Monday, November 12, 2007

Guest Author: Syrie James

Hey All,

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.

42 comments:

flchen1 said...

Wow, Syrie! Thanks for sharing your story--that's terrific! And big congrats on your success and selling your next novel! What a blessing to be truly living your dream out today! :)

Mary said...

Hi Syrie,

I am a HUGE Jane Austen fan. I love getting lost in her time period. I think I've read just about everything out there from JA and on JA. I can't wait to pick up "Memoirs".

I feel a little like a traitor reading anything else but was introduced to a new author. I just read Coinage of Commitment and couldn’t put it down.

Congratulations on your success. Keep them coming!

tetewa said...

This sounds like a great read, please include me in the draw!

Debra Dixon said...

Hi, Syrie! And welcome to the blog, we're delighted to have you.

I had your book in my hand this morning while killing time in an airport bookstore, but I literally couldn't cram it in my briefcase and I was on a small plane who's boarding instructions are that you get one bag and a purse counts as a bag.

I consoled myself with the fact that giving up my treat today meant I could have a leisurely exploration of my hometown bookstore tomorrow.

Looking forward to reading it.

Well, I did read the Author's Note in the bookstore before putting it down. The clerk was eyeing me suspiciously. LOL!

Syrie said...

Thanks everyone, for your comments. Mary, I'll have to check that book out... Debra, since my book just came out on Tuesday, I was excited to hear that it's on sale in airport bookstores. I hope you find it again soon, and enjoy it!

robynl said...

what a great undertaking you embarked on and how great for us readers. I would love to win a copy and learn all about Jane.

confidante said...

Hello
I would love to review it on my site. Let me know how. My site is http://www.writerconfidante.blogspot.com This blog inspires me since I too am a fan of Jane Austen.

KimW said...

I'm a huge Jane Austin fan. Pride and Prejudice being my favorite. I can't tell you how many times I've watched the movie version with Kiera Knightly in it. Certain parts get rewound and played again and again. haha! I would imagine your research for the book was a lot of fun. I hope someday I'll be able to visit some of the places you have. That's a dream. I'd love to read your book. It sounds great! Congrats on your new sale, too!

lois greiman said...

Hi Syrie,

Huge congrats on your new sale. When I visited your house...was it last summer? I was wondering if you had Bronte in mind for your next conquest. That's so exciting. Best of luck with your new endeavors and thanks for joining us.

Are you throwing yourself completely into these projects or are you still working on screenplays as well?

Helen Brenna said...

Hi, Syrie. So inspiring to read your journey to publishing this novel. How long did it take you to write it?

Betina Krahn said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Betina Krahn said...

yrie, welcome to the convertible! We're delighted to have you here!

Jane Austen was one of my earliest forays into "romance" and had quite an impact on me. For me, Pride and Prejudice is the ultimate Jane Austen, my favorite of her books.

And what great photos of you in Old Blighty. Made me want to call up the airline and order tickets for two! You must have been in Heaven in Bath. That warm "Bath" stone and that period architecture! It looks like Jane Austen (or her characters) could just step out of any doorway at any time and be quite at home. There's a photo-op everywhere you look!

Meanwhile. . . your secret to success must be the real thing, since it jives with our own experiences. Passion, patience and perseverance.

Now I can't wait to pick up "Memoirs" and get lost in Jane's world with you! Good luck with Charlotte!

Cindy Gerard said...

Hi Syrie
congrats and welcome! What a wonderful success story.

Dara Edmondson said...

Can't wait to read your book, Syrie. I also took one of those left turns in my career. After nearly 20 years in marketing and running a business, I left the business world to write romances. I had a 5 year plan, which I'm 3 years into. I did reach my first rung on the goal ladder of getting a novel published. The second one comes out next year, but I'm not quite where I need to be yet. Two more years and many more rungs to climb!

Helen Brenna said...

Talking about giant left turns. I'm a CPA, didn't start writing until I took the big leap to stay home full time with my daughter 18 years ago. Strange is the journey of life.

Syrie said...

Hey Kim, if you like the Keira Knightley version of "P&P" you really must watch the BBC (A&E) 1995 mini series starring Colin Firth; truly, it is one of the best adaptations ever made... it has the entire story of the book... 5 or 6 hours of pure, wonderful Jane Austen, with all her marvelous dialog... it is to die for!

Syrie said...

Hi Lois! It was a year ago that you came to my house-- last November, when you were at the L.A. mystery conference. My husband and I still have very fond memories of our dinner together! I am no longer writing for the screen; I am concentrating all my attention on my novels. (With the Writer's Strike going on, it's good timing.) However, I did adapt "Lost Memoirs" as a screenplay (it's my dream to see it filmed), and entered it in the MORE Women in Film Screenplay Competition (a new contest for women writers over 40)... it was one of 15 semi-finalists out of 1,141 entries!! :)

ellie said...

I enjoyed reading the story of your success. Congrats on this achievement. The beautiful photos give me a great background about the area. Your novel is unique and I have heard great accolades about it. Jane Austen and the novels has always appealed to me greatly. All the best.

Christie Ridgway said...

Welcome, Syrie! I'm also a English major and a native Californian and a lover of Jane! I can't wait to read the book. I was enthralled by the movie "Becoming Jane" and talked to my historical romance writer buddies about it incessantly. Jane's own life so captures my imagination!

Did you just go ahead and write the whole book on spec?

Syrie James said...

