Monday, June 29, 2009

AustenFest: Laurie Viera Rigler

Hope you all had a great weekend. (I got to go to a wedding. Quite an exciting event!) I wanted to start the day by saying "Congrats!" to our newest winner--Aimee--for winning the third of four $10 B&N giftcards. Yay! Aimee, please email me at marilynbrant AT gmail DOT com with your address so I can get that out to you!

Also, I have 2 mini prizes for commenters from Abigail Reynold's post. I just came across these this weekend and I love them already: Starbucks Via Ready Brew packets. Each one has 3 soluble, microground coffee servings inside. The nice Starbucks guy assured me they can be served hot or cold (I've only done it the hot way so far), but you simply open up a little pack, pour it in the water, stir or shake and...voila! I picked up a Colombian flavor and an Italian Roast. And...the Colombian brew goes to Bloggin BB ; the Italian Roast goes to Lois. (Hurray for you both! Please email me so I can mail them out.)

See? Aren't Monday mornings fabulous? For me, they're extra fun when when I get to give away prizes and when I've got a terrific guest here on Brant Flakes. So, without waiting a moment longer, let me introduce my final AustenFest author, Laurie Viera Rigler.

At the Chicago AGM, where I had the pleasure of hearing Laurie present a workshop, I asked her to autograph my copy of her wonderful debut novel, Confessions of a Jane Austen Addict (Dutton, 2007)--a book Publishers Weekly smartly called "a winner." When she told me a sequel would be coming this summer, I giggled in gleeful anticipation, hoping the months would pass quickly...

Well, the wait is now over! Just a few days ago, Dutton released Rude Awakenings of a Jane Austen Addict, and being that I was fortunate enough to get a sneak preview, I'm here to tell you all that it's as fantastic and fun as the first, and it earned 4 1/2 stars and a Top Pick from Romantic Times BOOKreviews!! Want a window into the world of Laurie's heroine? Take a look at her new book trailer (it's also up on AustenBlog, check out the June 12th post).

Welcome, Laurie! Can you tell us the basic premise of your new book? Yes, but first may I just say how excited I am to be participating in AustenFest? It's such an honor to be here. Thank you for inviting me, Marilyn! [My pleasure, Laurie!!]

Here is the premise of my new book: Imagine you are a 30-year-old gentleman's daughter in 1813 England named Jane Mansfield (no relation to the 1950s movie legend). You go riding, fall from your horse, and the next time you open your eyes you are in a strange bed in a strange room in a body that is not your own. On the wall is a calendar: It is no longer 1813, it is 2009. You're not in Kansas anymore, Dorothy. You're in a bewildering city called Los Angeles, a place of wondrous machines, questionable morals, and byzantine courtship rituals. Good thing you have the words of your favorite novelist, Jane Austen, to help you make sense of it all.

That's Rude Awakenings of a Jane Austen Addict. It is the parallel story to my first novel, Confessions of a Jane Austen Addict, in which a twenty-first-century Austen fan awakens as the nineteenth-century gentleman's daughter from Rude Awakenings.

What's one scene from this story you loved writing? In the very first chapter, Jane has her first close encounter with modern technology, i.e., a glass box in which tiny figures act out scenes from her favorite book, Pride and Prejudice. She is delighted to see Lizzy and Darcy come to life yet absolutely puzzled as to why they cannot hear her when she calls out to them and introduces herself. It was great fun to see my world through the eyes of my protagonist and imagine her reactions to all the things we take for granted, from electric lights and DVD players to computers, cars, and airplanes.

What's a personality trait you love about one of the characters in your novel? Adventurousness. Despite landing in a bewildering and potentially frightening world, my protagonist doesn't waste much time in fear. Instead, she finds pleasure in the miraculous conveniences and delicious freedoms of life in the twenty-first century while trying to come to terms with our curious mating rituals and other bizarre social customs.

Who was the first person you told when you got The Call announcing you'd sold your first novel? My husband. I couldn't quite wrap my mind around what was happening, and telling him made it all real. I had gone from sitting in a room, for years, unraveling the story in my head, to realizing that this story in my head was going to be an actual, tangible book, out there in the world, that other people were going to read. I'll never forget the sensation; it's how I imagine someone would feel who won the lottery. After all, isn't that what everyone tells us, how the odds are solidly against our ever getting our first novel published? Glad I didn't listen to the naysayers. And if anyone who's reading this is also writing a novel, don't you listen either. Because as my teacher reminded me, someone wins the jackpot every week! [Great advice...]

What's one piece of writing advice you've found valuable on your journey to publication? My teacher very wisely encouraged me to think of myself as a "storyteller" rather than a "writer," because the word "writer" has all sorts of baggage attached to it. (You know, the kind that starts with "You're not a writer unless you…" Or worse, "You're not a REAL writer unless you…") Storytellers get to sit around the fire and weave tales and mesmerize their listeners, unburdened by all those cumbersome expectations.

What’s the most surprising thing that has happened to you on your publishing journey? Have you learned things about the industry you never knew before? I've learned that I should treasure every moment I have with every one of the remarkable people assigned to work on my books and realize that they may not always be there, because there is a great deal of turnaround in this industry. I had assumed that my original editor and I would be immune to the impermanence of working relationships, as she was editor-in-chief of the imprint and not likely to leave. Less than two years later, she left to become an agent. Three of the publicists assigned to my books and two directors of marketing and publicity have also moved on. I am fortunate that every person who has been assigned to work on my books has been stellar. Moreover, my angel of an agent has been a stable, consistent force throughout.

Do you pay attention to book reviews? If so, has there been any particular review that made your heart do a little dance? I'd like to be one of those authors who says, "I never pay attention to reviews." But I'm not there yet. I had the jitters—big time—right before my first novel, Confessions of a Jane Austen Addict, came out in North America. I was hugely relieved that the very first print review it received, in Publishers Weekly, was a positive one. Recently Confessions debuted in the UK, and I had the jitters all over again. These days to get reviewed at all in print media is a stroke of good fortune, what with all the cutbacks in that industry, so when a reviewer at The Observer said that she "spent a blissful day" with my book, my heart definitely did the happy dance!

