Did Jane Austen make her do it? Chatting with editor Laurel Ann Nattress

It’s finally time! After a month of time spent in the wild, Jane Austen Made Me Do It — and talented editor Laurel Ann Nattress — are stopping by write meg! today. I’m pleased to welcome Laurel Ann and thank her for stopping by — and answering some of my most pressing questions.

Let’s take it away . . .


Hi Megan, thanks again for hosting me at Write Meg during my Grand Tour of the blogosphere in celebration of the release of my new Austen-inspired anthology, Jane Austen Made Me Do It.

Meg: Laurel Ann, we “met” years ago and bonded through our mutual love of Jane Austen. Your blog Austenprose has been a big inspiration to me, and I love your focus on Austen’s writing – and the many contemporary spin-offs her books have stimulated. When you’re reading an Austen-inspired work, what elevates it from just a decent read to an amazing one? What qualities make a book unforgettable?

“I have read a few Austenesque books in my day. Am I jaded? Hope not. I usually know by the end of the third chapter if it has wings: a fresh concept skillfully rendered, Austen allusions or her characters reverently portrayed and humor in the form of wit and irony, please. I know. It’s a tall order. I’m fastidious.”

I wrote that on my blog in 2010. I have not changed my mind. Even though my reading taste has evolved since the early years of the Austenesque boom (after the 1995 A&E/BBC miniseries of Pride and Prejudice) my standards have remained the same.

I read my first Jane Austen-inspired sequel in 1999. It was Marjorie Fasman’s The Diary of Henry Fitzwilliam Darcy. I loved it. It motivated me to read just about everything in print up to that point and to continue reading anything new published in the genre to date. I have not read everything, mind you, but I do try to visit them all.

So what elevates an Austenesque book from decent to unforgettable? For most readers it is what books they have already read to compare against the next one, and personal taste. This might sound like a cop-out, but we are what we have read. Some people love the highly romantic aspects of the genre; others the historical details. I enjoy an Austenesque book for the same reasons that I admire Austen’s writing — her acerbic humor and astute characterizations. If an author uses those qualities successfully, it really grabs my attention. Overall, a great novel needs to take me on an emotional journey, teach me about human relationships and myself. Since these qualities are subjective, what I like, might not please someone else.

“Only a novel… in short, only some work in which the greatest powers of the mind are displayed, in which the most thorough knowledge of human nature, the happiest delineation of its varieties, the liveliest effusions of wit and humour are conveyed to the world in the best chosen language.” – Northanger Abbey

Meg: Your new anthology Jane Austen Made Me Do It debuted in October and features short stories from many fabulous authors, including Laurie Viera Rigler and Adriana Trigiani. It’s so wonderful to see book lovers making the leap from blogger to author/editor. What was the most rewarding part of the editing process for you? And the most challenging?

Thanks Meg! I am indeed the poster girl for following your bliss! I had no idea that blogging would culminate into a book deal, but it did. That was never my original plan, but sometimes magic just happens. All of my planets and stars were aligned on one amazing day in January 2010 and my book was set into motion.

Working with the twenty-four authors was the most amazing part of the process. They were hand selected by me and my editor because we greatly admired their writing. When their stories started arriving months later, it was like Christmas in my email inbox for about two weeks. Seeing what they had created was so exciting. The variety of genres and inspirational basis was far beyond what I had anticipated. From Regency to contemporary, comedy to romance, mystery to paranormal, it is all there. Quite a selection of Austen confections.

One of the most challenging aspects of the editing process was the Jane Austen Made Me Do It Short Story Contest. Since Jane Austen was so committed to her craft, I thought that it would honor her ideals by leaving a spot open in the anthology for a debut voice. The contest was open to previously unpublished authors and was held online last January. We expected about twenty stories and were blown over when eighty-eight arrived, including your wonderful story Megan, “Spinning White Hair Gold.” Readers narrowed down the list to the Top Ten finalists, and then my editor and I chose the Grand Prize winner. That was a very difficult decision. I greatly admired many of the stories and wanted to include them all, but only one could be selected. Ultimately, we unanimously agreed on “The Love Letter,” by Brenna Aubrey. It was a fantastic contribution and I hope that readers enjoy it also.  

Meg: If you could create an all-star Austen cast for a new production of Pride and Prejudice, who would you love to see in each role?

Wow, a fantasy Austen team for P&P, right? Okay, here goes:

Richard Armitage as Mr. Darcy; Gemma Arterton as Elizabeth Bennet; Emma Watson as Jane Bingley; Hugh Laurie as Mr. Bennet; Joanna Lumley as Mrs. Bennet; Emily Blunt as Caroline Blingley; Laurence Fox as Mr. Wickham; Harriet Walter as Lady Catherine de Bourgh and Charlotte Rampling as Aunt Gardiner. One can dream, can’t one? 

