The new year has arrived, and with it the time-honored tradition of setting resolutions for the coming year. Personally, I’ve never been one for setting resolutions. I’ve always been of the opinion that we should constantly be looking at our lives, our behavior, and trying to correct the things we see in ourselves which are not as we wish them to be. This is true not only in our personal lives and our relationships with others, but in our professional lives also.
Recently, I’ve been reminded that not everything goes to plan, not all our expectations are realized, and, though I sometimes fool myself into believing the old Field of Dreams axiom (If you [write] it, they will come), that is not always the case. This has spawned an excess of reflection, and as it’s the beginning of the year, I thought I would discuss my thoughts.
Being an author is often like trying to read minds. What do readers like? What do they want to read? What kind of stories would they like to read? What will they shun? If I had a window into the collective minds of those who read what I write, all my novels would be stunning successes, and I’d never have a disappointment again. Alas, until someone invents that machine or teaches me that talent, I, and other authors like me are stuck with guessing. Of course, that doesn’t take into account different tastes, but you know what I mean.
In the time since I started writing Pride and Prejudice adaptations, I’ve learned a few things, rules for writing a successful variation, if you will. The first, and only rule which cannot be broken, I believe, is you cannot, under any circumstances, split up ODC. Those among you who have been reading in the genre long enough will probably greet that statement with a heartfelt “Duh!” and a roll of your eyes, but I have seen a few attempts to do this. Other than that, pretty much anything goes. I’ve had Jane end up with Colonel Fitzwilliam, I’ve killed her off, I’ve killed off just about every other Bennet (the only exception being Kitty, which is odd), I’ve had Georgiana end up with Bingley, and I’ve had many other pairings. I’ve also taken the three main villains (Lady Catherine, Caroline Bingley, and George Wickham) along with the main comic relief (William Collins) and made them all good, rational, even likable characters at times. I’ve even cast Jane as a quasi-villain, made Mr. Bennet into a vengeful creep, and even into a baron!
But I wonder, is it possible to take things too far, to change to much? If I take the characters in directions that change too many of them at once, have I lost the true feeling of Pride and Prejudice? As importantly to my professional life, will I lose my audience because of it? I am not certain I can answer that. I suppose that’s something I’ll have to let the reader decide.
Of course, writing isn’t only about what other people want to read, though if you want to have any success at all that has to be a big part of your thinking. I also write what I enjoy writing. In the P&P genre, it helps that what I like to write is quite often what others like to read, but that is not always the case. Though I’ve come to know what most P&P readers like, there will always be missteps and miscalculations. When that happens, I try to respond with philosophy and gratitude that though things don’t always go my way, I’m still blessed enough to be doing something I love. Not everyone can say that!
As time goes on and my priorities change, it is quite possible my endeavors will change also. As you may have read in my bio, fantasy fiction has always been my first love, and my ultimate goal is to move deeper into that genre. I would also like to write more mainstream historical fiction, and perhaps mix the two. For those of my fans who want me to keep writing about Darcy and Elizabeth, I will note that I will probably not stop writing adaptations. For one, they are a lot of fun, and for another, I don’t want to disappoint my fans!
The astute reader will note that I’ve sprinkled the covers of several of my previous adaptations throughout this article, and the even more astute will likely guess, given the topic of this post, that they are those which did not quite do as well as expected. I’ve had my share of successes, but I’ve also had a few of the other variety, and these are they. Ironically, I believe that some of my best work have been those which have not done so well. Coming on the heels of The Mistress of Longbourn, which did very well, I thought My Brother’s Keeper was a surefire hit. But for some reason, readers didn’t seem to agree that George Wickham reined in and helping Darcy find his way to Elizabeth was believable or interesting. But it remains one of my personal favorites of my own work. Similarly, I feel I did quite well in relating Lydia’s tale with a truly awful Mr. Wickham in A Life from the Ashes, but whether it is because Lydia was the main character or for some other reason, readers did not agree. The rest were also varying degrees of disappointments
On the other side of the ledger, In the Wilds of Derbyshire, Out of Obscurity, and The Mistress of Longbourn were all very successful, and while I had a notion Out of Obscurity would be a success, I had little idea either of the others would do as well as they did. And perhaps the greatest surprise, when you adjust for length of story, Mr. Bennet Takes Charge, a novella I started at the urging of a friend who suggested I write a novella, was my most successful to date. Like I said, you just can’t tell sometimes.
So, speak Austen Authors fans! What do you like to see in a variation?
For the second part of this post, I thought I’d give you an excerpt. I apologize in advance, for this little nugget is hot off the presses, and has not been edited, so there may be a few mistakes in it. To set the stage, Darcy goes to Lambton to see, and perhaps propose, to Elizabeth after her visit the previous day. He is stopped on the way with a momentous piece of news which becomes even more important when he meets Elizabeth at the inn.