Writers are usually big readers too. How do you make time for reading and what are you reading at the moment? I cannot imagine a day without reading, and aside from the pure enjoyment of immersing myself in a good book, I find reading to be a great writing teacher. No matter how busy I am, I always find time for reading, even if it's just a few pages before I drop off to sleep at night. I read during breaks, when I'm standing in line at the post office, wherever I can squeeze it in!

At the moment I'm re-reading a mind-blowing novel by David Ambrose called Superstition.

Any favorite movies you've seen? Ones you've watched over and over again? I'm a movie fanatic, and not surprisingly, many of my favorite movies are Austen adaptations. I love, own, and have watched these films multiple times: "Sense and Sensibility"(Emma Thompson and Kate Winslet), "Emma" (Gwyneth Paltrow and Jeremy Northam), "Bride and Prejudice" (the Bollywood-meets-Hollywood delight starring Aishwarya Rai and Martin Henderson), "Persuasion" (Amanda Root and Ciaran Hinds), "Pride and Prejudice"(Colin Firth and Jennifer Ehle), and "Bridget Jones's Diary." I own and enjoy almost all the others as well. My favorite of the more recent adaptations is the "Sense and Sensibility" mini, penned by Andrew Davies. And I loved "Becoming Jane," which, while not strictly factual, I see as delightfully true to the spirit of the feisty, trailblazing author I love so well.

On the non-Austen side, my favorites include "Love Actually," "Notting Hill," "Bend It Like Beckham," "Sliding Doors," "Groundhog Day," "Still Crazy," "The Winslow Boy," and, more recently, "Duplicity," which I loved so much I saw it in a movie theater two nights in a row. [I've seen and enjoyed several of these films, especially "Groundhog Day" and "Bend It Like Beckham." You've convinced me to watched "Duplicity" now!]

Laurie is giving away two signed copies of her books--one of each title! So, for a chance to win a copy of either Confessions of a Jane Austen Addict or Rude Awakenings of a Jane Austen Addict, all you have to do is leave a message in the comment section of this post by July 7th, the day we'll be having our big book giveaway. Good luck! The fourth and final $10 B&N giftcard will go to someone who comments on Laurie's post between now and July 3rd. I'll draw the winning name that morning and do a little AustenFest wrap up then, too, so please check back :).

One last note, voting for the Regency World Awards ends tomorrow, June 30th, and Laurie is up for one! If you haven't yet cast your votes for her first novel, Confessions, and you want to show your support--go here now!!

Friday, June 26, 2009

AustenFest: Abigail Reynolds

Happy Friday! Thanks to Kim Wilson for her Wednesday visit, and a reminder to all that Kim's book (and all of the other books) will be drawn after 7pm on July 7th.

As we begin today, I just want to thank you all for being such fabulous visitors, and I'd like to announce the winner of the second $10 B&N giftcard. Anyone who left a comment on Kim's interview before today's Q&A was posted is eligible... So, the lucky winner of the day is: Marlyn. (Yay for you! Please email me with your address so I can get that out to you. I'm at: marilynbrant AT gmail DOT com.)

And, because this is the time in the Festing where we're all famished and in need of a few good hors d'oeuvres--right?!--I decided to give out The Book of Appetizers by June Budgen to one of this week's commenters. And that prize goes to: Tiffany. (Congrats! Please email me privately as well.) Um, one question, Tiffany. If we ask nicely, will you order up some Ricotta-Cheese Puffs and a few Cucumber Sandwiches for us? (Check out p.81 and p.111 respectively--or ask the chef to substitute with the Deviled Mixed Nuts on p.101--we're not picky. :-)

While we wait for the food to arrive...
I have a wonderful little story to tell about my guest today, Abigail Reynolds. I'd first heard about her last summer from my Chicago-North RWA chaptermate and friend Pamala Knight. Pamala told me Abigail was "nice"--but then, Pamala is the Reigning Queen of Understatement. (Pamala also told me a few weeks ago that she was going on a "trip" this month. Um, yeah. I was thinking, Wisconsin? Minnesota? Indiana? She was thinking...Ireland. Hope you're having fun, my dear!)

Well, I had the pleasure of meeting Abigail and their mutual friend Elaine at the Chicago AGM this past fall, and they were so warm, welcoming and inclusive, I wanted to hug the lot of them. (I did, in fact. :) After little more than a few snatches of afternoon conversation, Pamala, Elaine and Abigail all changed their reserved seating arrangements for the big Regency Ball dinner--from a more advantageous location to one much farther back, I hasten to add--just because they discovered there wasn't room for me at their table. I tell you, Jane herself would have considered their behavior MOST amiable and kind. That was certainly my opinion.

Abigail has a great blog and a number of books out as part of her Pemberley Variations series, plus she's written a few other Austen-related projects. Publishers Weekly called one of her latest releases, Pemberley by the Sea (Sourcebooks, 2008), an "engaging love story" and Booklist says, "Reynolds convincingly updates Austen’s classic, and romance fans will be carried along by the smoldering heat between Cassie and Calder."

Abigail, I'm so glad to have you here!

New readers want to know about your books. Can you tell us about the most recent? I had two books released this year. The first is Pemberley by the Sea, a modern novel that reflects the plot of Pride & Prejudice. It’s the love story between Cassie, a marine biologist who pulled herself out of poverty by her bootstraps, and Calder Westing, a scion of a wealthy political family, who sees Cassie as a modern-day Elizabeth Bennet.

The second book is Impulse & Initiative, which is part of my Pemberley Variations series. These are Regency novels that look at roads not taken in Pride & Prejudice. Impulse & Initiative is a romantic look at what might have happened if Darcy had decided to try to win Elizabeth’s love after she refused his first proposal of marriage, rather than waiting for chance to bring them together.

Do you have a favorite kind of food? Anything you really won't eat? I love chocolate, ice cream, fruit, and ethnic foods. About the only thing I won’t eat is sushi, which is the result of a parasitology course I took years ago. I think sushi is really pretty safe; I just have too vivid a picture in my mind of what could be wrong with it.

