Oct 092013
 

AuthorInterview

Austenesque Reviews is excited to welcome Jennifer Petkus, who has graciously answered some questions of mine about writing, Jane Austen, and her novel Jane, Actually – a science fiction Austenesque tale that creates a world where the dead can still communicate with the living via the internet! The premise of this story centers around Jane Austen, who is able to communicate online, complete the unfinished manuscript of Sanditon, and go to various places like the JASNA Annual General Meeting! Thank you so very much, Jennifer, for your time and participation in this interview!

Thank you, Meredith, for giving me and other Austen authors a place to explain our fascination with Jane Austen, and of course, thank you for reviewing Jane, Actually.

My pleasure!  Why don’t we start by talking about yourself a little, Jennifer. I understand you are a fan of Jane Austen, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, and science fiction. When did you fall in love with Jane Austen?

I started reading the stories of Conan Doyle as a teenager, but I’m relatively new to Jane Austen. When we booked our trip to Bath, England, in 2011, I wasn’t yet a Janeite, or else I wouldn’t have scheduled it for one week before the Jane Austen Festival. By the time we arrived in Bath, I was already scouting locations for an Austen inspired book.

I first encountered Austen when PBS ran all those Austen adaptations, perhaps in 2009 or 2010. However, I think I was preparing to fall in love with Jane long before then. I think I had reached that age in my life when I had the maturity to appreciate romance. That sounds odd, I know, but when I was younger, I only read science fiction. As I matured, I started reading mysteries. As I got older stiller, I began to appreciate history. And after watching all those Austen adaptations, I realized that in Austen, you have the science fiction of the past—the past is a foreign country truism—and the mystery of romance—what makes a person fall in love. And I became mature enough to appreciate that romance is not a silly thing that can only be appreciated by teenage girls or women of a certain age. I began to desire romance, although coincidentally, I am now a woman of a certain age.

I read all I could of Austen, and then the continuations and then the mysteries and I wanted to My Particular Friendcontribute. I’d already written in 2005 Good Cop, Dead Cop, my first book about the AfterNet, where the dead can communicate online, but I didn’t immediately think of putting Jane online. I was also reluctant to swim with the big fish, so I created a little backwater where I combined Jane Austen and Sherlock Holmes in my book, My Particular Friend. I thought it a unique combination that would not have me conflicting with established Jane Austen fan fiction authors.

So glad you found your way to Jane, Jennifer! What inspired Jane, Actually? In your novel you give Janeites something we’ve always wanted – the ability to communicate with Jane Austen! What prompted your fictional world of the Afternet and the capabilities of the disembodied?

There’s something about Austen’s use of free indirect discourse that makes me feel like she’s talking to me. I was essentially an only child. My half siblings, a brother and sister, are older than me by 20 and 15 years, so I missed having a sister close enough in age to be a confidante. Austen’s narrator almost feels like a sister who leans over to make a smart remark. In Pride and Prejudice, she seems like a sister near to my age. In Persuasion, she seems like a slightly older sister. Sometimes she’s a sister I can’t quite trust, like Isabella Thorpe regaling Catherine Morland with details from the latest Gothic thriller. Sometimes she’s a more sober sister, like Elinor Dashwood.

jennifer_Petkus-author-picAnd yet despite the intimacy I formed with Austen’s narrator, she’s third person, disembodied. She remains unknowable, like Austen herself, and I think these are the reasons I thought Jane Austen would be a perfect fit for the world of the AfterNet. I envisioned a Jane I could finally talk to and yet who would always be at a remove.

As to what prompted my creation of the AfterNet, the origins can be traced to several sources: A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens, specifically the scene where Scrooge sees the souls tortured because they’d lost the ability to interfere for good; Philip José Farmer’s Riverworld series; and Robert Heinlein’s The Moon is a Harsh Mistress, about a sentient computer.

I love how you feel Jane Austen is speaking to you as a sister in all her books!  And yes, she does seem to be intimate but unknowable.  Speaking of being unknowable, in your book, Jane Austen deals with many “misconceptions and fallacies” about her character and life. But until such a day where we can communicate with the disembodied, much of Jane Austen’s life will remain a mystery. What do you think are some truths and some falsehoods about the real Jane Austen? And what is one mystery about her life that you are dying to know the answer to?

It’s very easy to forget that Jane Austen was a real person. Since her death, she’s been deified or made into a too cunning observer of the political and economic landscape of Regency England or praised past the point I think she would have found comfortable. 

As for being the divine Jane or Saint Jane, consider this comment to her sister in a letter: “Mrs Hall of Sherborne was brought to bed yesterday of a dead child, some weeks before she expected, ow[e]ing to a fright. I suppose she happened unawares to look at her husband.” We laugh at it now, but it’s a nervous laugh. I hope I would never make such a joke of anyone, but I suppose it’s the fear that I might that connects me to a very real and not very nice Jane Austen.

As to my second point: although I do think Austen was an intelligent observer of her times, it’s interesting how the lens of history alters our perception. Consider this—you might despair of a friend who knows too much about Miley Cyrus or who can spout the latest meme or who keeps sending you cat videos. And you might also dismiss as shallow an author who based her heroine on a popular movie star.

