****Drawing time!**** Congrats to Debbie Aldous – you just won my P&P autumn Austen giveaway! I’ll email you in the next day or two to find out your address (or you can send me a private message: MarilynBrant AT gmail DOT com). 🙂 And a HUGE thanks to everyone here for commenting on my post. I loved hearing your thoughts!!! Wishing you all a wonderful November. ♥
The idea of pairing a classic literary figure or character with a compelling paranormal situation has been a popular narrative technique, as well as a delightful amusement (!!), for many contemporary writers. In my case, I was really taken with the fantasy of having Jane Austen herself as an advice-giving ghost in the mind of a heroine, which is one of the reasons why I originally wrote According to Jane. 😀
In this opening scene from my debut novel, my protagonist, Ellie, first realizes she has the spirit of Jane Austen in her head. If you’ve never read the story, I hope you’ll enjoy this snippet…and if you have, I hope you’ll have fun revisiting teen life in the ’80s with me!
ACCORDING TO JANE – Prologue
I always thought Homer painted his character Odysseus as a real slow learner with that whole twenty-year-journey thing. I mean, what kind of an idiot needs two decades to understand a simple lesson like “Don’t be arrogant in the eyes of the gods”? Pretty basic, once you take out all the hard-to-pronounce Greek names, the weird epic-poem structure and everything that smacks of immortals playing with magic.
But who am I to talk? For so many years, I, too, thought I was clever. I, too, thought I was courageous. I, too, thought I’d figured out all my lessons but, as Jane would say, “I fear this is not so.”
See, until this moment, at my wise old age of thirty-four, I had a long-held theory about my own personal power. An erroneous belief that I had more control over my destiny than I actually have.
But, to prove my point, I can’t start explaining from where I am now. It wouldn’t make sense.
Journeys begin where journeys begin…and mine began with big hair, legwarmers and the musty smell of Mrs. Leverson’s English class, way back in the mid-1980s when I was all of fifteen.
I was in sophomore lit then–midweek, early November, daydreaming of life after high school–when Sam Blaine made his first move and Jane Austen made her first comment.
“Ellieeee,” the sinfully cute but annoying-as-hell Sam Blaine chanted softly from his seat behind me. “Ellllieee.” He walked two of his fingers up the imaginary ladder between my shoulder blades until I shivered.“Stop it,” I hissed. “You’re going to get us in trouble.”
I scooched forward, trying to focus on Mrs. Leverson’s nasal-toned wrap-up lecture of the novel we’d just finished, Childhood’s End. Although I was pretty sure my childhood had long ended, I resigned myself to acting polite and studious in class if it killed me. I had a reputation to uphold.
Sam, however, had no intention of allowing me to brush him off. Managing to keep his hand out of Mrs. Leverson’s line of vision, he snagged my shirt and bra strap with a pinch grip and pulled me back toward him.
“C’mon, Ellie. You know you’re as bored as I am.” Sam skimmed his fingertips over the spot where my bra’s back clasp bulged beneath the cotton fabric. “Tell me your fantasy.”
As our teacher gestured with her chubby arms up in front of our suburban Chicago classroom and performed other antics to entice student participation, I thought of my fantasy: Surviving adolescence. Maybe kissing Sam someday. Being a totally cool, in control, woman of the world.
Yeah, right. But I was an optimist in the ‘80s.
I did not, however, divulge these imaginings to the precocious dark-haired boy who, thanks to the eternal delights of alphabetical order, sat near me in five out of seven classes.
I might lust after Sam. A lot. But I hadn’t yet become self-destructive. I knew S-A-M was shorthand for D-A-N-G-E-R.
“In your fantasy, are you groping a guy in the dark, passionately, maybe under the bleachers?” Sam suggested, his voice low. His fingers massaged my spine, channeling toward me all the vigor of a testosterone-driven teen male.
I felt chills–equal parts anxiety and longing–at his touch. I tried to lean away from him again, but he drew me back with one swift motion.
“And are you feeling that guy’s hands rubbing your body, too? First, over your clothes and, then–” he paused to stroke his thumb down my bare neck, “underneath them?”
“Cut it out, Sam,” I whispered over my shoulder, finally breaking away despite my absurd desire for more. Since kindergarten he’d poked me in the back with his pencil tip and badgered me with pesky comments, but this was the first time he’d ever really touched my skin. I didn’t know what to make of it.
See, with anyone else I might’ve thought some tiny crush thing was going on, but I wasn’t dealing with a typical, gawky sixteen-year-old boy. This was Sam Blaine, a guy who exuded experience even then. A guy who’d morphed into a rare combination of good-looking, athletic, brainy and popular. Versus me, who was, well…just brainy. Or, at least, intelligent enough to know I wouldn’t rate high on Mr. Cool’s “To Date” list.
