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Tag Archives: Jane Austen Made Me Do It

Today’s guest is someone I’ve known online for sometime but met in person just this last weekend at the JASNA-AGM in Fort Worth, TX: Laurel Ann Nattress, the editor of a fabulous anthology of Austen-inspired stories, Jane Austen Made Me Do It (and I’m one of the authors!). We had a terrific book launch party for JAMMDI, my Jane Austen: Blood Persuasion, and the newest release from another anthology contributor, Carrie Bebris’ The Affair at Lime.

A life-long acolyte of Jane Austen, Laurel Ann Nattress is the author/editor of Austenprose a blog devoted to the oeuvre of her favorite author and the many books and movies that she has inspired. She is a life member of the Jane Austen Society of North America, a regular contributor to the PBS blog Remotely Connected and the Jane Austen Centre online magazine. An expatriate of southern California, Laurel Ann lives in a country cottage near Snohomish, Washington. Visit Laurel Ann at her blogs Austenprose and JaneAustenMadeMeDoIt, on Twitter as @Austenprose, and on Facebook as Laurel Ann Nattress.

Tell us the story behind the story–how did this anthology come about?

As a long-time Jane Austen fan, I had read all of her novels numerous times, moved on to the movies and sequels, and started my blog, Austenprose, in 2007. While working with Austenesque authors on publicity for their books, I began to see a thread that connected them all together. What if I edited an anthology of short stories inspired by Austen? At that time, there were many sequels and Austen-inspired novels in print, but no short story collections. My biggest challenge was how to get it published. I had no idea, but asked authors Diana Birchall, Margaret Sullivan and Laurie Viera Rigler for advice. Before I could reach out to anyone with my book proposal, I received an email from an agent of an author who I was working with on my blog thanking me for the great job I had done his client publicize the book. I saw an opportunity and immediately wrote back and pitched my anthology. He was an Austen fan too and immediately loved the idea. Within a week, I had my deal with Ballantine. It was just too surreal.

You’ve anticipated my usual question of whether your book was a hard sell, but that’s an awesome story. Congratulations!

My “road to publication” story is one in a million. When I started my blog years ago, I never dreamed that it would culminate into a book, but it did. One hears horror stories of how authors pitching their novels for years and enduring painful rejections and multiple rewrites before they capture the deal. Many times it never happens. The industry can be brutal. After my deal with Ballantine closed, I felt terribly guilty for about five minutes. I had to remember that I had been working diligently for years and give myself credit for developing relationships with so many of the Austenesque authors. I also had to credit the Fates. My number was up and all my stars and planets were in perfect alignment.

The thought of doing what you did (and dealing with people like me) terrifies me: was it really like herding cats?

Oh Janet. You are such a card. Authors difficult? Naw! You are not the first person to liken authors to herding cats. I am a cat lover, so it was not a challenge. 😉

I was all prepared for diva dramatics, but they did not materialize. Sorry to disappoint, but you were a charm to work with, and so were all other twenty-three authors! Luckily, we had many months to develop stories and edit them. I credit my editor at Ballantine for giving a newbie editor the extra time. It made all the difference in getting stories that the authors had a chance to contemplate and refine before they submitted them. We also allowed a bit of time for rewrites. It was the perfect storm.

Lizzy and Darcy … why do they continue to fascinate us endlessly, as opposed to, for instance, Anne and Wentworth? Do you think another Austen couple could be the next big thing?

Lizzy and Darcy are a hard act to follow. I think that they are legendary because their romance is hard wrought and so satisfying. Lizzy goes from disliking Darcy intensely and rejecting his proposal, to being transformed after seeing his great estate at Pemberley! It may sound mercenary, but in Regency times, a man’s estate was a reflection of his integrity and style. Darcy saving her family’s social reputation by finding the naughty elopees, Lydia and Wickham, and then buying off the groom did not hurt either. It’s hard to pinpoint which of Austen’s couples could ever match them. I don’t think it is possible, but I do root for Catherine and Henry Tilney. Northanger Abbey is terribly underrated and I hope that readers will come to love it and the young hero and heroine more in the future.

Who is your favorite Austen couple?

I tend to like the antagonists in Austen oeuvre more that the feature romantic couple. They can be so much more interesting. Brother and sister Mary and Henry Crawford from Mansfield Park are just twisted enough to be intriguing, and Lady Susan Vernon and Reginald De Courcy in Lady Susan are about as far from innocent star crossed lovers as you can get. I guess you can say I like to be shocked by breaches in propriety – all within the realm of proper Austen decorum mind you! If I had to choose a nice couple to root for, it would be Harriet Smith and Robert Martin from Emma. They end up together after a few detours and their personalities leave the door wide open for some bumps in their married life.

Which is your favorite Austen? Why?

I will be presumptuous and assume that you mean my favorite Jane Austen book, right? Oh this is so hard to choose. I could give the politically correct answer and say that my favorite Jane Austen novel is the one I am currently reading, but I won’t, and will go out on a limb and say it wavers between Mansfield Park and Lady Susan. Are you shocked? Oh, I do dearly love to laugh with Pride and Prejudice and get pierced through my soul with Persuasion, but I am one to root for the underdog, so I will stick with my first choices. Both stories have very strong antagonists that are actually the protagonists. I love that dichotomy.

Which biography of Austen would you recommend?

Definitely Claire Tomalin’s Jane Austen: A Life. Great research and scholarly detail, but told in an interesting fiction-like manner.

Tell us about the contest and the judging process for it.

