Why did you choose Jane Austen's world as the inspiration for your novel?
Despite my fascination (or let's be honest, obsession) with all those period details, what really draws me to Jane Austen is that she does, in fact, transcend time. Her all-seeing, all-knowing, take-no-prisoners approach to the follies and flaws of human beings makes her books not only timeless, but almost eerily contemporary, despite the bonnets and balls and carriages. It is as if she were a modern-day psychotherapist with a wicked sense of humor who time-traveled back to the Regency and wrote novels about everyone who spent time on her couch.
Why are you, and so many others, "Austen addicts"?
Because the more I read Jane Austen's six novels, the more I discover about myself and human nature in general. In fact, the Austen canon equates to the best self-help book you could ever have in your library. Feeling self-important? Read Jane Austen. In the midst of an identity crisis? Perhaps, like me, you'll find a little of yourself in all her heroines. Northanger Abbey's Catherine Morland, who is addicted to scary novels, dancing, and old houses, reminds me of who I was when I lived in a crumbling Victorian that was said to be haunted, or when I could spend all night in after-hours clubs and still make it to work by 9. Sense and Sensibility's Marianne Dashwood, she of the tear-rimmed eyes and self-destructive tendencies, is who I was when consuming little more than espresso, Big-Gulp-size vodka martinis, and American Spirits was my idea of post-break-up nourishment. Emma is who I am when I get lost in the land of running-your-life-is-so-much-better-than-looking-at-my-own. I still wish I were as eloquent a smart-ass as Pride and Prejudice's Elizabeth Bennet, but the more I venture into the minefield of self-reflection, the more I appreciate Austen's less incendiary heroines: the quietly steadfast Anne Eliot of Persuasion, and even the iconically timid Fanny Price of Mansfield Park, whom I used to dismiss as a prude.
How did your obsession with reading and re-reading Austen's novels lead to writing a novel yourself?
For me it was an inevitable outcome. I can never get enough of Jane Austen's six novels, or of the veritable banquet of Austen-inspired movies. There's Colin Firth fencing and working up a sweat in the BBC's 1996 Pride and Prejudice, Matthew MacFadyen smoldering in the 2005 version, and Lost's swoon-worthy Naveen Andrews in the Bollywood version. If there were 50 adaptations of Pride and Prejudice, I'd see them all. I'd buy them all. I'd play them all till they started skipping and I had to buy a new one.
After all, I am insatiable.
Which is why I started writing Confessions of a Jane Austen Addict. I could feed my cravings by creating a story of a twenty-first-century party girl who wakes up in the body and life of a woman in Jane Austen's time. Now that's what I call an identity crisis. That's what I call the perfect excuse to immerse myself in the world of my favorite author.
This book, however, grew into a more complex personal journey than I could have imagined. I found myself exploring fundamental questions of identity, destiny, and the nature of time, such as can I really be who I think I am if everyone around me thinks I'm someone else? How big of a role does free will play in our destiny? And is time really linear, or is there another way to look at it? These are things that are worth pondering, even if one doesn't wake up in Regency England.
How did you research your novel? And what does BB King have to do with Jane Austen?
I read everything I could find on the period, and I traveled. I went to London, to Bath, to little country villages frozen in time. I went to the Assembly Rooms where Anne Eliot longed to catch Captain Wentworth's eye. I went to conjure the past through the lens of my twenty-first-century protagonist's mind.
While searching for articles on the Internet, I also stumbled across a bunch of Jane-centric groups and fan sites. (Apparently there were people as addicted to Austen as I.) The only group I joined was JASNA, the Jane Austen Society of North America. I never thought of myself as much of a joiner, but they were a scholarly group whose publications were food for my research. Or so I reasoned. So what if some of them liked to dress in period costumes for their annual Regency ball? Was that so wrong? Wouldn't I like to don an empire-waisted muslin and learn English country dancing and pretend I was Gwyneth Paltrow dancing with Jeremy Northam? The very thought was enough to make me break out in a cold sweat.
No, I decided, there was no reason for me to actually attend a JASNA meeting, not even when they blew into L.A. for their annual confab. Truth is, I was afraid of being in a room with other people who were not only as obsessed with Austen as I am, but who also had no problem labeling themselves as such. Might it not be like going to an AA meeting and admitting publicly I had a problem? Like my protagonist, I didn't know if I was ready for that.
My husband, however, insisted I go. Alone.
After willing myself through the glass doors of the Biltmore Hotel in downtown L.A. and down the grand columned and chandeliered hallway, I made my way to the JASNA registration table. The women at the table were all giddy about BB King, who had apparently just passed by, caught sight of the sign and said, "Jane Austen! I love Jane Austen!" Thrilled, they gave him a tote bag.
Picturing the blues legend carrying around a canary yellow bag emblazoned with the JASNA acronym, it suddenly hit me: If BB King could love Jane Austen publicly, couldn't I?
And so I came out of the Janeite closet that weekend. I went to every talk and lecture I could, short of cloning myself so that I could attend three at once. I took English country dance lessons and danced every dance at the ball. Most of all, I met a lot of wonderful people who love to read Jane Austen. Over and over again. And my world's a better place because of it.
Read the author bio and books by famed author Jane Austen, the inspiration for Confessions of a Jane Austen Addict:
Jane Austen was born on December 16, 1775 at Steventon near Basingstoke, the seventh child of the rector of the parish. She lived with her family at Steventon until they moved to Bath when her father retired in 1801. After his death in 1805, she moved around with her mother; in 1809, they settled in Chawton, near Alton, Hampshire. Here she remained, except for a few visits to London, until in May 1817 she moved to Winchester to be near her doctor. There she died on July 18, 1817.
As a girl Jane Austen wrote stories, including burlesques of popular romances. Her works were only published after much revision, four novels being published in her lifetime. These are Sense and Sensibility (1811), Pride and Prejudice (1813), Mansfield Park (1814) and Emma (1816). Two other novels, Northanger Abbey and Persuasion, were published posthumously in 1818 with a biographical notice by her brother, Henry Austen, the first formal announcement of her authorship. Persuasion was written in a race against failing health in 1815-16. She also left two earlier compositions, a short epistolary novel, Lady Susan, and an unfinished novel, The Watsons. At the time of her death, she was working on a new novel, Sanditon, a fragmentary draft of which survives.
More books by Jane Austen