Friday, March 27, 2015

Why I Write Austen-Inspired Moderns

Jane Austen gave us the bible of literary romance - the foundation, the benchmark, the one and only Mr. Fitzwilliam Darcy and Elizabeth Bennet.  She gave us wit and cleverness of speech, arrogance and forgiveness.  She gave us the haughty and the silly and, by God, she made a mockery of it all with that little Mona Lisa smile of hers.  So why the heck do authors tear it apart, re-write it, and smash it around in such a seemingly disrespectful manner?

Some readers ask that question and then give their opinion so decidedly on the matter, which we don't mind - truly, we don't.  "These characters are nothing like the original!"  "Jane Austen would roll over in her grave!" and then the last, most important one:  "This work is so un-canon!"

The last statement is my favorite, and does cause me to chuckle as it applies to my stories.  It is the one I'd like to focus on.  Yes, dear, appreciated reader, you're right.  Some stories in the JAFF world are so un-canon, that it may make you think "Why bother with Austen?"  Let me state, unequivocally, that I love canon as do 99.9% of all JAFF authors.  We devour canon and nothing can ever, ever replace canon.  Jane Austen gave us everything in canon and when I want the real deal - I'll read it.  I'll go to the source and know that she gave us the meat and potatoes to feed a modern imagination.  Canon inspires me, a modern author, to take Fitzwilliam Darcy and Elizabeth Bennet and see them in other circumstances, in other eras, and even with other - modern adapted spellings of their name.  *Gasp*

There are all kinds of imaginative retellings of P&P.  In the world of JAFF, Janeite authors write Austenesque books classified in the following:

Follow canon
Austen Sequels
Austen What-Ifs
Austen Variations
Austen Inspired
Austen Regency
Austen Contemporary
Austen Supernatural

All of which have their own sub-genre, that unique flavor the author bleeds into his/her book from the depths of his/her mind's eye and cleverness. (And I do mean bleeds because we pour everything into it.) Sub-genres such as Inspirational, Adventure and even Erotica.  The sky's the limit with Mr. Darcy and his Elizabeth, and we're not afraid to take them there.  

Further, the beauty of all these different types of JAFF is that every reader has so much to choose from.  Up until last year, one excellent index had successfully tabulated every fanfiction right down to the smallest of search details.  If you're looking for a story where Elizabeth falls in love with a one-eyed, werewolf Darcy with living parents and an angelic George Wickham, if it exists, www.jaffindex.com/ will have it listed.  It should be bookmarked as a staple in your story searching, whether you're looking for published or non-published work.


There is also a site that just emerged as a promising index for stories based on the admin's reading. Although the recommendations are subjective to her/his taste, definitely check out www.jaffrecs.com.  The site also has a nice feature where recently completed JAFF (non-published) is listed for those who shy away from WIP's on the fanfiction serial posting forums.


Well known and loved JAFF Blogger, Meredith of Austenesque Reviews, has compiled another noteworthy resource: A Comprehensive Guide to Austenesque Novels, which includes reviews and ratings of many of the published stories.  Chock full of information, I highly recommend it. 


As Janites we are very fortunate and eternally grateful to the admins of these three indexes because without them, I shudder to think how and where to find all the different variations out there.  Particularly since so many JAFF forums have shut down or become stagnant.


Now ... with the near publication of my upcoming modern P&P novel, Denial of Conscience, I thought it suitable to mention why I choose to write Austen Inspired in a contemporary world.  Why do I seem to borrow Jane's beloved characters in name only and place them in sometimes shocking situations. Why do I enjoy only touches of canon in my stories? Well, simply put, I tend to focus on the traits of pride and/or prejudice.  The actual actions and emotions of the two - what drives a man to such pride? What may influence a woman's prejudice?  Was it at time in history where both traits were boldly prominent (WWII?)  

For me, Jane Austen inspired so much more than the character's flaws/nuances of personality, she opened the door for me to take a wider berth in my storytelling.  I'll turn canon on its head, making our Jane evil, instead of the goodhearted sap I sometimes feel she is.  I'll enjoy giving the reader a wonderful Mrs. Bennet if JA's character helps to tell the tale of pride and/or prejudice, forgiveness and or/atonement.

  

As I write, and without even realizing it, nuances of Miss Austen's message somehow always comes through.  Yes, even in a modern setting.  That is why I make the case for The Modern Mr. Darcy.  Just as Miss Austen wrote for her "modern" audience - her contemporaries - I, too, do so.  That's the universal, almost cliche, beauty of canon. It's timeless. Whether it be 1813, 1943 or 2015, the messages are profoundly demonstrative of human nature: men, women, love, family, place in society, kindness, ridiculous, and arrogance. And let's not forget that which has been around since the dawn of mankind: Pride and Prejudice.

Here's a small part of a scene from Lucky 13, Chapter 20 to demonstrate what I mean.


