Welcome to the first edition of a new feature here at Austen Variations! Each month we will spotlight a follower of the blog, getting better acquainted and talking about our favourite topic: Jane Austen! We love so many different things about The Lady, and I always enjoy hearing what she means to someone else.
Today we are interviewing JAFF enthusiast Kathy Schmitt, and she has some fun insights into the world of Jane Austen to share with us. As a special treat, this month Abigail Reynolds has offered a generous hostess gift to our guest. I think you will enjoy reading her responses to Kathy. Sit back, grab a cup, and join us for a little chat!
Books, movies, or JAFF: How did you discover Jane Austen?
I’m pleased to see that I’m not the only one to say that my primary introduction to Jane Austen was the 1995 BBC/A&E production of Pride and Prejudice, followed shortly thereafter by the movie Sense and Sensibility. My introduction to JAFF per se didn’t come until 2013 and I’ve been scrambling to make up time since then! My first exposure to a variation came as a freebie from a discount site. Since then I have added several hundred books to my library, both fan fiction, Regency period novels and history books and general English history. I also take advantage of the Kindle Unlimited benefit available on Amazon. I know that authors have some issues with KU, but it is a real cost savings for readers. I have a policy that if I read a book from KU I’ll buy the next one the author publishes.
Who is your favorite Austen character and why?
I wish I could say that I enjoy someone other than Elizabeth. But she is a highly principled and intelligent young woman, even if her ability to understand character is less than spot on sometimes. I usually love what the fan fiction authors create for Elizabeth. While a minor character in canon, I have to say that I usually love what fan fiction authors do with Colonel Fitzwilliam as well. I guess I’m just a fool for a red coat, in my heart of hearts! (Thank you Mrs. Bennet!)
What do you love about JAFF and what are your favorite types of variations?
I’m struck by the creativity, regardless of type. Thanks to JAFF my love of literature, long dormant since college, has reawakened. I’ve also found that I’m quite attracted to Regency history. My favorite variations are those based during the Regency period; I particularly favor books that feature historic accuracy in addition to literary imagination. I think that the inconveniences and challenges that the characters have to surmount capture my imagination more than a world of fax machines, smartphones and easy transportation. I also love great dialogue and humor. But I love learning, whether history, vocabulary or creativity.
Have you connected with other readers via the internet or in person?
Happily, thanks primarily to Facebook, I’m busy making friends with both readers and authors. I also follow more than seven Austen related blogs. I wish I had more time for social media sometimes, but I prefer to invest my time in reading books. As I said, I am making up for lost time. That said, I don’t want to be unfriendly so please don’t hesitate to contact me if I can help you! I plan to become more active in some of the groups like JASNA in a few years. However I presently can’t travel. That will change, then watch out world here I come!
Are there any plot lines you would like to see in a story someday, or have you ever thought of writing your own story?
Sometimes I feel isolated from the JAFF world because I am not a Christian. Thus I’ve been toying with the idea of introducing someone or something affirmatively Jewish into one of the Austen novels. I’m not sure which Austen novel would best accommodate this variation because I have yet to read all of them, so stay tuned!
What would you like to see more of here at Austen Variations?
Heavens! You provide so much as it is. I have lately been watching from the sidelines when self-publishing authors talk about some of the business challenges they face. Also, a big part of my curiosity wants to know how various authors go about writing variations. I would be very interested in teleconferences or some other way for those of us who are considering becoming JAFF authors ourselves to get some coaching from established authors. I learn a lot from serving as a first or a beta reader for several authors, but to have reciprocal reading from someone(s) experienced who can look at my text to advise me would be ‘enormously marvelous’.
As our guest reader, Kathy had the opportunity to ask Abigail Reynolds questions. Here are Kathy’s questions and Abigail’s answers:
Kathy: I’ve enjoyed all the books of yours that I’ve read, but I was captivated by Conceit & Concealment and literally could not put it down! You may not feel it as profoundly as I do, but Conceit & Concealment seems a major expansion from your previous books. How did you decide to turn history on its ear? Abigail: I originally brainstormed the idea of setting Pride & Prejudice after a Napoleonic invasion of Britain for another author who likes writing off-beat P&P variations, but after the idea kept me up all night thinking of possibilities, I wanted to write it myself.
Kathy: How did you develop the different character and plot threads? Abigail: Often the characters themselves determined the plot. I had no intention of including the character of Kit Darcy, but as I was writing, he was the one who answered the door when Darcy knocked. I was flabbergasted. The book was delayed for several months when last quarter of the book needed major revisions for an unusual reason – though I’d written it a year earlier, in January 2017 it suddenly looked close enough to the current US political that some readers would have seen it as political commentary. That’s when I created General Desmarais, deliberately making him as unlike current politicians as possible.
Kathy: I’m especially interested in Princess Charlotte. Why did you choose her to be part of your story? Abigail: When I started researching George III and his family so I could figure out what happened to them in this scenario, I became fascinated by Princess Charlotte’s bold and fearless character and wanted to include her somehow. It was pure luck that she would have been the same age as both Lydia Bennet and Georgiana Darcy, opening up great plot possibilities.
Kathy: I have a mental image of you sitting on the floor and playing with blocks to get everything put together so successfully! Is this a book you could have written earlier in your publishing career? Abigail: I probably could have written it earlier, but not as well. I wouldn’t have had enough training in how to keep a plot tight. It would probably have been a trilogy if I’d written it back then, and while that may sound good to people, it would have been a much less compelling reading experience. In my recent books I’ve enjoyed bringing in more history and original characters to expand horizons while still keeping the focus on Elizabeth and Darcy.
Kathy: It wouldn’t hurt if you’d share a few tantalizing looks at your next creation as well! Abigail: Umm…I’m not ready to take the wraps off it yet, but it will again be an Elizabeth and Darcy story with a difference. Kind of like Maria Grace’s P&P with dragons story, except that it’s not dragons. 😉 The idea of going back to a straight Regency P&P variation after writing Napoleonic England for Conceit & Concealment felt almost stifling, so I decided to write something in between, an idea I’d started on years ago. My current problem is Frederica Fitzwilliam, Lord Matlock’s daughter. After appearing in Mr. Darcy’s Journey, she showed up again in Conceit & Concealment, and now she’s trying to muscle her way into this book, too. I think she may have decided she’s a canon character, and heaven knows that arguing with Lady Frederica is a fool’s errand!
Kathy Schmitt is a voracious reader of everything from JAFF to international spy thrillers. She currently lives in Omaha, Nebraska but plans to move to Minnesota to help her daughter homeschool her four adorable grandkids. When she isn’t reading, she plays Word with Friends, Scrabble or duplicate bridge. She regularly laments, “So many books, so little time!” A former owner of Lhasa Apsos and Pembroke Welsh Corgis, she now wants to own a Cavalier King Charles spaniel named Mrs. Tilly. She loves to meet new JAFF friends, and can be reached at Facebook.com/Kathy Schmitt.
Wasn’t that a treat? Thank you for joining us, Kathy, and a huge thank you to Abigail for hosting. We will be doing this again next month, and we hope you will be the next special guest!