Thursday, March 31, 2011

Austenesque Lesson: Alternate Universe

In fanfiction, "alternate universe" refers to a story that takes the recognizable characters from the fandom and puts them into a completely different setting. Austenesque authors lean heavily toward sequels and variations, but there are a few alternate universe stories out there.

In Pemberley Ranch by Jack Caldwell, Jane Austen goes to post-Civil War Texas. Beth Bennet is a Yankee with a passionate hatred toward former Confederate soldiers and slave owners. Rancher Will Darcy is both--or so she assumes. Meanwhile, Will is too proud to reveal the parts of his past that might make him more appealing to the young lady.

Obviously, when you take a Regency story and move it across the Atlantic 60 years later, there are going to be some changes, and some things won't necessary translate well. The key to an alternate universe is digging deep to find out who your characters actually are, and then deciding how to portray that in your new setting.

Confused? I'll give an example. In Pride and Prejudice, Darcy and Fitzwilliam are cousins, almost as close as brothers. They share the task of caring for Georgiana and it doesn't take much reading between the lines to say they trust each other implicitly. In Pemberley Ranch, Fitzwilliam is Darcy's foreman. The same level of trust exists between the two men, and thus Fitzwilliam plays much the same role as he does in Pride and Prejudice--he's just wearing a different hat.

That kind of finessing takes work. You can't just throw all the characters up in the air and hope they fall into place; you really have to think about who they are and how they relate to each other. That level of dedication is what makes a good alternate universe stand out from the crowd.

Monday, March 28, 2011

A business by any other name...

Today's title is a hint to my location...

Up until now, I've focused primarily on the creative aspect of publishing. After all, if I don't get the book done, I won't have anything to publish. I do have a list of administrative tasks to address when I get back from England however, and number one on the list is finding a name for my publishing house.

I don't need to create a publishing house to self-publish, but I want to. Taking this extra step tells readers I'm serious about my work. For that same reason, I don't want to name it after myself. After all, the whole point is to form a business entity, to give my creative endeavors a higher level of credibility.

If the last six months have taught me anything, it's that the internet is full of wonderfully creative people. If you wanted to start a publishing house, what would you call it? I wouldn't mind something that was a tip of the hat to Austen, but it should be an obscure reference. All my current projects are Austen related, but that might not be the case in the future. My boss suggested FD Publishing, for Fitzwilliam Darcy.

Your thoughts and suggestions are most welcome.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Chawton: A Janeite's Mecca

When I plan a vacation, I separate sites into three categories: If I Have Time, Quite Interested, and Do Not Miss. As a Janeite and author of Austenesque novels, Chawton Cottage definitely falls into the third category.

This house is where Jane spent the last eight years of her life. It was here that she edited and/or wrote most of the six major novels. I hunted around the internet for a picture, and found this on thefemalerambler's Flickr feed:

(I'll have plenty of my own to share when I get back, don't worry!)

Now, while I'm at Chawton I plan to do a little writing of my own. It's supposed to be sunny, so I thought I'd sit outside somewhere with a notebook and engage in some method writing. Where better to get into Jane's mind than at her home?

I mentioned this on Twitter, and one person mentioned she'd be too intimidated to write there. So I'm asking you, friends: If you could visit someplace like Chawton, would you be inspired or intimidated?

Monday, March 21, 2011

Leavin' on a jet plane

I leave for England today at 2:00 pm. I've got my Kindle loaded with plenty of reading material and several audio books on my iPhone. I printed out the next ten chapters of my story to edit while I'm gone, and I even have a coloring book. (The pictures are of Regency fashion, so it counts as research.)

I've spent the last few weeks writing and scheduling blog posts. There will be new material every Monday and Thursday, just like normal. I tried to theme them around my current location. Heads up for the Janeites out there--Thursday I'm at Chawton!

If you're on Twitter, I'll also be tweeting whenever I find wi-fi. I'm tagging all tweets related to my trip with #DarcyHunt so they're easy to find. Disclaimer: I am not actually going to England to find Mr. Darcy.

That's about it. I'll be back live and in person on April 5. Don't miss me too much.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Writer's guilt

Lately I've been struck with a bad case of writer's guilt. You know the drill: "You didn't do enough today--you haven't really touched your MS in three days."

That irritating voice is right, but take a look at my countdown clock before you chastise me. I leave for England in three days. Three days!! I've spent the last three days buying incidentals (and a camera), nailing down last minute reservations, and packing. In addition to that, I work 40 hours a week. I didn't take any time off this week so I'd have a cushion when I get back. I simply don't have time to do everything, and my writing is what I've sacrificed.

I know all this, and yet I still feel guilty. I've been up until midnight or 1 AM trying to get everything done, and I still castigate myself for not waking up at the crack of dawn to write.

This guilt is closely connected to the struggle to find time for everything. I blogged about it in January; Hallie Sawyer blogged about it yesterday. It's not a problem unique to writers, but somehow we actually believe we should be able to do it all.