Meg: For an Austen newcomer, which novel would you recommend reading first? Which has inspired you the most on a personal level?

Pride and Prejudice is a great choice for the first Jane Austen book read. It is her most famous and there are so many movie adaptations out there that a new reader is bound to have heard of it or seen one and be familiar with the story. P&P inspired me to love Austen and the unique world that she created. I have read all of her novels, her minor works and letters and I gravitate toward each for different reasons. Some people greatly admire her heroes and heroines: Elizabeth Bennet and Mr. Darcy, Anne Elliot and Captain Wentworth and Elinor Dashwood and Edward Ferrars. I am drawn to her secondary characters: Henry and Mary Crawford, Caroline Bingley, Mary Musgrove, Lady Catherine de Bourgh. I enjoy how she develops the darker side of human nature. It challenges me and makes me think.

Meg: What do you hope readers will glean from Jane Austen Made Me Do It? What has its publication meant to you?

I hope that readers will feel uplifted, inspired and in awe that Jane Austen has left such an indelible mark on literature, and then want to read her novels. Jane Austen Made Me Do It is a tribute to her brilliance. She has been delighting readers and inspiring writers for two centuries. I hope that my anthology both honors her and entertains.

The publication of JAMMDI is personal triumph for me. As a single woman of a certain age, it has shown me that we all deserve a “season of second chances.” It’s never too late.

Thanks Meg, for your great questions. It is always a pleasure to visit Write Meg, and I have so enjoyed following your writing career. I am all anticipation of your first novel. I will be the first to wave its flag!

Cheers, Laurel Ann

Editor bio:
A life-long acolyte of Jane Austen, Laurel Ann Nattress is the author/editor of Austenprose.com a blog devoted to the oeuvre of her favorite author and the many books and movies that she has inspired. She is a life member of the Jane Austen Society of North America, a regular contributor to the PBS blog Remotely Connected and the Jane Austen Centre online magazine. An expatriate of southern California, Laurel Ann lives in a country cottage near Snohomish, Washington. Visit Laurel Ann at her blogs Austenprose.com and JaneAustenMadeMeDoIt.com, on Twitter as @Austenprose, and on Facebook as Laurel Ann Nattress.

Jane Austen Made Me Do It: Original Stories Inspired by Literature’s Most Astute Observer of the Human Heart, edited by Laurel Ann Nattress

Ballantine Books • ISBN: 978-0345524966

Giveaway of Jane Austen
Made Me Do It

Congrats to Elaine, the randomly-selected winner of a copy of Jane Austen Made Me Do It! Elaine, I’ll be contacting you shortly.

Win the book I’m still raving about: ‘How To Love An American Man’

Back in the dark ages — okay, April
I read a book that completely blew me away: Kristine Gasbarre’s How To Love An American Man.

I’ve done some thinking about why the book resonated so completely with me, and the conclusion I’ve reached is thus: Krissy is a real person who wrote a real story about her real relationships with her family, especially her grandparents, and it was such a refreshing change to read about a woman close to my age grappling with the same issues as me: searching for and keeping love; maintaining closeness as a family; growing up and moving on, but still wanting to stay close to those who have come to define you.

I was so moved by How To Love An American Man that I immediately emailed Krissy to tell her, in no uncertain terms, that I wanted to be her best friend. I’ve been known to write gushy fangirl letters from time to time, and this one was no different — and color me thrilled when Krissy wrote back. It’s rare that you meet you someone so talented and kind — and so deserving of success. We met in New York City during this year’s Book Blogger Convention and I adored her as much in person as I had through both her memoir and letters.

Basically, she inspires me — and her book inspires me. So I want to share it with all of you. I will buy one copy of How To Love An American Man for a winner randomly chosen from comments on this post, and all you have to do is tell me this: What memory of your grandparents will you never forget? (If you don’t have grandparent recollections to share, no worries; feel free to leave another family memory.)

UPDATE: Krissy has graciously offered to send her book to two winners, so I’m extending the giveaway to 12 p.m. EST on Tuesday, Sept. 6. I’ll randomly choose two winners from the comments on this post and email them.

UPDATE on Sept. 6: Congratulations to Mona and Laura Kay, our randomly-selected winners! Ladies, I’ll be emailing you shortly for your addresses.

Birthday giveaway from Knock Knock: A Personal Library Kit and bookmark pad

Today is my birthday, and I am now 26 years old. I’m not going to pretend like my breath didn’t catch a little writing that, even though most of my friends — many old enough to be my parents — sneer and scoff at my angst over getting “older.” “Oh, to be 26 again!” they cry.

