Jane Vows Vengeance: A Novel, by Michael Thomas Ford – A Review

Jane Vows Vengeance: A Novel, by Michael Thomas Ford (2012)In the final novel in the Jane Austen Vampire trilogy (or is it???) we find our favorite two hundred year old undead authoress challenged by her condition, her past, and the future she is trying to make in Brakeston, New York with fiancé Walter Fletcher. After thoroughly enjoying the first two novels in the series, Jane Bites Back and Jane Goes Batty, we are all anticipation of how vampire Jane’s satiric, quirky and totally hilarious life in the twenty-first century will wrap up—or live on into eternity.

Wedding plans are in full swing even though Jane’s fiancé Walter is unaware of his future bride’s famous past or her present condition. His darling *cough* mother, Miriam the vampire hunter, is hampering the planning with her upbeat *cough* attitude and looming ultimatum that Jane must become pregnant within a year or she will stake her. Walter’s suggestion that they combine the wedding with a European tour offered by his architectural preservation association it quickly adopted finding an unlikely group of Jane and Walter’s friends and family jumping the pond to witness the nuptials in London and tour castles and other feigned sites of Europe together. Along the way they meet zombies, vampires, ghosts, forgotten husbands, and murdered fellow travelers, while Jane searches for the great vampire urban legend, Crispin’s Needle, capable of unmaking a vampire and restoring their human soul.

Ford has given us another treasure. The one-line zingers, snarky characters, break-neck pace, and nimble dialogue immediately remind us why it is such a joy to be back in his warped world. Jane Austen as a vampire? No way! Yes way! His prose is sharp, imaginative and shamelessly waggish, and we love it. The inside Janeite jokes abound. This sent us rolling:

“How awful to go through life named after someone you didn’t care for…For instance, suppose your mother adored Charlotte Bronte and you had been named Jane Eyre, yet you found the character stupid and tedious.”

“Doesn’t everyone?” said Jane, earning her a stern look from Lucy. p 69

Yes, Jane’s sick nemesis Charlotte is back, and so is her suave mentor Lord Byron, along with a slew of hilarious new characters. Jane Vows Vengeance takes us on a Da Vinci Code meets Agatha Christie meets Buffy the Vampire Slayer adventure that I did not want to end. We can only hope that Ford will be coerced into another set of three to appease the facetious Austen, vampire, three-legged talking Chihuahua, parody lovers in us all.

5 out of 5 Regency Stars

Jane Vows Vengeance: A Novel, by Michael Thomas Ford
Ballantine Books (2012)
Trade paperback (288) pages
ISBN: 978-0345513670
NOOK: ISBN: 978-0345524379
Kindle: ASIN: B00540PB9Q

© 2007 – 2012 Laurel Ann Nattress, Austenprose

Jane Goes Batty: A Novel, by Michael Thomas Ford – A Review

Jane Goes Batty: A Novel, by Michael Thomas Ford (2011)Our Janeite sensibilities tell us that the notion of Jane Austen as a vampire is pretty wacky. It’s just so hard to visualize “our” Jane as one of the undead, still here after two hundred years, and struggling with life challenges and her condition. Author Michael Thomas Ford understands this too. He has created a trilogy based on our uncertainty, curiosity, and proclivity for the burlesque that Austen herself was so fond of. Book one, Jane Bites Back, sold us on the concept that anything can happen in a Jane Austen inspired novel – even Jane as a vampire. It was “light, campy and a bit Buffyish” and we were truly “glamored.” But as any vampire aficionado knows, to be “glamored” means to be under the vampire’s mind spell which does not last forever. After over a year shouldn’t it have worn off, returning us to our cynical, defensive Janeite self? Book two, Jane Goes Batty, would have to be pretty darn good to dispel our doubts and resurrect our confidence. Our fingers were crossed, along with our corset strings.

