It was really an interesting experience, because I've never felt so strong an urge to write. The book started writing itself in my head. I had a busy teaching schedule at the time and tried to ignore it -- but I finally gave in and started writing before the end of term. Then during the summer months, I had more time to devote to it, and I put the finishing touches on in the fall. So why or how did this happen? That's the interesting thing; I have no idea why. I had been pondering the unpopularity of Fanny Price as an Austen heroine, and the thing flowed from there.... but it was, at least in the beginning, a mostly unconscious process.
What are you working on next?
I am researching and framing up a sequel to "A Contrary Wind." I would like to hear from readers of the book -- what do they want to see happen next?
What is the greatest joy of writing for you?
Jane Austen's biography mentioned "the charm of recent composition," that is, the satisfaction that comes with re-reading something you have just written, and thinking that it ain't too bad!
What is your writing process?
A Contrary Wind started with an inspiration that came out of nowhere. But once I got into the complexities of running several interwoven plot-lines, I created a chart with five columns for the locales and characters, with many rows for the dates and events for the various plot-lines. I didn't start at the beginning and write til I got to the end, I sketched out my plot and bounced around writing different scenes as the mood struck or as the characters in my head started talking to each other.
What do you say to people who think no-one should tinker with Jane Austen's books and characters?
I'd say, "that's fine." I think that's a perfectly valid point of view. In defense of JAFF (Jane Austen Fan Fiction) writers, there is no violation of copyright, as copyright has expired, it's not plagiarism, but still, if people don't approve, they are free to not read the books! And they are free to express their disapproval.
The second question might be, "what would Jane Austen make of JAFF"? Would she be more gratified than horrified at JAFF with sex scenes and zombies and werewolves? I hope she'd be very pleased that she is held in such high regard, even venerated, by so many people today.
How do you approach cover design?
I wanted a cover that said, "This is not a bodice-ripping romance." I looked at the simplicity of the Penguin Jane Austen covers, which use reproductions of classic oil paintings, and decided to emulate that. I really like the expression on the lady's face on my cover!
When you're not writing, how do you spend your time?
Teaching English, surfing the internet, riding my bike, running around feeling disorganized.
Who are your favorite authors?
In fiction: Jane Austen, George MacDonald Fraser, C.S. Lewis. Hilary Mantel is an amazing writer.
Nonfiction writers whom I admire for the lucidity of their prose: Thomas Sowell, C.S. Lewis, and Kevin D. Williamson. And for his snark: P.J. O'Rourke.
What are your favorite books, and why?
I'm going to talk about the books that have influenced me the most as a writer, and that means, books that were my favourites when I was a child.
"Once on a Time," by A.A. Milne. This is a fairy tale written in a very sly, whimsical tongue-in-cheek manner.
"Mistress Masham's Repose" by T.H. White. I cherished this book, even when I didn't understand most of the historical and classical allusions because I loved the author's style so much. I identified with the young heroine. I also loved "The Sword in the Stone."
The Narnia books, by C.S. Lewis. Like a lot of young people, I practically lived in Narnia. There is a strong tradition in British juvenile fiction (Edith Nesbit is a prime example) of kids having magical adventures with the adults in their lives being oblivious to the perils/adventures that the kids are undertaking. J.K. Rowling is of course the inheritor of this great tradition and it's great to see the appeal is as strong as ever.
I love all of Jane Austen's books. I re-read Northanger Abbey the least because I find the embarrassing situations Catherine Morland gets into are just excruciating. I love Henry Tilney, however. Again, Austen's voice, especially her juvenilia, has the irrepressible tongue-in-cheek humour, that I've loved since I learned how to read.
When did you first start writing?
When I was a little kid. I remember telling my older brother I was going to be a writer, and he extracted a promise out of me that I'd buy him a motorcycle when I earned some money writing. Unfortunately, that never happened.
What inspires you to get out of bed each day?
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