There seems to be an enduring universal passion when it comes to revisiting the world of Pride and Prejudice in both Historical fiction and Contemporary re-tellings like yours. Why do you think this particular Austen novel is the most popular when it comes to re-imagination?
Mr. Darcy and Elizabeth Bennet. Both are flawed yet relatable characters. Flawed because both have varying degrees of pride and prejudice in them. Relatable because these are the two flaws we like the least in ourselves, yet we know they're there inside us. If one considers Pride and Prejudice as simply a Literary novel, then the deep navel-contemplation by the characters about their flaws throughout the novel satisfies. If one considers this novel purely a Women's Fiction, then Elizabeth truly grew at the end to see how wrong she was to judge a bad man favorable by a pleasant countenance and gentleman-like manners, and a good man unfavorable because he appeared proud and haughty. If one considers it a Romance, what makes it so satisfying for a romance reader is how both hero and heroine overcame and grew through their pride and prejudice to a gratifying, believable happily ever after.
There are several ways to re-tell Darcy and Elizabeth's story and I have to admit, Compulsively Mr. Darcy was the most original I have read thus far ( and I have read many, fan that I am!) What led you to explore the characters in this particular way?
Oooh. A fellow fanatic! How lovely.
I wanted something in this vein, yet with some original twist. I reread and reread Pride and Prejudice, and what stood out for me was her tendency to make snap judgment of people based on the exterior. She wasn't a shallow person, but she's so convinced she's right in her initial impression of people that it's a turning point for her to acknowledge she's not as insightful as she thinks she is.
It is obvious that you are as passionate about Pride and Prejudice as the rest of us! What was your first experience with the novel and has it influenced your writing beyond Compulsively Mr. Darcy?
My first experience with Pride and Prejudice was in school. As a fourteen-year-old girl, I was enthralled with how funny Mrs. Bennet was with her theatrics and how much she resembled many of the women in my family. I thought Elizabeth should have ended up with Wickham (aghast!) or Bingley, because Mr. Darcy was just too much work. Blech. Who'd want a boyfriend that complex. He didn't seem to be a bundle of joy to be mated with for life.
Maturity and wisdom came years later, after I've gone through a few Wickhams and Bingleys in my life and was bored. Simply bored. When I stumbled into some re-imaginings and re-tellings of Pride and Prejudice, I began to look at the novel differently. It became a romance for me.
The Vietnamese setting of the novel ---and the well-researched action at the orphanage and the hospital, as well as the local flavour, is a spicy, sassy, exotic and throughly unique setting when held up against other Jane Austen "pastiches." What inspired you to set the novel here?
The exotic setting came to me because I was reading some old tabloid issues where Brad and Angelina had just adopted a Vietnamese orphan. I had some familiarity with Vietnam and adoption, and it tickled my funny bone. I had very good idea how the locals would have reacted to Brad and Angelina —a la Mrs. Bennet upon hearing Netherfield being leased by Bingley. Da Nang, Vietnam as Hertfordshire. Perfect.
Yet, I didn't want it to be a travelogue story. I wanted the setting to be organic to the story line but not overtake it. What worked in my favor was it had been some years since I last visited Da Nang, so all that was left in my memory was an emotional geography of the place, but not the guidebook details. I actually had to hit travel books and read some descriptions for research, but quite honestly, I had a migraine headache almost the entire visit (Darcy suffers from migraines in the story) so the landscape, where things were located etc… were all a blur. My weakness is that I'm the kind of person who has to be alerted to the mountain range right in front of me, for I'm always too busy trying to listen to conversations around me. In the end, I focused more on the cultural aspects of the setting.
The initial misunderstanding between Elizabeth and Darcy strays far beyond the first impressions of behavior and attitude we find in the book. Can you speak to your decision to have Elizabeth perceive Darcy's relationship with Bingley as she does?
An irreverent story needs to have a bit of a farce to it, I think, and thus the comic potential of such a misunderstanding appealed to me. Though, at first, I did hesitate to use this angle, for I was fearful of being perceived as unPC. But, you can't write 'honest and funny' if you're fearful.
Your Dr. Elizabeth Bennet is the prototype of a modern literary heroine: intellectual, independent and very much a career woman. How do you think the original Elizabeth Bennet set the stage for her fictional descendants?
I think the original Elizabeth Bennet did what many of us might not do—turn down a proposal from a rich man and a life of ease, when, at that time, marrying well was the only viable option for a woman of her genteel means.
At fourteen, when I first read Pride and Prejudice, I was coming from a place in life where I was feeling acutely the lack of material comfort, and, honestly, I thought Elizabeth was a bit of a fool to turn down an estate full of servants. (Remember, I didn't think much of Mr. Darcy, then). Teenagers tend to be very materialistic, and I was no exception.
In preparing to tell Elizabeth and Darcy's story in a modern context, did you refer to any other re-tellings of the book; or strictly to the source material?
If I'd relied strictly on source material, I think I would not have been so bold in my attempt to write a modern myself. I'm not that talented or audacious.
When you write a modern retelling, it's very freeing in many ways because you have more leeway in character interpretations and plot. Two hundred years ought to have effected some changes. Darcy and Elizabeth and company should have evolved to fit their modern time, though still retain enough of the essentials of the originals to resonate with readers.
Yet, in many ways, it's very hard because you now do not have a rigid set of Regency rules and boundaries to keep you contained as a writer. You have to world-build and create a believable modern imitation, and that can be a daunting challenge.
Can we anticipate other revisions of Jane Austen stories penned by you in the future? What other book would you like to find a modern home for?
I'm editing a Pride and Prejdudice Regency Romantic Suspense novel that I've completed six months ago. (Simply because I wanted to explore Regency boundaries and then break them.)
I'm currently writing a time travel, haven't decided whether it would be a Jane Austen or not, since…ahem…I tend to tackle strange twists to characterizations and plots, and I may hit it too much out of the Jane Austen realm.
Northanger Abbey. Catherine Moreland as a girl from the project invited to an exclusive gated community called Northanger Abbey.
Emma as a stagemom-handler to a young actress Harriet Smith.
Find her on facebook
Find her on twitter
Barnes and Noble
I would like to thank Sourcebooks for the review copy and for the opportunity to interview this exciting author!