Jane Austen: Blood Persuasion, by Janet Mullany – A Review

Jane Austen: Blood Persuasion, by Janet Mullany (2011)From the desk of Aia A. Hussein: 

For those who have the seemingly unrelated interest in the Georgian world of Jane Austen and the macabre one of immortal vampires, Janet Mullany’s new novel Jane Austen: Blood Persuasion is a perfect combination of the two.  In fact, as was recounted in Mullany’s previous novel Jane and the Damned, beloved and proper Jane Austen is a vampire.  Or, at least, she has been bitten and is trying her hardest to fight against the metamorphosis as would any proper eighteenth-century female.  In this new Austen-vampire mashup, Jane continues to struggle against what seems an inevitable metamorphosis into one of the Damned while reconciling her feelings for a seemingly indifferent Creator, a former consort, a new love interest, a vulnerable niece, a dear friend who has an odd penchant for being leeched by vampires, and an oblivious family.  You are, indeed, correct in assuming that poor Jane has a lot on her plate.

It is 1810 and the Austen family has new, undead neighbors.  Having just been banished from polite society, the Damned are seeking less conspicuous roles in provincial society where they hope to blend in unnoticed or, at least, without too much notice.  Jane is in the middle of working on what will be her literary masterpiece when she is interrupted by the return of a number of old, undead friends – a formerly indifferent Creator who is seeking to make amends and a seemingly ambivalent former consort – both of whom have found themselves entrenched in a looming civil war between factions of the Damned right in the heart of Jane’s small provincial town.  More upsetting for Jane is the return of her vampire characteristics and feelings for her former consort, Luke.  Even more upsetting, and completely unexpected, is a sudden passionate interest in a steward named Raphael, who is similarly in-between vampire metamorphosis, and which only complicates Jane’s feelings towards Luke.

Her internal love struggle aside, Jane gets caught up in trying to prevent civil war amongst the Damned especially since the safety of her town and family is in peril despite the high risk of metamorphosis that being near the Damned poses.  She is torn between wanting to save her town and family (especially a vulnerable niece who has caught the eye of a ruthless vampire) or her soul.  Her propriety or her passion.  Luke or Raphael.  And, perhaps most importantly, her writing or transforming into a vampire to save her family from danger since, as was demonstrated in Jane and the Damned, her vampire-self could not write.  Not to mention Jane’s dear friend who continues to have intimate contact with vampires despite Jane’s numerous warnings and who annoyingly persists in borrowing Jane’s precious silk stockings for these liaisons! Continue reading “Jane Austen: Blood Persuasion, by Janet Mullany – A Review”

Nocturne, by Syrie James – A Review

Nocturne, by Syrie James (2011)From the desk of Christina Boyd:

After loving best selling author Syrie James’ The Lost Memoirs of Jane Austen, as well as her Dracula, My Love: The Secret Journals of Mina Harker, my next obvious step was to read her latest offering, Nocturne. Our story begins with Nicole Whitcomb driving to the Denver airport from a Rocky Mountain wedding and ski mini-break, when a blinding snowstorm whips up, and her car hits black ice, spinning her out of control and over an embankment. She blacks out, only to wake in a rustic, mountain lodge having been rescued by its owner, a handsome, recluse named Michael. The blizzard outside prevents her from continuing on her journey. As the hours turn into days, an uneasy companionship ensues, as Nicole becomes ever curious of her mysterious host. Why does he choose to dine alone? Why is the kitchen so under stocked? Why is he shockingly rude but yet still thoughtful?

Curious attraction fuels this odd companionship through their common interest in books when she discovers his first edition collections of classic literature represented by Daniel Defoe, Jane Austen, the Bronte sisters, Bram Stoker, Mark Twain… When she asks if she can borrow one, he answers,

‘Whatever you like, Miss Whitcomb.’ She heard something different in his voice—a quieter, mellower tone that he’d yet exhibited – and she turned to look at him. He was leaning up against his desk, his arms crossed over his chest, his long legs stretched out before him. His guard was down, and he was studying her with an expression that resembled something like tentative delight. It was the first time he’d looked at her that way – as if she might prove to be an interesting human being after all and not just an inconvenience. It wasn’t the most flattering look in the world, and yet the newfound warmth in his blue eyes made her heart skitter. ‘This isn’t Pride and Prejudice.  You can call me Nicole.’ Page 49.