I sighed, wishing Sam’s attentions were sincere, and watched as our teacher wrote the title of our new novel on the chalkboard. Pride and Prejudice. Then out came the big box of paperbacks, distributed to us like the slap of breaded chicken patties on our hot lunch trays.
I picked up my copy. A second later I felt Sam trace a pattern on my arm with his pinky, and I rolled my eyes. Guess he was more bored than usual. Just as I was about to tell him to knock it off yet again, I heard the first tsk.
In a panic of self-consciousness, I dropped the book back on my desk and glanced at our classmates. No one seemed to be paying any attention to us in the far-right row. Everyone looked lost in their own daydreams or make-out fantasies or whatever.
But I heard more tsking.
“Who said that?” I asked Sam, shooting a look behind me.
“Who said what?”
“The ‘tsk, tsk’ noises.”
Sam’s forehead crinkled. He motioned me closer and I bent back toward him, a mere three inches away from his mocking blue eyes and those ever-smirking lips. I tried hard to keep my view of him peripheral. Gazing head-on at Sam’s striking features always made me sweat.
Another tsk came from somewhere in the room.
“That! Did you hear it?” I asked, swiveling around in my seat until I faced him. My eyes darted around in hopes of spotting the tsker.
But Sam didn’t seem to have heard it. Instead he simply grinned, his hand nudging my left shoulder until I made full eye contact with him. “Must be your subconscious speaking. It’s saying–” he tilted his head to the side and squinted as if in deep concentration, “‘Ellie Barnett needs more sexual experience…or she’ll die a virgin.’”
Then his hand slipped lower.
He covertly grazed the side of my left breast with his palm, his fingers daring to dance along the bra’s underwire before breaking the connection between us.
I stifled a gasp and stared at him, my mouth agape. For a split second I thought, Did he mean to do that? Was he seriously making a move on me? Then common sense took over, and I knew this had to be one of his little jokes. Sam loved games.
He sent me a smug, defiant look. His hand, an inch away, was still poised for grasping.
Before he could try that trick again, I seized his wrist with my long, strong, meticulously polished fingernails, and I used them as pink claws to dig four crescent-shaped notches into his hairless inner arm. Deep, darkening imprints against that pale skin.
Sam grunted and pulled away. Unfortunately, his moan elicited the attention of our teacher.
“Miss Barnett. Mr. Blaine.” She elongated her syllables with believable menace. “Please flirt on your own time.”
The class snickered and my face burned, making me wish I could bolt out the door and hide in the girls’ bathroom. I stole a glance at Sam. He didn’t quite have the decency to blush, but he slunk down in his seat, obviously displeased at getting caught.
With her reprimand delivered, Mrs. Leverson busied herself locating the handouts for our next novel.
The second she turned her back, Sam hissed in my ear, “Shit, Ellie. Are you trying to scar me for life?” He pointed to the marks on his inner wrist and had the nerve to look indignant.
I fought for a retort that wouldn’t get me in trouble. All I could come up with, though, was the really bitchy glare my sister had perfected on my parents, my brother and me.
“Leave me alone, Sam,” I managed to say, attempting to replicate the glare. “I mean it.”
Of course, I didn’t mean it. And Sam knew this.
He was too bright not to have noticed the way I’d studied him all semester, how I sparkled like a mirrored disco ball whenever he paid attention to me. Even getting to second base might’ve been okay if his interest in me were genuine. And if we were somewhere private.
But Sam did not exude earnestness of any kind, and his motives were nothing if not a complete mystery. He had what the adults called “an attitude,” and he was copping it big time that day.
“You…don’t…want me…to…touch you?” Sam said, his tone indicating disbelief. He knew I knew that virtually every other girl in our grade would’ve gladly agreed to be manhandled by him.
But I whispered, “No.”
As if guessing the hypocrisy of my words, he narrowed his eyes and opened his mouth. I turned away before he could speak.
Why? Because even then I craved this silly romantic thing. Craved it despite knowing it was stupid. I wanted my first real boyfriend to write me love notes that I could hide in my pocket and reread later. Or hold my hand and dance with me to the latest Journey ballads. Or refuse to tell his friends the exciting things we might do in the back row of a dimly lit movie theater.
I didn’t want some guy playing with my emotions for in-school entertainment, especially not the very guy I’d had a secret crush on for eons. No. I wanted pure romantic fantasy. And I got it.
But not from Sam Blaine.
“Our next novel is Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice,” Mrs. Leverson informed us, waving her handouts in the air before plopping them on Tanya Hammersley’s desk and motioning for her to distribute them. “While Tanya passes these out, take a moment to look at your new novel.”
I picked up the book again, flipped to the back cover and scanned it doubtfully: “The romantic clash of two opinionated young people in nineteenth-century England provides the sustaining theme of PRIDE AND PREJUDICE.”