Do you have any favorite books on the craft of writing that you often use? Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird has been the most helpful to me, both on the craft of writing and living the writer’s life. She has a lot of great insights. (Oh, I love that book, too!)

What's your Writer Fantasy--i.e., to see your book make into a feature film, to be on the New York Times bestseller list for 40 consecutive weeks, etc.? Actually, my fantasy isn’t about sales, but about the place my books have in my readers’ lives. I see them as comfort food for the mind, and I love hearing from readers who say that my books helped them keep going through difficult times. I’ve had a number of readers tell me that they’ve re-read my books several times, which makes me very happy.

Did you go on any special trips to research the setting? I used settings I already knew well. I spent one summer after college taking a course in marine ecology at the Marine Biological Laboratory in Woods Hole, and I’ve visited there frequently since. Cassie’s salt marsh is one I used to hike through. I’m always happy to have an excuse to go back to do more research or soak in the setting, though--right now I’m about a mile from the house Calder bought in West Falmouth. I keep expecting to run into my characters on the street!

What do you think readers might be surprised to know about you? It’s hard to say who is most surprised about my two professions--my readers who find out I’m a doctor or my patients and colleagues who find out I write romantic novels! It’s amusing to see some of the shocked reactions. It seems like nobody expects those two to go together.

What’s next for you? Is there a new book in the pipeline? There’s a new Pemberley Variation coming out in Fall 2010, and my publisher taking a look at Morning Light, the sequel to Pemberley by the Sea. I’ve started work on the next book in the Woods Hole Quartet as well. People keep asking for more Pemberley Variations, but I’m wondering how many more variations I can do without repeating myself.

Writers are usually big readers too. How do you make time for reading and what are you reading at the moment? It’s a struggle to find reading time, but somehow I manage to slip it in. It’s harder to lose myself in a book these days, though, because part of my brain is always looking at how the book is written and noticing what works and doesn’t work. Right now I’m reading the reissue of Cotillion by Georgette Heyer, soaking in some Regency atmosphere from the woman who inspired the Regency romance industry.

Thank you, Abigail. As a wonderful treat to visitors, Abigail is giving away signed copies of three of her novels to three lucky commenters!! So, to be in the running to win a copy of Pemberley by the Sea, Without Reserve or Impulse & Initiative, just leave a little note for Abigail in the comment section of this post before our drawing on July 7th. Also, from me...the third $10 B&N giftcard will go out to someone who comments on Abigail's post before the final Q&A (featuring the kind and talented Laurie Viera Rigler!) goes up on Monday, June 29th.

Have a great weekend, everyone! Until Monday...

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

AustenFest: Kim Wilson

Before we get started today, I first wanted to thank everyone who took part in Monday's AustenFest kickoff with Syrie James and remind you that we'll be drawing the name of the winner of her novel on July 7th, along with all of the other books we're giving away during the festivities--about 10 of them at last count. So, visitors, please feel free to keep commenting on all the guest-author posts until the close of the contest. Everyone is still eligible to win books until then.

However, there was a much shorter window of opportunity for the winner of the first $10 B&N giftcard! I just drew that person's name from the list of people who have commented so far, and it's: LaShaunda!! (Congrats! Please email me at marilynbrant AT gmail DOT com and let me know your mailing address so I can send it to you!)

Also, simply because there were so many nice people stopping by who've embraced the party atmosphere and are enthusiastically celebrating Jane with us, I wanted to toss in another prize just for fun: a 4-pack Mount of Olives "Treasures Tea" collection (5 teabags each of flavors: Sweet Apple Spice, Soothing Chamomile, Jasmine Green and English Breakfast) along with 12 Ferrero Rondnoir dark chocolates...because, in my book, the two go together. And the winner of that prize is: Natalie (Congratulations to you, too! Please email me privately as well. :)

Today, I'm honored to have Kim Wilson visiting Brant Flakes. She's the author of two gorgeous nonfiction books, Tea with Jane Austen (Jones Books, 2004) and In the Garden with Jane Austen (Jones Books, 2008), the latter of which is up for a prestigious Regency World Award this year. (Voting goes until 6/30, btw, so visit the site to see all the nominees and to cast your votes...) The ceremony is to be held in Bath, England on Wednesday, July 8th. Good luck, Kim!

Both of Kim's books have gotten some fantabulous reviews, but the one that made my jaw drop was from Andrew Davies, screenwriter for our beloved 1995 version of Pride & Prejudice, which featured the handsome and unforgettable Colin Firth. Of In the Garden with Jane Austen, Davies wrote: "Wonderfully informative, full of detail, illustrated with ravishing photographs--a must for any Austen fan." Wow...

Delighted to have you here, Kim!

Can you tell us about your books? My most recent book, In the Garden with Jane Austen, is a tour through the sorts of gardens Jane Austen knew and loved, from the small cottage gardens of the poor to the gardens of the great estates such as Pemberley. It answers those questions we all have about the gardens in her books: What did the grounds at Pemberley really look like? What, exactly, was grown in the shrubbery where Mr. Knightley proposes to Emma? Why did Mrs. Norris have Fanny cut the roses? And why did the Bennet family have “a prettyish kind of a little wilderness” on their estate? I’ve included has touring information for the garden sites associated with the Austen family, as well as for those in the screen adaptations of the novels, and instructions for re-creating your own Austen garden. Tea with Jane Austen, my first book, tells how tea was taken in Austen’s time, using fun excerpts from her novels and letters. I also included some tasty teatime recipes from her era.

What's one chapter you especially loved writing/researching and why? The chapter on the gardens of the great estates in my garden book. Finding out what Pemberley would have looked like was so much fun. And once you realize what garden features were in the gardens of the rich, you see what everyone else was trying to imitate. It puts Mrs. Bennet’s hermitage in perspective.

Do you have a Writer's Fantasy--i.e., to be on the New York Times bestseller list in Nonfiction for 40 consecutive weeks, etc.? Well, that’s a lovely fantasy! More important to me, though, is to be respected in the Austen community. I put such effort into research and making sure the information I use is accurate, and I hope that’s appreciated by my readers.

