Happy Wednesday, friends!!! As you may already be already be unquestionably aware, I am a huge fan of the Holidays with Jane series! Jane Austen inspired short stories that celebrate holidays and seasons, what could be a better combination?!? Hmm….maybe the amazing team of authors that created the stories in this collection? 😉
I had this wish of being able to do a group interview with these authors that I admire so much and I’m happy to say it came true!! Jennifer Becton, Melissa Buell, Rebecca Fleming, Jessica Grey, Nancy Kelley, and Kimberly Truesdale were so kind to chat with me and answer my questions! It is my first time doing a group interview/discussion like this, we hope you enjoy!!
Jennifer: It all began with Jess and Melissa….
Kimberly: HWJ started for me with a text from Jess going “So… I had this crazy idea…” She and Indie Jane had been so supportive of my first Austenesque book that I jumped on board. I couldn’t resist the chance to write in such excellent company.
Jessica: Melissa and I were talking about working on a modern Pride and Prejudice adaptation together…sometime in the middle of 2014 Melissa pitched the idea of us writing a modern Austen Christmas short story together that year. I thought it would be fun to do a collection and there weren’t many collections that included EVERY Austen novel, so we brainstormed what a collection like that could look like and what authors we wanted involved. I roped in Jennifer, Cecilia, Rebecca, Kimberly – all of whom IndieJane.org had reviewed and had guest post…and who hadn’t published before because I was so excited to read her takes on the stories. It honestly was supposed to be a one off Christmas collection, but then we kept dreaming up new and exciting ways to kill ourselves and thought it would be cool to have 6 collections, cause who doesn’t want to say they’ve adapted ALL of Austen’s major novels? I hope I am remembering this the same way Melissa does! (Side Note: a LOT of my texts to Kimberly start: So…I had this crazy idea…and they usually end with NEVER LET ME DO THIS AGAIN)
Rebecca: Like Kim, my HWJ journey started with a text from Jess along the lines of “hey, Jane Austen Christmas short stories. You in?” I was completely intrigued, and said yes before I even got more details! (That’s how much I trust Jess’s creative genius teehee). Then I found out who I’d be writing with, and was totally psyched — and a little in awe, because I’d been reading and loving these fabulous ladies’ books. I’m still grateful they let me join the club
Nancy: My journey also started with a text from Jess, that same summer/fall. But I was busy and couldn’t, which made me sad.
Melissa: The way that Jess remembers it is correct! My mother-in-law had a stroke and I was in the hospital and needing to think about happy things. I called Jess and said, “Hey, I need to talk about things that make me happy because it’s a terrible time right now.” She said, “What makes you happy?” “Christmas…and writing…and Jane Austen novels.” Jess, “What if we wrote that book we were talking about into a Christmas book? What would that look like?” That quickly turned into many texts and emails that grew into this merry band of friends!
Meredith: Aww! I love hearing how that the idea came from focusing on things to make you happy at a time when you needed a distraction, and that it was just intended to be a one book collection! I’m so very glad you ended up doing six books!
Nancy: Flash forward to the next fall when we were both in California for a wedding. About that time, Kimberly was where I’d been a year before–too busy to write for the series. So at In & Out, Jess and Melissa asked if I’d be interested in joining for the second half of the series.
Jessica: Fun fact: My hair looked GREAT for that wedding and I was so happy to have In N Out and see Nancy and Melissa live and in person!
Melissa: It’s funny to me to remember that I haven’t met everyone “in real life” because we have spent so much time writing back and forth to each other. We know each other so well.
Meredith: For my next question I’d like to ask about your experience writing short stories? Was the choice to write short stories instead of novellas made due to wanting the collection to be under a certain number of pages? I know many of you at the time had previously written longer works, was it more challenging to write shorter ones?