Elizabeth lay on the sofa absently flicking the cable remote with lighting speed, looking for just the right sappy Christmas movie guaranteed to leave her a blubbering fool. She needed a damn good cry, but it just wouldn’t come. It was three in the afternoon on the Saturday following her nightmare fight with Darcy, and she lacked initiative even to consider appearing at the gym. The massive amounts of sugar cookie crumbs and sprinkles on her chest, sofa and floor were telltale evidence. Apart from her stomachache and the throbbing headache from too many glasses of wine she consumed throughout the night, she felt numb.
Moreover, her numbness wasn’t just from her own romantic quagmire. She was still deadened from the phone call she had received from Jane late last night or technically speaking, the wee early hours today.
Simply put, Charlie had called off the wedding and Jane was an emotional wreck. There was more – Jane found out she is pregnant and doesn’t have the guts to tell him now. More secrets, more than even Elizabeth had the strength to deal with. When she received her sister’s call, it took everything in her power to refrain from giving her a piece of her mind, but the pieces of her mind were muddled and spent and already put through the ringer. All she could muster was compassion for her not-so-perfect sister whose world was unexpectedly crashing down upon her. Yeah, she knew what that felt like – her own carefully constructed walls were tumbling down, too.
Even as angry as she was with Jane for sleeping with John, sisterly love propelled her to rise above her own problems. At one in the morning, she had been willing to hop in a cab down to TriBeCa, but Jane insisted she could survive the pain alone. Whether it was martyrdom, wallowing or pure panic wasn’t clear. Whether or not it was a passive-aggressive page taken from their mother’s playbook also remained to be seen. When asked of Charlie’s reasoning for calling off the wedding, he cryptically told Jane that upon learning some things about her, he couldn’t live with them for the rest of his life. He stated he “… never expected such behavior from her.”
The proverbial shoe had dropped. Jane’s foray into the world of Playboy must have finally been outted. Of course, Elizabeth couldn’t help her knee-jerk reaction to place the blame at Darcy’s feet, assuming that in his vengeful anger toward her, and under the misguided responsibility of being ‘the best man’, he must have told Charlie of his fiancĂ©e’s dalliance with soft-core pornography.
With the consumption of her first glass of Riesling, that angry conclusion was dismissed as quickly as it came. During the second glass, she found herself softening her condemnation when she began to logically compile a sloppily written timeline, which now sat, front and center, between her empty wine glass and cell phone.
Once the third glass was nearly finished, Darcy had been exonerated and the memories of that pleading look of love he had given her in the museum when he proclaimed, “I love you,” had burned into her mind’s eye. Therefore, it would appear here that the consumption of alcohol had actually benefitted Darcy in the long run.
For a good long commercial break, Elizabeth debated if yesterday had been the worst day of her life so far. It had been a Friday – that had to account for something, but it was Christmas for crying out loud. This sort of stuff wasn’t supposed to happen, dammit!
In the darkened room, where only the diffused changing color streams of light from the television illuminated the disheveled space, the unlit Christmas tree stared back at her. Those stupid little watercolor ornaments of Emma and Mr. Knightly were now demoted to the far backside of the tree where no one, most of all her, would see them. Love – what a pain in the arse.
All she initially wanted was a Christmas dinner date and a date for Jane’s wedding. Was that so much to ask? She wasn’t emotionally prepared for love, let alone true love – the forever kind of love, yet that was what Darcy was offering, wasn’t it? She knew that in her steadfast determination to find only a dinner date, her shortsightedness overlooked something so much more.
During their argument, he had echoed all the things Charlotte previously said to her - things Elizabeth never wanted to face. John had hurt her so badly those many years ago that the thought of putting her heart, mind and soul out there for one man, ever again, was not a welcome prospect. Sure, she had often said she had wanted unconditional love but, in truth, she was too afraid to either offer it or open herself up to accepting it. Mr. December and his self-assured manner, not to mention his persistent pursuit of her, was unexpected. Her attraction to him was even more so. What he did in regard to the blog and Georgiana’s deceit was wrong though certainly didn’t warrant her overreaction. The three glasses of wine helped her to admit that Charlotte was right - it was a ‘public’ blog – and she put it out there for all to read.
Laying there in the near dark, she closed her eyes briefly, breathing deeply. The damage was done and there was no going backward; she could only go forward.
The weight of her actions, and now realizations, was sobering. It’s not luck, or lack of. It’s of my own creation.
What a mess she created, and she couldn’t, rightly, place the blame on any other players in this game of love. The ownership of this sad debacle was all hers, willfully blinding herself to all of Darcy’s fine attributes, and deliberately holding him at arm’s length from the very beginning. Unwilling to view the news segment, unwilling to redeem the auction date, unwilling to delve more deeply into who he was – his likes, dislikes, and family life was her purposeful attempt to avoid her fears.
She turned off the TV and laid there in the dark, listening to the freezing rain pummel the window while she stared blankly up at the ceiling. A mental checklist of all the thoughtful and romantic things Darcy had said or done that had nothing to do with the things she mentioned in her blog, caused her to smile. Sending the jacket at the hockey game, protecting her from Preston, not pulling many punches when kickboxing against her, volunteering at the ASPCA, the flowers for Jane, what he did with his firefighter salary, and a myriad of other uncataloged acts spoke of his caring, loving nature and his fine character.


So here we have a modern day Elizabeth, doing just what our canon heroine did, dissect Darcy's declaration, attempting to find him at fault, only to exhonerate him in the ruination of a most beloved sister's engagement to Charlie Bingley.  Evident by all the wonderful things Will Darcy has done for Elizabeth and others, she comes to see his worth - his true character - and not one that's been fabricated (good or bad) in her own mind, but one based on fact.  They are all modern situations, but all resemble how canon Fitzwilliam Darcy finally advised Bingley to pursue Jane, as well as coming to the rescue of Miss Lydia's ruin to George Wickham.  

You might say, as modern Elizabeth eats her sugar cookies and drinks her wine, she is Hunsfordizing herself, both props acting as "the letter" to her subconscious epiphany.


Have you given The Modern Darcy a chance in your JAFF reading?  Have you ever considered replacing his cravat with an Italian silk tie and a finely tailored suit?  Have you ever wondered what a 21st Century Elizabeth would be like when faced with meeting a man such as Will Darcy on the subway, Starbucks or in a conference room?  Take a chance on The Modern Darcy - I think you might be pleasantly surprised, and easily become addicted.