But I’m the one crying.

Okay, okay — I’m not. I’m thankful to be here and writing and growing and changing, even if that means changing the digit at the end of my age. I’ve always harbored these delusions that I’d be a young, accomplished and genius author — and as I’m tipping toward 30 now, I guess I’d better get on that.

Before I scurry away to write the next Great American Novel, friends, I have an exciting gift for you: an opportunity to win two adorable products from Knock Knock! I recently discovered the site, which boasts hip and unconventional stationery products and fun gift ideas. Not to sound all saleswoman on y’all, but this stuff is cute. I have the Paper Tweet pad and have been using it to play pranks on my coworkers, so . . . you know. I’ll share the details of that with you soon.

In honor of my 26th birthday, Knock Knock has been kind enough to supply a Personal Library Kit (pictured at top) and Bookmark Pad (right) for one lucky entrant in the U.S.! Knock Knock has all sorts of adorable book-related products with a fun and funky flair, and I love their tongue-in-cheek sense of humor.

The bookmarks are crazy fun, and the library kit is a great way to make sure those novels you lend actually make it back into your hot little hands . . . so do you want them? To enter the giveaway, just leave a comment on this post with a way to reach you. For extra entries, you can:

1. Visit Knock Knock and tell me what your favorite product is.
2. Tweet, Facebook or blog about this contest and let me know where you shared it.

No need to enter them as separate comments, unless that’s easier for you. Maximum number of entries per U.S. entrant: three.

Giveaway will run between Monday, July 18 and 12 p.m. EST on Friday, July 22, and one winner will be randomly selected by Random.org. I’ll email him/her promptly for an address, and then you can wait patiently for your prize to arrive!

EDIT ON JULY 22: Congrats to sara, our winner! I’m emailing you now.

Literary Giveaway Blog Hop: Lynne Griffin’s ‘Sea Escape’

When I read Lynne Griffin’s Sea Escape last summer, I was profoundly moved by this story of mothers, daughters, fathers, sons — family, really, in all its vast and complicated forms.

Griffin’s language drew me into the seaside setting where Laura Martinez looks in on her aging mother, Helen, a woman still “cloaked in the past,” I wrote, and dwelling on the life she once shared with Joseph, her enigmatic but aloof husband. Sea Escape is a moving novel that fluctuates between the past and present, and we’re told the story of Helen and Joseph’s courtship through a series of letters — notes jotted between lovers that Laura never saw until she reached adulthood.

Though not always a cheery tale, Griffin’s Sea Escape was still an enchanting family drama — one I thoroughly enjoyed. And now I’m happy to share it with one of you!

As part of the Literary Giveaway Blog Hop, up for grabs for one reader in the U.S. only (sorry, international friends!) is a new copy of Sea Escape, just released in paperback this month.

To enter, simply fill out this form before 12 p.m. (noon) EST on Wednesday, June 29. Winner will be chosen at random via Random.org and emailed for their mailing address. The information you submit via this form is confidential and will be seen by my eyes only.

UPDATE: Congrats to Sarah (sarahthehobbit), the winner of Sea Escape! Thanks to all for entering and visiting, and hope you had fun with the Literary Giveaway Blog Hop.

Giveaway: ‘Clarity’ by Kim Harrington

What’s the first thing you notice about Kim Harrington’s novel Clarity?

If you’re me, it’s that bokeh. Little circles of light — so interesting, so delicate . . . I love it. And that cover.

And what I’m here to offer today — after a busy, busy weekend — are two copies of Harrington’s debut young adult novel!

What’s it about?

Clarity “Clare” Fern sees things. Things no one else can see. Things like stolen kisses and long-buried secrets. All she has to do is touch a certain object, and the visions come to her. It’s a gift. And a curse. When a teenage girl is found murdered, Clare’s ex-boyfriend wants her to help solve the case — but Clare is still furious at the cheating jerk. Then Clare’s brother, who has supernatural gifts of his own, becomes the prime suspect, and Clare can no longer look away. Teaming up with Gabriel, the smoldering son of the new detective, Clare must venture into the depths of fear, revenge, and lust in order to track the killer. But will her sight fail her just when she needs it most?

I’m halfway through this one now and really enjoying it. Different and imaginative, it’s not a genre I’d usually consider . . . but as I said, I’m powerless against the pull of bokeh. It’s very suspenseful and well-drawn, and I can honestly say that — at page 165 — I have no idea where this is going . . . or how the mysteries will be solved.