At the recent JASNA AGM, however, Jocelyn Harris argued in her talk, Introducing Elizabeth Bennet, that Austen may have based her portrayal of Lizzie on Dorothea Jordan, an actress and the mistress of the Duke of Clarence—in other words, a celebrity. Now if this is true, it doesn’t make Austen any less a keen observer of her times, it just makes me realize we’re all keen observers of our own times.

And now to my last point, that Austen has been praised past the point she would find comfortable. Calling her a genius or second only to Shakespeare is certainly justifiable, but my opinion of Austen, and how I tried to portray her, is that she’d laugh at such praise. 

I like to think of her as a craftswoman, meticulously honing her skill, suffering her disappointments and prevailing because she did not give up. Although the manuscript for Pride and Prejudice has not survived, I like to think that toward the end of Chapter 1 of Volume III, she first wrote “Yet her aunt moved slowly …” scratched that out, wrote “Yet her aunt moved apace …” and scratched that out before finally writing “Yet time and her aunt moved slowly—and her patience and her ideas were nearly worn out before the tête-à-tête was over.” I can see her sit back and chuckle, taking pure delight in crafting that sentence. Every author has had the same experience, and recognizing that makes her a real person to me.

As far as the one mystery I’d like to know the answer to … well I think every Austen fan wonders whether she’d experienced a great love. Of course if we knew that she never did, what an even greater mystery that would be.

What an excellent answer!  I loved your depiction of Jane Austen and the many accessible Jane Actuallyand normal attributes you give her.  Another thing I loved about your novel was the many fun and entertaining scenes we got to witness! Jane Austen meeting Colin Firth, interviewing possible candidates to be her avatar, the showdown at the AGM, and the dance at the ball – do you have a favorite? Which scene would you say was the hardest to write?

Meeting Colin Firth was fun to write because afterward, I almost felt as if I had met him. Bringing Jane to Denver, however, was the most fun, especially her reading Sanditon at the Tattered Cover Book Store. Later, I got to read from my book at the Tattered Cover in the same room as Jane.

The hardest scene to write was the ball at the AGM. There had to be a ball, of course, but it took me a long time to invent the fiction of how two disembodied people could dance in the same way that Elizabeth and Darcy did at the Netherfield Ball. 

How lovely that you got to experience something so identical to one of scenes you wrote!  What is next for you? Will there be any more Austenesque novels by Jennifer Petkus for us to enjoy?

Yes, I’m writing the sequel to My Particular Friend, tentatively titled Our Mutual Friends, and I’m writing the sequel to Good Cop, Dead Cop, called The Background Noise of Souls. I’m also working on an untitled story where Sherlock Holmes, eighty years after the events in Emma, has to clear Harriet Martin neé Smith of accusations that she murdered Mrs. Elton. 

OOOH! That last one sounds very intriguing! Yo killed off Mrs. Elton? Nice. 😉 How about we switch it up with some Quickfire Questions:

– Which Jane Austen character do you best identify with?

Fanny Price, of all people. I’ve always been afraid to have fun and I can empathize with her fear of being dragged into the play.

– Which Jane Austen character do you intensely dislike?

Easy-peasy—Aunt Norris.

– What is one of your favorite quotes from Jane Austen’s novels?

“We have all a better guide in ourselves, if we would attend to it, than any other person can be.” —Fanny Price

– What is one of your favorite quotes from your novel?

“What poor love can two ghosts have?”

– What would your reaction be to news of a disembodied Jane Austen trying to claim her identity?

I would be extremely doubtful, just as I am with all the purported portraits of Austen. I like her essential unknowable-ness. In the same way, I never want to learn the prosaic solution to the mystery of the Mary Celeste or Oak Island. It is more fun to speculate.

– If Jane Austen were indeed able to write more novels, what novel would you love to see her write?

Foremost would be Sanditon, of course, but I also think Austen might enjoy writing magical realism, in the style of someone like Robertson Davies. I think her narrative style would easily allow her to step slightly aside of mundane reality.

Thank you so much for participating in this interview, Jennifer! It has been a real treat to have you answer my questions!! Best of luck with the release of Jane, Actually!

 

GIVEAWAY TIME!!!

Jennifer generously brings with her THREE copies (1 paperback and 2 ebooks) of her new release Jane, Actually for me to give away to THREE lucky readers. WOOT WOOT! (Paperback is open to US residents only)

Jane Actually Jane Actually Jane Actually

To enter this giveaway, leave a comment, question, or some love for Jennifer!

  • This giveaway is open worldwide  (paperback for US residents, ebook for international readers).  Thank you, Jennifer!
  • This giveaway ends October 16th!

Want to double your chances of winning?  Read my review (coming Friday) of Jane, Actually and leave some love!

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  45 Responses to “Interview + Giveaway with Author Jennifer Petkus”

  1.  

    I love the idea of being able to talk to Jane. I just know she’d be a clever witty friend. This book sounds awesome.

  2.  