As the sexual tension increases and her imagination runs rampant in this mountain seclusion, she readily makes his excuses, only to discover that her wildest dreams, or nightmares, are now her reality. Will I ruin it for you if I tell you that yes, Michael is a vampire? Like the iconic vampires of Bram Stoker, Anne Rice, and even Stephenie Meyer, Michael has his impossible strengths and weaknesses. When Nicole realizes what he is, the shock and fear that she has fallen for a vampire sets her on a dangerous escape.

But it’s his unlikely humanity, as well as his “love for her” that allowed him “to hold his carnal instincts in check” that endeared me most. As the sun comes out and the roads have cleared, Nicole and Michael must find a way to co-exist if their forbidden love is to survive.

Tauntingly compelling, the ending left me spent. Let’s just say however, thankfully Syrie James included an Author’s Note (and helpful Author’s Questions and Answers) that gave me hope (or at least wishful thinking) that she might revisit Nicole and Michael’s love story in the future. If not, let me be the first to petition such a work! The haunting Nocturne is the perfect escape book for romance readers with some pretty steamy love scenes sure to warm you to your toes these cold, winter months.  Enjoy!

4 out of 5 Stars

Nocturne, by Syrie James
Vanguard Press (2011)
Hardcover (288) pages
ISBN: 978-1593156282

Cover image courtesy of Vanguard Press © 2011; text Christina Boyd © 2011, Austenprose.com

Bespelling Jane Austen, by Mary Balogh, Colleen Gleason, Susan Krinard and Janet Mullany – A Review

Pairing the Jane Austen and paranormal genre’s is a clever concept that has seen some hits and misses over the last few years. Bespelling Jane Austen is a new anthology offering four novellas from romance authors Mary Balogh, Colleen Gleason, Susan Krinard and Janet Mullany adapting Austen novels with a supernatural spin.

Almost Persuaded, by Mary Balogh

Bestselling romance novelist Mary Balogh uses Persuasion, Jane Austen’s tender love story of second chances as the inspiration for her story about Jane Everett, the unmarried and unappreciated middle daughter of the preening Sir Horace Everett of Goodrich Hall. When Royal Army Captain Robert Mitford returns to England after a serious injury in India, he meets Jane triggering memories of past lives together. They soon discover that they are soul mates who have been fated to love and fail until they overcome the impediments to “conquer all with the power of their love of each other.”

Initially I was intrigued by reincarnation as a clever parallel to a second chance at love; after all, it is the ultimate love match do-over. Besides a deus ex machina in the guise of a hidden metal box with documents from a previous life confirming the heroine’s memories, I was unconvinced that Jane and Robert knewn each other before and were destined for one another. Furthermore, when after only one day’s acquaintance they take a roll in the grass, I was pretty certain that they were trapped in the Austenesque version of the movie Ground Hog Day for many, many lives until they could reach enlightenment and the Anne Elliot and Captain Wentworth state of Nirvana.

Northanger Castle, by Colleen Gleason

In this parody of Austen’s parody on Gothic fiction Northanger Abbey, heroine Caroline “Caro” Merrill’s wild imagination sees characters from her favorite horrid novels in every new acquaintance and passerby on the streets of Bath. Armed against vampires preying on the innocent in the Pump Room, Caro carries a large reticule stocked with a silver cross, garlic and a wooden stake. With her new friends siblings Isobel and James Thornton and Ellen Henry and her guardian, the aptly nicknamed Lord Rude, she travels for a moonlight picnic to Blaize Abbey and later to Northanger Castle in hopes of confirming Mr. Thornton’s affections, discovering a maiden locked in tower, or at the very least, an evil vampire. Her imaginings come true, but not as she expected.

