I’m so excited about this new book by Marilyn Brant! I always love an Austen-inspired novel (my own Crossing Washington Square pays homage to Austen’s Sense and Sensibility, of course) and Marilyn’s debut about a young woman receiving love advice from Jane Austen herself looks like it wont disappoint. According to Jane is “a warm, witty and charmingly original story,” according to #1 New York Times bestselling author, Susan Wiggs.
And here’s the full skinny…
It begins one day in sophomore English class, just as Ellie Barnett’s teacher is assigning Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. From nowhere comes a quiet “tsk” of displeasure. The target: Sam Blaine, the cute bad boy who’s teasing Ellie mercilessly, just as he has since kindergarten. Entirely unbidden, as Jane might say, the author’s ghost has taken up residence in Ellie’s mind, and seems determined to stay there.
Jane’s wise and witty advice guides Ellie through the hell of adolescence and beyond, serving as the voice she trusts, usually far more than her own. Years and boyfriends come and go–sometimes a little too quickly, sometimes not nearly fast enough. But Jane’s counsel is constant, and on the subject of Sam, quite insistent. Stay away, Jane demands. He is your Mr. Wickham.
Still, everyone has something to learn about love–perhaps even Jane herself. And lately, the voice in Ellie’s head is being drowned out by another, urging her to look beyond everything she thought she knew and seek out her very own, very unexpected, happy ending.
Although this is Marilyn’s debut, she is no stranger to the world of books. As a former teacher, library staff member, freelance magazine writer and national book reviewer for Romantic Times, Marilyn has spent much of her life lost in literature. She received her M.A. in educational psychology from Loyola University Chicago, dabbled in both fiction and art at Northwestern University, studied the works of Austen at Oxford University and is an active member of the Jane Austen Society of North America. Her debut novel won RWA’s prestigious Golden Heart Award® in 2007. Marilyn lives in the northern Chicago suburbs with her family, but she also hangs out online at her blog “Brant Flakes.” When she isn’t rereading Jane’s books or enjoying the latest releases by her writer friends, she’s working on her next novel, eating chocolate indiscriminately and hiding from the laundry.
Marilyn kindly snuck out from behind the laundry pile and agreed to answer some questions!
Tell us about your latest release and the inspiration behind it.
My debut novel tells the story of a modern woman who–for almost two decades–has the ghost of Jane Austen in her head giving her dating advice. I first read Pride & Prejudice as a high-school freshman. Like my heroine Ellie, I raced through the novel way ahead of the reading assignments. I loved both the story and Austen’s writing style immediately. Her books changed the way I perceived the behavior of everyone around me, and I spent the rest of freshman year trying to figure out which Austen character each of my friends and family members most resembled! Also like Ellie, I had a few (okay, a lot) of less-than-wonderful boyfriends, and I would have loved to have been given romantic advice from the author I most respected and the one who’d written one of my all-time favorite love stories.
Which scene in your novel did you love writing? Why?
One scene I had a lot of fun with was the bar scene in the first chapter where my main character runs into her ex-high-school boyfriend for the first time in four years. It was a situation I had never experienced personally, but I could imagine the comical possibilities so clearly and feel and the frustration of my heroine as if I’d been the one standing there, facing the jerk and his latest girlfriend, while Jane Austen ranted about how “insufferable” he was.
What’s one piece of writing advice you’ve found valuable on your journey to publication?
Don’t follow trends just because you think it’ll be an easier sell. And write the books that fit your voice. If what you love writing happens to be a hot-selling genre, great. If your writing voice happens to be perfect for the genre you want to write in and love to read, that’s awesome, too. But–if not–write long and hard enough to find what DOES fit you and your style best. Because then, even if it takes longer to make that first sale than you expect, you’re writing the kinds of stories you most enjoy, and that passion has a way of working itself into the projects you’re creating.
Did you have any input on the cover, and are you happy with the finished product?
I was asked for input on the cover by my editor, and I sent Kensington pages of possible scene ideas, plus a plot summary and descriptions of the main characters. In the end, I have no idea whether or not my notes were helpful, but the cover didn’t look anything like I’d imagined it–it looked far, far better! I couldn’t be more pleased with the way our cover designer, Kristine Mills-Noble, envisioned the look of the book. I’m really excited to see what she’ll come up with for my second novel.
Which ‘craft’ book has inspired or helped you the most throughout your writing career?
I’m a BIG fan of craft books, so I have more than one! I used Blake Snyder’s SAVE THE CAT! almost religiously in the plotting of my past several books. I’m still very sad that he’s no longer with us. As far as a great reference guide, Robert McKee’s STORY is incredible. It has more information about writing craft than I can ever internalize. Also, whenever I need a more emotional pick-me-up, I grab the Ralph Keyes book THE COURAGE TO WRITE. I recommend it to everyone.
What’s next for you?
I get to visit a number of book clubs that chose my debut novel, According to Jane, as their monthly book pick–wildly fun!–while also starting the production/promotion process all over again for my next women’s fiction project. That second book is done, but we’re still working on finding the right title. It’s a modern fairytale about three suburban moms who shake up their marriages and their lives when one woman asks her friends a somewhat shocking question… That comes out in October 2010.