    It sounds interesting and original. I just looked at the excerpt on Amazon and it looks like something I’d enjoy. I’d prefer to win a paperback instead of an e-book because I don’t have a computer at home (or e-reader). I love Sherlock Holmes stories too and I’ve read the entire canon. My mother had the book shown with the red cover in your picture that had the illustrations in it.

    catbooks72(at)gmail(dot)com

  3.  

    I love the idea of the Afternet in the story and all the various venues for Jane Austen to appear in. I had no idea that Lizzy Bennet might be based on a famous person of the time. And I really want to read the book when you kill off Mrs. Elton. Haha!

    Thanks for the interview and for the giveaway opportunity.

  4.  

    Thanks, Michelle, that’s a favorite edition of mine. The pages duplicate the way it was printed in the Strand. It also doesn’t represent all 56 short stories, so the text is reasonably large.

  5.  

    would LOVE to read this book!!! i would so love it!!!
    thank you for the giveaway!!!

  6.  

    I would love to read the scene of Jane Austen meeting Colin Firth. I can only begin to imagine the conversaton. Thanks for the giveaway.

  7.  

    Jennifer, when we first met a little over a year ago, I had never read any of your work and was slightly intimidated by you. You seemed so far above me and I must admit to not making friends easily. Although I am not a huge science fiction fan I have really come to love your style and your everyday humor. And through your leading (whether you know it or not) I have broadened my horizons. Thanks for being such an exceptional person!

  8.  

    Ooh giddiness, a Jane Austen book with a paranormal theme!!! I love plot lines that are out of the ordinary! The afternet sounds intriguing. Thanks for the giveaway chance, I’d love to read about Jane meeting Colin 🙂

  9.  

    Thanks for sharing with us here today & congratulations on your new book, it sounds really interesting.

    Thanks for the giveaway!
    crystal_dark[at]att[dot]net

  10.  

    Would love to win a copy…this book sounds really interesting…will add it to my TBR list….always looking for new novels…

  11.  

    This one sounds really intriguing– a new spin on the Austenesque genre. Thanks for the post, and for the chance to win!

  12.  

    When I first learned of the premise of Jane, Actually recently at the AGM, I was totally intrigued, and am looking forward to reading it. But in addition, I do hope you are writing quickly (with all your current projects) as I can’t wait to read all about Harriet Martin’s experience — I have wanted to kill off Mrs Elton myself, for a very long time!!! LOL

    Best of fortune with your book(s)!

  13.  

    Tess, it was so nice to meet you at the AGM. Having lunch with you and Bev from New Orleans was a perfect example of why attending is so enjoyable. Doesn’t matter what opinions we might hold, we are united in our love of Austen.

    And Evie, I was intimidated by everyone at the book festival. All those JAFF authors who’d written so many of the books I’d enjoyed; I felt like an impostor. But you were so friendly and I loved getting to know you there and on facebook.

  14.  

    Oh the conversations I could have with Jane…..! I wonder if she would find me tolerable? 🙂

    Felicia

  15.  

    This is not an entry since I already have Jane Actually in my TBR pile but I wanted to comend you on a wonderful interview, Meredith!

    Really enjoyed reading this, so much that I caught myself laughing aloud. Jennifer has a fantastic sense of humor. And I seriously cannot wait to read a novel in which Harriet Martin is accused of killing Mrs. Elton!

  16.  

    Wouldn’t it be interesting if Fanny Dashwood, Elizabeth Elliott, Aunt Norris, Mrs. Elton and Lady Catherine de Bourgh were all trapped in an elevator together…

  17.  

    Jennifer and Meredith, I was mesmerised by this interview and also by the premise of your book, not to mention the hints into the real Jane Austen, as she comes across from her own letters, rather than the Victorian view, neat, prettified and polished, and the subsequent ‘deification’. Would definitely love to know more! Thanks for the opportunity and thanks for sharing your thoughts!

  18.  

    Thank you for the Lovely interview ~ I am looking forward to reading, Jane, Actually! Read so many wonderful reviews and love the idea of actually talking to Jane and going to her book signing. I can’t wait to read the scene where Jane meets Colin Firth! Thank you for this wonderful opportunity. Cheers~ Elizabeth MacGregor

  19.  

    Wow!! Sounds so cool!! I would love to see what “Jane actually” would say! And the take on sandition sounds fun

  20.  

    Wow, the author loves Jane Austen, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and sci fi? Do you want to be my best friend? I must read this book. MUST!

    I wonder if Jane would friend me on Facebook or not? I’d like to think so.

  21.  

    Sounds like a fun book I would love to read! If only it could be true! Looking forward in reading it! Thank you!

  22.  

    What a great interview- interesting questions and vert thoughtful answers! I love the premise of Jane in our world and look forward to reading this soon!

  23.  

    I really enjoyed this interview and I’m thrilled that we also get to meet Colin Firth, my celebrity crush, in the novel, too! 🙂

  24.  

    This book is really awsome! I think that with it you with your idea can make happy a lot of Austen’s fan!

  25.  

    this book sounds fascinating and unique. What a special feature.

  26.  

    The interview was so interesting and informative. What a great book to have and enjoy.

  27.  

    I hope I am still in time to partecipate 🙂 Lovely interview, Meredith (as always :))and thank you for the chance!

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