Colleen Gleason caught the spirit and burlesque comedy of Austen’s novel perfectly, especially in her heroine Caroline whose obsession with Gothic novels and suspicions of evil doings everywhere mirror Austen’s Catherine Morland beautifully. I loved her play on names by upgrading Northanger to a castle and downgrading Blaize to an abbey! This story could have been sweetened by less modern language and more attention to historical detail. Someone needs to inform Ms. Gleason that they did not dance in the Pump Room in Bath, but took the waters and strolled about the room and socialized, and, the homes in Bath are not called Bungalows, but Terraced Houses. Otherwise, this was an adventure worthy of an Austen heroine in the making.

Blood and Prejudice, by Susan Krinard

Lizzy and Darcy’s love story is given some bite in this contemporary retelling of Pride and Prejudice. The Bennet’s still have five unmarried daughters and financial challenges. The family business Bennet Labs is floundering and under hostile takeover by Bingley Pharmaceuticals. Our spirited heroine Elizabeth Bennet is aptly a bookseller at Longbourn Books and Mr. Darcy a financial advisor to Charles Bingley. Also on staff is attorney George Wickham who has a long history with Mr. Darcy that goes back to childhood from the eighteenth-century – yes – two hundred years. He is a vampire whom Darcy converted without consent. Lizzy favors George’s story of Darcy the baddie and the love/hate story begins with Undead overtones that end just as expected, but not quite; — Darcy’s pride is humbled and Lizzy’s prejudice over vampires is removed, but at what cost?

Krinard has a solid understanding of the original story and characters dolling out a sagacious simile like humor coupons to win over the purist who have their guard up. It almost worked. I was amused at the clever prose but not her modern interpretation of the plot. In this instance, unfaithful adherence to Austen’s narrative would have been a bit more interesting. Retellings are tricky, especially of P&P. It is a story that so many know by heart, line for line, and just placing it in current times and mixing it up with Darcy as a vampire is not enough. Written in the first person from Elizabeth Bennet’s perspective, this change from Austen’s narrative voice would have been so much more interesting if Krinard had chosen Darcy’s view with his struggles as vampire instead of Elizabeth’s as a bystander. The ending left a bad taste in my mouth, literally, as Elizabeth ends up being a vampire’s donor doxy, though one assumes that Darcy was quite pleased with the arrangement.

Little to Hex Her, by Janet Mullany

Emma Woodhouse, Jane Austen’s self-possessed heroine from Emma is given a modern make-over as a witch running the Hartfield Dating Agency, a paranormal dating service in Washington D. C.. Emma is still matchmaker unextraordinaire, paring up werewolves, vampires and elves until it appears someone is trying to sabotage her business when money goes missing and event bookings are canceled. Could it be the spurned elf Mr. Elton whom she rejected, the sexy, but dubious vampire Frank Churchill or her ex-boyfriend Mr. Knightley?

Granted that the “handsome, clever and rich” Emma Woodhouse is not the most sympathetic character to begin with, changing the clever to inexperienced and rich to working girl helped me like this modern Emma in a new way. It also did not hurt that Janet Mullany has to be one of the sharpest knives in the Austenesque drawer writing today. Talk about cutting wit! I laughed out loud at her paring of magical creatures to Austen’s originals. Frank Churchill as a sexy vampire? Harriet Smith as insecure werewolf? George Knightley as a wizard who hates his first name? What no zombies? Thank goodness. Austen might have joked that she created a heroine that “no-one but myself will much like,” but Mullany’s Emma was a delightful quirky surprise.

Modern or contemporary, those stories that succeeded (in my estimation) were the ones that took a chance creatively yet reverently remember its inspiration. I think you will find after reading the four novellas in Bespelling Jane Austen that when it comes to Austen and paranormals, “silly things do cease to be silly if they are done by sensible people in an impudent way.

3 out of 5 Regency Stars

Bespelling Jane Austen, by Mary Balogh, Colleen Gleason, Susan Krinard and Janet Mullany
HQN Books (2010)
Trade paperback (377) pages
ISBN: 978-0373775019

© 2007 – 2010 Laurel Ann Nattress, Austenprose

Austen Book Sleuth: New Books in the Queue for August 2010

The Jane Austen book sleuth is happy to inform Janeites that many Austen inspired books are heading our way in August, so keep your eyes open for these new titles.