Would your high school friends be surprised to discover you'd become an author? Probably not. I was pretty bookish in high school, a bluestocking in fact, to use a phrase from Austen’s time.

Do your neighbors/hometown acquaintances know you're a published author or did you just choose to tell those closest to you? I’ve only told my friends. My daughters tend to tell their friends, though, so people are starting to become aware. I don’t think they know what to make of it, though, because they’re used to seeing me at school meetings and the grocery store.

What's one piece of writing advice you've found valuable on your journey to publication? Strunk and White’s “Omit needless words.” I read so much from the 18th and early 19th centuries, and if I’m not careful I start to write in that manner. Jane Austen’s style is so refreshingly different from that of most of her contemporaries, though, that it provides a useful corrective.

Did you go on any special trips to research your books? For In the Garden with Jane Austen, I was in the happy position of having to travel to England to see the gardens for myself and take photos for the book. It was wonderful to have a really good excuse to tour all the Austen sites again at Chawton, Steventon, Godmersham, London, and Bath, as well as some new sites for me, such as Stoneleigh Abbey.

What might readers might be surprised to know about you? Probably that, although I mentally live in the Georgian and Regency periods, I’m really fond of science fiction.

Do you pay attention to book reviews? If so, has there been any particular review that made your heart do a little dance? I write my books for myself first, to answer the questions I’ve always had about life in Jane Austen’s time, but I find it reassuring to know that other people appreciate the answers I’ve found. I think my favorite review so far is by Andrew Davies. (*see wonderful quote above*) How could that not make me happy?

Writers are usually big readers too. How do you make time for reading and what are you reading at the moment? No matter what, I read in the evenings before bed. It’s a nice transition from the busy day. Right now I’m reading An Inebriated History of Britain, by Peter Haydon. It’s a fun look at the history of drinks and drinking in Great Britain.

What’s next for you? Is there a new nonfiction book in the pipeline? I’m working on several projects right now, but the first will probably be a children’s biography of Jane Austen.

Could you please tell us a little about your writing background and how you made your first sale? I do freelance editing and ghostwriting, mostly on rather boring topics! I met the publisher of Jones Books at a JASNA luncheon and pitched my idea for Tea with Jane Austen to her, networking at its finest.

Any favorite movies you've seen? Ones you've watched over and over again? I love the Austen adaptations, of course, though each one has its flaws. I love old movies, especially Grant and Hepburn movies. "Arsenic and Old Lace" and "The Philadelphia Story" are probably my favorites. (Marilyn jumps in to say, Oh, I love "The Philadelphia Story," too...)

Did you have a writing mentor? If so, in what ways did he/she provide guidance? My favorite writing professor in college drilled us in writing in different voices and styles. It’s been really useful to be able to call on that.

What drew you to the subjects of your books? I wanted to know the answers to the questions I had about life in Jane Austen’s time, and the first subjects that drew my attention were two loves of mine: tea and gardens.

What was it about Jane Austen that first caught your interest? Her wicked wit.

We're fortunate because Kim is giving away a copy of In the Garden with Jane Austen to some lucky person who leaves a message on this post, so please take a moment to comment and, possibly, win. (Anybody living anywhere in the world is eligible. :) Again, the book drawings will be on July 7th, but if you leave a comment for Kim before the next guest-author interview is posted on Friday, you'll be entered to win the second of the four $10 B&N giftcards. I'll post that winner's name on 6/26...

Up Friday: Abigail Reynolds!

Monday, June 22, 2009

AustenFest: Syrie James

I'm delighted to have novelist Syrie James here with me today, author of two exciting historical fiction books: The Lost Memoirs of Jane Austen (Avon A, 2007) and The Secret Diaries of Charlotte Brontë (Avon A, 2009). Her second novel is just days away from being released--June 30th!!--and it's bound to garner the kind of excellent reviews her first book received.

About The Lost Memoirs of Jane Austen, one of my favorite historical fiction writers, Lauren Willig (The Secret History of the Pink Carnation), wrote: "If you thought you'd had enough of Austen spin-offs--sweep off the shelves and make room for one more. Witty, deft, and impeccably researched, The Lost Memoirs of Jane Austen will pique the most jaded Austen palette. Syrie James's Lost Memoirs are so deftly done that it's hard to tell where the history ends and invention begins. Lost Memoirs should be required reading for high school English classes. Informing even as she entertains, James deftly weaves history and imagination to create an entirely plausible romance for the immortal Jane."

Welcome, Syrie!

New readers want to know about your books! Can you tell us about them? The Secret Diaries of Charlotte Brontë delves into the passionate mind and heart of the woman who gave us the novel Jane Eyre. Living a secluded life in the wilds of Yorkshire with her sisters Emily and Anne, their drug addicted brother Branwell, and an eccentric father who is going blind, Charlotte Brontë dreams of a real love story as fiery as the ones she creates.

Despite the difficulties in their lives, Charlotte and her sisters all write in secret. A chance discovery leads to the sharing of their dreams and work, and all three become published novelists at the same time. Inspired by Charlotte’s voluminous correspondence, and based almost entirely on fact, The Secret Diaries of Charlotte Brontë exposes Charlotte’s innermost thoughts, feelings, and desires, her joys and shattering disappointments, the inspiration behind her novels, her scandalous, secret passion for the man she can never have. . . and her intense, dramatic relationship with the man she comes to deeply love: the enigmatic Mr. Arthur Bell Nichols. Although I used my imagination to fill in gaps, I believe this is Charlotte’s story just as she might have written it herself!

The Lost Memoirs of Jane Austen, which I’m thrilled to say became a best-seller and was named Best First Novel by Library Journal, also asks us to imagine that we are reading the newly discovered memoir of a famous novelist. In this case, the memoir reveals the secret, life-changing love affair which influenced every one of Jane Austen’s novels. While staying faithful to the facts of Austen’s life, I interwove a romance with the well-read and charming Mr. Ashford, a pairing which (to my delight) Publishers Weekly called “a perfect match in matters of head and heart” and News Review called “a love affair equal to anything Jane Austen wrote.” Did the romance ever really happen? I leave that up to the reader to decide, but I like to believe it did.

