen-based? What are your plans?
Of course! Persuasion is next and although Anne Elliot isn’t the fiercest heroine, I think we’ll find some really interesting quirks in her personality. Sometimes the long-lost love burns brightest. Regret can be a horrible burden and when we get a second chance, out of the blue, there’s not a more glorious feeling!
Now a final task for you. How would you persuade Janeites to read your own versions of Austen classics?
Hm. Well, probably the best advice I could give is to know that it’s not a straight re-telling of the enire story. There are similarities, and characters appear that you may recognize, but it’s not so close that you might bang your head on your desk and cry, “Why is Emma saying that? Emma would never say that!”
I’m not sure if anyone can truly reproduce Jane’s genius and I would never try. But her stories have sparked so many other stories, both modern and historical, that I think she would be pelased to see us all using her as our own personal muse.
So, if you love Austen, then reading a story that inludes characters discussing and fighting over Austen is sort of fun. I love to find clues in a book about where the author got her ideas and especially when a classic book features in the story, as if it’s another character!
Thanks to you for having me again, Maria Grazia!
Emma, Mr. Knightley, and Chili-SlawDogs is available on Amazon.com!
Mary Jane Hathaway has kindly provided 1 paper copy book #1 in the Jane Austen Takes the South series to give away to a lucky commenter! (US addresses)
There is also a digital copy (Kindle only at this point, sorry) of Emma, Mr. Knightley And Chili-Slaw Dogs to win! (Open internationally)
Leave a comment and add your e-mail address + the giveaway contest you want to be entered in (remember, the paperback is only for US readers). This giveaway contest ends on 13 June.