Audio

The Convenient Marriage, by Georgette Heyer, read by Richard Armitage

In honor of historical romance novelist Georgette Heyer’s birthday this month, I am sure that Jane Austen will not mind if I place one of Heyer’s Regency romance novels first among the great selection of books available this month. If you hadn’t noticed, we are celebrating Heyer in a big way all month here on Austenprose, but this novel in particular of the 34 we will be discussing stands head and shoulders over the rest. Yes, the story is one of Heyer’s best with a strong hero and an endearingly flawed young heroine, but this audio edition really chases away any fit of the blue devils with its velvet-voiced reader, Richard Armitage. This is his third foray into reading Heyer for Naxos Audiobooks, and I cannot think of one actor more qualified to make half of the population of the world swoon. (Publishers description) Horatia Winwood is the youngest and the least attractive of the three Winwood sisters. She also has a stammer. But when the enigmatic and eminently eligible Earl of Rule offers for her oldest sister’s hand – a match that makes financial and social sense, but would break her heart – it is Horatia who takes matters into her own impetuous hands. Can she save her family’s fortune? Or is she courting disaster? Witty, charming, elegant and always delightful, Georgette Heyer – the undisputed Queen of Regency Romance – brings the whole period to life with deft precision and glorious characters. Naxos AudioBooks (2010), Abridged Audio CD, ISBN: 978-1843794417. Listen to a preview.

Fiction (prequels, sequels, retellings, variations, or Regency inspired)

Emma and the Vampires, by Wayne Josephson

More vampires in our Austen coming our way. This time, its Austen’s handsome, clever, and rich Emma Woodhouse, with a comfortable home and happy disposition with very little to distress or vex her except her vampire neighbors. (Publishers description) In this hilarious retelling of Jane Austen’s Emma, screenwriter Wayne Josephson casts Mr. Knightley as one of the most handsome and noble of the gentlemen village vampires. Blithely unaware of their presence, Emma, who imagines she has a special gift for matchmaking, attempts to arrange the affairs of her social circle with delightfully disastrous results. But when her dear friend Harriet Smith declares her love for Mr. Knightley, Emma realizes she’s the one who wants to stay up all night with him. Fortunately, Mr. Knightley has been hiding a secret deep within his unbeating heart-his (literal) undying love for her… A brilliant mash-up of Jane Austen and the undead. Sourcebooks Landmark (2010), Trade paperback, ISBN: 978-1402241345. Read the first chapter.

To Conquer Mr. Darcy, Abigail Reynolds

Originally published as Impulse and Initiative by Sourcebooks in 2008, this Pride and Prejudice variation asks “what if” after Mr. Darcy’s first proposal to Elizabeth Bennet he didn’t give up, but pursued her from Kent back to Longbourn? I reviewed the original edition if you would like to peruse my humble opinion. (Publishers description) What if…Instead of disappearing from Elizabeth Bennet’s life after she refused his offer of marriage, Mr. Darcy had stayed and tried to change her mind? What if…Lizzy, as she gets to know Darcy, finds him undeniably attractive and her impulses win out over her sense of propriety? What if…Madly in love and mutually on fire, their passion anticipates their wedding? In To Conquer Mr. Darcy, instead of avoiding Elizabeth after his ill-fated marriage proposal, Mr. Darcy follows her back to Hertfordshire to prove to her he is a changed man and worthy of her love. And little by little, Elizabeth begins to find the man she thought she despised, irresistible… Sourcebooks Casablanca (2010), Mass market paperback, ISBN: 978-1402237300. Read the first chapter.