Our twenty-first century Jane is still undead and living in Brakeston, a small university town in upper state New York. The success of her novel Constance has changed her life considerably. In 1796 she may have wished to “write for Fame, and without any view for pecuniary emolument,” but now she has both as Jane Fairfax bestselling author. Her fans are arriving by the busload and camping on her doorstep, a Hollywood movie crew has descended upon her hometown to film a glitzy star-studded version of her latest novel, and the hope of her next book’s success has garnered a fat advance. Life sounds pretty good, but not if you are a 235 old vampire who has thrived on anonymity and resisted advancing your powers in the undeadly arts.

Attempting to manage her life sensibly, she has promoted her friend and assistant Lucy to run her bookstore, Flyleaf Books, and welcomed her former lover George Byron (who also turned her) back into her life as a mentor. He is helping Jane to “develop her powers instead of run from them” in case “Our Gloomy Friend,” that pesky Bronte woman should make good on her threats. Her love-life is just where she wants it keeping patient boyfriend Walter in a holding pattern, and the town folk are none-the-wiser of her undead condition. With money, fame, friends, and love in one’s life, what’s to worry? Plenty. Walters Jewish mother Miriam arrives from Florida expecting her to convert, Jessica, her new demanding editor thinks she is an untalented plagiarist who should be writing a novel as good as Valley of the Dolls, and a vampire attack on one of the movie actors has Jane and Byron pointing fingers at one another. The challenges of keeping her true identity a secret, mastering her vampire skills, and the looming threat of another throw-down with an adversary from the past have her as distracted as Mrs. Bennet on her last nerve. Continue reading

Chatting with Michael Thomas Ford, author of Jane Bites Back & a Giveaway!

When I read the announcement in June of 2008 about Michael Thomas Ford’s new novel Jane Bites Back, my jaw dropped and I stared at my computer screen in astonished disbelief! Jane Austen is a now a vampire? No. What next? Darcy and Elizabeth on Mars?

As I read further about his concept of Austen being frustrated by everyone making money off her name and unable to get another book published after 200 years, I laughed so hard I startled my cats! As I smiled in acknowledgement that Austen would appreciate the irony of this folly and nonsense, the first question that sprang to mind was where the heck did this idea come from? And, would it be a light, bright and campy parody or a dark, sadistic, really angry Jane takes revenge on the world for ripping off her novels kind of gothic madness? My questions would not be answered to my satisfaction for over a year.

In December 2009 Jane Bites Back landed on my doorstep and by the ninth chapter I was smitten. You can read my full rollicking review here. So how was this staunch defender of Miss Austen’s reputation wooed and subdued? I will duly acknowledge Jane Austen’s vampiric ability to “glamour” me of course, then throw a crumb of credit Michael Thomas Ford’s way.

Please join me in welcoming today author Michael Thomas Ford. He has graciously agreed to answer a few questions about his new book.

Welcome Michael:

Jane Austen as a vampire is quite a startling notion. How did you arrive at this high concept characterization and what did you think the response from the Austen community would be?

As many of the most delightful things in life do, it happened a bit by accident. One day my agent and I were discussing the state of publishing. He commented that the only books selling well were about either vampires or Austen. I jokingly said that in that case I ought to write a novel about Jane Austen as a vampire. We laughed about it and my agent suggested I write something up. I was in the middle of another book, so it took me some time to do it, but I eventually did and he sent it out.

Shortly thereafter I left on a trip to British Columbia, where I go every year to scuba dive. So I was on a dive boat with very infrequent cell service and not really thinking about the book, as my experience with the submission process is that it takes quite some time to hear anything. One day I noticed the message light on my phone blinking, as we’d just come into range. There were several excited messages from my agent informing me that there was enormous interest in the project and that he would be holding an auction for it the following week. As you might imagine, I was thrilled.

As to the response from the Austen community, I suspected that most of her fans would respond well to the idea. I think Austen readers are an unusually imaginative group of people and appreciate a good satire, which is really what JBB is. I also knew that they would be wary, as there have been so many Austen-related books that have disappointed them, so I wanted to be sure to give them something they would enjoy.

