The blurb for my new book, Incandescent, will go something like… “In this modern day twist on Jane Austen’s Persuasion, The Elliots are Hollywood Royalty – a family of actors going back three generations. Annie Elliot has been cast to play Elizabeth Bennet in a new movie adaptation of Pride and Prejudice that takes place during the Belle Epoque, circa 1910, with a multi-racial cast. But who will her Mr. Darcy be? As the two stories mix and intermingle on and off camera, hearts are broken, love is found, and diversity is celebrated.” (By the way, the cover is not final yet, but I wanted to give you all an idea.)
I mentioned Incandescent in my post here last month, and am now getting ready for its release date, April 27th. As I related at the time, I’ve made some non-traditional character choices in the book in terms of race and sexual orientation. I’m sure these ideas are not totally original, and that other JAFF authors have dabbled here, but these aspects are exciting for me because it’s rather hard to do that kind of thing in Regency JAFF, which is what I’ve always written. The use of two of Jane Austen’s novels, coming together as one in modern day, has really freed me up to play with the kinds of issues that are present in our lives today. This book is written, I hope, with a sense of humor as well, while staying true to the trials the characters go through in each story.
As we ramp up to the release date, please enjoy this excerpt from Chapter One of Incandescent. (A little context: Annie Elliot and Freddy Wentworth have met playing Romeo and Juliet in New York’s Shakespeare in the Park. They’ve fallen in love and plan to spend the rest of their lives together. Cynthia Russell is Annie’s manager and long time friend of the Elliot family. In this scene, Cynthia and Annie get together at a restaurant after the play’s closing night.)
“So,” Cynthia began as they waited for their drinks to arrive, “looks like things are sizzling between you and Freddy.”
“Yes,” Annie admitted rapturously. “We’re completely in love, Cynthia. We’re even talking about marriage in a few years.”
“What?! You’ve only known him a couple of months.”
“Yes, but love is love. When you’ve met the right person, why look further?”
Cynthia took a deep breath and exhaled. “Because you’re too young. There are going to be a lot of fascinating men in your career. I understand that you love Freddy now, but you need to have other experiences. You may feel differently ten years from now. People grow a lot in their twenties. Relationships rarely last when they start so young in life. And then there’s the fact that you’ll be a Hollywood couple. Look how seldom those marriages last!”
Annie smiled smugly. “But look at Mom and Dad. They got married young and they couldn’t have been happier.”
Cynthia sighed again. It was becoming annoying.
“There are some things you don’t know about your parents’ relationship,” Cynthia said.
“Your mother was not as happy as you thought she was. You didn’t really know what was going on behind the scenes.”
“Behind what scenes? What are you talking about?”
“Annie, there’s no doubt your mother and father loved each other very much. But your mother wasn’t entirely happy.”
“What do you mean?” A deep sense of fear gnawed at Annie’s gut.
Cynthia paused as if trying to form the right words. “As much as she loved your father,” she finally said, “she also spent a lot of time managing him.”
“I still don’t know what you mean.”
“Well, your father is…flamboyant, as you know.”
That was an odd choice of words. “Yeah, he’s an actor.”
“Yes, that’s true. But, for the sake of his career, your mother often had to tone him down. Your dad is the perfect leading man. He could play the romantic lead as well as the action hero.”
“Absolutely. He still can.”
“Yes, but, have you noticed that he hasn’t been getting as many parts since your mom died?”
“Well, that’s because he’s been in mourning for God’s sake.”
“The first year, yes, but since then, haven’t you noticed something change in him?”
Annie thought about it for a minute as their drinks arrived. She took a sip of her mineral water. “Well, he’s been dressing a bit outrageously. He’s grown his hair out. I guess I just thought he was trying to re-capture his youth on some level.”
“But, you see, that’s not how the public wants to see him. Your mother had great instincts about this. She knew that a leading man had to be clean cut, well-dressed, and masculine. She spent a lot of time paying attention to his image. That was hard on her, and she may have had a bigger career herself it she hadn’t spent so much time seeing to him. She sacrificed a lot for him and it took a toll.”
“I never thought about that before,” said Annie, staring at the bubbles fizzing to the top of her glass. And what did Cynthia mean by “masculine?” She knew her father wasn’t a macho guy, but he wasn’t exactly effeminate either.
“Anyway, that’s really neither here nor there. What I really wanted to talk to you about was Freddy.”
Annie bristled. “Cynthia, I’m going to have to ask you to stay out of it.”
“Well, as your manager, I’m afraid I can’t do that.”
“This doesn’t have anything to do with my career.”
“Yes, it does. Does it not make you the least worried that Freddy may have hitched his wagon to your star?”
“Look. You are an Elliot. Your family is one of the biggest in Hollywood—let’s face it, legendary. And you, you are a huge success in your own right.”
