This post is going to sound a bit like a “I’d like to thank the Academy,” but yesterday was the re-opening of the Austen Authors blog and I’m just overwhelmed with thankfulness. It was one of the first Austen blogs I found when I learned of the Jane Austen Fan Fiction community and I’m so happy it’s back online. More than that, I’m humbled to be one of their authors.
In my bio on here I give a brief synopsis of my journey from Jane Austen reader to becoming an author, but as you may guess there is so much more to the tale.
Long before finding Austen I loved historical fiction. I suppose I was a strange child. I think it began when I was five and we moved to a rural community where Old Ordered Mennonite still drive horse and buggies. I had thought they were actors and said when I grew up I wanted to be Mennonite.
A few years later on a school field trip we went to a living history museum that had actual working farms. It featured examples of the Old World and New. What it was like to live on an Irish or English farm in the 1600s. I think at the time the other site was 1850s American farm. They’ve since added several other farms. I was in love.
I didn’t have the most balanced childhood. Reading was an escape. Historical eras offered a life far away from many of the modern concerns I had to face at much too young of an age. Memorizing facts and dates was orderly and made sense to my mind compared to math and science. I could see how what had been evolved into what currently was.
When I was 8 I was enrolled in the Big Brothers/Big Sisters of America program as a little. My Big Sister was an elementary school teacher and encouraged me to read. One day we watched the 1994 film of Little Women. I was ten, which I understand is a bit old to begin reading the book, but I was hooked on that world. I was hopelessly Jo. I always felt the misfit but just couldn’t be anyone else. I wanted to be like Meg.
So I read and reread and reread Louisa May Alcott. Even in high school I would sometimes check it out of the library (because I never even owned a copy until I became an adult and now I nearly compulsively buy copies of it and P&P). The school librarian suggested I try Pride and Prejudice. She told me it was a story about five sisters in England. I was certain no story about sisters could be better than Little Women so I kept passing on it.
Throughout childhood I owned very few books. Library books weren’t encouraged too much either. I remember a book being left on the dining room table and then something happened and pages got glued together by accident (just from sticky fingers, I think) and my parents were very upset. After that I began hoarding books in my room and read them as fast I could. In high school I would stay up late and read a full novel in one sitting (I still do it). One of my aunts gave me her old Cherry Ames books when I was 15. When I was 17 my mother found a few American Girl Collection books at a yard sale- the very books I read so much in elementary and middle school- and bought them for me. I knew I’d save them for my own children.
My love for reading helped me excel in English courses. My senior year in high school I took an AP English class. In order to get through all the subject matter the teacher divided the class into groups. Each group had to select a book from certain categories and we would read it and then present it to the class. That way we would all have rudimentary knowledge of each book. No one in my group was familiar with Austen but somehow we selected Pride and Prejudice. Elizabeth Bennet was the adult and more confident version of Jo March, for me. I had gone through the “I wish I could just fit in more!” stage and was now at the “I enjoy being me!” part of life. It was a joy to read a heroine who didn’t quite conform to the norm, but didn’t wallow in fears of acceptance. Sure, Caroline Bingley didn’t like her, nor did Lady Catherine, but who wants their good opinion anyway?!
That was a stressful year for me between several AP classes, applying for college and a tumultuous home life. I still found time to reread Pride and Prejudice a few more times. College years flew by. I got married at 19, worked 2-3 part time jobs to pay for tuition and living expenses. Still, I reread Pride and Prejudice a few times a year. I loved that it blended my love for history and my love for literature. I loved reading so much I qualified for an English minor (although it should be clear I did not do well in the required “Grammars of English” course). I had a wonderful professor who let me do a research paper on Pride and Prejudice every year. She even told me about some sequel stories by Elizabeth Aston which could be easily found in bookshops but I passed on them and stuck with the original. I didn’t have a lot of time for leisure reading and was terrified of starting something I would hate so I just kept with P&P.
A few years later I was working as a receptionist and our boss gave us all Nooks for Christmas. The first thing downloaded was a free version of the Complete Works of Jane Austen. For the first time I tried some of her other books. Again, I had a rudimentary knowledge of them from that AP English class. I found I enjoyed Sense and Sensibility and Emma but I never made it through the others without returning to Pride and Prejudice. I just missed Elizabeth and Darcy too much.