Since Pride and Prejudice and Zombies became a publishing phenom last April, there has been a plethora of imitators flooding the market attempting to cash in on the Austen mash-up craze. Your book is a completely original work incorporating Austen’s life, works and witty personality. What was your motivation in writing Jane Bites Back and what is your response to those who say you have hitched your star to a literary icon?

Initially I just thought Jane as a vampire was a fun idea. But the more I thought about it, and as I wrote the proposal and the first chapters, the more I realized that her story is really the story of a lot of writers who are frustrated with the publishing industry and with the writing life in general.

Now, at the time my book was making the rounds PPZ had not even been announced and the subsequent mash-up phenomenon had not yet begun. Once PPZ came out I found my book being mentioned in virtually every article written about the trend. This was lovely, but as you can imagine it was also a little frustrating because not only was my book not coming out until later in the year but as you said, it isn’t a mash-up at all. It was natural that people might think it was, as no one had read it yet, but I did get a little tense about the whole thing. Fortunately, as soon as people began reading JBB they realized that it isn’t at all like the mash-ups and is a novel featuring Jane, not her characters.

There are of course some people who say that I’ve used Austen’s name simply to make money, and there is undoubtedly some truth to the notion that I’m relying on her popularity to interest readers in my book. Obviously the enormous interest in Austen is what inspired the book, and her name will encourage some readers to pick the book up who might not otherwise pick up a Michael Thomas Ford novel.  But I think I’ve created a story that holds up on its own and that displays my affection for Austen and her work, and ultimately the commercial success of the book is not as important to me as the fact that other Jane fans enjoy it.

One of the most endearing aspects of ‘your’ Jane Austen is that like her own characters in her novels, she has foibles and personality quirks like the rest of us. From the many references to Austen lore in the book, you are obviously an admirer of her life and works. How did you place yourself in her shoes and create the character?

It’s interesting. A handful of readers have complained that the Jane of JBB is not the “real” Jane Austen. When you’re dealing with someone who is as beloved as Austen is you inevitably have to accept the fact that not everyone perceives her in the same way. So no matter what you do, there will always be someone who doesn’t care for your portrayal of the character. I decided I had to let go of that fear and make Jane the Jane I see when I read her novels. Then I put that Jane into a contemporary setting and imagined how she might respond to her situation. Her personality quirks grew out of that, and I hope they feel natural and unforced. I did my best to let that Jane emerge, and I’m quite fond of her, so I want other people to be as well.

Something else to consider is that the Jane of JBB has had a life-altering change in becoming one of the undead. She has existed for nearly two centuries in a variety of cultures and circumstances, and while her fundamental characteristics may eventually prove to have survived essentially unaltered, she has to act a part to help hide her true identity. So if she sometimes does not act “like herself,” it is partly a function of deliberately trying not to.

As to how one writes a character, I’ve written a great many novels at this point in my career, in genres ranging from supernatural fiction to mysteries, and featuring dozens of different characters. People will often ask me, “How can you write from the perspective of a teenage girl/drug-addicted comic book collector/Vietnam soldier?” The answer is, that’s what I do. Some people know how to fix cars or make vaccines or teach mathematics. I tell stories. It’s really the only thing I’m good at. And that means imagining what it’s like to be all kinds of things I’m not. This time I imagined being Jane Austen after being turned into a vampire. Then I told that story.

Vampire novels can be scary and gory. There is also a lexicon of vampire lore that is expected by today’s pop culture. Could you elaborate on the tone and direction you have chosen for Jane Bites Back?

That was one of the first issues I needed to address — should this be a vampire novel with Austenesque qualities or an Austen novel with vampire touches? I’ve written traditional vampire stories in the past, so I’m familiar with that genre. But the story I wanted to tell wasn’t really a vampire story, so I decided to take a different approach.

Having decided that, I early on chose to abandon the traditional “rules” for writing vampires. Jane can eat. She can be in the sun. She can be photographed. Partially this was for the sake of convenience, but I also made this choice because Jane being a vampire is not really the point of the novel. It’s a device that makes Jane’s story more interesting.