Murder on the Bride’s Side: A Mystery, by Tracy Kiely

 

Last year debut author Tracy Kiely blew my bonnet off with her clever Pride and Prejudice inspired whodunit, Murder at Longbourn. Now her clever, but endearingly insecure sleuth Elizabeth Parker is back with a new mystery to solve that is inspired by Austen’s Sense and Sensibility. (Publishers description) Drawing from the classic Sense and Sensibility, Tracy Kiely continues the adventures of Elizabeth Parker, the likable Austen-quoting sleuth, in this witty and charming series. Elizabeth Parker suspected that fulfilling her duties as maid-of-honor for her best friend, Bridget, was going to be murder. And no sooner is the last grain of rice thrown than she finds herself staring into the dead eyes of Bridget’s Aunt Roni, a woman whose death is almost as universally celebrated as Bridget’s nuptials. The horror only increases when Harry, Bridget’s cousin, becomes the chief suspect. The idea is ludicrous to the family because Harry is one of the kindest, most compassionate people imaginable. To complicate matters, Elizabeth’s boyfriend, Peter, appears to be falling for an old flame, a gorgeous wedding planner. Determined to clear Harry of the crime, reign in Bridget’s impulsive brand of sleuthing, and figure out where Peter’s heart lies, Elizabeth sets her mind to work. Minotaur Books (2010), Hardcover, ISBN: 978-0312537579.  Read my preview and an excerpt here.

Austen’s Oeuvre

Emma (Blackstone Audio Classic), by Jane Austen, read by Nadia May

Since one can never have too many audio editions of Emma to break the monotony of the work commute,  pop this one into your car CD player and enjoy an unabridged recording of  Austen’s nonsensical girl. (Publishers description) Often considered Jane Austen’s finest work, Emma is the story of a charmingly self-deluded heroine whose injudicious matchmaking schemes often lead to substantial mortification. Emma, ”handsome, clever, and rich, with a comfortable home and happy disposition, seemed to unite some of the best blessings of existence; and had lived nearly twenty-one years in the world with very little to distress or vex her.” Her own great fortune has blinded Emma to the true feelings and motivations of others and leads her to some hilarious misjudgments. But it is through her mistakes that Emma finds humility, wisdom, and true love. Told with the shrewd wit and delicate irony which has made Jane Austen a master of the English novel, Emma is a comic masterpiece whose fanciful heroine has gained the affection of generations of readers. Blackstone Audio, Inc. (2010), Unabridged CD, ISBN: 978-1441755360

Nonfiction

The Jane Austen Pocket Bible: The Perfect Gift for a Literary Lover, by Holly Ivins

From the publisher’s description, this appears to be the be-all, end-all of Austen enlightenment. That is a lot of Austenology for this slim 192-page volume. (Publishers description) The perfect gift for a literary lover. Have you ever dreamt of Darcy? Wished for Wentworth? Or even envied the womanly wiles of Emma? Perhaps you want to know a bit more about the author who so accurately describes the ins and outs of courtship, and whose novels have never been out of print since they were first published nearly 200 years ago? If you’re nodding in excitement reading this then the Jane Austen Pocket Bible is one for you. This handy little book guides you through Austen’s beloved novels, explaining Regency manners, the class system, the importance of inheritance, and the delicate matter of landing a husband. Full of fascinating trivia about the world of Austen’s novels this book also contains details of Austen’s life, the writers who inspired her, the country estates which make up the settings for her romantic adventures, and details on the countless film and television adaptations which have been made. With facts on genteel dancing, a plan for an Austen dinner party and words of wisdom from the lady herself, it’s a must-have for every self-confessed Jane fan or those making their first foray into Austen’s carefully crafted world. Pocket Bibles (2010), Hardcover, ISBN: 978-1907087097

Austen’s Contemporaries & Beyond

Becoming Queen Victoria: The Tragic Death of Princess Charlotte and the Unexpected Rise of Britain’s Greatest Monarch, by Kate Williams

There are a ton of Victoria biographies on the market, so why do we need another one? Kate Williams is why. If any of you missed her 2006 bio of Emma Hamilton, England’s Mistress, it is well worth a trip to the library or that gift card you have been hoarding from last Christmas. Her next venture into fascinating women from the nineteenth-century is with Queen V. Her slant is the Princess Charlotte tragedy and how it made the Royal family scamper to conceive the next heir to the throne. (Publishers description) In her lauded biography England’s Mistress: The Infamous Life of Emma Hamilton, Kate Williams painted a vivid and intimate portrait of Emma Hamilton, the lover of English national hero Lord Horatio Nelson. Now, with the same keen insight and gift for telling detail, Williams provides a gripping account of Queen Victoria’s rise to the throne and her early years in power—as well as the tragic, little-known story of the princess whose demise made it all possible. Writing with a combination of novelistic flair and historical precision, Williams reveals an energetic and vibrant woman in the prime of her life, while chronicling the byzantine machinations behind Victoria’s struggle to occupy the throne—scheming that continued even after the crown was placed on her head. Ballantine Books (2010), Hardcover, ISBN: 978-0345461957. Read the first chapter.

