I may be an Austen author.
“Well, duh!” I hear you say. “That’s pretty obvious considering this is Austen Authors.” But it isn’t obvious to me. In fact, I was pretty surprised when asked to join Austen Authors because I didn’t quite consider myself to be one. After all, I had this image of an Austen Author as being a woman of a certain age, whose children have left the nest, goes to teas and wears Regency costumes at Jane Austen conventions.*
I preferred to think of myself as a world-class thief/archeologist who wrote cryptic science fiction that has become the basis for many of the movie franchises of today—a sort of Buckaroo Banzai/Lara Croft/Philip K. Dick mashup.
Seriously though, I never thought of myself as a Jane Austen Fan Fiction author because I’ve never been brave or clever enough to write a pastiche or continuation of any of Austen’s novels. My first vaguely Austen novel has no characters from her novels but instead is inspired by her writing and the Sherlock Holmes stories of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (although Holmes and Watson are not in the story).
My second Austen-related book was a little more blatant. Jane Austen herself was the main character, but it’s set in modern day and she’s dead and communicating on the Internet, so I think it probably falls outside the spectrum of what most people consider Austen fan fiction.
As a consequence—and not too surprisingly—I never sold many copies of either. I had a lot of fun writing them, however, and I really enjoyed attending two annual general meetings of the Jane Austen Society of North America and attending the Decatur Book Festival in Georgia. I’ve made some good friends because of my decision to become a writer, but I’ve always felt like an Austen fan fiction outsider.
Like Darcy, “I certainly have not the talent which some people possess of conversing easily with those I have never seen before,” although I should modify that with “conversing easily online with those I have never seen before.” I’m OK in small groups or one-on-one conversations in the real world, but I’m hopeless at promoting myself in the social media world. I am constantly wondering how Austen might have handled social media. All I know is that I’m not good at it and thus I’m very impressed by the far more savvy authors here.
After my third book, I stopped writing. I began to ask if I ever really wanted to be an Austen author and wondered if my foray into that world was just one of my many enthusiasms, like my few attempts at rock climbing (I threw out my back getting up from the couch at the climbing gym), ninjutsu (although black is my favorite color) or learning electronics (you can seriously burn yourself with a soldering iron). I continued to attend local JASNA meetings and drink tea on Austen’s birthday (although the novelty of high tea is wearing off), but I wondered how long before I would move on.
I tried to disguise my work stoppage by throwing myself into home improvements and began fixing up my garage workshop. This winter, I descended into the basement to build starship models. If you’ve read The World According to Garp, you’ll know that, like Garp, I was building shelves.
While working in the garage or while on long bike rides, I would idly imagine what sort of great novel I should write, and it would have nothing to do with Jane Austen. I’ve always wanted to write a mind-blowing science fiction novel like Arthur C. Clarke’s Childhood’s End or something like the magical realism of Robertson Davies’ Deptford trilogy.
Of course, these are all symptoms of writer’s block (I feel your pain, Alexa). I had fallen into the cliché of wanting to write the great American novel instead of the lives of “three or four families in a country village.” But even in the throes of writer’s block, I’d have ideas for other Austen-related stories, which really wasn’t helping. Whole plot outlines for stories would appear unbidden in my mind, but the idea of writing them seemed unbearable. I was in a dark place, not made any better when an ambitious woodworking project went pear shaped and a month of work went down the drain.
My friend Mike would notice at the monthly meetings of Doctor Watson’s Neglected Patients (the Denver Sherlock Holmes scion society) that I was awfully quiet. I’m afraid that during this time I was rather resentful of Doyle’s prolific output. My favorite author, P.G. Wodehouse, is another source of irritation. I’m reading Sophie Ratcliffe’s P.G. Wodehouse: A Life in Letters, and Plum often writes to a friend (and far less successful author) stuff like: “Dashed off a quick 20,000 words today to the good ole Saturday Evening Post. Will lunch with Cole Porter today. Have you read my latest?”
I’m afraid I was often in a foul mood and I apologize to my friends and especially my husband for being a misery guts over the holidays. In my defense, it’s been a rough winter in Colorado.
Fortunately another cliché has rescued me: the New Year’s Resolution. It took a few days before it kicked in, but I am writing again, fueled by a few continuous days of sunshine, the end of the holidays and the promise of spring. By happy chance, the invitation to join Austen Authors arrived about the same time (here’s hoping I don’t get kicked off).
I’m writing the sequel to My Particular Friend, which was my second book, and I’m once again spelling color with a “u” and looking up whether an earl’s a better catch than a marquess or vice versa. There’s precious little Jane in Our Mutual Friends, but I did just have a character speak this Austen quote: “We have all a better guide in ourselves, if we would attend to it, than any other person can be.” My better guide may be telling me that even if I am I am on the fringe, I am an Austen author (with a little Dickens and Doyle thrown in).
PS One of my planned Austen-related novels actually does combine characters from Austen and Sir Arthur and the other novel puts Austen on Mars.
* For the record, I’m three for five, not having had kids and I will probably never wear a costume because that’s a rabbit hole I shouldn’t go down.
PPS To celebrate my return to writing (and to empty my warehouse of unsold books), I’m giving away a copy of my two Austen-related books. Just leave a comment here before midnight Sunday (Feb. 8) and you’ll get a physical copy of the book.