Jennifer: The accepted word counts of short stories and novellas vary greatly depending on who you ask. A novella can be anywhere between 7,500 words and 40,000 words! Our stories ended up falling somewhere on the long side of the short-story category. We wanted to ensure that everyone contributed a roughly equal word count and that the full collection was novel length. That way readers would get their money’s worth. I’d already written and published two short stories when we began the Christmas collection, but it was still challenging to adapt a full Austen novel to a shorter length. Writing a shorter story sharpens focus. It was fun to see what plot line or character each writer chose to highlight from each of Austen’s novels.
Jessica: Jennifer is right that our stories fall into the “longer short story” category, or maybe the “shorter novella” category – we are definitely straddling a line there! Our stories average from 9k-16k each depending on the story and the collection, but the collections all are pretty hefty and I think we definitely worked together to give readers a good bang for their buck. I had published two short story collections before Holidays with Jane. Those collections had everything from flash fiction, to 5-6k stories and I absolutely LOVE short stories as a way to play with an idea or get a storyline out of my head when I’m not sure I want to spend a novel on it. The longer short story/short novella was a tough length for me at the beginning of our journey. You have to find that sweet spot between pacing and being in-depth enough for a satisfying adaptation – but still picking and choosing your elements so that you’re presenting a “picture” of the original more than a beat for beat retelling. It was definitely tough for me the first few stories, but I found my pacing a little better toward the end. (Kim is my story editor so she might tell you that it was actually tough for me EVERY time, she wouldn’t be lying!)
Kimberly: As Jennifer and Jess have said, trying to adapt a whole novel for a shorter work really makes you focus! But I love how it made each of our “takes” on novels quite unique. I think we each came to the project with our favorite scenes or characters that we really worked on getting in to the stories. For example, I have always loved the way Anne interacts with her nephews in Persuasion; it really shows how much love she has to give and, in my opinion, is a way that Captain Wentworth gets to see how things could have been between them. So I really wanted to bring forward that part of the book for my own adaptation. As we were writing, I was always excited to see what everyone brought out in their work. And, as Jess’s editor, I can confidently say that she had way less trouble with her pacing than she remembers!
Nancy: In my fanfic writing, I do a lot of the 10-20K length stories, so it was a familiar structure for me. As others have said, the tough part was distilling a novel into that length. I started each story by finding the element of the novel that intersected with the season: Northanger Abbey and going on vacation, Sense and Sensibility and family, and Emma and matchmaking. That gave me my angle, which helped me pick and choose which storylines and characters to keep. If they fit with my central theme, I tried to keep them, and if not, I cut them.
Melissa: It was challenging to consolidate Austen’s novels into short stories! I had written 100K word length novels before so writing a story around 10K took a lot of planning. It’s fun to pick out the favorite parts of each novel and give it a different seasonal flair. Some books took longer because of how much people love them and you want to treat them specially (Pride and Prejudice). Other books are hated and no one wants to touch them (Mansfield Park). It took a lot of effort on my part to make MP into something that I really cared about. I always started with the main character and what her essential personality was in Austen’s canon. I then gave it a modern edge with what her occupation would be and how that informed her choices in life. I love that we all have characters with different life choices and occupations but they all feel true to Austen.
Rebecca: I dabbled in short fiction some in college, and a lot of 8-10k nonfiction writing (yay English & History majors!), so the HWJ length was a good one for me. The challenge was in defining the elements/characters I absolutely had to keep, and which had to hit the cutting room floor. We all have our own unique readings of Austen, based on experience and interpretation, and the “long short stories” were an awesome canvas for clarifying that on a personal level. For me anyway. Most of the time I was able to tell the story I wanted/needed to tell within the word limit, but sometimes it was hard. Like Pride & Prejudice for instance: I had to cut 2500+ words, and it’s still my longest of the six stories. Oops, haha.
Nancy: I think the length is the strength of the series. We had to focus on one part of the story, and because we are seven different people with different personalities, that meant each volume felt fresh. And yet each story is easily recognisable as being a twist on Jane’s novel.