What's one scene from these books you loved writing, and why did it excite you? In The Secret Diaries of Charlotte Brontë, it was such a thrill to recreate the historic moment when Charlotte was inspired to start writing her novel Jane Eyre, that I got chills down my spine when I was writing it. Another favorite scene is when Mr. Nicholls--after carrying a silent torch for Charlotte for seven and a half years--finally gathers the courage to ask her to marry him. Charlotte was so stunned by the deeply impassioned, emotional proposal she received from this man who had, up until then, been so proper and reserved, that she hardly knew how to respond. She wrote a detailed letter about it to her friend Ellen immediately afterwards. Taking the gist of that moment from Charlotte’s correspondence, putting the words into Mr. Nicholls’s mouth, and bringing it to life--that was incredibly exciting.

One of many scenes I particularly enjoyed writing in The Lost Memoirs of Jane Austen is the “gypsy scene,” where Jane learns predictions for her future which will, one day, inevitably become true. I loved bringing to life the stuttering Harris Bigg-Wither’s marriage proposal, a real-life event which I had never seen dramatized. It was exciting to get into Jane’s mind when she finally started writing again—to feel her passion and her drive for her art come back to life. And I loved writing every single scene with Mr. Ashford. I had always longed for Jane Austen to have a romance of her own. It was exciting to create the man with whom I believed Jane Austen would have truly fallen in love, and to have the joy of listening in my mind as they interacted with each other.

Did you go on any special trips to research the settings for your novels? I did. For The Secret Diaries of Charlotte Brontë, I went to Haworth, England, and made an extended visit to the Brontë Parsonage Museum, which has been preserved to reflect the way it looked when the Brontës lived there, and is furnished with many of their possessions. What a thrill it was to "haunt" the rooms and lanes where Charlotte and Emily and Anne actually lived and walked, and to stroll through that gloomy graveyard in the pouring rain! I particularly enjoyed my visit to the Brontë library, where I was allowed to read a selection of original letters and manuscripts penned by Charlotte and other members of the Brontë family.

While in Yorkshire, I was also granted a private tour of the former Roe Head School, which Charlotte attended--where the legend of a mysterious attic dweller, the Ghost of Roe Head, still abides!

To research The Lost Memoirs of Jane Austen, I took a wonderful, self-guided "Jane Austen Tour." I visited Jane Austen's house at Chawton, which is now a museum. I climbed the ancient city walls at Southampton, and found the exact spot at Castle Square where it's thought that Jane once lived. I strolled through the ruins of Netley Abbey, and walked the Cobb at Lyme Regis. I had dinner and stayed the night at the Royal Lion Inn (where Jane dined with Mr. Ashford), and spent three days in Bath. I made a pilgrimage to Winchester Cathedral, where Jane Austen is buried. I was even granted a rare opportunity to visit Godmersham Park (one of the grand manor homes belonging to Jane's older brother Edward), where she often stayed. It was a glorious experience, never to be forgotten.

Could you please tell us a little about your writing background and how you made your first sale? I worked for many years as a screenwriter before writing historical fiction novels. After majoring in English in college, I taught myself to write a film script by studying classic screenplay structure, and comparing it to the finished movie I saw on the screen. I had no contacts in Hollywood, other than a cousin who said she “knew someone in the business.” I gave her that first script, not expecting anything to come of it. That “someone” turned out to be the executive producer of a television series. As he tells it, after the script was recommended by several underlings, he started reading it before lunch, cancelled his lunch date to finish it, and then called me and asked if I’d like to write for his show.

That call launched a screenwriting career that lasted many years and included the sale of nineteen screenplays and teleplays to Tri-Star Pictures, Fox Family Films, ABC, CBS, NBC, FOX TV and the Lifetime Network. I worked with a lot of talented people, enjoyed time on movie and TV sets, and have many wonderful memories. I am still active with the Writer’s Guild of America, and if (when!) my books are turned into movies, I’m ready to write the screenplay!

In fact, the script for my Jane Austen novel is already completed. When I decided to follow my passion and write a book, my new literary agent in New York, Tamar Rydzinski (who liked something else I had written) encouraged me to adapt my favorite, unproduced script: a romance about Jane Austen. It was a joy and a challenge to turn that story into a full-length novel from Jane Austen’s point of view; to (as one reviewer put it) “channel Austen and bring her back to life.” Imagine my excitement when the finished manuscript, The Lost Memoirs of Jane Austen, sold at auction in a bidding war between three major publishing houses, and became a best-seller!

What’s next for you? Is there a new book in the pipeline? I’m hard at work on my next book, entitled Dracula, My Love. It's a retelling of Bram Stoker's famous novel from the POV of the heroine, Mina Harker: the untold story of her secret, scandalous passion for the man who is not her husband—the young, gorgeous, charismatic, intelligent, fascinating, and highly sympathetic Count Dracula, who she deeply loves, despite herself. This is a Dracula unlike the one we have formerly seen in film and print; a vampire with a heart and soul, who struggles against the evil within him, and whose past actions have been entirely misunderstood. The novel will be published by Morrow in hardcover in 2010. I’m having such a fabulous time writing this book. If you liked Jane Austen's Mr. Ashford, I promise this is a Dracula you will love!

What's one piece of writing advice you've found valuable on your journey to publication? I think this quote is accurate and insightful: “The highest expression of anything is going to be difficult and require a lot of craft and a lot of dedication and lot of just showing up.” I always tell people: writing is hard work. Read everything. Study and hone your skills. Then sit your butt in that chair and work at it every single day for months or years or however long it takes, until you get it done!

I also have this to share with people who are stuck or mentally blocked during the writing process: When I find myself unsure of how to proceed with the novel I'm writing, it's almost always because something important is missing. It's like a cart with only three wheels; it's difficult to move forward until you find and install that fourth wheel. So I take some time out and do some more research, or get to know my characters better, or carefully think through the direction of the plot or the scene I'm about to tackle. How does it fit into the overall structure of the book? How can I best move the story forward? What am I trying to say here? Eventually, the pieces fall into place, and I can't wait to get back to my writing!