“Please be quick, Snell, for I have important business to attend to today.”
While the valet made no immediate reply, Darcy could see his looks of speculation. For the moment, the man continued in his task, shaving the previous day’s stubble from Darcy’s chin and cheeks. When he was finished, he wiped the remaining soap from Darcy’s face and pulled away the towel, allowing Darcy to stand. When given the choice of jackets, Darcy was so impatient to be away, he did not care for so minor a matter as the color of his garment. Snell took the simple expedient of choosing the forest green jacket and helping his master into the sleeves.
“It seems matters of great import are afoot, Mr. Darcy,” observed the valet.
“Perhaps,” replied Darcy, knowing it was useless to protest at this juncture.
Snell gave him a long look. “Might I be correct in assuming this change has come about due to the unexpected appearance of the young lady from Hertfordshire? I hope it is not because of the young . . . woman staying with her brother.”
To this question Darcy was forced to grin. By the simple definition of proper deference for a master, the question was an impertinence, for the master’s business was not the servant’s. In this instance, however, Darcy could not be angry. The matter of his future bride was one that would have a profound influence on all his staff; Darcy was aware his servants had long worried he would make Miss Caroline Bingley, a woman who would make their lives miserable and their tasks more difficult, an offer of marriage. It was only natural Snell, the servant in the best position to question him, acted as the spokesman and attempt to discover if calamity was about to befall them.
“If you truly thought it was the woman in residence, I should be concerned for your powers of perception,” said Darcy.
A hint of a smile—the most Darcy had ever seen from the man—appeared at the corners of his lips. “That is good news, sir. Then I wish you luck.”
“Which you would not have offered had I been considering Miss Bingley,” replied Darcy with a laugh. “At present I do not know what will happen, Snell, but I am hopeful. Miss Bingley was never a possibility—you may share that with the rest of the staff if you like.”
“Very well, sir,” replied Snell, bowing and stepping away.
After inspecting himself in the mirror for a moment, Darcy excused himself to make his way to the stables. As he walked, he reflected on the changes wrought in an instant, brought on by unexpected events. Whereas he had little hope before coming to Pemberley, meeting Miss Elizabeth Bennet here upon his arrival had filled his mind with thoughts of what could be, with ideas of how he could persuade her. It had been the previous evening, however, when she had dined at Pemberley with her aunt and uncle that had sent his imagination soaring at the possibilities. The kindness she had shown to his sister, her actions in fending off Miss Bingley’s taunts, the way she had looked at him as Georgiana had played the pianoforte. She was not as set against him as she once was—Darcy could feel it! This opportunity could not be allowed to go to waste. Somehow, he must convince her that accepting his solicitations was where her future lay.
Before long, Darcy reached the stables, pleased to find his horse already saddled as per the instructions he had sent down thirty minutes before. With a brief check of the saddle, Darcy swung himself into the saddle and spurred his mount into a canter.
It was a warm summer morning, the likes of which showed his home to its greatest advantage. It was also an especially auspicious day, as it was a day in which he would once more be in Miss Elizabeth’s company, would have another opportunity to show her how important her good opinion was. Surely nothing could happen which would take away from this marvelous day.
But, of course, one could not predict the future, and soon found he was destined to be disappointed. As Lambton wove into view not many minutes later, Darcy found himself riding through the narrow streets of the town toward the inn in which resided his heart. The bustle of the town was a welcome friend, a balm to his frenetic thoughts and excitement. Here the business of life was uppermost in the minds of these people, and Darcy could not help but recall that his life was entwined with theirs intimately by reason of his estate’s proximity. They were his people and he theirs. Darcy firmly hoped Miss Elizabeth would soon belong to them also.
Darcy turned onto the narrow street on which lay the inn that was his destination. Lambton, being built amid a series of low hills, was a maze of narrow, twisting streets which sometimes confounded those entering the town driving carriages of wagons. While Darcy stopped at a corner to allow a wagon heavy laden with good pass him by, a shopkeeper approached and hailed him.
“Mr. Darcy,” said Mr. Draper, the proprietor of the town’s general store. “Might I have a moment of your time?”
Little though he wished to delay, Darcy had always known it was best to foster good relations with the merchants of Lambton. Thus, he returned the man’s greeting and dismounted his horse to better converse with him.
“How might I assist?”
“I have information which you will find of interest, sir,” said Mr. Draper, looking graver than usual. “This morning I heard from Barnwell that Mr. Wickham has been seen in the area.”
There you have it! I hope you are breathless with anticipation, or at least that it has piqued your interest. I won’t tell you what the working title is, because it would give too much away and mislead you at the same time. Suffice to say that it’s a novella of about 40,000 words, but you’ll have to wait until February for its release.