I was aware when I started Bellevere House that Mansfield Park was a dangerous topic. It’s a sensitive book for many Jane Austen fans going back at least a hundred years. By now the old tropes of “the book is so boring, although we talk about it all the time like it’s interesting, and the Crawfords are the ONLY good thing, which is odd because we certainly have a lot of opinions on Sir Thomas and Edmund, and we’ve hated on Fanny for so long that now we’re actually changing it up sometimes and saying we like her, and there’s always the lurking issue of Mrs. Norris, and how Edmund could be attracted to both Henry and Mary, and WHY did Jane Austen even write this book, but it does have a lot of meat in it and some great characters, not that we’re specific about who they are exactly except sort of the Crawfords and kind of Fanny although she’s so problematic too . . .” are starting to feel quite familiar.
Ad infintum. Sometimes people just like to beat an old horse to death and that’s how they show they care about the horse. (Although this does seem kind of hard on the horse!) And I knew going in that it would be almost impossible to create a version of Mansfield Park that people really liked, because disliking it is how they like it. Even Mansfield Park’s many admirers are bound to complain about something that isn’t just perfectly right. Nobody else’s vision for these characters, including Jane Austen’s, is quite absolutely theirs and what they’d prefer to see in the story matters to them. It matters a LOT.
But then, if it matters so much, that means they really love Mansfield Park regardless of what they say about it or how they fuss about the particulars of any version. And they really love almost every movie and fan retelling of it ever made, although all do legitimately have flaws and they acknowledge those flaws. Their concern over every detail is a sign of their intense passion for the story and the conversation would be so much tamer, so much duller, if there weren’t something to argue about. This passion is something that Austen fans are noted for. They feel proprietary about her work as if during the course of two hundred years it had somehow become their work, really written by them.
So naturally, if I do a rewrite of Mansfield Park, as in Bellevere House, and put in any details or exclude any when they would not have made those decisions, they are going to feel pretty personal, as if they and not I had written Bellevere and they would be associated with what I did in the book. As Jane Austen herself might say if she were still alive, so much interest is a great thing, but any book that you took the trouble of investing time and money in is YOUR book, not someone else’s. But in any case, she could rest easy knowing that her world was so fascinating that after centuries, people still get so worked up over those Bertrams.
And there will be more updates.
This week I'll just run through a number of things I have going on. The first is that my WIP, The Girl from the Village, is going to be medieval fantasy, with a bit of epic fantasy. At least the way it's looking right now. Every writer knows about the unpredictable directions that a story can take you when it gets a mind of its own, but at present the genre for the story is looking this way. TGFV isn't the only book I have planned. I would like to do an adventure story set in Scotland, in somewhat the style of Victoria, and a concept for a paranormal thriller keeps developing more day by day. That one is a surprise to me because detective and FBI agents haven't been my preferred way to express ideas. But maybe all of that detailed investigation into my own published books awoke some critical-thinking skills in me!
I've recently begun examining ideas out there that are similar to my books so I can make market comparisons for the readers. As in, "it's like a combination of Divergent and the Lone Ranger." Trust is a vital part of book reading. If someone recognizes another idea that is similar to your work, they have a factor immediately on what to expect from you. This doesn't mean all my books are like each other--but each one of them IS like something else out there. My books are not oddities. I like to do ideas that people might be overlooking because they don't fit into the majority of projects or concepts out there. If something isn't similar, it raises my curiosity about why that is, and usually it's because that book has a different audience attached to it. But there is a precedent for each of my books in the work of other people.
For example, think of City of the Invaders & Consuela (the Palladia stories) as like Adam West's Batman set in the future and starring teenagers. So with a dash of Tomorrowland, but with the comedy, cheesy villains, and light-hearted action you associate with an older view of Gotham. Not the serious tone of more recent Batman. Invaders (ironically, given its name) is more about the EC, while Consuela shows things from the Invader point of view. It's not like one side is bad and the other is good. In fact, no one in Palladia is particularly perfect, but they manage to defeat the bad guys anyway.
And there will be more updates.
It didn’t begin this way in the initial drafts, but by the time The Test of Devotion was completed it had grown into a celebration of old-fashioned storytelling. In fact, I thought it was going to be rather a modern story, a genre-market oriented short western romance (think the now defunct Love Inspired Historical.) Since that didn’t work out, the story drifted for a long while until I was seized with a new idea for it. And I love new ideas because they tend to mean a new audience. I was pleased there might be a new direction for this forgotten story and the rewrite moved pretty far towards describing that new concept—the “Why Don’t They Make Them Like They Used To?” feeling in so many of us.
You’ve read and seen it many times in reviews for classic vintage and retro products, in back-cover copy for classic TV shows, in casual conversations with friends. Someone always laments that “they just don’t make ‘em like they used to.” Stories we grew up watching and reading from when we were kids—stories we were raised on by our parents and grandparents. It’s not a feeling of nostalgia, which is rooted in the past, but a respect for something you’d like to continue into the present day. To reboot, to bring again. You regret that new generations can’t be exposed to these classics.
For The Test of Devotion two such “good, old-fashioned” ideas merged into one. The vintage television western, like Roy Rogers or Bonanza, with its family-values tone that didn’t scrimp on the action-packed adventure angle. And the classic novels that so many kids find on library shelves alongside modern bestsellers like The Lightning Thief. Tucked into any kids or young adult section of the library you’ll find older stories like Treasure Island, Tom Sawyer, and Ivanhoe—and, in the case of influences for this book, Kenilworth by the same author as Ivanhoe. Books that certainly inspired me to read and write more when I was growing up.
Why don’t they make them like they used to? Well, the answer is simple. Because they DO make them. The minute someone says that, it means they’d like to see something old-fashioned repeated again. People have been saying that since the dawn of time, harking back to a perennial yearning for Eden. And once they express that wish, a new old-fashioned story pops up again.
And there will be more updates.
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I live surrounded by cultivated fields that rapidly give way to wild flowers, wild plants, and wild life. I get most of my ideas while drifting innocuously around my house and some of those ideas get into print.
Bellevere House has been featured on Ezvid Wiki video "10 Wonderfully Inventive Retellings That Interpret Classic Stories in a New Way." Click to see the video.