As far as the level of bloodiness, I always intended to keep it to a minimum. Jane, vampire or no, is still a lady.

Every author hopes to connect with their readers and win their respect and approval. I had my ah-ha moment when Jane revealed her infatuation with nineteenth-century actor Richard Mansfield, the pattering comic baritone of the D’Olyly Carte opera company. Brilliant choice! Of course Jane would like Gilbert and Sullivan. I imagine she would also have enjoyed Oscar Wilde and Dorothy Parker – having all been cut from the same irreverent cloth. One of the advantages of Jane being undead is that not only do we see her in the modern world, we have the potential to travel back in time and experience events and people in her past life. What is next for the undead Jane Austen? What are your aspirations for your next two books in the series?

I’m so pleased that you noticed Mansfield! I was so happy that I could work him in, particularly because of his connection to the Jack the Ripper case. As for the next two books, the second is called Jane Goes Batty and it deals with what happens after Jane’s newest novel is a huge bestseller. It’s being made into a film, which causes Jane no end of trouble when the filmmakers decide to shoot it in Brakeston. In addition, her relationship with Walter takes an unexpected and very disconcerting turn. And now that Byron is back in her life he’s teaching Jane all of the vampire-related skills she’s neglected for so long. So a lot happens to her in the second book. I’m planning the third right now and have a number of ideas, but nothing is finalized. At some point I would like Jane to return to England and perhaps run into some old friends, and possibly enemies.

Many thank to Michael for sharing his thoughts with us today. Jane Bites Back is published by Ballantine Books and was released on December 29, 2009. 

Win a copy of Jane Bites Back

Enter a chance to win one of two copies available of Jane Bites Back by leaving a comment by 11:59 pm PT January 24th, 2010 stating which Jane Austen characters deserves to be turned or which producer of a Jane Austen movie should be! Winners announced on Monday, January 25th. Shipping to US or Canadian addresses only.

UPDATE 01/25/10: The contest has concluded and the winner announced. Follow this link to discover if it was YOU!

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A Bookselling Moment with Jane Bites Back

After years as a bookseller at Barnes and Noble, very, very little surprises me. Working with the public has its charms and delights *cough* but for the most part 99% of my customers are fabulous, very appreciative of my help and excited about the inventory that is stocked in my store. Every bookseller has a favorite story to tell about the most outrageous request for a book or the kid that threw up on them. (My recent customer from hell was an indignant woman who expected me to be able to find a new release with feet binding in the story, but did not know the title, author or if it was fiction or nonfiction.) Last week one of my assistant managers found a pair of men’s underwear draped over the SAT books. Not sure if this was a personal statement about our educational system or a performance art project gone awry, but we all looked at her in horror as she stuffed the tighty whities in the trash. They were definitely not going in the lost and found! 

To be a great bookseller you need to know a little about everything and hopefully a lot about a few things. Most of the staff know that I am a Jane Austen enthusiast and enjoy channeling customers my way with the most obscure Austen book questions like, “Do you know that book with Mr. Darcy in the title?” or “I need Pride and Pestilence by Jane Eyre.”  One of my favorite stories to tell happened two years ago when The Complete Jane Austen was airing on Masterpiece Classic. I wrote about it at the time and you can read the story again here. (it is at the bottom of the post) But tonight, I had another Austen moment at work that just might surpass it.

A gentleman who looked to be in his sixties asked me where the romance novels were. I escorted him to the section and offered help which he declined. Usually, I do not have a lot of male customers asking for romance titles unless they have a list from their wife or girlfriend. I know that may sound like stereotyping, but when it comes to book buying, people’s taste and interests can often be pigeonholed that way. A few moments later the gentleman re-appeared at the information desk and asked me who the author  of Jane Bites Back was? (the new paranormal Jane Austen novel) Having just read and reviewed it myself, I was able to tell him right off the top of my head that the author was Michael Thomas Ford. 

