I’m thrilled today to welcome Syrie James, one of my favorite Austenesque authors. Syrie is giving away a copy of her latest book, The Missing Manuscript of Jane Austen, to one person who comments today.
Syrie James is the bestselling author of eight critically acclaimed novels, including The Missing Manuscript of Jane Austen, The Lost Memoirs of Jane Austen, The Secret Diaries of Charlotte Brontë, Dracula My Love, Nocturne, Forbidden, and The Harrison Duet: Songbird and Propositions. Her books have been translated into eighteen foreign languages. In addition to her work as a novelist, she is a screenwriter, a member of the Writers Guild of America, and a life member of the Jane Austen Society of North America. She lives with her family in Los Angeles, California. Connect with her on her website, Facebook, and Twitter.
Syrie’s talking about a subject close to the Riskies’ hearts today–research. Take it away, Syrie….
I had done a great deal of Austen and Regency era research when I wrote my novel The Lost Memoirs of Jane Austen, an education which has been enhanced over the years by additional reading and by JASNA’s many fun and informative conferences and meetings. I’d visited England many times including a wonderful, self-guided Jane Austen tour several years before.
To add to that background, I paid great attention to the story structure, character types, character arcs, locations, situations, and themes of Austen’s novels, to ensure that the book would fit within her canon, and be the kind of novel she might have written. I immersed myself in research about life in the Regency era. I pored over the annotated versions of Austen’s novels edited by David M. Shapard, finding valuable information about the world and the language in the annotations themselves. I re-read Jane Austen’s letters again and again, because they are full of a wealth of small details.
The novel also required research into a variety of additional subjects related to specific aspects of the story. I found a friend and Londoner who was kind enough to research obscure facts for me, such as clerical stipends and the cost of nineteenth-century bell forging. She also read the first draft of the manuscript to make sure it didn’t contain any egregious Americanisms.
For the modern day story, I worked with a doctor to hammer out and verify the medical details, such as Mary I. Jesse’s condition, the subplot regarding Samantha’s doctor boyfriend, and the back story regarding her mother’s illness. I worked with a university Special Collections Librarian to understand Samantha’s current occupation, and with an English professor to gain insight into Samantha’s teaching background.
I contacted Oxford University for details regarding their doctoral program. I researched the sales records for the most expensive manuscripts ever sold. I studied the way sales are conducted at Sotheby’s Auction House. And of course I continued to re-read Austen’s novels the entire time I was writing, to keep her voice in my head!
Question of the day–what’s YOUR ideal research trip?
Update: Entries open until Saturday 12 midnight EST.
I saw three movies this year but they were all winners. One was the Jane Eyre and I blogged about that here. The other was Bridesmaids, which had so wisdom and insight on female friendships. The other, which I caught last week, was Cave of Forgotten Dreams, a documentary about some amazing cave art in Chauvet, France. It was made in 3D which I imagine is spectacular although I saw it on normal format. The paintings are the oldest ever found–35,000 years old–in a beautiful “crystal cathedral” (to quote director Werner Herzog) of limestone. There is no public access and scientists visit only for four hour stretches. There is one part of the cave that has so much CO2 from tree roots that it’s dangerous to stay in too long and access throughout is limited to boardwalks created to protect the environment. The movie is available on Netflix where I found it.
And on to books. I acquired a kindle this year and, gawd, I have never read, or started to read, so many bad books in my life, but I won’t talk about those. I do find the lure of the free, $1.99, and kindle daily deal irresistible. For the first time in my life I have a TBR (digital) pile.
One book I didn’t buy for the kindle–some books just won’t work, particularly books with pix–was Adam Hochschild’s brilliant To End All Wars, about World War I. For me, it gave some entirely different perspectives on the war, particularly what was happening at home in England, where the authorities were terrified of revolution.
I said I wouldn’t talk about books I didn’t like (I have some discretion) but the much-vaunted and revered Death Comes To Pemberley by P.D. James sucks a major one, as we literary critics say. This article in the Guardian says it all–warning, contains spoilers, but the book is so poorly written you know who’s done it almost immediately. I would however recommend The Mysterious Death of Miss Austen by Lindsay Ashford who I met very briefly at the JASNA conference last October. It’s moving, sexy, and beautifully written. At the moment it’s really only available on kindle or from the ever-faithful bookdepository.com. Another writer I met at the conference was the lovely Syrie James (you should have seen her outfits!) whose non-Austen book Nocturne I also recommend–nothing to do with Austen, but one of the best vampire love stories I’ve read, and one which is smart enough to tackle the outcome of a mortal/immortal’s future together.