Meredith: I have to agree that the lengths of stories and the overall length of collection felt ideal and worked well. It is interesting to hear how everyone had different experiences and different challenges! Big kudos to you all for how well you succeeded with this task! How about we talk a little bit about holidays! I think the 6 holidays/seasons chosen for these collections were so perfect! Were there any you wish you could have added? Which holiday/season were you most excited to write about? Which holiday/season ended up being the most challenging?
Jennifer: The holidays/seasons were well chosen. They spread the stories across the year as much as possible, and using some seasons instead of specific national or religious holidays gave each author freedom to go in different directions. For me, the biggest challenge wasn’t matching a story to the holiday but adapting Jane Austen’s work into today’s world. Before HwJ, I never planned to write a modern adaptation or retelling.
Kimberly: Holidays! I’m partial to Christmas because I’m a Christmas Eve birthday baby. That was the most exciting AND the most challenging for me because it was our first story but I had Pride and Prejudice right out of the gate! That was a little daunting. As Jennifer said, sometimes the hardest part was deciding how to modernize the story. For my Mansfield Park story in the Spring collection, I had to decide what to do with that “cousins” relationship between Fanny and Edward. I thought the most modern thing I could do was to leave them as cousins and make the story more about Fanny coming into her own and learning to speak up for her own wants and needs. All of that is there is Austen’s version, but it feels a little disguised by the hints of romance.
Rebecca: I loved the way we mixed some super specific holidays with broader seasons — it gave more flexibility with storytelling in the long run, but it also helped capture “a year in the life”. I’m not sure if we left anything out or not — nothing really feels “missing” to me, when I look back over the body of work.
I was most excited about summer, even before I found out I’d be doing Pride & Prejudice for that one, because I had SO many summer ideas. (It’s always been a favorite season of mine, in real life). I was also pretty excited to get to Valentine’s because at the very beginning of this process I had this crazy idea come to me during a completely random conversation and I knew I had to try to work it in. (Spoiler alert: It did not appear in my Persuasion story; but I’m still planning to use it one day. It’s that zany-awesome, haha).
The hardest story for me was Thanksgiving. I had Mansfield Park for that one, which is so not my favorite, and knew I had to set it on a college campus and utilize football to be able to enjoy the story. In the process, I found out that I am way more like Fanny Price than I will ever completely admit to (ha), so that was weird. (And then it ended up being one of the most meaningful stories to me, on a personal level, because of real life events coinciding.)
Meredith: How lovely that your Mansfield Park story ended up being the most meaningful to you, Rebecca. I adored the relationships in that one.
Jennifer: I forgot to mention that I was most excited to write for Trick or Sweet, the Halloween collection. Fall is my favorite season, and Halloween lends itself to crazy, magical plots.
Jessica: I guess I kind of picked the holidays and pitched them to the rest of the group for votes. I knew we needed six and Christmas, Halloween, and Valentine’s Day were no brainers (I wanted to write a costume party and some magic for Halloween!). Spring and Summer we decided to do as generic seasons instead of Easter and Independence Day to appeal to a broader audience. Thanksgiving was actually the hardest pick because it is a more US/Canadian holiday and that put two fall holidays pretty close together. However, the idea of families coming together for something like Thanksgiving seemed something that Jane would have had fun with, so we went with it. Some holidays were easier to find links with, and some I definitely had to spend some quality time in the original stories looking for themes I could tie to specific seasons. The only adaptation I staked a claim to early was Emma for Summer because I wanted to set it in a summer camp. There was also a lot of discussion with our fabulous cover designer Victoria Austen-Young from the get-go on what holidays we were looking at and ideas to incorporate those into covers while sticking with a theme.
