Welcome readers to Just Jane 1813! Today I am thrilled to share an interview with another debut JAFF author. Not only does Sophia Meredith have a wonderful story to share with us when “On Oakham Mount” is released on April 1st, this book is part of her new collection which is titled, Pemberley Departures. Each book in this collection is a different “Pride and Prejudice” variation. The second book will be published in a few months. Each book in her collection will be its own stand-alone story.
Sophia, I want to thank you for joining us at Just Jane 1813. I recently read your debut JAFF book, “On Oakham Mount,” which is the first book written for publication in your Pemberley Departures Collection and I knew that my readers would enjoy visiting with you to learn more about you and your work.
Can you start by sharing with my readers some background about your life?
First of all, thank you, Claudine, for inviting me to your lovely blog! Your support and enthusiasm for me personally has been really incredible and is deeply appreciated!
My life as an author began after a layoff in 2012. At the time, I was the Director of Marketing, North America, for a global renewable energy company. My undergraduate degree is in international development and I have an MBA in sustainable business and policy so I had always intended to pursue a “mission driven” career. For a number of years this was truly a dream job–I relished the pace, creativity, challenge, and travel–though, as many other women can relate, it was quite demanding and difficult to balance with a young child and over-worked husband.
After the layoff my husband and I decided that I should take a breather, which, admittedly, has become quite a bit longer than either of us intended. So, now I am living the typical stay-at-home suburban soccer mom life! I started writing in my spare time and gradually became excited about the possibility of self-publishing. Needless to say, it has taken quite a few years to work up the courage! I initially wrote a series of contemporary adult romance and have at least five of them ready for professional editing and proof-reading, but I put them aside when I began work on the Pemberley Departure series. I also have a Regency period book, “The Marquess Meets His Match,” which I intend to release this autumn. The “Meets His Match” series is inspired by Georgette Heyer–though woefully falling short of her brilliance!
Please tell us a little about “On Oakham Mount” and what inspired you to write this story?
Actually, I found Jane Austen Variations about ten years ago when I read Helen Halstead and Pamela Aiden. With the proliferation of self-publishing, I realized that there was an influx of new books in the sub-genre of varying quality, and, rather than criticize other author’s efforts, if only in my head, I decided to challenge myself to come up with my own variations. I am much more attached to the novels than the film adaptations so I felt challenged to focus on Austen’s voice and style. In the first draft I used a lot of quotes directly from the book to see if I could weave them in without a jarring transition. I then cut them back considerably.
Almost immediately after developing my ideas, I began to write the first story to see on what “path” “On Oakham Mount” would take me. Funnily enough, it was titled “A Convenient Marriage,” and though it shared the same “point of departure,” my initial plan was that Darcy and Elizabeth would marry and we’d watch their marriage develop into mutual love. However, readers of “On Oakham Mount” know that the story I ended up with is quite different! Part of the brilliance of the Austen’s original are the small surprises and coincidences Jane Austen plants that form the plot twists of her novel and I feel that “On Oakham Mount” pays homage to that.
I know my readers would love to know more about your collection, Pemberley Departures. What can you share with us about your this series?
My motto for “Pemberley Departures” is “What would Jane write?” I am most interested in exploring the POV, language, characters, timeline, and events from the story and how small changes or decisions would affect the original path of the novel. My own writing method is “seat of the pants,” and I write the first draft start to finish. Through this process the story may lead in an unexpected direction. So my concept for the collection is that Jane wrote similarly and these are alternate paths she might have taken. Additionally, those of us who love variations really crave the development of Mr. Darcy’s character and more interaction between Elizabeth & Darcy, so my books also make their relationship center stage.
Book two, “Miss Darcy’s Companion,” shifts the timeline to the spring prior to the original novel, which means Darcy & Elizabeth meet under entirely different circumstances. It is tentatively scheduled for July. Book three will likely not be released until 2017. There is also a “steamy” Darcy set of novellas knocking in around my head!
Oh, I love the idea of a “steamy”set of Darcy novellas… sigh!
Why do you think people are still so drawn to Jane Austen and her work over 200 years later?
I’ve actually thought about this quite a bit over the years and particularly now as I research and write my variations. I’ll limit my response to “Pride & Prejudice,” because as much as we enjoy her other work, I think it pales in comparison to the popularity of the Darcy & Elizabeth story. I believe there is a good reason for this. “Pride & Prejudice” is singular in combining two very significant feminine themes; “Cinderella” and “Beauty and the Beast.” These two motifs resonate with women across various times and cultures, which can also be traced through myth, fairy tale, and literature.
The worldwide popularity of “Pretty Woman,” “Twilight,” and “Fifty Shades of Grey” are based on these same themes and demonstrate the strong appeal they have to modern women. Most romance is based on one or both of these concepts, as well as the universal feminine theme of “happily ever after.” If we consider this in comparison to male motifs, we find that happy endings are not as prominent or not important–or may be excluded entirely. Rather, “The Hero’s Journey,” which describes overcoming obstacles, defeating enemies, and attaining power to dominate them — he may get the girl, but that’s generally a side note, or it serves to make it more marketable to women. Consider, “Star Wars,” action movies, and ancient myths, to prove this point.
