Thanks very much, Maria, I really appreciate the support you’ve given me and other authors at your book club.
The Premise to your latest release Jane, Actually sounds really intriguing! Do you want to present it to our readers briefly?
Briefly? As my friends will attest, I never do anything briefly, but here goes. Because of an accidental discovery/invention, it’s possible for the dead to communicate with the living and with each other via the Internet. Basically everyone who ever died is now free to watch cat videos, criticize the government or in the case of Jane Austen, finally publish “Sanditon,” the book she was writing when she died.
Unfortunately it’s difficult for the dead, or the disembodied as they prefer to be called, to prove who they were when alive. And the longer ago you died and the more famous you were, the more difficult it is. Fortunately Austen’s agent has helped Jane prove her identity, so the famous Regency author has landed a book contract with Random House and is on a book tour that will culminate in the 2011 Annual General Meeting of the Jane Austen Society of North America in Fort Worth, Texas.
How did you come to this idea of Jane Austen’s ghost finishing her own unfinished work? Are you drawn to ghost stories and the supernatural?
The whole unfinished business schtick has always resonated with me and has driven many ghost stories, and for any artist, what would it mean to be able to finish that book or sonata or painting?
Another big influence that led to my creating the AfterNet was Robert Heinlein’s “The Moon is a Harsh Mistress,” where a sentient computer creates a persona that others believe is a real person, even though no one actually meets him. He’s just a disembodied voice on the telephone or an image on television and yet he is accepted. In my novel, Jane Austen is just the person who sent you a text or an email or with whom you chat or exchange recipes with on facebook. How many people do you know that are essentially disembodied intellects?
To characterize Jane Austen as herself, you had to work on her biography and letters, I guess. What were your sources mainly?
But I can just imagine being a sixth Bennet sister, a third daughter of the Rev. George Austen or even better, a niece of the amazing Aunt Jane. And I can imagine how great it would feel to get an email from Aunt Jane telling me she much loved my book in progress … with a few little suggestions on style.
That said, I’ve read a fair number of biographies. I liked Claire Harman’s “Jane’s Fame” that explored the history of Janeism. I also enjoyed Paula Byrne’s “The Real Jane Austen.” William Deresiewicz’s “A Jane Austen Education” also helped with the characterization of the graduate student in my book.
Did you discover anything about her you didn’t know before?
I discovered that she enjoyed watching “Dynasty,” especially the cat fights.
LOL! That's unexpected... In your story Jane finds her soul mate at last! What is he like? Can you tell us something about him?
Albert Ridings died in the Great War, still a young man, leaving behind a wife and children. He discovered Jane Austen shortly before his death and tried to read what he could of her, but being disembodied—unable to affect physical objects and unseen and unheard—it was difficult. Once the AfterNet was established and he was able to communicate electronically, he made friends with someone whose username was JaneAusten3, and I’ll leave it that.
Is he inspired by one of her heroes in particular?
Not really. He is a gentleman by inclination and disposition, but not by wealth or education. He’s not a curate, vicar or rector. We know nothing about what he looked like and of course we never see him except as a fuzzy picture of a British Tommy on his facebook page. He is not one of Jane’s heroes; he’s one of her readers.
What was most fun to write in Jane, Actually? What was instead the most difficult part (if there was any)?
The most fun was revealing the inner circle of Janeism—the instant communication that exists when Jane’s name is mentioned. When I attended the 2011 AGM, it was such a relief to talk to people without first explaining who Jane Austen was or why she meant so much. I offer this joke from the book:
Heard outside a JASNA AGM during the street promenade
PASSERBY: “What’s going on? Why’s everyone dressed up?”
JANEITE: “It’s the annual Jane Austen convention. This is the promenade where we walk around in period costume.”
PASSERBY: “Who’s Jane Austen?”
JANEITE: “She was a Regency author. She wrote Pride and Prejudice? You know, Colin Firth, wet shirt.”
PASSERBY: “Oh yeah. Sure, sure. Is she here?”
The hardest part was to write a book where, as my best friend put it, “nothing ever happens.” I kept wanting to put in a Colombian drug cartel subplot but I finally convinced myself that the intricacies of two people falling in love is more than enough.
Talking about yourself, what made you a Janeite ?
I avoided Jane Austen and capital “L Literature” in school in favor of science fiction. I preferred the weird, the wonderful and the uncanny. Later I embraced Raymond Chandler’s “sun-blinded streets of Los Angeles.” But my equal love of Wodehouse and Doyle and George MacDonald Fraser’s Flashman series kept creeping me back in time until I finally arrived at the Regency. But most importantly, I finally accepted that some part of my soul is actually romantic and that I need not be ashamed of having watched “Notting Hill” six times. Fortunately my maturity arrived just about the time that PBS showed the Complete Jane Austen.
What is it that you appreciate the most in Jane Austen’s world?
The speeches her characters make. Wouldn’t it be great if instead of just saying, “No, I don’t wanna,” you said instead, “The incongruity of our sensibilities, our antecedents, our status in society, make the contemplation of any such union utterly abhorent and laughable to any who know us.”
What wouldn’t you like if you could live in her time?
Practically everything. I would end up being the crazy witch woman they hire to live in the folly at Sotherton.
Now, this is the moment when you are free to persuade our Janeite friend to read your JANE, ACTUALLY! Three, two, one GO!
If you ever thought of asking Jane Austen why Fanny didn’t end up with Henry Crawford or would like to ask her opinion about naming a baby North West, then I think you’ll enjoy "Jane, Actually."
No, no, wait. Let me try again. If you like the line: “What poor love can two ghosts have?” then you’ll like Jane, Actually.
May I ask you, what are you up to, after Jane, Actually?
I must write the sequels to “My Particular Friend” and “Good Cop, Dead Cop,” which are “Our Mutual Friends” and “The Background Noise of Souls.” I’m also contemplating a young adult novel set in Renaissance Italy.
That’s all for now, Jennifer! Thanks for being my guest again and best wishes both in your writing career and in your life.
About the author
Jane, Actually is Jennifer Petkus’s third book. Previously she wrote Good Cop, Dead Cop (the first book about the AfterNet) and My Particular Friend (a Sherlock Holmes/Jane Austen mashup). Ms Petkus is a member of the Jane Austen Society of North America, Doctor Watson’s Neglected Patients, The Wodehouse Society and Rocky Mountain Ki Society (she has a first-degree black belt in aikido but refuses to test for second degree because she’s old). She has been a reporter and a web designer but can now be best described as an unsuccessful author. Her friends derisively call her a kept woman. She is happily married. She watched Neil Armstrong walk on the moon live.