Nancy: I really enjoyed all six seasons/holidays. My favourite as a writer was probably Valentine’s Day. I love Emma, and it’s such a perfect marriage of story and theme. Summer was the hardest! I’ve never been on a cruise or visited the Caribbean, so I did loads of research on both. I built my own itinerary by cobbling a few cruises together, and then I looked up so many places on TripAdvisor that they still send me emails offering to help plan my trip to Jamaica. Sigh…
Meredith: LOL! Nancy, that is too funny! Maybe one day you will follow Cat’s path and go on your own Caribbean adventure!
Melissa: I loved the seasons/holidays that we had. I remember a reader asking us if we would continue the series with Arbor Day or other random holidays. We all said, “No!” I loved having Persuasion for my summer story because the naval/beach aspect worked well for that. Writing the Valentine’s Day story was tough for me physically. I had shoulder surgery on December 19. The story was due shortly after the new year. I had written the story based on Mansfield Park before my surgery. I re-read it and HATED it. I scrapped it and started over again, typing with one hand, heavily medicated, crying copious tears. I ended up with a story that I liked. And I don’t hate Valentine’s Day
Meredith: It is interesting to hear how various ideas came to you all or how you knew before writing what themes you’d want to bring out with each holiday/season. One element I thoroughly enjoyed in these collections were the little threads that tied them together – the reoccurring characters, the businesses mentioned in different stories, and of course, Mansfield Perk. These threads made if feel like a whole world was created around these stories, and I absolutely loved it! How did the idea to connect some threads together come about?
Jessica: When we first started, we talked a lot about wanting to have crossovers in our stories and make it a cohesive world. We have a group board where we would post tidbits from our stories that we thought would make good crossovers. Mansfield Perk started as just one of those tidbits in the first collection (Christmas Cheer). I set my Mansfield Park version there and we kind of expanded it to a huge chain store so that everyone could use it… and it ended up being used in everyone’s stories for every collection! It was fun to see my fellow authors inventing drinks at each of their “local” Mansfield Perks.
Meredith: The Mansfield Perk drink creations and names were fantastic! I so wish I could order those drinks… I especially loved the seasonal ones (as I do in real life!) I’m not sure if I would be influenced more by the drink description or the name…
Kimberly: Yes! Mansfield Perk was all Jess! And the rest of us loved it so very much. We got a lot of fun notes about it after the first collection, so we kept it around
Rebecca: I think we all want Mansfield Perk to be real, and if we used it enough in our stories it sort of could be
The crossover tidbits and “Easter eggs” were some of the most fun elements! It was so neat to look at our stories and be like “oh, this could work if someone wanted to mention it”, like a scavenger hunt of your own story. And then sharing it so readers got this epic treasure hunt they weren’t expecting.
Nancy: Like Jess said, as we started working on each collection, we’d share ideas that had crossover potential in our group board. In summer, I think both Jennifer and I wanted to include a cruise. So she sent her characters on the same ship Cat and Henry were on, and I made sure they spotted them. For Valentine’s Day, I offered up Emma’s Cupid’s Secret to anyone who wanted to include a romantic Valentine… And of course, that worked perfectly for Rebecca’s Persuasion and Wentworth’s letter. Meanwhile, Frank gave Jane a Worth ring.
Looking at that, I think part of the secret of the crossover Easter eggs was the shared holiday theme. If you’re all writing about the same holiday, it’s easy to pull something holiday related from one story into another.
Meredith: That’s so brilliant that you wanted to have some aspects of the story crossover with each other from the very beginning. It truly did work out so well and like Rebecca said, it was a lot of fun for the reader to spot the “easter eggs” and discover the connecting links. One of the things that continued to impress me throughout the series was how it never felt repetitive. With six short stories inspired by the same six Jane Austen novels, you would think by the fifth or sixth book that new ideas or original slants might be challenging to establish. Was that ever the case? Was it challenging to not create a story too similar to another existing story in the series?