Yes, Christie-- I wrote the entire book on spec. It's the only way to sell a first book, or a book in a new genre... In my years as a screenwriter, I wrote many scripts on spec, so that wasn't anything new for me. I am so thrilled that I've now reached the stage where I can sell a book on a partial!

ruth said...

Hi Syrie,
What an interesting journey you have had so far. Your goals in life certainly have been realized due to your talent. I love Jane Austen novels and that period totally captivates me. I can hardly wait to read this release which sounds intriguing.

pearl said...

Congratulations on this exceptional book! It was lovely to read about your writing background as well as the glorious trip that you took for the research. What an incredible experience. I look forward to reading this book and await your next release.

MsHellion said...

Syrie, I can't tell you how excited I am to hear about this book! It does sound daunting...but wow!--a bidding war? That sounds exciting! That, and the huge sense of accomplishment of balancing all those elements you just listed and DOING IT! Some people get so overwhelmed by the to-do list, the don't even get out the gate! Congratulations and well-done!

As for...have I ever done something like this, though obviously on a much smaller level: Not that I'm aware of!

And if I'm drawn as a lucky-lucky-lucky winner, I'd like to be a reviewer, please. :) http://yohowriterslifeforme.blogspot.com

Not your typical Jane Austenite fan site, but definitely a group of writers and readers. :)

diane said...

Your story sounds like a dream come true. Congrats on the new sale. Enjoyable photos which beckon me. Your Austen book sounds great and the Austen mystique has always interested me. Best of luck.

Kathleen Eagle said...

Hi Syrie! Congratulations from yet another English lit major. I haven't read her in a long time, but never miss a movie version, most recently "Becoming Jane." which I enjoyed. But I loved the K.Knightley P&P for the secondary performances, especially Donald Sutherland as Mr. Bennett and the guy who played the minister (Mr. Collins?) Can't wait to get your book. Interesting how many writers I've met recently who are working on some version of P&P or a novel about Jane. I think she'd enjoy her 21st century revival.

MsHellion said...

Tom Hollander--he was Mr. Collins. I adore him in stuff, even the bad guy in POTC 2&3!

Nathalie said...

I love all things related to Jane Austen... and your book is on my TBR list!

Lily said...

It is funny that you're second book will be about Charlotte Bronte!

lila n. said...

Those 3 P's are quite important :)

I had not heard of your book... sounds great!

Laura @ Laura Williams' Musings said...

I would love to win a copy of this or win a copy to review!


I review books on my blog as well as products.
http://laurawilliamsmusings.blogspot.com

Syrie James said...

Lily-- Charlotte Bronte is awesome! Amazing! ... Why do you think it's funny?
:)

Syrie James said...

Want to hear something funny? I was just talking to customer service about a custom calendar I'd ordered from an internet website, and mentioned something about my book. The rep excitedly replied that she LOVED Jane Austen, and took a class during her last semester in school, studying adaptations to film of all of Austen's novels... she couldn't wait to read my book... It truly seems to be a "Jane Austen moment!"

Syrie James said...

Thank you, everyone, for your wonderful comments and posts, and for your interest in my book. It's been great to hear from you. I'm thrilled to think that my story might serve as an inspiration to other writers. I'm grateful to those who've expressed an interest in reviewing my book on their blog. Please note: anyone who posts a review of "Lost Memoirs" on their blog is also eligible to win a beautiful 2008 Jane Austen Desk calendar. See details on my home page at www.syriejames.com.

Mama Zen said...

I would love to do a review!

angelaandconnor at gmail.com said...

I would LOVE to be entered to win your book. I would also be honored to be entered to review it as well.

I also added your giveaway to my contest blog.
http://contestaddict.blogspot.com/

(any reviews would be on my personal blog)

Laurie said...

Hi Syrie,

Congratulations!

I have to say that I'm one of the very few that don't remember ever reading a Jane Austin book. I guess my 4 years of HS English were severely lacking in content. I have no excuse for never reading her books over the years.

I'd love a chance to get to know her through your book of memoirs!!

Thanks!

Laura K said...

Wow- didn't know this was in existence! Just recently re-read "Pride and Prejudice"- it was the One Book, One Chicago, book recently for our book club. I know I would read this book first, then pass it on to my other members so they could read it too! I'm sorry I don't have a blog to post for you.

windycindy said...

What a happy ending to her story! Where there is a will, there is a way! Please enter me in this fabulous contest. I thank you very much! Cindi
jchoppes@hotmail.com

nor_lou said...

I love all things Jane Austin And I can't wait to read this book and tell everyone about it :)

Carol said...

Syrie,

In the "It's a Small World" category, we share a hairdresser! Kathleen has your bookmarks proudly displayed in her shop.

Mary said...

Hi Syrie,

I'm back. I hope all is going well with you. Have you read, "Mr. Darcy Takes A Wife"? I loved it! A wonderful next phase of Mr. and Mrs. Darcy. Check it out. It helps to put more of an ending to the story.

I also just finished a wonderful book by first-time author Paul Miller called A Place To Belong. It's a memoir, fiction based on fact book. It's about a little boy who grows up in really tough times under really tough circumstances. After 50 years he finds forgiveness of his abusive father.

This is a wonderful read and I hope you and the other readers have a chance to pick it up. Don't forget your tissue box!

Happy Reading!

Mary :>)

Deborah said...

Hi Syrie! What an amazing story! Congratulations! I love Jane Austen and I'm totally captivated by that time period. I can't wait to read it and I'm really looking forward to your next release!