The Jane Austen Made Me Do It Short Story contest was an incredible challenge for me all around, but it was also great fun too! Jane Austen was devoted to her craft and has been inspiring writers for centuries. A short story contest for unpublished authors was in spirit with her ideals, so I pitched the idea to my editor and she liked it also. We never expected to receive eighty-eight stories! With the help of Myretta Robens at The Republic of Pemberley , we proofed, formatted and posted on the contest board about three quarters of those stories within the last three days! Talk about writers procrastination! The voters narrowed down the list to the Top Ten and my editor and I chose the Grand Prize winner. It was a tough call. I trusted my initial gut reaction to the winning story. The Love Letter by Brenna Aubrey made me cry. It was an incredible debut story that I hope many will have the chance to read.

What’s next for you?

Hmm? That’s a tricky question Janet. If I answered you honestly, I would let the cat out of the bag. Since I like to herd cats, I will leave that to your imagination.

Thanks for hosting me today on Riskies during my Grand Tour of the blogosphere in celebration of the release of Jane Austen Made Me Do It. It was a pleasure.

Enter a chance to win one copy of Jane Austen Made Me Do It by leaving a comment by Sunday, October 23, stating what intrigues you about reading an Austen-inspired short story anthology. Winners to be drawn at random and announced on October 25. Shipment to US and Canadian addresses only. Good luck to all!

Here is my corset! Brand new, picked up last night from the staymaker, an amazing lady who outfits many museums and costumed reenactors in the area. She machine stitches anything that’s not visible and hand stitches the rest and the quality of her work is awesome.

She is the only person to whom I say upon arrival, “Shall I take off my bra?”

She also made me a linen shirt and altered my gown, because (ahem) I’d put on a bit of weight AND with two layers of sturdy twill plus boning you need some extra space.

Interesting things about my corset:

  • It’s front-lacing.
  • It really is that short and wide. So am I.
  • It fastens with a single length of tape threaded into a bodkin that Homeland Security may not like.
  • When it’s on I can’t see my knees and
  • in true Regency style I could balance a can of beer on my bosom

I’m taking a camera so next week expect many interesting pics of me and Amanda in our finery. I have a fabulous headdress made out of Christmas stuff. I’m so excited about this conference–seeing Amanda, meeting Laurel Ann Nattress who’s my guest next week and having a book launch party, so if you’re in Fort Worth, TX please come on over tomorrow and say hi! Details here (scroll down) and on my website where you can also enter my contest, find me on my blog tour and read about JANE AUSTEN: BLOOD PERSUASION.

It’s always fun to share a cover, and here’s a very lovely one–a short story anthology of stories inspired by Jane Austen, edited by Laurel Ann Nattress and to be released in October, 2011. Jane Austen Made Me Do It can be preordered now!

A whole bunch of us are participating–you may recognize some of those names on the cover–and mine, Jane Austen, Yeah, Yeah, Yeah, is probably the only one about Beatlemania in the collection. It was inspired not so much by Jane Austen, although the story is, sort of, about Sense and Sensibility, but by the movie An Education.

When I saw the cover I was curious about the painting used, and Laurel Ann told me it was Portrait of the Misses Mary and Emily McEuen by Thomas Sully (June 19, 1783 – November 5, 1872).

I was curious about Sully, and his name was familiar, so I thought today I’d tell you a bit about him. First, here’s the whole portrait. Sully was born in England to a family of actors who traveled to Richmond, VA, where his uncle managed a theater. His artistic talent was a family trait and his first real apprenticeship was with an elder brother and then briefly with Gilbert Stuart.

When his brother died, Thomas, at the age of twenty-one, then married his brother’s widow (his self portrait shows him painting his wife), becoming stepfather to his nieces and nephews and fathering nine more. He moved to Philadelphia, his home base, in 1806, and in 1809 made a visit to London to study with Benjamin West and Thomas Lawrence.

His own records indicate a staggering 2,631 works from 1801 onward, mostly portraits, although he also painted some landscapes and dramatic historical scenes. During his long life, his subjects included Thomas Jefferson, John Quincy Adams, Lafayette, and Decatur, but his portraits of women were most admired for their sympathy and sensuality.

In 1837, America was in a recession and he left for London with his daughter Blanch to look for work. The day before his departure, the Society of the Sons of Saint George, a benevolent association created to support indigent English emigrants and their families, offered him a commission of a full-length portrait of Queen Victoria. Because of his connection with Lawrence and his portraits of actors including Fanny Kemble Butler, he was fairly well known in London, but the Queen kept him waiting … and waiting. He kept a journal of his experiences:

The rain has been incessant until the present time. The confined space allowed for a house in the streets of London obliges the use of water-closets and as they often get out of order, the inconvenience is great. The water pipes leading to ours have become frozen, and for the present it is abandoned – luckily there is a subterranean place, for the servants, to reach which a lighted candle is required to wind your way through dark and dismal passages… The Queen’s physician has disapproved of her sitting for more portraits at the present time. I wish I were relieved from the uncertainty of her sitting to me! I am quite tired of suspense on the subject.

Finally he was allowed to paint her, and his portrait is a distinct break with tradition–the young queen looks back over her shoulder as she approached the throne.

Victoria was too busy to allow Sully all the sittings he requested, but graciously allowed his daughter into the palace to sit in her place “as a mannequin”. So it was that Blanch Sully became the first and last American citizen ever to wear the British crown. These unusual circumstances can only have intensified the painter’s compassionate and paternal view of the teenage queen, suddenly burdened with an extraordinary responsibility, placed almost overnight at the head of the greatest empire in the world. In his diary he wrote approvingly of her ability “to throw aside constraint and laugh and talk freely like a happy innocent girl, of eighteen – Long may she feel so light of heart!” But his knowledge that such a thing was, of course, impossible is what gives his portrait its poignancy. Andrew Graham Dixon

Sully’s descendants include writers, an architect, and artists, including a great-great-great grandson of the same name.

Had you heard of Sully? What other painters do you admire from the Regency or federal era?

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