Kimberly: I think because we’re such diverse writers in our other books (mysteries, romances, YA, fantasy, etc.), we all kind of wanted to try new things in these stories. And I think we found that there are endless permutations to Jane’s tales! Having the themed collections helped us avoid repeating ourselves. If we’d all had to write a Christmas tale for each book, you’d definitely have seen some overlap.
Jennifer: I agree. The uniqueness of each story came naturally. I’m not aware of anyone who struggled to come up with a different spin. We were all free to write according to our unique visions and voices. I love Austen’s minor characters, so I chose to focus on Lydia for my P&P story and Harriet Smith for my Emma tale. These collections also gave me freedom to try my hand at some fantasy, which turned out to be my two favorite stories!
Nancy: I think the length helped, too. With only 10-20k to play with, we all had to pick our favourite parts of the stories, or the ones that best intersected with the season. And since we’re different people with different preferences, that meant we chose different angles.
Jennifer: Yes! I totally agree with Nancy.
Jessica: When I was excitedly inviting people to be a part of this series, I had a kind of balance in mind of styles. We all very very distinct styles and that helped with not writing “over” each other in our adaptations. Even when we focused on the same storyline. For example, Nancy and I both did Marianne/Brandon stories, but I don’t think she and I could write like each other if we tried.
Meredith: That’s awesome that it did not end up being a challenge at all! I loved seeing all the different angles and ways you all were inspired by Jane Austen’s characters and novels! The Holidays with Jane series is filled with such a lovely array of holidays and seasonal celebrations. For my last question, I’m wondering if you could choose any collection from the HwJ series to live in, which book would you choose and why?
Kimberly: Ooo! Living in one of our collections? I would definitely choose Christmas. It’s my favorite time of the year anyway and I will always adore what the other authors did with their tales. Jane Austen + Christmas = automatic adoration from me!
Rebecca: Such a hard question!! I’ve been thinking about the answer for this all day. And I’m still thinking, haha… I think I have it narrowed down to 2 though.
Jessica: If I were picking based just on season it would be spring or summer/ HOWEVER, I really loved what a lot of the authors did with the Valentines and Halloween stories! (Valentines Day is my least favorite holiday, so this is hard for me to admit.) I guess, I’d have to ultimately go for the Halloween collection!
Rebecca: Okay, so…. I think I’m going to have to go with the summer collection. Because as a whole, that one has so much going on and a variety of locations and/or activities.
As a bonus answer: if I had to pick a location itself? I’m totally all about Northanger, Georgia I created/used for several of my stories. I totally fell in love with the little town, and would happily live there for real.
Jennifer: I’m picking a collection under duress! I could happily exist in any of them. Because I’m being forced, I’d say Christmas Cheer. There’s a hint of magic, lots of Mansfield Perk coffee, designer gowns, a tinge of heartbreak, and all the romance and warmth you’d expect from Jane Austen in the Christmas season.
Melissa: A concur with everyone! I love all of the books. (Who is your favorite child?) I would pick...Summer of Love. It’s currently summer!
Meredith: Great answers, everyone! I too would find it hard to choose just one collection to live in, they all are so great and have so much to offer! But if I was coerced to choose, I think I’d pick Spring Fever or Summer of Love. Spring Fever has many memorable and creative stories that I just adored. And I love how you all celebrated different aspects of the summer season, it is my most favorite season! Thank you all for participating in this group interview!! It was such a treat to “chat” with you all together and learn more about this remarkable series! I appreciate all that went into the creation of these stories!
To celebrate our momentous interview together the lovely ladies of Holidays with Jane would like to giveaway a complete ebook set of the Holidays with Jane series! But to share the fun, we thought we’d pick 6 winners – 1 for each book in the series!
And since I love this series so much I’d like to give away a paperback copy of any book in the series (Winner’s choice!)
To enter this giveaway leave a comment sharing your thoughts on our interview, your favorite Holidays with Jane collection, or your favorite holiday/season!
- This giveaway is open worldwide. Thank you, authors!
- This giveaway ends July 4th!