There are a lot of Mr. Darcy novels out there. Hundreds, in fact. Some are retellings of his side of Pride and Prejudice. Others continue his life at Pemberley after his marriage to Elizabeth Bennet, but, a new Mr. Darcy novel released today has an entirely new twist!
Please join us today in welcoming author Nina Benneton on the first stop in her blog tour in celebration of the release of her debut novel, Compulsively Mr. Darcy published this month by Sourcebooks. Nina has generously shared with us some insights on creating the novel, and offered a giveaway to three lucky readers.
I wish to thank Laurel Ann and Austenprose for inviting me to guest blog today. It’s an honor.
“There’s no one to touch Jane when you’re in a tight place.” – Rudyard Kipling, “The Janeites”
Reading and rereading Jane Austen’s works have gotten me out of a few “tight places” in my life.
To quote Lee Siegel in his article, A Writer Who is Good for You, (Atlantic Monthly, January 1998) “…few authors are at the same time so quietly fearsome and so intensely consoling.”
So quietly fearsome and so intensely consoling. That’s exactly how I experience Jane Austen’s works. As Siegel and the WWI soldiers in Kipling’s “The Janeites” did, I, too, have always found Austen’s writing soothing. Siegel’s words expressed better than I could my reason: “Austen’s sentences operate inwardly at once—they go into a quiet corner of the mind and out into the busy world.”
I love Austen’s stories for her characters. In particular, her secondary characters. Mrs. Norris in Mansfield Park, General Tilney in Northanger Abbey, Mr. Woodhouse in Emma, Mrs. Jennings in Sense and Sensibility, Sir Walter Elliot in Persuasion, and of course, Mrs. Bennet in Pride and Prejudice. For years, the quirks of Austen’s secondary characters held me captive as a faithful reader. Their foibles and follies appealed to a particular defect in my own personality: my tendency toward irreverence. Austen’s heroes/heroines protagonists and antagonists and their so-called romance were simply plot devices to showcase how funny Sir Walter Elliot, Mr. Woodhouse and Mrs. Jennings were.
At first, Austen’s novels were not romance novels for me. To really escape from tight places, and to get that heart palpitating, swooning, shivering read of a romance, I read genre romance novels. Novels that weren’t assigned by high school English teachers. Novels with covers of women with bosoms more bodacious than mine. Novels with covers of men with hair longer than mine.
Then, during a particular “tight place” period a few years ago, on a shelf in my library, I stumbled across Jane Austen sequel books.
Be still my heart.
I read. I palpitated. I swooned. I shivered.
I searched for more of these stories, on shelves and then online. My space was no longer tight. My mind was no longer quiet. My soul was pierced by the romance of Mr. Darcy and Miss Bennet.
Mr. Darcy’s cropped locks, a la Brutus, replaced Fabio’s mullet. Miss Bennet’s spencer, demure yet still saucy, replaced bodacious bosoms.
Inspired by these writers’ interpretations of Mr. Darcy and Miss Bennet’s romance, I dipped my nib into ink.
A modern interpretation of Mr. Darcy and Miss Bennet’s romance appealed to me. To take beloved, iconic characters and infuse my own irreverent contemporary interpretation, while staying true to the joyful spirit of Austen’s work: what audacious challenge! To go to town on secondary characters: what bliss!
A collision of coincidences gave birth to the beginning setting of Compulsively Mr. Darcy. I’d discovered the addictive nature of reading tabloids at the same time I discovered the addictive nature of Jane Austen sequels.
Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie had just adopted a Vietnamese orphan. What must that been like for the locals to have these rich and famous people come to adopt one of their own?
That’s just like the Netherfield gang arriving in Hertfordshire. The comic potential of Bingley & Darcy and company coming to Vietnam to adopt a trendy Hollywood baby sparked my muse.
I had some familiarity with international adoption and had traveled to Asia and to Vietnam a few years earlier for a visit, I had emotional geography—memory of the cacophony of noises as soon as one left the airport, memory of the zany sight of people riding bikes carrying chickens and pigs, memory of the hilarious sight of a ninety-pounds cyclo driver taxiing an American tourist three sizes his weight through dust-filled streets. Emotional geography is essential for a writer because the setting is truly another character in any story. I decided to begin the story in Vietnam. The city of Da Nang replaced Hertfordshire as the setting. Netherfield became Net Thi Phen resort. Marble Mountains replaced the woods at Rosings.
How to interpret and develop the heroine? From repeated readings of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, what struck me about her Elizabeth Bennet was how quick-to-judge she was, how assured she was in her snap judgment of people. I knew I wanted to explore that aspect of her characterization.
But how to get her to Vietnam? What would she be doing there? She needed to be more than a tourist. She needed a local, an “expat.”
Write what you know.
I had a classmate, Lisa, who grew up in a nice suburb near Berkeley, California. Lisa went to Africa to work with orphans afflicted with AIDS, and I’ve always admired her for that. Before going to Africa, Lisa had never even traveled beyond the hundred-mile radius of Berkeley (the center of the world to us Berkeley gals!). Lisa was the smartest girl in the class, and the most innocent, tender-heart person I knew. She’s still there. Lisa is Elizabeth. It’s fitting. I had to use her as inspiration for my Dr. Elizabeth Bennet.
I didn’t have a specialty for Dr. Elizabeth Bennet until an obsessive-compulsive Mr. Darcy came fully fleshed to me one day. It was sheet-and-blanket laundry day at home, and it occurred to me that, if I were traveling, I wouldn’t have to wash the sheets. My mind jumped to how well and how often hotel sheets were actually washed, at home and abroad, whether at the Super 8 motel near my home or in the four-star resorts in Asia. From my repeated reading of Jane Austen’s Mr. Darcy, I had an impression of an alpha male who liked to be in control. I decided my hero Mr. Darcy would be control-freak who’d bring his own sheets to hotels.
If my Mr. Darcy was an OCD control-freak, then my Dr. Elizabeth Bennet had to be an infectious disease doctor who’s impulsive as heck to yin his yang.
And that was how Compulsively Mr. Darcy came to be written.
Author Bio: Nina Benneton was on her way to save the world and earn a Nobel Prize in something, anything, when her own Mr. Darcy and a bevy of beautiful children interrupted her plans. She woke up one day and saw she was too obsessive about alphabetizing her spices and searching for stray Barbie shoes. She turned to writing.
Her debut novel, Compulsively Mr. Darcy, earned a Best Book review from Long and Short Review, “Hands down…a must read for lovers and fans of classic romance.” Fresh Fiction Review called it a “tenderly written novel.” Publishers Weekly wrote, “Die-hard fans of everything Austen will enjoy this update of her classic tale.” Visit Nina at her website: Nina Benneton; Facebook: as Nina Benneton; Twitter: as @NinaBenneton; and at Austen Authors.
Giveaway of Compulsively Mr. Darcy
Enter a chance to win one of three copies of Compulsively Mr. Darcy, by Nina Benneton by leaving a comment stating what intrigues you about this new retelling of Pride and Prejudice, or which character in the original novel you love or hate, by 11:59 PT, Wednesday, February 15, 2012. Winner announced on Thursday, February 16, 2012. Shipment to US and Canadian addresses only. Good luck!
© 2007 – 2012 Nina Benneton, Austenprose