September 2009


Marilyn Brant's debut novel According to Jane is about a woman who receives romantic advice from the spirit of Jane Austen. The former teacher and book reviewer lives in Chicago and is a member of the Jane Austen Society of North America. (Interview by Leah Eggleston Krygowski)

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  1. When did you first fall for Jane Austen?

    I was a 14-year-old high-school freshman and Pride & Prejudice was required reading in English class. Like my heroine Ellie, I raced through the novel way ahead of the reading assignments. I loved both the story and Austen's writing style immediately. Her books changed the way I perceived the behavior of everyone around me, and I spent the rest of freshman year trying to figure out which Austen character each of my friends and family members most resembled!

  2. How did you come up with the idea to have Jane Austen "speak" to your main character, Ellie?

    It was part writerly "what if" and part personal fantasy. After all, who better to give good romantic advice than Jane, the author who'd penned one of the greatest love stories ever?

  3. Were you ever worried that readers might be getting tired of Jane Austen-inspired books?

    Not really. Although, when I started to write According to Jane (in the summer of 2004), there were far fewer sequels on the market, and the explosion of Austen-related books and films that we're seeing now had only just begun. I believe readers familiar with Austen have always been passionate about her novels and excited by the idea of reading new works inspired by her, though. The difference between five years ago and today is, in my opinion, simply that more people are acquainted with her work, thanks to the film adaptations and the success of books like The Jane Austen Book Club, Confessions of a Jane Austen Addict and even Pride and Prejudice and Zombies.

  4. How much of you is in Ellie and vice versa?

    Ellie and I share a certain introspection and a tendency toward perfectionism in school, plus, we were both children of '80s pop culture. However, I have only one sibling - an incredibly supportive and wonderful brother - so a lot of Ellie's family issues were not drawn from real life at all. As for dating, while I'll admit to having made a few lamentable boyfriend choices, I met my husband right out of college and was happily married pretty young. So, Ellie's painful relationship problems were (thankfully) extrapolated from things I observed or were exaggerated from some real events, and these were then grafted to modernized versions of scenes I found fascinating in Austen's novels.

  5. You don't go into much detail about Ellie's brother, Gregory. Was your design to focus more on the relationship between Ellie and her sister, Diana, similarily to the way Jane Austen focused on the bonds between women in her novels?

    Yes. And, in my opinion, Ellie's cousin Angelique was a bit of a surrogate sister, too. I wanted there to be a range of female friendships for Ellie to access and a wide variety of relationships for her to study, not just her own. Diana and Angelique approach romance very differently in the book, and it's important for Ellie to have a way of comparing her own philosophies against the women nearest her.

  6. Is the character of Sam based on someone from your past? Is there someone who kept popping up in your life like Sam does in Ellie's life?

    Ha! No. Sam is NOT one person. He's a composite of a number of men - some real, some purely fictional (like Mr Darcy). My husband and I met almost 20 years ago, and he was definitely the right guy for me, so there aren't any residual Sam Blaines darting in and out of my life.

  7. Do you believe that Ellie has found her Mr Darcy or, like Jane, are you sceptical?

    For fear of annoying Jane, I try to keep any potentially contradictory opinions to myself - LOL! - but I'm a romantic. And, yes, just between us, I do think Ellie finally found her Mr Darcy. Like Elizabeth and Darcy in Pride & Prejudice, neither Sam nor Ellie is perfect. I do, however, think they're perfect for each other.

  8. Do you have any plans to continue Ellie's story with a sequel to According to Jane?

    I've left open the possibility but my second novel is an entirely different women's fiction project, and my third (which is still in the proposal stage) is different from both of the first two novels.

  9. What is your second novel about?

    It's a modern fairytale about three suburban women whose friendship and respective marriages are tested when one woman asks the trio a shocking question.

  10. What do you feel is the difference between chick lit and romance?

    I used to be a book reviewer for Romantic Times, and I read quite a few of both. My way of differentiating between romance and any other genre is that, in romance, there is one hero and one heroine. The protagonists may have had multiple relationships in their past, but neither of them becomes seriously involved with anyone else once they get together. The romance requires a relationship arc, which results in a happy ending, in addition to an individual character-growth arc. For chick lit or light contemporary women's fiction, the heroine's romantic interactions are often elements in the novel, and they may even play a major role on occasion. However, the main focus of the story is on her personal journey to greater self-understanding. Whether she ends up with a man or not is irrelevant, but she needs to have learned something from her experiences over the past 300-400 pages and, in my opinion, be in a better place (mentally, spiritually, etc.) than she had been at the beginning of the book.

  11. What did winning the Romance Writers of America's Golden Heart for Best Novel with Strong Romantic Elements mean to you?

    It was a tremendous honor and, as a result of going through the finalist process in 2007, I made some wonderful writing friends. It also gave me the opportunity to get my novel in front of a number of acquiring editors (I already had a literary agent), but it didn't guarantee a book sale. Even after I won the award, I still had to make some significant revisions before my fabulous editor, John Scognamiglio at Kensington, bought the book. I'll always be indebted to him for taking a chance on a debut novelist.

  12. Besides Colin Firth, who do you think would make the perfect on-screen Mr Darcy?

    Well, Matthew Macfadyen, Elliot Cowan, David Rintoul and Sir Lawrence Olivier all did pretty well! While I could see some hot actor (a young, Gerard Butler-type, perhaps?) take on the role, I'm terribly fond of the Darcy in my imagination. I don't think any actor is as perfect to a reader as HER own idea of Mr Darcy.

  13. If you could ask Jane Austen any question, what would it be?

    Were you ever truly, madly, deeply in love ... and, if so, who was he??

  14. Complete this sentence in your own words: It's a truth universally acknowledged that...

    a book lover will stay up way past her bedtime to finish a compelling novel.

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