From the time I was small, I was told by people that I had a way with words. My mother in particular often said that I should be a writer. During my school days, teachers and professors confirmed mom’s assessment. When I turned in compositions and essays, I often received an “A” on what was essentially a first draft. Sadly, rather than recognizing that I was wasting the opportunity to nurture and refine my talent, I was secretly delighted that I could get away with so little effort.
I loved to read, and thought that being a writer sounded like a wonderful dream. When I read Little Women, I truly related to Jo March and her ambitions to be a published writer, yet I was troubled by something I had a difficult time admitting even to myself: I didn’t feel that I had anything important to say. The books I had read, at least the good ones, all taught me significant, memorable truths. If I was going to write, I wanted to deliver fresh insight into the world. Alas, some 6,000 years of civilization have robbed me of that opportunity. I fear that few of this generation will come up with anything that hasn’t been thought of before.
Jane Austen put her finger on the mindset of my youth when she wrote Elizabeth Bennet’s declaration at the Netherfield ball. “We are each of an unsocial, taciturn disposition, unwilling to speak, unless we expect to say something that will amaze the whole room, and be handed down to posterity with all the éclat of a proverb.”
Despite the encouragement of my mother and teachers, I did very little writing for several decades. I’ve kept a journal from time to time, but it was the advent of the internet that began to draw me out of that self-imposed writing winter. I began to venture speaking my opinion here and there in forums and newsgroups and re-discovered the depths of my mind. In the process, I realized that time had changed me in a fundamental way. I did have important things to say.
So I wrote a book. It was not a JAFF novel, but the enjoyment I experienced watching the 1995 Pride and Prejudice series on DVD inspired me first to read Austen’s novels for the first time and then to write. It was while I was writing my first book that I realized that writing for the sheer joy of it was a radically different experience than fulfilling an assignment. I loved the way writing made me feel–exhilarated, joyful and alive. I edited and re-edited and edited my book again. I printed off 25 copies and dispersed them to various readers for feedback. It was at this point that I got stuck. In spite of generally positive responses, I was incredibly uncomfortable, feeling exposed and vulnerable. I abandoned the project before sending off a single query letter.
In October of 2010, the company I work for was in peril due to the weak economy. I was cut back from full-time to just ten hours a week. Unable to afford books, I soon found the Pride and Prejudice category on FanFiction.net for reading and began to consider posting there. It seemed perfect – an obscure little corner of the internet where I could practice my writing in a cocoon of lovely anonymity. I especially loved the idea that if anyone stumbled on and then bothered to read what I was writing, they might comment, and I could get some feedback to help me improve. It seemed perfect. I wrote One Thread Pulled with joy-filled abandon, with no expectations that it would lead anywhere, or that more than a handful of Fan Fiction readers would even see it.
I won’t go into all the details of that journey today, but eventually, I started getting requests from the readers at FF.Net and DarcyandLizzy.com to publish it. They wished to have a personal copy of the story. I was flattered and wanted to accommodate these strangers who had enthusiastically supported my efforts, but I had no idea how to go about it. The generous encouragement of one person in particular—our own Austen Author, Brenda Webb—convinced me that I could do it. With additional help from other friends, I did.
I honestly had no expectations regarding sales, since I published it more by request than ambition, although I was euphoric to be able to send my mother a printed copy. I had no idea that the demand for JAFF was significant, so you can imagine my surprise when the book began climbing the charts at Amazon.
Then the reviews started coming in. The emotional impact of the reviews was surprising. Despite the enthusiasm of the positive ones, it was the reviews that were lackluster that forced me to acknowledge that for the sequel, I needed to up my game. I engaged beta readers, subscribed to writing blogs, joined a women’s writing association and began attending writing retreats and conferences where I’ve taken workshops from bestselling authors in many genres. I can now tell you a hundred things I did wrong in my first book, but I also understand what I got right.
I’m closing in now on finishing the sequel. Although writing Constant as the Sun is taking longer than I had initially predicted, the work I’ve put into “learning the craft” is shining through in tangible ways. For your enjoyment, I’ve included a short excerpt below.
“Whitehall was magnificent, of course,” Elizabeth began, “and the Twelfth Day ceremonies were delightful in every way. I had never actually seen the Prince Regent before, and I confess to observing that ‘Prinny’ suits him as a name very well indeed. I daresay that my father would have made great sport of the man, for I do believe that there was not an inch of his person that was not decorated with a bit of lace or trim or a shiny button. It was truly ridiculous.”
Mrs Gardiner frowned, “Your father’s mockery does him no credit, Elizabeth. When our minds venture to the derision of our neighbours, our manners will eventually reveal our contempt, in spite of our effort to conceal it. Civility cannot long mask disdain.”
Elizabeth sighed and poured a cup of tea. “That is true, Aunt, and for my father’s sake, I wish it were not so. I was awake much of the night, pondering the question of my father’s opinion of Mr Darcy. The letter, you see …”
“Oh, yes, the letter!” Mrs Gardiner set her cup aside. “Pray tell me, what does your father say?”
“He gave me much to think about, Aunt, but I do not wish to discuss what my father wrote to me, at least not yet. It was most distressing, and I feel a need to reflect on what he disclosed to me before I speak. I shall confide it all to you very soon.”
“I am sorry, dear; I did not mean to pry. Do continue with what you were saying. You mentioned the Prince.”
“Oh, yes, and many nobles were there as well. There was not an empty seat to be seen in the hall, and each person was dressed, it seemed, more elegantly than the last. Poor Miss Darcy was nearly overcome by the grandeur of it all.”
“And what of my niece?” Mrs Gardiner teased.
“Your niece was astonished to discover herself quite serene in the face of such splendour. I admit, there was a moment when I felt myself almost shrink under the scrutiny of a rather imperious duchess, but I looked up at Mr Darcy in that instant, and the warmth in his eyes calmed me, and the swelling in my breast restored my resolve. From that moment forward, nothing could intimidate me, and I enjoyed the event very much indeed.” Elizabeth turned her attention to her cup, sipping cautiously on the barely-cooled tea.
“I know you well enough to believe that your courage would have risen regardless of the warmth in the eyes of your betrothed, but it is truly remarkable to see that look on the face of a man, is it not?” Mrs Gardiner paused for the flush of pleasure that coloured Elizabeth’s face and the accompanying nod of agreement. “Such love as you have found shall give you power to endure the scrutiny of any number of lords and ladies, my dear, for the truest love enables us to bear that which is unbearable, and suffer those who are insufferable. What of the luncheon at Fitzwilliam House?”
“We did not join Mr Darcy’s relations at Fitzwilliam House but went instead to Darcy House for refreshment.” Elizabeth smiled at her aunt’s reaction. “I see that this revelation has surprised you, as it did me! Imagine for a moment, finding myself—with almost no warning—on the threshold of the London household where I shall someday be mistress!”