Georgette Heyer’s Regency World, by Jennifer Kloester

Not just your average compendium of Regency-era historical facts and figures, this volume uses Georgette Heyer’s novels as a springboard and ties in social, cultural and political customs and events, explaining it all for you, clearly and concisely. Read my review for full details and insights. (Publishers description) The definitive guide for all fans of Georgette Heyer, Jane Austen, and the glittering Regency period. Immerse yourself in the resplendent glow of Regency England and the world of Georgette Heyer…From the fascinating slang, the elegant fashions, the precise ways the bon ton ate, drank, danced, and flirted, to the shocking real-life scandals of the day, Georgette Heyer’s Regency World takes you behind the scenes of Heyer’s captivating novels. As much fun to read as Heyer’s own novels, beautifully illustrated, and meticulously researched, Jennifer Kloester’s essential guide brings the world of the Regency to life for Heyer fans and Jane Austen fans alike. Sourcebooks (2010), Trade paperback, ISBN: 978-1402241369. Read the first chapter.

Shades of Milk and Honey, by Robinette Kowal

More fun with Jane. (sort of) This Regency-era novel has some similar Austenesque themes: two sisters with divergent personality seek love and happiness, but with Harry Potter magic thrown in the mix. It looks intriguing. Let’s hope the prose is light, bright and sparkly. (Publishers description) The fantasy novel you’ve always wished Jane Austen had written. Shades of Milk and Honey is exactly what we could expect from Jane Austen if she had been a fantasy writer: Pride and Prejudice meets Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell. It is an intimate portrait of a woman, Jane, and her quest for love in a world where the manipulation of glamour is considered an essential skill for a lady of quality. Jane and her sister Melody vie for the attention of eligible men, and while Jane’s skill with glamour is remarkable, it is her sister who is fair of face. When Jane realizes that one of Melody’s suitors is set on taking advantage of her sister for the sake of her dowry, she pushes her skills to the limit of what her body can withstand in order to set things right—and, in the process, accidentally wanders into a love story of her own. Tor Books, Hardcover, ISBN: 978-0765325563. Read the first chapter.

Until next month, happy reading!

Laurel Ann

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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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 Stars

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

Additional Reviews

Jane Bites Back – An Excerpt

Jane Bites Back, by Michael Thomas Ford (2009)Jane Bites Back by Michael Thomas Ford, a new Jane Austen contemporary vampire novel will be released for sale on 29 December 2009. Vic and I have both chatted about this book before on Jane Austen Today: first when the initial sale was announced in June of 2008, and recently in September when the cover art was revealed. Here is the publisher’s description:

Two hundred years after her death, Jane Austen is still surrounded by the literature she loves—but now it’s because she’s the owner of Flyleaf Books in a sleepy college town in Upstate New York. Every day she watches her novels fly off the shelves—along with dozens of unauthorized sequels, spin-offs, and adaptations. Jane may be undead, but her books have taken on a life of their own. 

To make matters worse, the manuscript she finished just before being turned into a vampire has been rejected by publishers—116 times. Jane longs to let the world know who she is, but when a sudden twist of fate thrusts her back into the spotlight, she must hide her real identity—and fend off a dark man from her past while juggling two modern suitors. Will the inimitable Jane Austen be able to keep her cool in this comedy of manners, or will she show everyone what a woman with a sharp wit and an even sharper set of fangs can do?