Annie took a large sip of her drink. This conversation was making her uncomfortable. “Freddy would never love me for what I might be able to do for him.”
“I’m not saying he doesn’t love you. But if you were a lesser star, he might not have been so eager to align himself with you. My God, you said you were talking about marriage. And how old is he?”
“Twenty-two. But look. His playing Romeo is going to make him famous. He doesn’t need me.”
“Maybe. Maybe. And yet, being in a relationship with you, maybe marrying you, will do more for his career than he could ever do on his own.” She laughed without humor. “Besides, how many good-looking twenty-two year olds are ready to get married?”
“I told you, we’re thinking about that for the future.”
Cynthia sighed yet one more time. “I’m telling you, Annie. I’d be very careful if I were you. You haven’t known him long. By the way, what do you know about his family?”
“I don’t care about his family.”
“Yeah, but what do you know?”
“Um. Well, his parents are divorced.”
“Uh, his dad is a mechanic in Georgia, and his mom runs her own beauty salon in Florida. I think he said she’s from England originally. Anyway, he has lots of brothers and sisters.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?” Annoyance prickled Annie’s scalp.
“So they’re not exactly well-to-do.”
“You sound like a snob, Cynthia,” Annie said, trying to control her temper.
“I’m not a snob. But it’s my job to protect your interests. Not only as your manager, but as your mother’s dearest friend. She would want me to look after you, Annie.”
“I know,” Annie said, tears burning behind her eyes.
Cynthia reached out and took her hand. “I don’t mean to make you feel sad. I just really want you to consider the jeopardy this relationship might put your career in. You’re so young. As you pour your energy into Freddy, you will inevitably put less into your career. And then you may end up resenting him. Is that what you want?”
“Then, I tell you what…” Cynthia reached into her bag and withdrew a large envelope. She pushed it toward Annie. “I have an amazing script here for you. It’s new adaptation of Pride and Prejudice. It’s going to film in England starting in the fall. The director, Kenneth Brighton, asked for you specifically to play Elizabeth Bennet.”
Pride and Prejudice was Annie’s favorite book in the world. “Kenneth Brighton? Really?”
“Yes,” Cynthia said with a huge smile. “You’ve got the right look, the right personality; he knows you can nail an English accent. You’re perfect. I’ve been holding onto this script since April. I told him I wouldn’t tell you until your run was over.”
“But, there are so many film adaptations of Pride and Prejudice? Why do another one?” Annie asked, trying to contain her excitement.
“You do realize it’s been nearly fifteen years since the last one. Every generation wants their own Elizabeth Bennet. Their own Mr. Darcy. Not only that; Brighton is taking a few liberties with this adaptation. First of all, it will not be set in Regency England.”
“Is it going to be modern?”
“No, it will be set during the Belle Époque, the Edwardian Era. Between around 1870 and the first World War if my history is accurate.”
“Really? Why the change in time period?”
“Two reasons, he said. Well one, really. It’s going to be a multi-racial cast. With a black Mr. Darcy, and a white Elizabeth.”
“You’re kidding, that’s wild!” Annie said, pleased. “Who’s playing Mr. Darcy?”
“I don’t know. He said it was going to be a surprise.”
“It’s so exciting!”
“I know, I love it,” Cynthia said. “Anyway, that’s one reason he’s setting the movie in the Edwardian era. By then, in England, black people were more commonly seen and mixed into the rest of society and racism wasn’t as rampant there as in the U.S. However, the dialogue is not going to make mention of Darcy and his sister, Georgiana, being black. It’s not exactly a color-blind production, like your Romeo and Juliet, but it is a way to make the film really fresh and relevant today. And the costumes. Oh, Annie, the costumes will be divine! The clothes were so gorgeous during that time period.”
“Does the dialogue stay true to the book?”
“Yes. Very much so, with just a little tweaking here and there.”
“Good. ‘Cause one of the things I love about Pride and Prejudice is the language.”
“Yes, certainly. The language is all there. I’d say more so than the last film version. There’s no ‘incandescently happy’ in this one. Goodness, Jane Austen never wrote the word ‘incandescent’ in her life.”
“Oh, Cynthia, you’re too harsh a critic.”
“Perhaps. But this is a gorgeous script, you’ll love it.”
“Yeah, okay, I’ll take a look.” Her heart beat fast with excitement.
“It starts filming the beginning of September. Play out your romance with Freddy if you must, then let it go. You’ll be filming for at least eight months, possibly a year. This is going to need all your energy.”
“I don’t have to choose one or the other. Freddy will wait for me. Or he’ll come with me. You’ll see. I can have him and my career.”
“Well, I’ve said what I wanted to say. I’m thrilled you’re interested in the script. Read it as soon as you can and give me a definite answer so I can be in touch with your agent.”
“Okay.” Annie smiled. The thin crust pizza they’d ordered arrived and they fell to eating, Annie’s mind and heart full of what her friend had said.