Financially I couldn’t afford to buy any other books and I was a new mom so I still didn’t have time to read a lot at any rate. Even going to the library was a huge hassle with my baby. He had sleeping issues. By the time we’d get out the door to go anywhere he would need a nap again. He got overstimulated everywhere, even in the car. I don’t miss those days! But they passed. Every few months I would tell myself that I would read the Complete Works (which is not put together in order of publication date for some reason) and then get a few chapters into Mansfield Park and go back to P&P again.
Less than two years later I was able to stay at home full time and was pregnant again with horrible insomnia. I had watched North and South on Netflix and looked up the book on Barnes and Noble. Between that and Jane Austen I started to get suggestions for Jane Austen Fan Fiction. We had some extra money so I decided to treat myself to trying a book. It was Sharon Lathan’s Mr. and Mrs. Fitzwilliam Darcy: Two Shall Become One. I loved it!! I loved reading them happy and in love. I loved getting into Darcy’s head. The historical detail was amazing. I never would have thought fan fiction (I would say with disgust) could have so much detail. I read others in that series and then tried Abigail Reynolds’ Mr. Darcy’s Obsession. It was a little unsettling to think of some of the nitty gritty of Regency life (an uncle so terrible that he buys a virgin farm girl because he thinks that’s what Darcy would like!) but I was hooked on variations after that one.
And I do mean hooked. I still refuse to tally up how much money I spent on buying books. I made it through everything recommended to me on Nook and then downloaded a Kindle app and started on them. Between January and July 2013 I read about 100 books. I slowed down a little after I had the baby in late May.
Sometime around March I started dabbling with my own writing, but never got very far. They had no real idea of plot or structure. In July I finally gave online forums a chance. I had so very wrongly assumed if someone posted it for free, then it must not be good. I was actually searching for more stories by Melanie Schertz when I found “A Happy Assembly”! I then read as many Regency ficsthat appealed as fast as I could. I still had lots of ideas for writing but never thought I’d share them or that I could even write “correctly.” Through the forums I learned the value of betas (basically unpaid editors). Writing didn’t have to be solitary, a good story doesn’t mean the first draft was perfect. In fact, many drafts are encouraged.
In October A Happy Assembly had a “Captivating Compromises” theme for its playground board. A playground piece is less than 2,000 words. That seemed achievable. So, I wrote two little things. Another board, Beyond Austen, had a short story challenge the same month. The next month they had another one. It was scary to jump off the cliff and begin posting stories but I got constructive feedback and learned that I could tell a story and if it did have issues, nothing terrible happened. I could only get better. I had a big idea from the Captivating Compromises theme that I knew would be too long for the playground. It turned into a 90,000 word, 31 chapter full length story. I asked for betas to help edit and plot and it took five months to complete.
A few people encouraged me to publish it but I was sooooo scared to put my baby out there! After months of thinking about it, I decided to try it out and dive in. So, I decided to edit those early short stories and publish them first and now I’m about to hand off my full length novel to the editor this weekend.
As a self-published writer it’s been invaluable to me to be able to ask friends who have gone before me questions. Sarah Johnson basically held my hand through my first publication. For the second one I learned to just hire her as formatter. She was already my cover designer and did cold reads. She’s the one who encouraged me to unleash Letters from the Heart. She knew there was another story ready to come out.
In January 2014 a writer, Elizabeth Adams, I long admired came into A Happy Assembly’s chat room and asked for a cold reader. I had done that for another story and loved the experience. I got to read it before anyone else! I have loved every minute of working on her newest release, even though it’s not Austenesque. It’s an amazing story. I gained confidence in my skills, although I still thought of myself as primarily a reader, so I’m not sure why I was ever nervous. A few others asked for beta help, such as Sarah Johnson and Zoe Burton and I absolutely LOVE being part of the beta process for other writers.
It’s been a long road to come from the girl who was scared to let a book out of her sight, to try anyone but Austen, to the one who read EVERYTHING Darcy related, to terrified of public opinion to today: joining some of my favorite authors and the ones that compelled me to read and write in the first place. It’s an honor to become an Austen Author.