Now you can read an excerpt of the novel. The first two chapters can be found here. They introduce us to a modern-day forty something undead Jane Austen, living in upper-state New York as Jane Fairfax, an independent book store owner who not only can’t get her 200 year plus manuscript Constance published, she must witness other less talented writers making a killing off her name and characters. We also learn how, when, and who turned her. One hint. He is “mad, bad and dangerous to know,” and one assumes, still around and not buried in Nottingham. ;-)

The excerpt is a teaser and you may shortly be as startled as I when Jane takes a bite out of her first victim in the book.

Zombies and Vampires and Jane Austen, Oh My! Pride and Prejudice and Zombies is Haute!

Pride Prejudice and Zombies, by Jane Austen and Seth Grahame-Smith (2009)“It is a truth universally acknowledged that a zombie in possession of brains must be in want of more brains.” 

And so Gentle Readers begins the altered famous line from Jane Austen’s classic novel now renamed Pride and Prejudice and Zombies: The Classic Regency Romance – Now with Ultraviolent Zombie Mayhem and rewrtten by Seth Grahame-Smith being published this June by Quirk Books. 

What? Whoa, wait a minute here you say! 

Yes, it’s not a joke. I’m dead serious and so are the undead Zombies. I first wrote about this new novel combining Austen’s classic novel and Zombie bedlam at my co-blog Jane Austen Today. Now it’s all over the blogosphere. Even Paris Hilton might agree that combining Jane Austen and Zombies is hot. 

Breaking News!!!  Now it’s so HAUTE that Quirk has announced today that it is moving up its publication date two months to April!

Here is the publisher’s description 

So begins Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, an expanded edition of the beloved Jane Austen novel featuring all-new scenes of bone-crunching zombie mayhem. As our story opens, a mysterious plague has fallen upon the quiet English village of Meryton-and the dead are returning to life! Feisty heroine Elizabeth Bennet is determined to wipe out the zombie menace, but she’s soon distracted by the arrival of the haughty and arrogant Mr. Darcy. What ensues is a delightful comedy of manners with plenty of civilized sparring between the two young lovers-and even more violent sparring on the blood-soaked battlefield as Elizabeth wages war against hordes of flesh-eating undead. Can she vanquish the spawn of Satan? And overcome the social prejudices of the class-conscious landed gentry? Complete with romance, heartbreak, swordfights, cannibalism, and thousands of rotting corpses, Pride and Prejudice and Zombies transforms a masterpiece of world literature into something you’d actually want to read. 

Here is an excerpt compliments from Bryan at Cinema Suicide who tells me he has it from a super secret source. 

“Come, Darcy,” said Mr. Bingley, “I hate to see you standing by yourself in this stupid manner. You had much better dance.” 

“I certainly shall not. You know how I detest it.” 

“I would not be as fastidious as you are for a kingdom! I never met with so many pleasant girls in my life as I have this evening; and several of them are uncommonly pretty.” 

Before Mr. Darcy could respond, a chorus of screams filled the assembly hall, immediately joined by the shattering of window panes. Unmentionables scrambled in, their movements clumsy yet swift; their burial clothing in a range of untidiness. 

Guests who had the misfortune of standing near the windows were seized and feasted on at once. Elizabeth watched Mrs. Long struggle to free herself as two female dreadfuls bit into her head, cracking her skull like a walnut, and sending a shower of dark blood spouting as high as the chandeliers. 

Double whoa! I dearly love to laugh as much as the next Janeite (maybe more), but this is the most creative way I have ever seen to entice readership of literary classics. I fear Austen and literature purist will be appalled, and new novice readers will be amazed. Everyone who was forced to read P&P in high school and hated it (a small minority I assure you ;) will have a secret smirk when they hear about this one. In addition, last June we heard about “Jane Bites Back,” Michael Thomas Ford’s new novel which 

presents an undead Jane Austen, frustrated by nearly 200 years of writer’s block and 116 rejections of an unpublished novel she finished just before turning into a vampire; she’s becoming increasingly irritated that the rest of the world seems to be getting rich and famous off of her works and her life. 

Not quite sure how all of this will settle out, but it is interesting to watch the public reaction and I am glad to see people talking about Austen. There are pros and cons to the argument on free market vs. copyright restrictions. I just hope that Darcy isn’t killed and becomes one of the undead.

More Austen Zombie mayhem around the blogosphere

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