Oh, ugh. This hardly sounded like high conflict, but I forced myself to keep reading: “Vivacious Elizabeth Bennet is fascinated and repelled by the arrogant Mr. Darcy, whose condescending airs and acrid tongue have alienated the entire neighborhood.”
I imagined using the word “acrid” in a sentence. Like: Sam Blaine deserved to be locked up in a dank dungeon until his groping fingers and his acrid tongue disintegrated. Nice, huh?
The passage continued: “Darcy and Elizabeth’s spirited courtship is conducted against a background of assembly-ball flirtations and drawing-room intrigues…” And blah, blah, blah.
I decided to go ahead, against all clichéd warnings, and judge a book by its cover. It was written too long ago to be any good, despite boasting a vivacious heroine who had a name similar to mine. And, anyway, between dealing with the rest of my schoolwork and just making it through the day, my attention span was limited.
Our teacher droned on about the setting and the political climate of Regency England and how dear old Jane spent her days confined to doing dull things like strolling in the park and writing letters because that was what fine women did back then.
I listened, more or less. But then Mrs. Leverson began telling us about the principal characters in Austen’s novel, and the weirdest thing happened.
“Along with Darcy and Elizabeth, George Wickham is an important character to study,” she said. “He’s a militia officer and his regiment is stationed near the Bennets’ family home. As you read your first assignment tonight, pay special attention to the way Austen introduces him and describes his actions.”
I was seized by a curiosity I didn’t understand about a character I’d never heard of before.
As Mrs. Leverson moved on to secondary players in the story, I flipped through the novel, reading random paragraphs until I saw the first mention of the Wickham guy on page 63. I skimmed the section, getting the flavor of this man who, since he didn’t wind up with the heroine at the book’s conclusion, couldn’t really be as admirable as he seemed, when I heard a lady’s voice in my ear.
Beware, Ellie, the voice said before following this up with a decided tsk or two. Sam Blaine is your Mr. Wickham.
Fear seized my throat and all-out panic gripped my stomach. Okay. Who said that?
I blinked then glanced wildly in every direction. Even Sam was keeping his distance, for once.
“What?” I said aloud to the unidentified voice. A few students nearby turned their heads to shoot me an odd look.
Sam, sounding sulky, muttered, “Don’t look at me. I didn’t do anything.”
I squinted at him, suspicious.
You would do well to heed my advice, friend, said the voice, and I could’ve sworn I heard an ironic little laugh right along with an unmistakably British accent. I am well acquainted with men of his ilk, and they are disinclined to be honorable. You had best keep your distance.
Not that I doubted her words or anything–she’d nailed Sam’s character in a sentence–but this whole hearing voices thing seriously freaked me out. I considered the possibilities:
Maybe I’d been whacked in the head one too many times with a volleyball that week. Gym class had been brutal.
Maybe my depraved sister had slipped some acid into my lunch. My turkey sandwich had tasted a little off.
Maybe I’d been studying too hard. After all, keeping up a 4.0 GPA was draining. Or, maybe–
You are neither ill nor suffering from head injuries, Ellie, the lady’s voice said, her tone still amused.
I couldn’t believe I was going to respond to this but, hey, it seemed my life wasn’t weird enough already. Even if replying put me into the Potentially Insane category, I needed to know who this woman was and what she was doing in my head.
So I asked, in silence this time, Who are you?
I heard the twittery laughter again, but not one of my classmates had uttered a sound.
Why, I am Miss Austen, of course, the voice replied. But you may call me Jane.
*** (end of excerpt) ***
I’ll admit, much as I would’ve loved it personally, I’ve never heard the voice of Jane in my head…or that of any other author, LOL. But I’d often wondered as a teen and, later, as an adult what she might have said in a number of situations. Writing According to Jane was like an extended session of asking, “What would Jane Austen do?” and imagining the result. 😉
Have you ever wondered what advice Jane might give you at a given moment? And do any of you have special plans for Halloween? Hope you’ll have a wonderful one!!
P.S. FALL GIVEAWAY!!! Commenters on this post will be entered to win my P&P prize package (open internationally), which includes:
*An autographed paperback copy of my contemporary romance Pride, Prejudice and the Perfect Match
*A proof/ARC copy of the novel My Jane Austen Summer by my friend Cindy Jones
*A spiral-bound blank journal with unlined pages
*An MP3 audio disk (which can be played on MP3 players or most computers) of my Double Dipping audiobook — an autumn romance!
*A key chain with the P&P Peacock Edition design
*A ceramic teapot for one, along with 2 of my favorite teas (Cinnamon Stick & Spiced Chai)
*And a few other goodies… 😀
The winner will be chosen on the evening of November 1, 2016 and announced at the top of this blog post! Happy Halloweeeeen!!