What is your writing routine like? Do you write every day? I write every weekday from 10 - 6. Thank goodness I have my husband to come home and tear me away from the computer, or I would never stop! When I’m not writing, I’m reading, researching, or thinking about my book in progress. I keep a notepad and pen beside my bed, and often wake up to scribble notes during the night. Some of my best ideas come to me when I’m on the verge of sleep.

Many people can’t wait for the weekend to arrive. It’s the opposite for me. Although I truly love my jam-packed weekends, from the time I turn off the computer on Friday evening to the moment I’m back in my chair on Monday morning, I am anxious to get back to the characters I left in limbo, who are just waiting for me to continue their story.

Writers are usually big readers, too. How do you make time for reading and what are you reading at the moment? I read every night in bed, generally for at least an hour or two. It’s a time I really look forward to. I usually have two or three books in progress. At the moment I’m reading Dust and Shadow, An Account of the Ripper Killings by Lyndsay Faye and The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova.

What do you think readers might be surprised to know about you? I learned Photoshop and HTML, and I designed and maintain my own website. I was an actress, dancer, and gymnast in high school and college, and performed in more than a dozen plays and musicals. I love the theater and still know how to tap dance. I enjoy sewing. I was the costume designer for eight years for nearly all the theatrical productions at my sons’ middle school and high school. One of my biggest thrills was the year that my sons starred together in a production of “South Pacific”--Ryan was Emile de Becque, and Jeff was Lieutenant Joe Cable. With both of my talented sons in the leading roles, I felt like the Queen Mother.

Do you pay attention to book reviews? If so, has there been any particular review that made your heart do a little dance? I’m so grateful to the many, many reviewers who took the time to share their thoughts about Lost Memoirs. One of my favorite reviews is from Regency World Magazine, who gave it a 9 out of 10 rating, and called it “a thoughtful, immensely touching romance. . . well-researched, well-written, and beautifully plotted.” This thrilled me because Regency World is published by the Jane Austen Centre in Bath, England. If the Jane Austen experts of the world loved my novel and deemed my Austen voice to be authentic, what higher praise could I ever hope to receive?

Thank you, Syrie! Anyone who leaves a comment on today's post is eligible to win a copy of her newest novel, The Secret Diaries of Charlotte Brontë, so please take a moment to leave her a quick note. The winner will be chosen on July 7th (and you DO NOT have to be a U.S. resident to win). Also, if you post a comment before the next guest interview on Wednesday, check for your name! I'll be giving away the first of four $10 B&N giftcards on 6/24.

Up Wednesday: Author Kim Wilson!

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Welcome to AustenFest on Brant Flakes!

I've been a member of the Jane Austen Society of North America (JASNA) since the summer of 2005 and, in the past four years, I've enjoyed attending a couple of huge U.S./Canadian conferences, called AGMs, and a few smaller regional events, too. In October 2008, at the sold-out AGM in Chicago, I had the pleasure of meeting several new authors and--like the Jane fan-girl I am--it was there that I hatched my plan to lure these smart and funny ladies to my blog... Thus, my mini-AustenFest was born!

Between now and the end of the month, I'll have four fabulous guests joining me from the wonderful world of Austen fiction and nonfiction. Visitors to Brant Flakes will be treated to Q&As with celebrated authors Syrie James on 6/22 (The Lost Memoirs of Jane Austen and The Secret Diaries of Charlotte Bronte); Kim Wilson on 6/24 (Tea with Jane Austen and In the Garden with Jane Austen); Abigail Reynolds on 6/26 (Pemberley by the Sea, Impulse and Initiative and more); and Laurie Viera Rigler on 6/29 (Confessions of a Jane Austen Addict and Rude Awakenings of a Jane Austen Addict). Two have brand new June releases, two are currently up for 2009 Regency World Awards, two are members of my awesome regional JASNA chapter and ALL are fascinating and truly lovely people. I'm so thrilled to have them here!

To add to the party atmosphere, each of us will be giving away copies of our books to commenters (yes, even mine, which isn't released until Sept. 29th :-). Visitors who leave a note for the author in the comments section of the blog will be eligible to win a free book with every new post--and some authors have generously offered 2-3 books! So, if you comment on Syrie's Q&A, your name will automatically be in the drawing for the book she's giving away. If you comment on Kim's, you'll be in the drawing for hers, too. The same goes for Abigail and Laurie.

As for me, I will not personally be writing a Q&A--I'm merely your devoted interviewer--but I'll pick the Wild Card winners of the week. I'll choose a person (or two...or three...) from all the commenters between today and when we close the contest [at 7pm CST on July 7th] to win a bound advanced reading copy of my debut novel. For those new to Brant Flakes, my book is called According to Jane, and it's the story of a modern woman who receives dating advice from the spirit of Jane Austen.

But that's not all! Because the party is ongoing, I'll be giving away $10 B&N giftcards throughout the week (names for those will be drawn within about 48 hours of every new guest-author post) and, quite possibly, some other surprise items in keeping with an Austen celebration will be heading toward lucky commenters...

So, a warm welcome to everybody! Pull up a chair, pour yourself a cup of your favorite tea, indulge in a few scones (the virtual ones are calorie-free :) and enjoy getting to know some very talented authors!!

Friday, June 19, 2009

AustenFest is Coming!!

Because my agent is so very thoughtful, she's not only making an announcement about my AustenFest event today, but she's also doing the first ARC giveaway for According to Jane (the bound galleys are here--whoo-hoo!!!) on her LiveJournal blog. Check out Nephele's site for details later today. Hope one of you wins an advanced copy!

I'll be posting an official "AustenFest Welcome" this Sunday the 21st, with introductions to my special guests and an explanation of their awesome book giveaways and our other great door prizes. But FYI: the big event will run from 6/22 through 6/30 with new posts about every other day, B&N giftcards throughout the fest plus other just-'cuz-it's-a-party surprises. This has been in the planning stages for months, and I simply can't wait to share the excitement with you.

A few other tidbits of fun: Congrats to Erica for winning a copy of Sheila's book! I hope you'll love it as much as I did :).