I also loved this collection of short stories by Laura Lippmann, Hardly Knew Her, a kindle bargain. Most of them are set in Baltimore or Washington, and several are about a high class hooker who maintains the identity of an upperclass suburban mom. Fascinating stuff.
At the moment I’m reading Laura Miller’s The Magician’s Book: A Skeptic’s Adventures in Narnia, which has some wonderful things to say about reading (and by extension about writing). It’s a book that absolutely resonates with me as I too loved the Narnia books (apart from The Last Battle) as a kid, and have returned to them at different stages of my life.
But what about romance? Okay, okay. Miranda Neville’s funny, sexy, smart The Amorous Adventures of Celia Seaton. (Refers to kindle.) Cafe du Hour by Lilian Darcy, Liberation of Alice Love by Abby McDonald, Tongues of Serpents by Naomi Novik (not technically a romance but I’ve always loved the Lawrence/Temeraire dynamic), and I finally got around to reading Lord of Scoundrels by Loretta Chase which to my surprise I liked.
Have you read any of these? What were your favorite 2011 reads?
What if, hidden in an old attic chest, Jane Austen’s memoirs were discovered after hundreds of years? What if those pages revealed the untold story of a life-changing love affair? That’s the premise behind this spellbinding novel, which delves into the secrets of Jane Austen’s life, giving us untold insights into her mind and heart.
Today we welcome to the Riskies Syrie James, whose wonderful first novel The Lost Memoirs of Jane Austen is now on the shelves. As usual, your relevant comment or question enters you into a contest to win a signed copy of the book, and Syrie will drop by to chat and answer questions.
Syrie, welcome to the Riskies. How did you come up with the idea for The Lost Memoirs of Jane Austen? (which I loved, by the way–it was such fun to identify Austen’s inspirations and I found the ending tremendously moving).
I’d read and loved all of Jane Austen’s novels, and couldn’t accept the historians’ theory that this wonderful, romantic writer never fell in love herself. Since Jane Austen was a very private person—all her books were published anonymously during her lifetime—I realized it was entirely possible that she had a love affair no one knew about. I decided to give her that love affair, with the man who was her soul mate; to write the book that I wanted to read.
Tell us about the research.
I read dozens of Jane Austen biographies. I studied her letters in minute detail, reread all her novels, her juvenilia, and her unfinished works. I researched her era extensively and watched all her movies. I took a self-guided Jane Austen Tour of England. I even took English Regency Country Dance lessons!
I was delighted by the gossipy, irreverent tone of Jane Austen’s letters and juvenilia. I was overwhelmed and awed when I visited Jane Austen’s house at Chawton, and walked through the very rooms she lived and wrote in during the last nine years of her life. Godmersham Park (the estate formerly owned by Jane’s rich brother Edward, where she often made extended visits) is far larger, and has more extensive grounds, than I ever imagined. The Cobb at Lyme Regis (made famous in Persuasion, and featured in my novel) offers absolutely gorgeous vistas, and is far windier than I expected!
Did you find channeling Jane Austen intimidating?
Only at first. After all the research, when I finally started writing, her voice seemed to come naturally to me.
Why do you think Jane Austen is so popular?
Austen was witty and ironic, and a brilliant craftsman. She wrote about real people in recognizable circumstances, and she examined what people risk when they fall in love—a very relatable topic in any era. I think her recent surge in popularity owes a lot to the movies. Something magical happens when you put Jane Austen’s stories on the screen!
Was this your first novel or do you have a collection of mss. under the bed that may never see the light of day?
Before The Lost Memoirs of Jane Austen, I wrote a medical thriller which my agent loves, but has (so far) been unable to sell. That was heart-breaking. In my years as a screenwriter, although I sold 19 scripts, I wrote several that are still available!
Sorry, I have to ask you–have you seen Becoming Jane and what did you think of it?
I thought it was beautifully and reverently filmed, but I was disappointed by the story. I didn’t find it romantic. However, I loved the film adaptation of The Jane Austen Book Club.
What’s your favorite Austen novel?
Pride and Prejudice.
What else do you like to read?
I read everything! I read the newspaper every day. I subscribe to a lot of magazines. I usually have at least three or four novels in progress on my nightstand. I especially enjoy historical fiction, historical romance, women’s fiction, biography, memoir, mystery, humor and the classics.
What’s next for you?
I’m busy maintaining my website at http://www.syriejames.com/ … and I’m researching and writing my next book for Avon: a love story for Charlotte Brontë (another one of my favorite writers.) As you can imagine, I’m having a fantastic time “being” Charlotte!
As usual, we welcome your questions and comments!