Here's what I've decided: Writing, like everything else in life, is cyclical. You may have months that are so full of writing that you barely read at all. Don't sweat it. When your story lets you go, you'll find the time. And when I get back from England, I'll have time to write. My MS will still be there.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Style and the Austenesque Novel--Take 2

In one of my first posts, I asked how closely an Austenesque author should follow Jane Austen's style. The general consensus was that it's better not to try, and I agree with that. Not only would it be extremely difficult to manage, copying someone else's writing style doesn't allow our unique voice to come through.

That being said, I've discovered one place where it's crucial to sound as much like Jane as possible. The nature of HIS GOOD OPINION means I've brought over quite a bit of dialogue from Pride and Prejudice. These have been the hardest scenes to write. Seeing my unpolished rough draft next to her delightful prose is... frustrating, to say the least.

But there's hope! Twice in my revisions, I've stopped over a bit of dialogue and asked myself, "Is that mine or Jane's?" Both times it was something I wrote, and I danced a dance of writerly joy.

While I believe myself to be a good writer, I make no claim to being Jane Austen. That being the case, how did I manage this, not once but twice? Hearkening back to another post, it was all about the character development. Both of those lines fit into the story not because they sounded like Jane Austen, but because they sounded like her characters.

This then is the key to writing the Austenesque novel. Study her characters. Learn to speak like them, and you in turn will sound like Jane.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Doing the hard work

Every novel has parts that are just hard to get right, and I hit one Sunday in my editing. I was on the pink draft of this particular chapter, which means I'd glossed over the problems at least once. I knew how I wanted it to read, I just couldn't get it there.

However, I also couldn't bring myself to dictate the gibberish it contained. Reading it on the page is bad enough; hearing it would make my ears bleed. Therefore, Tuesday morning I pulled out a green pen and did the hard work.

And hard it was! It took three hours just to get through chapter six. Whole sections needed to be rewritten and new scenes were added. When I finished that chapter, I went on to do the next two as well. I whined about it beforehand, but at least now I'll be able to read it out loud without wanting to burn the entire manuscript.

I'll leave you with this awesome video from Maureen Johnson. First drafts suck, and we have to move past the "I am a talentless hack" feeling and get to work. Right now, I'd say chapter 6 is somewhere between "sorta kinda suck" and "awesome," which is a heck of a lot better than where it was on Sunday afternoon.

Monday, March 7, 2011

The editing process

I've been revising HIS GOOD OPINION since January. If you looked over my tweets since then, it would be easy to wonder if I've made any progress. After all, I keep talking about the same chapters over and over. What is my editing process, anyway?
  1. Kindle: I spent three weeks in January reading my draft on my Kindle and making notes about what needs to change. Those notes are guiding me through the next step--
  2. Purple draft: The first actual revision is done in purple. These changes primarily address plot and pacing problems. Word choice changes in the--
  3. Pink draft: With a solid draft in front of me now, I can look past the structure of the story to the aesthetics. Does is sound right? Purple and pink drafts are done at the same time, then I shelve the chapter before coming back for the--
  4. Turquoise draft: The final layer I add is physical description. Since this is my weakest area, I leave it to the end so I can focus solely on it. I have a checklist of things to look for, such as color, shape, object, texture, etc. A good scene will include three and focus on one. 
As a rule, no one reads chapters that haven't been revised in turquoise. I am currently solidly in purple and pink, expecting to crack open my turquoise pen on the 14th.

Now I'm curious. How do you revise your stories?

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Darcy Made Me Do It

A strange half-smile crosses some faces when I talk about HIS GOOD OPINION. They don't quite get the concept of Jane Austen sequels, and they don't understand why I would want to write one. After all, does the world really need another Darcy novel?

I confessed earlier that I didn't fall in love with Mr. Darcy straightaway. Like Lizzy, my love for him "has been coming on so gradually, that I hardly know when it began."

Then one day I was listening to Pride and Prejudice, right where Elizabeth is lamenting that Mr. Darcy seems to show up everywhere she goes in Kent--did she not tell him this was her favorite place to walk? Suddenly I heard Darcy's voice in my ear, his tones colored with mortification as he said, "I had not realized it was intended to be a warning, rather than an invitation."

Once Darcy started talking, he didn't stop. From then on, I listened to the novel in one ear and to Darcy in the other. (Picture that if you can.) Instead of finding his proposal presumptuous, as Lizzy did, I cringed because I understood why he believed her to have been expecting his addresses.

After only a few chapters of this, I knew I had to tell the story. As luck would have it, NaNoWriMo was right around the corner, with just enough time left to create a (very) thorough outline. I knew there were retellings from his point of view available, but even the best of those tales still focused on Elizabeth's story.

I wanted to try something new. I wanted to tell Darcy's story, to reveal his quirks. That is what I've attempted in HIS GOOD OPINION, and I hope that when I am through, you will believe I've succeeded.