A new Austenesque book is being launched today, and after meeting Lily Berry, Cindy Jones’ unconventional heroine we may never look at Jane Austen’s novels in the same way again! Please welcome Cindy Jones on her first stop on the blog tour.
LAN: Congratulations Cindy! My Jane Austen Summer launches today. As a debut author that must be very heady. Can you share with us the premise of the book and what your inspiration was to write it?
CSJ: Thank you, Laurel Ann for hosting me on publication day. My Jane Austen Summer is the story of a woman who believes she may finally realize her fantasy of living in a novel when she is invited to a Jane Austen Literary Festival in England. The idea for My Jane Austen Summer developed after re-reading all six Jane Austen novels and feeling the pain of permanent separation at the last page. I craved a book that would allow me to spend more time inside her world, I wanted Jane Austen to be present (the way she is in my head), and I wanted a stand-alone story whose plot involved my favorite Austen novel, Mansfield Park. The book I wanted to read didn’t exist, so I wrote it myself.
LAN: Your heroine Lily Berry is very intriguing, transforming from a needy mixed-up mess to somewhere more stable and self-confident by the end of the book. Her obsession with reading Jane Austen novels to escape reality is quite endearing and at the same time troubling. Personally, I can think of nowhere better than an Austen novel to be lost in, but it does mess up her life a bit. While writing the character, did you discover anything about yourself, and what message do you hope readers discover?
CSJ: I wanted to create a character whose traits and circumstances put her at risk for self-destructive behavior. We’ve all had intelligent friends who repeat mistakes in spite of our fervent admonitions not to, and I wanted to fix one of these people in my book. I wanted to watch her take action and make choices under the increasing pressure of painful revelations and gentle understanding. The more truth she understands about her situation, the more she is able to stop hurting herself and be happier in the world. As far as a message, I would be thrilled if someone took away Lily’s discovery that Willis is attracted to her by the qualities that make her original.
“I felt uplifted by the joyful news that Willis liked me. Not Cosmo me or Earth me—but the real me: the original me that had been too weird to introduce to any other boyfriends. The me I wouldn’t have been able to invent. The me that now walked the halls as if I were Elizabeth Bennett, mistress of the tea-theatre.”
LAN: Mansfield Park is the dark horse of Jane Austen’s oeuvre. I have long been an advocate of the novel and Fanny Price. The Fanny Wars are renowned in Austen lore. Why did you choose Mansfield Park as the inspiration for your book, and how do its themes and characters support your plot?
CSJ: Mansfield Park is my favorite Austen novel, and while I read the book, Jane Austen spoke to me from between the lines. We became best friends. Lily’s relationship with her Jane Austen is lifted entirely from my own experience of intense friendship with an author dead 200 years. From initial infatuation to shared activities, it is entirely possible to nurture a relationship. But when I discovered information that cast an unfavorable light on Jane Austen, I was surprised. Why hadn’t she told me? And from the moment of that discovery, which Lily also makes in her story, my relationship with Jane Austen retreated to more appropriate boundaries.
However, as best friends, Jane Austen and I agree on one important thing: bookish women should marry for love. This point is made clearly in Mansfield Park where Austen champions the bookish Fanny Price over the witty Mary Crawford. Critics claim that Jane Austen manipulates the plot in order for Fanny Price to prevail. Yes, exactly! They have made my point for me.
Mansfield Park and My Jane Austen Summer share a bookish protagonist, a wavering clergyman, and siblings with agendas. Common themes include endurance and the search for self-knowledge.
LAN: Jane Austen’s road to publication was long and arduous. As a first time novelist, can you share with us your personal journey to publication, and offer any advice to other new aspiring authors?
CSJ: My journey to publication took ten years from the time of enrolling in my first serious writing class to the time of signing with HarperCollins. I survived setbacks by studying the criticism of my work and using it to help me revise and try again. Advice to aspiring authors: listen carefully to trusted feedback, learn to cut without mercy, and persist well beyond your previously perceived limits. For more on my journey to publication, see my post today on Girlfriends Book Club.
LAN: What revs you up to write, and what’s up next in your career?
CSJ: In order to spend years writing a book, the subject matter must arouse my curiosity and send me on a quest. My next novel is the story of two women of similar appearance who trade places. One flies to India with her lover who is scouting hotel sites while the other stays home with children, house, and estranged husband. The idea of stepping into another person’s life has always intrigued me and I have enjoyed being a fly on the wall, watching a young woman discover the truth about appearances. Jane Austen is not present in my next novel, but Byron and Shelley play supporting roles of a lecherous college professor and his dilettante friend. Bonus: the protagonist describes the experience of reading poetry by John Keats. The draft is almost ready for my husband to read.
LAN: Now for a bit of fun. If you could be introduced to any of Jane Austen’s colorful heroes or villains, who would it be, and what penetrating question would you ask them?
CSJ: I would love to be in the same room with Caroline Bingley. I wouldn’t wish to actually talk to her, because she would never tell me what I want to know. But the secrets she harbors would be revealed to me through her gestures, vocal inflections, and eye movement. The opportunity to study her up close, in action, would provide me the information to speculate as to what variety of fear motivates her, and I would take lots of notes for future use.
Cindy Jones was born in Ohio and grew up in small mid-western towns, reading for escape. She dreamed of living in a novel and wrote her first book in fifth grade. A business career, husband, and four sons later, she completed My Jane Austen Summer. She has a BA, an MBA, studied creative writing in the SMU CAPE program, and belong to the The Squaw Valley Community of Writers. The winner of the Writers’ League of Texas Manuscript Contest, and she lives with her family in Dallas where she has discovered that, through writing, it is entirely possible to live in a novel for a good part of each day. Visit Cindy on her website, blog First Draft or on Twitter as CindySJones.
My Jane Austen Summer Launch Day Blog Tour
My Jane Austen Summer is celebrating its publication today with a four-stop blog tour and giveaways on each blog. Visit and leave a comment on each blog for a chance to win a signed copy of the novel and a package of Lily Berry’s Pink Rose Tea, created by Bingley’s Teas, Ltd. Each blog will hold a separate drawing, meaning four chances to win. Here’s where we’re celebrating:
- “Here We Go” on First Draft
- The Path to Pub Day on Girlfriends BookClub
- Interview with a Protagonist on Austen Authors
Enter a chance to win one copy of My Jane Austen Summer, by Cindy Jones and the famous Lily Berry’s Pink Rose Tea, created by Bingley’s Teas, Ltd by leaving a comment sharing how you relate to Lily’s obsession with reading Jane Austen novels, or which novel you like most to be lost in and why, by midnight PT, Wednesday, April 6, 2011. Winner announced on Thursday, April 7, 2010. Shipment to US and Canadian addresses only. Good luck!
- Order My Jane Austen Summer and Lily Berry ‘s Pink Rose Tea combo
- Read Christina’s review of My Jane Austen Summer
- Order My Jane Austen Summer online
2007 – 2011 Laurel Ann Nattress, Austenprose