Impressed with my authority and confidence in the book, he shared that it was the funniest book he had read in years and wanted to read the next one. I hesitated to reply. I knew the answer was that it had not yet been published but was so taken aback with his choice in reading that I stared at him blankly until I could regain my composure, all the while secretly smiling and thinking to myself, boy, you just can’t judge a book by its cover. I would never have pegged him as a Jane Austen is a vampire novel reader. When I told him that the first book had just been published two weeks ago and that he might have to wait another year for the second in the series, his face fell. “Another year?” he replied. “Jane deserves better.” 

So, Michael Thomas Ford. You better sharpen your quill and get crackin. Your public awaits.

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Jane Bites Back, by Michael Thomas Ford – A Review

Jane Austen’s novels brim with irony, witticism, and in the end, a gentle reprove or two. It is why I love her writing. Few authors can deliver this dry, deft and wickedly funny style. Michael Thomas Ford is one of them.

His latest novel Jane Bites Back is more than a gentle joke, it is a sly wink at the Austen and vampire industry. The clever title alone tells us that Ford has more than a keen sense of humor. The story concept is even better. Nearly two hundred years after her reputed death and burial at Winchester Cathedral in 1817, Jane Austen is actually not dead, but a vampire living in Brakeston, a small university town in upper-state New York. As the owner of Flyleaf Books she watches with irritation and frustration as other less talented writers make a killing off her novels and characters with sequels, spin-offs and absurd self help books. To add insult to injury, Constance, the last novel that she wrote before her turning remains unpublished after two hundred years and 116 rejections.

Jane’s quiet country life is comfortable but unfulfilling. She has retained her anonymity over the centuries ironically adopting the name of Jane Fairfax, one of her characters in her novel Emma who is also orphaned but a highly accomplished young lady hiding secrets. She enjoys her friendship with her young shop assistant Lucy who reminds her of her dear sister Cassandra and is both flattered and annoyed by the attentions of Walter, a local carpenter/contractor who restores vintage homes and would like to do the same with Jane’s heart. Two surprising events change her life dramatically: a legitimate offer to publish her novel, and the return of a former paramour, the mad, bad and dangerous to know poet Lord Byron who seduced and then turned her two hundred years ago. The first she is elated over. The second she reflects upon falling for his entrapment with regret and horror exclaiming in a typical ironic quip…

Men, she thought. The downfall of women since Adam blamed Eve for that stupid apple. She wondered briefly if it was too late to become a lesbian. “I’m sure they have just as difficult a time of it,” she said to the empty room. “Love is dangerous for everyone.”

Our Jane is no namby pamby vegetarian vampire. A proper Regency lady she follows decorum, feeds off human blood only to stay alive, and mind you, in the most discreet fashion. Like the unpropitious characters in her novels who are in need of a dressing down, she chooses victims based on their bad behavior, never taking or turning anyone. She also enjoys a few human indulgences such as drinking wine, eating chocolate ice cream, living with a cat named Tom and an infatuation with actor Richard Mansfield, the pattering comic baritone of the D’Olyly Carte opera company, tra la. When her life gets too challenging, she closes her eyes and thinks of England.

Light, campy and a bit Buffyish, Jane Bites Back is a modern Gothic novel full of Janeite lore and paranormal hijinx that the “sick and wicked” side of Jane Austen would find quite amusing. The literary and historical references really shine. Happily, a certain Bronte scholar gets her cumuppance in a drawing room throw-down which we have been patiently waiting 150 years for and bad boy Byron’s romantic and vampiric dalliances are thwarted by our light, bright and sparkly vampire heroine.

Read with tongue-in-cheek and a full glass of suspended disbelief, you will chortle and guffaw until the last bite. This Janeite was truly “glamoured.”

5 out of 5 Regency Stars

Jane Bites Back, by Michael Thomas Ford
Ballantine Books (2009)
Trade paperback (299) pages
ISBN: 978-0345513656

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