Clarity’s publisher has kindly offered two copies of the book for two winners in the U.S. To enter, please fill out this form between March 7 and 12 p.m. (noon) EST on March 11. Winners will be randomly selected by yours truly and notified by email that they’ve won. Comments on this post are welcome but will not count as entries.

Still curious? Check out the book’s trailer on YouTube or Harrington’s website, with links to her blog and Twitter. You can also add Clarity to your Goodreads wishlist.

EDIT on March 11: Congrats to Melissa Vasquez and lisa, our randomly-chosen winners! Ladies, I’ve emailed you both for your mailing addresses. Thanks all for entering!

A giveway for a milestone week

It’s been a big week here at write meg! In addition to getting a makeover (complete with new layout, header and color scheme — but not sense of humor), my post on food drives was featured on WordPress.com‘s Freshly Pressed on Dec. 2-3. Welcome to everyone who clicked through that way, and to new subscribers! (And old ones. “Make new friends, but keep the old . . .”)

And, you know, I also happened to read 200,000 visits on Dec. 2. No big deal.

I promised I’d be doing something special in honor of that milestone, and I’m a woman of my word. We’re wrapping up the reading year and, to date, I’ve read 80 books. I’ll be doing a huge wrap-up post in coming weeks but already have my top choice for favorite read of the year. There was some fierce competition, yes, but one book stands out above all others for me: Aidan Donnelley Rowley’s Life After Yes.

This novel — Rowley’s debut — hit me like no other novel in 2010. It’s one of those books that found me at just the right time in my life, and it was like an arrow to the heart.

I won’t say much more about it now — a post is in the works. But you can read a summary and my full review from June right here.

And in honor of write meg!’s milestone week, I’d love to give a new copy to you! It’s a book with universal appeal that had me laughing, crying and seriously thinking about life. It’s not to be missed. And I don’t want you to miss it.

One copy of Life After Yes is up for grabs internationally to anywhere The Book Depository ships! See the list of countries and make sure yours is on it, then head over to this form to enter.

Comments on this post are welcomed and appreciated, but will not count as entries. One additional entry each may be earned by sharing a link to the contest via Twitter, Facebook, a blog post, etc.

The giveaway will run until 12 p.m. EST on Friday, Dec. 10, and the winner will be selected via Random.org and emailed by yours truly. I’ll share the results here and on Twitter, too.

Thank you to everyone who has visited, commented, emailed and/or passed along my link — this week and every week prior. I’m honored and proud of the space I’ve carved out for myself here, and can’t wait to share 2011 with all of you.

Update on Dec. 11: Congratulations to Jessica, my randomly-selected winner! Jess, I’ve emailed you.

Not-really-a-review and giveaway: ‘Swallow’ by Tanya Plank

Tanya Plank’s Swallow is currently sitting within arm’s reach, discarded after I finished the first 60 pages.

I couldn’t go any further.

But not for the reasons you might think.

Sophie Hegel is a quiet attorney who has arrived in New York City by way of a small Arizona town. Settled in a committed relationship, she’s a Yale Law grad trying to fight the good fight — but often losing, and all because of a curious ailment that seems to strike out of nowhere. Like the night her boyfriend proposes. Without warning, Sophie feels a “fist-like” sensation forming at the base of her throat, rendering her unable to speak, swallow or — in this case — act excited. About, you know, the proposal.

From the book’s description, Sophie is suffering from a psychological condition called “Globus Sensate,” and you know what, friends?

It turns out I’m a hypochondriac.

The more I read Plank’s specific prose about a condition that seems, for all intents and purposes, to be completely in Sophie’s mind, the more I mysteriously felt like my own throat was closing. Call it engaging writing. Call me a lunatic. Whatever you’d like to say, it got to the point that I couldn’t pick up Swallow without — well . . . without feeling like I couldn’t swallow.

The rest of the novel’s description boasts “cast of characters that includes a pornographer father, a sister with a knack for getting knocked up by denizens of the town pen, a painter of male nudes, an eccentric Sing Sing-residing client, a tough-talking fashion maven and a bevy of privileged Manhattan lawyers and judges,” and I don’t know about you, but that sounds pretty interesting to me. Unfortunately, I just couldn’t make it that far — which I hate, because I actually had grown to care about Sophie.

The novel has garnered many positive ratings on Goodreads and LibraryThing, and given a 4/5 by Violet at Violet Crush.


Because I still believe Swallow could find a happy home with a different reader, I’m offering my (very gently) read copy for one winner in the U.S.! Simply fill out this form by Wednesday, Sept. 22 at 12 p.m. I’ll randomly choose a winner and send you an e-mail for your address.

Update on Sept. 22: Patricia is the randomly-chosen winner! Thanks to all who entered — and Patricia, I’ll be emailing you shortly!