I’m so excited to have Syrie James with us in the convertible. I first met Syrie at a mystery writers’ convention out east. She was, at the time, a successful screenplay writer but was hoping to break into the literary field. And now, just about eighteen months later, here she is, bursting onto the scene with a fabulous debut novel the world’s just dying to read.
So please help me welcome Syrie…and Jane Austen. :) Lois
Have you ever had to make a giant left turn on the road of life, only to discover that fate has led you to the best possible destination? They say that fate has a way of leading us in the direction we are meant to go; that when you fall off a horse, you have to pick yourself up and get right back in the saddle again. These maxims have certainly proved true for me in the story of how I came to write and sell my new book, “The Lost Memoirs of Jane Austen”!
(Very cool note - this picture of Syrie was taken in front of Jane Austen's House/Museum (Chawton Cottage) in Hampshire, England!)
When I first decided to make a change and write books after a long career as a screenwriter, I thought I was supposed to be a thriller writer. I loved page-turning suspense and romance, and had what I hoped was a great idea for a medical thriller. Two years later, after an incredible amount of research, I had a completed novel and an agent in Manhattan who loved it. Despite her most ardent efforts, however, she was unable to sell it.
The rejection was heart-breaking … but I knew I couldn’t quit. When I wrote that novel, I felt as if I’d been starving for years, and had suddenly sat down to a feast. It was a joy to be set free from the restrictive format of a screenplay, to be able to describe thoughts and feelings, and people and places, and to write a scene that lasts longer than 2.5 minutes. I had a wonderful new literary agent who believed in me; I just had to pick a new genre and start all over again.
So I decided to write about Jane Austen.
I had majored in English in college, and traveled extensively throughout England. I’d read and loved all of Jane Austen’s novels, and I’d seen every Jane Austen movie or mini-series ever made, some many times over. But her life story was filled with gaps, and left me unsatisfied. I found it hard to believe that this brilliant woman, who gave the world such wonderful and romantic stories, never fell in love herself. I decided to write the book that I wanted to read: to give Jane Austen a deep and loving connection with the man who was her soul mate, even if, in the end (as in history), they were unable to marry.
I knew that Jane must tell the tale herself. We would meet Jane’s large and loving family, and her circle of friends; we would experience her thoughts and feelings, see her wrestle with her inner demons, and come to understand her writing process. The novel would be her private, recently discovered memoirs.
Once committed to this project, I realized that I had chosen, without a doubt, one of the most difficult possible stories to tell. Not only did I need to learn every single thing there was to know about Jane Austen’s life in England two hundred years ago—and become on intimate terms with everything she ever wrote—but I needed to find my way inside her head, read the secrets of her mind and heart, and (most daunting of all) write in her own, specific style. I had to sound exactly like her!
What on earth, you might ask, was I thinking? In terms of writing skill and enduring popularity, Jane Austen has been compared by many scholars and critics to Shakespeare. How could I dare to presume that I—a mere mortal, and a Californian, at that—could (if you will) channel her spirit? Couldn’t I pick something easier to write about, like maybe a contemporary soccer mom in Los Angeles?! But no, that would never do. I must write about Jane.
I decided that I had a few things going for me: an obsessive love of and familiarity with all things English; a love affair with Jane Austen; experience wrestling with my own writing demons and ambitions (which allowed me to feel an empathetic kinship with Jane); experience writing romance; and, apparently, a knack for reproducing the cadence, tone and language of a British author from a previous century.
Researching and writing the novel was a true labor of love. While I was writing, I only read works by or about Jane Austen, to keep her voice in my head. My husband and I went back to England on a self-guided “Jane Austen tour,” where we walked in Jane's footsteps. We visited all the places Jane lived, including Chawton Cottage, were she wrote or re-wrote all of her novels, and the major sites in her life and books—including the beautiful city of Bath, and charming Lyme Regis—where I walked on the Cobb (a location made famous in “Persuasion,” and of great importance in my novel.) We were even treated to a private tour of Godmersham Park, the huge estate which belonged to her wealthy brother Edward, which Jane loved and often visited. (See photo above/left.) An incredible experience!
Many moons later, “The Lost Memoirs of Jane Austen” sold at auction, after a two-day bidding war between three major publishing houses. It has been exciting to go through the pre-production process, and to share in the evolution of the book’s cover and interior design. It’s a thrill to now see the book at bookstores and online, and to read the reviews from critics and messages on my website, www.syriejames.com. Apparently I’m not the only person who was dying to see Jane Austen have a romance of her own!
The other exciting news is that I just sold my next novel to Avon A/HarperCollins, “The Lost Memoirs of Charlotte Brontë,” (about one of my other favorite writers) which I’m busily engrossed in writing. I have learned, through this process, that the true secrets to success are the three P’s: passion, patience, and perseverance. And one more thing: there really is truth to that old adage, “dreams can and do come true for those who wait!”
Readers and Riders with the top down: have you ever had to make a giant left turn on the road of life, and ended up in a fabulous new direction? If so, share your stories! And if you have any questions for Syrie James, let her rip!
Bonus: Syrie is giving away free books to two lucky commenters; one book in a random drawing, the other to a blogger who agrees to review "The Lost Memoirs of Jane Austen" on her website with a link back to her site. So if you have a website and would like to be included in the reviewer group, please put "reviewer" or something like at the end of your comment.