Dusting the Bookshelf – A Jane Austen Daydream

As we get closer to the release of my latest novel (In Jerry’s Corner) from Stargazing Publishing, I thought it might be fun to take a look back at some of my previous novels. Maybe, if I am lucky, it will inspire you to check them out. Whenever I set out to write a book, I am aiming to do something unique, surprising and original. This might be a bad business model, but for me as a reader and an artist, it is a lot of fun.

Most people know me because of A Jane Austen Daydream.

It led to most of my followers on Twitter and this site, it led to me working on Current State on WKAR for three years talking about books, and it led to almost 250 reviews on Goodreads (a number which continues to grow each month).

When the book came out (after going through a separation with an old agent and two publishers, one of whom tried to massively re-edit it and then finally released it with Austen spelled wrong on the paperback), I became for many the Austen man. Every interview I did had a question that was kind of like “Hey, you’re a guy! Do you know it is strange for you to like Austen? Because you’re a guy, I mean.”

Honestly, even though I always found that question a little insulting and sexist. I never pointed it out in my responses (and I’ve given dozens of various little playful responses to it). Jane Austen is a great author and wrote probably the greatest novel in the English language. It really doesn’t matter if I am a guy or not; it doesn’t change that fact. To enjoy her writing is human.

…And, on a side note, the professor that got me into Pride and Prejudice and Jane Austen’s work was a dude as well. He is sadly gone now, but I did add him in as a character in the book as a thank you. He is the local doctor in Jane’s village, Dr. Chesley.

A Jane Austen Daydream was born out of a crazy idea I had, not out of the hope of creating a controversial Regency novel.

When I was a junior in college, I read all of Austen’s novels for the first time. I also read a biography on Ms. Austen and the contrast between her books and characters versus her own life was startlingly to me. Here was the writer that defined love for generations of romantic couples (as well as other novels and movies and plays) and she never had that for herself?

It felt like a cruel joke.

That reality “joke” was the starting place for the novel and the other twists I wound end up creating in the work. (Yes, even after all this time, I am hesitant to ruin the surprise for any future readers).

I was going to right a wrong! Sticking it to the man that forced Jane into a world where her books were published anonymously, and she died a practical unknown in a little village. She had no real idea the impact that she had on the world, or that her little home (that might have felt like a prison) would end up being a shrine for devoted fans for years and years to come.

It was a shrine for me for me too! I remember visiting her house, walking through her rooms. The smallness felt so claustrophobic to me. And yet, when you go into the garden you can breathe again. I felt her presence more there, than I ever did in the house. I think I sat in that garden for hours, working out the book in my head and scribbling in a notepad (I wrote the book first by hand, before I ever touched a keyboard).

One of my favorite moments after Daydream was published was an email I got from a reader. She went to the Austen house like I did so long ago and spent an afternoon reading my book in that very garden. And she just had to write and tell me about it! If that doesn’t make an author’s day, I don’t know what would.

I didn’t write Daydream right away. It was always my Mount Everest. I knew to create the book I would have to give something of myself and it would be difficult. It would be more that simply knowing her books, I would have to live them. I would have to find some kind of a middle ground between her voice and my own, and I would have to create dialogue for one of the most important authors in the history of literature.

No small task.

The right time came with the birth of my son, almost ten years after my garden visit. See, my wife had asked me many times for that novel ever since I told her the story (including the twists in it). This felt right to me, to thank her with the book she always wanted to read.

So… I purchased cheap paperbacks of all of Austen’s books (including some biographies), and I believe I read each at least seven times. Soon covering them in highlighters (and each color had a special meaning). Notebooks were soon filled with quotes and references I wanted to make. It was a laborious task, and I had not even begun to work on the chapters. It was like preparing for a thesis, not a novel.

It is my belief that half of the reason the book is as good as it is, is because I embraced her work and her vision of the world, I wasn’t just writing (which sometimes you see in Regency works, where characters might talk in a contemporary voice). Yeah, I like to think Jane and I worked together on the novel. Her name is in the title, mine is in the byline and both of our words are on every page.

(Of course, her name draws more readers than mine does. LOL,)

My favorite thing to come out of the release is sadly something only few have discovered. The audiobook is amazing. Just amazing!

Hearing my words acted out like that, sounding just like Jane! Wow! (Check it out here.) It quickly became my go-to whenever I need to be reminded that I am truly an author and I shouldn’t doubt my ability. Whatever I was aiming to accomplish to do with the book, the audiobook proved that I met that target.

If you haven’t heard the audiobook (and Louisa Gummer’s performance) I can not recommend it any higher. Give yourself that gift. You will smile throughout it.

This year, a fifth anniversary edition of A Jane Austen Daydream was released by Madison Street. It includes a new introduction by an Austen book reviewer. I really appreciate what she says in the introduction. Honestly, though I am still not sure that the Austen community knows what to do with the book.

It is a literary experiment, first and foremost. It is not another “Darcy has a Christmas Party” kind of story or a sequel with someone’s children dealing with love issues too (Hey, Emma’s kids also think they can be matchmakers! Can you believe it?). Regency literature has a central understanding towards Jane’s worlds and my book kind of shrugs its shoulders at it.

It’s not an anti-Regency book, not at all. But it is different. And I’m sure that readers who just want the comfort of returning to Jane’s books might be surprised. Her voice is there, her kind of experiences are there, but this is something a little off. I’ve always been drawn to stories that surprise me, and this checks that box.

Is the book for Jane Austen Fans? Definitely! Especially those that want to experience something new. It does feel like a new book by Jane and she is a captivating character. Also, it is filled with interesting side characters, just like her novels. The dialogue is witty and playful.

Is this book for people that don’t like Jane Austen? First off, what is wrong with you? Sure Mark Twain complained about Austen, but he still read her (I think he just enjoyed saying funny and controversial things; he did it to Shakespeare too), but her books survive for a reason and… okay… deep breath. The answer is yes to the question. Moving on.

Do you have to know Jane’s books like a scholar? No! But, yes, the book is a lot more fun if you know her novels since it is filled with nuggets and references (quotes and twists, etc.), but it is not necessary. I’ve heard some readers say that my book introduced them to Austen’s novels and they read her books after mine. That is great.

Are you saying this book is for anyone? Yeah, I do. I think so often we like to put books (and authors) into special little categories. It limits their inspiration and their ability to surprise and delight readers. This book flies in the face of that and is both a comfort (for Austen fans) and surprising for those looking for a new kind of book.

I intended in the book to create a fun and playful character study of a fictional Jane Austen, moving her through experiences into the Jane Austen who wrote her important novels. It is at its heart the story of someone finding their calling…. Oh, and shocking the hell out of readers.

I have a feeling A Jane Austen Daydream will always be out there for me.

Maybe in time, it might find its way onto TV or a movie screen? I dream of that and it feels a little inevitable in some ways. (Sooner or later someone from Masterpiece Theater, the BBC, or Hallmark is going to find it on a shelf.) I think it would be fun to watch. For the time being though it happily resides in the mind’s eye, awaiting new readers to discover Jane.

They will find young Jane running down a trail by her village, looking forward to working on her next story and wondering what the future may hold for her.

In Jerry’s Corner will be released later this year. You can learn more (and even read an exclusive interview) about my upcoming novel at Stargazing Publishing (here). Stay tuned!

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