Why do these feminine “fairy tales” appeal to women so universally? Perhaps because they defy our social training as women. Austen’s Elizabeth is not perceived as being particularly beautiful, or accomplished, and she doesn’t “bring” anything materially valuable to Darcy beyond her true, authentic self, and yet he falls deeply in love with her nonetheless. Don’t we all desire to be loved for ourselves and not the idealized version of “woman” that society pressures us to adopt in order to be “worthy” of it?
Don’t we spend an inordinate amount of time worrying about our appearance, competing with and comparing ourselves to other women, and judging the “material” aspects of ourselves, never quite letting ourselves measure up? I know I continue to do so, and I’ve been married for fifteen years! Society may adapt the feminine ideal over time; nevertheless, we are still trained to aspire to it.
In contrast, Elizabeth chooses not to constrain herself to the expectations of society. She does not focus on “perfecting” herself, nor is she willing to marry for security (Collins), or an improvement in her status (Darcy). She remains true to herself and comes to love Darcy on her own terms and this resonates with us. However, there is a second theme at work. Through Elizabeth’s strength of character she has the power to transform the surly, anti-social Mr. Darcy into a better man who passionately loves her. Isn’t it ironic that even though we yearn to be loved just as we are, we still seek to improve the men we love? Truthfully, over my fifteen years of marriage–beginning with taking him shopping for new clothes shortly after we began dating–I can confirm this for myself!
As for the popularity of Fan Fiction, I think we must look not only to the appeal of the feminine themes described above, but also to Austen’s skillful rendering of them. When we read “Pride & Prejudice” closely, we realize that Darcy’s character is “lightly sketched,” he does not speak much or even appear in the novel in a great many scenes. Just consider that though we were given nearly the entire dialogue of Mr. Collins’s ridiculous proposal of marriage–the most comic scene in the entire book–Darcy’s actual proposal is described quite briefly until he responds to Elizabeth’s refusal. This vague rendering of “the beast prince” enables readers to overlay their own male ideal onto the character while maintaining these universal themes.
I’d love to hear what your readers think of this analysis!
Please tell us a little bit about your gorgeous cover art and the decisions behind the style of your covers for your collection.
Thank you for the compliment! I must confess that my background is in marketing, so I know the power of combining words with images. In any case, I have never agreed with the adage that “You can’t judge a book by its cover,” at least not in the context of art and design! Perhaps when publishers made those decisions this may have been true, but independent authors are responsible for every aspect of their work and the cover is the first place they demonstrate the qualities and even quality of their efforts. Considering how easy it is to find a reasonably priced designer these days, the reader will, and probably should, judge the attention to detail, style, point of view, perspective, and perhaps even the talent of the author through his/her design language and the decisions he/she makes.
For my covers, I spent many, many hours researching images and looking at Amazon cover designs to develop a very clear concept before handing it off to the designer — Mae, at Cover Fresh Designs. I provided her with images, layout ideas, and even fonts that I liked for the covers. From there, it was a very collaborative process and she was wonderful to work with, because she was both very receptive to my ideas and she was very creative. We created a cover for book two at the same time to make sure that the design would work well throughout the series. This is a peek at the cover for book two, Miss Darcys Companion.
Oh, I love this cover too! I believe that the combination of these historical landscapes paired with these beautiful images of people from this era will provide readers with memorable images that will connect them with your stories.
How can readers discover more about you and your work?
I must admit that I’ve been a very solo reader until I started building a platform to promote my own project. At that point, I became interested in meeting other readers through various social media and realized there a huge community of highly diverse women (and some men) out there, like myself, who feel the same pleasure re-visiting and re-imagining Austen’s characters, dreaming about the elegant, well-mannered Regency period, and reading “Happily Ever After” books!
I also found a HUGELY supportive community of enthusiastic people interested in critiquing, proof-reading, publicizing, and just plain encouraging me to publish. So, on Facebook Facebook, writer, Sophia Meredith and on my Sophia Meredith Sophia Meredith Goodreads Author Page. These are good places to catch up with me.
I am also launching a website titled, www.sophiameredith.com, where I will send out the occasional newsletter with important book releases, early excerpts, promotions, and giveaways. However, like many other authors, I am really hoping to stay balanced in this area because I also want to be able to stay focused on my writing work. So, please forgive me if I am a bit elusive!
Thanks Sophia for visiting with my Just Jane 1813 readers. I know they’ll love meeting you through this interview and I look forward to reviewing your book, “On Oakham Mount” next week on this blog. I’m also really excited that you’ll be offering two ebooks of this story as giveaways for my readers along with my review.
I’d like to encourage my readers to leave feedback for Sophia based on this interview (and her analysis of Austen’s popularity in our modern world) below this post, and to please feel free to ask her any questions about her upcoming stories. I think this is going to be a wonderful collection of “Pride and Prejudice” variations!