Also, I had the pleasure of being interviewed via telephone recently by the lovely Lydia Hirt, a writer and aspiring publicist, who is based in NYC this summer to study the world of publishing. She's a contributing writer at Beneath the Cover: Inside the Book Industry, and her article "Happy Endings, Love, and E-Books" just appeared on the site this week. Thanks, Lydia, for including me in your feature!

Finally, let your weekend begin with something positively snort-worthy: Check out Esri Rose's blog and scroll down a few posts to "Darth Thriller" on June 5th. Pamela Cayne, this is for you!!

Have a wonderful weekend, everyone, and please stop by as often as you can in the coming days to celebrate AustenFest with us. Feel free to spread the word to anyone who might be interested. (Janeite fanaticism is absolutely not required, but it's more than welcome... :)

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Everyone Sheila Curran Loves

The Girlfriends Cyber Circuit has a new tour starting next week with humorous and clever women's fiction author Sheila Curran. But, because of the upcoming AustenFest and chaotic life events in general, the gracious Sheila let me post her tour early, and I'm feeling pretty lucky about it because today is the official release day of EVERYONE SHE LOVED (Atria). YAY!!

Joshilyn Jackson, author of GODS IN ALABAMA, wrote of the book: “EVERYONE SHE LOVED is peopled with women of strong appetites---for love, for sex, for food---and Sheila Curran has amazing insight into the love-hate relationship that women have with each other and their own bodies. Curran is a beautiful writer, both witty and evocative, and she knows how to keep a reader riveted.”

I've certainly found this to be true as I read Sheila's novel. And, because she was kind enough to send me an advanced reading copy and I've been able to enjoy it already, I'm going to give away my copy to one commenter on Friday. Just leave a message on today's post between now and then, and you'll be eligible to win!

Welcome, Sheila! Can you tell readers about this book? Penelope Cameron, a loving mother and devoted wife, has talked her husband and closest friends into signing an outlandish pact. If Penelope should die before her daughters are adults, her husband cannot remarry without the permission of Penelope’s sister and three college roommates. The contract gathers dust until the unthinkable happens. Then everything changes in an instant and everyone she loved must find their way in a world without Penelope. Think old money in the New South, complete with romantic confusion, legal entanglements and the unbreakable bonds between four women – and a man.

Name 3-4 of your favorite musical artists/groups. Bruce Springsteen, Counting Crows, Lucinda Williams, Neil Young. Did you use any musical references in your novel? Yes. If so, do they play a significant role? Yes. One of my characters is a very sweet, superficial and somewhat tactless woman named Clover. (i.e., She brings her friend Lucy an artfully wrapped gift certificate for her 40th birthday. It’s to “kick the pounds.”) Anyway, Clover is the queen of malapropisms. For example, she’s on the ‘urge’ of a breakdown instead of ‘verge.’ She’s also extremely proud of her singing voice and is always going around getting the lyrics wrong. This will eventually play into the plot, but I don’t want to ruin the surprise.

In light of Joshilyn Jackson's excellent comments above, do you have a favorite food? Italian, hands-down. Especially pasta. Any kind, any sauce.

Who was the first person you told when you got The Call announcing you'd sold your first novel? My husband, and then my father. He was the first person to suggest I write a novel. It only took twenty years to get published after that! (LOL!! A lot of us can relate to that. :)

What's your Writer Fantasy? I don’t care about fame or fortune. I would just like to reach enough readers to make a living doing what I love most, without having to continue my day job.

Thanks for visiting, Sheila, and congrats again on your release today! FYI: On June 22nd, Sheila and her publisher are hoping to get enough people ordering on Amazon and B&N to hit their TOP 100 SELLERS list. If this book captures your interest, perhaps you'll consider buying a copy on Monday...

Friday, June 12, 2009

Fun Friday Links

Happy Friday, Everyone!!

Very quickly, I have a couple of fun links to share. The first is courtesy of the lovely LJ Cohen, who posted this link for me on my Facebook page and, thus, made my morning wonderful! It's a blog post by NY Times bestselling author Lynn Viehl on how getting the right match in the publishing world is much like understanding the personalities and romantic maneuverings of the five Bennet sisters in Pride and Prejudice. Read it here!

Also, my talented Bond Sisters of '007 GH fame, have at last banded together to launch our Nobody Writes it Better group blog, which starts on Monday. It's going to be great, and the thrills begin on Day One with Gail Fuller's post (and her special guests), so don't miss it!

Hope you all have a relaxing weekend :).

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

...and then they put chocolate sauce on top...

I was at Panera the other day and ordered one of their Frozen Mochas (SO good!) and it got me thinking about the few carefully selected caffeinated beverages in my life and what their effect on me might be.

I'm no hard-core coffee drinker. My more serious coffee-loving friends laugh at me because I almost always opt for the beverage that sounds most like a bakery item (i.e., "Oooh, look, they have Caramel-Vanilla Nut Swirl..."), and I add enough sweetener, chocolate bits and/or whipped cream to it that it really tastes like a dessert by the time I'm ready for the first sip. However, when I came across the article below from the Oprah-sanctioned YOU Docs, Dr. Roizen and Dr. Oz, I figured, hey, another cup or two of coffee a day wouldn't be the worst vice I could add to my collection...

"If you sometimes have trouble cutting yourself off after only one cup of coffee in the morning, don't fret. Actually, going back for a refill might not be a bad move. A few recent large-scale studies have uncovered some new by-the-cup health benefits of coffee. Check 'em out:

1 cup . . . may lower your risk of cancer. A 13-year Japanese study revealed that men and women who drank a cup or more a day were half as likely to develop cancer of the mouth, pharynx, and esophagus compared with people who didn't drink coffee.

2 cups . . . may fend off strokes. In a 24-year study, women who drank 2-3 cups a day were 19 percent less likely to have a stroke compared with women who drank less than a cup a month. One caveat: The benefit applied only to nonsmoking women with no history of high blood pressure, high cholesterol, or diabetes.

3 cups . . . may safeguard your neurons. Middle-aged adults who reported drinking at least 3 cups of coffee a day were 65 percent less likely to have developed dementia or Alzheimer's by the time most of the group had reached their mid-sixties to seventies.

What's in Those Magic Beans? Although it's not clear how coffee does all of these wonderful, protective things, researchers suspect that the coffee bean's high level of inflammation-fighting antioxidants (called polyphenols) may have something to do with it.

RealAge Benefit: Enjoying coffee if you like it -- and it likes you -- can make your RealAge 0.3 years younger."

Are you a coffee drinker? Hot or iced? Prefer tea? Black or green? Hot cocoa? (I like all of the above. :)

On a different note, what goes better with your favorite beverage than a book? My friend and Girlfriends Cyber Circuit pal Nadine Dajani is celebrating the rerelease of her latest novel CUTTING LOOSE with giveaways, excerpts and lots of book news. Check out her blog for all the fun contest details!!

Monday, June 1, 2009

June Giveaways and a Visit with Judi Fennell

It's JUNE!!! I'm excited to finally be at this point in the year and looking forward to sharing with you all kinds of great book stuff. The Girlfriends Cyber Circuit has three tours over the next few weeks (starting today!) PLUS I've got something extra-special planned for the end of the month: AustenFest on Brant Flakes, which will be a week packed with guest visits, virtual tea and scones and several very real book giveaways!!!

More on that soon but, first, congrats to the winners of my May contest on winning an According to Jane t-shirt:
Ann Victor
Erika Brunmeier
Lindsey Anderson
YAY!! (If I don't have your snail mail address, please email it to me here: marilynbrant AT gmail DOT com -- thanks!)

Today, I'm pleased to have Judi Fennell with me to celebrate the release of her debut novel IN OVER HER HEAD (Sourcebooks), a book Romantic Times called "A delightful underwater adventure...full of good-natured humor and fun. A strong first effort by a promising new talent." Wow--nice review! It's the story of Erica Peck, a terrified-of-the-ocean marina owner who finds herself at the bottom of the sea conversing with a Mer man named Reel. She thinks she's died and gone to her own version of Hell, especially when the Oceanic Council demands she and Reel retrieve a lost cache of diamonds from the resident sea monster in return for their lives... Welcome, Judi! It's great to have you here :).

1. New readers want to know about your book! Can you tell us the basic premise? He's a merman and she's terrified of the ocean. Talking animals, scary villains, gods, diamonds and sea monsters. And a happily ever after.

2. What's one scene from this story you loved writing and why did it excite you? I loved the action scene at the end. Orchestrating the fight, ramping up the tension, my fingers flew over the keyboard. Then there was the emotional impact and the black moment... Those pages just whipped themselves across the screen.

3. Name a few of your favorite musical artists/groups. Did you use any musical references in your novel? If so, do they play a significant role? I like a lot of different kinds of music. If I do use musical references in my work it's because they're cultural references rather than because they're musical. Unlike many authors, I don't have soundtracks with these stories. I need to write to music that blocks out extraneous sounds/activities so that I can focus on the story. If it's got words, I'm singing along and that's not good. I really enjoyed playing a sounds of the sea hour-long track. Just the rolling waves, the sounds of seabirds, a fog horn... really put me in the mood for writing under the sea stories.

4. I've never been able to choose just one favorite food, but do you have a clear preference? My favorite meal is steak and homefries with Green Giant white shoepeg corn in butter sauce, with a glass of champagne and a piece of homemade apple pie and vanilla ice cream. And yes, I love to cook it and my steak, homefries and apple pie are my favorite. I love to eat, that's never been a secret. Now if only I had my twenty-year-old metabolism... (Oh, yum!!)

5. Who was the first person you told when you got The Call announcing you'd sold your first novel? I called my critique partner after I got off the phone with my future-editor when she told me she was taking it in to the editorial meeting. My husband was second - he says he always knew I'd get published and I needed someone to squee with me. When I called him next he said, "Of course she's going to buy it." It's wonderful to have that kind of support, but for squeeing, nothing beats your critique partner who "gets" it.

6. What's your Writer Fantasy--i.e., to see your book make into a feature film, to be on the New York Times bestseller list for 40 consecutive weeks, etc.? How about all of the above? Why not? It happens to others, why can't it happen for me? More realistically, I want to be able to keep writing and having books on the shelves. I want a nice backlist and to be able to put full-time author in that Occupation blank on forms. (LOL, Judi! I hope all of the above happens for you!)

7. Would your high school friends be surprised to discover you'd become a novelist? I sold a few months before my high school reunion so by the time I went to the reunion I had cover art which I loaded on my cell phone. That picture made the rounds and people were excited to hear that I'm going to have books out. And many of them remembered making fun of me for reading all the romance novels throughout my school years. :) They now realize what all those Romances did for me.

8. What's one piece of writing advice you've found valuable on your journey to publication? Never give up. The one way to ensure you'll never be published is to stop writing/submitting.

9. Do your neighbors/hometown acquaintances know you're a published author or did you just choose to tell those closest to you? I was involved in three online American-Idol-like contests, starting with Romantic Times' American Title Contest, then Gather.com's original First Chapters Contest and then their First Chapters Romance Contest. I finaled in all of them due to my friends and neighbors because I needed votes to get me there, so it's no secret that I wanted to do this. They are all thrilled that I've finally done it (maybe because they won't have to vote for me anymore, but I choose to believe it's because they like me) and are looking forward to the release.

10. What's a personality trait you love about one of the characters in your novel and why? I love that Erica won't go down without a fight. She's terrified of being in the ocean, but she figures out a way to deal with her ex-boyfriend's demands. When she has to do what The Council wants, she's fully planning on getting herself out of it. And when the situation turns her world upside down, she steels herself against her fear and ends up saving herself. I like that about her because I'm the kind of person where, if you tell me I can't do something--and it's something I really want to do--I'm going to do it. (Exactly the kind of determination most writers need to withstand the slings and arrows of this industry, eh? :)

By the way, Judi is raffling off three romantic beach getaway weekends to celebrate the releases of her first three books, along with the Atlantis Inn and the Hibiscus House bed and breakfasts. Contest details are on her website!