Monday, November 09, 2009
FEATURED AUTHOR: Marilyn Brant
Marilyn Brant is the award-winning women's fiction author of ACCORDING TO JANE, the story of a modern woman who receives dating advice from the spirit of Jane Austen (October 2009), and her second forthcoming novel about three suburban moms who shake up their lives and their marriages (October 2010), both from Kensington Books.
As a former teacher, library staff member, freelance magazine writer and national book reviewer for Romantic Times, Marilyn has spent much of her life lost in literature. She received her M.A. in educational psychology from Loyola University Chicago, dabbled in both fiction and art at Northwestern University, studied the works of Austen at Oxford University and is an active member of the Jane Austen Society of North America. Her debut novel won RWA's prestigious Golden Heart Award® in 2007.
Marilyn lives in the northern Chicago suburbs with her family, but she also hangs out online at her blog "Brant Flakes." When she isn't rereading Jane's books or enjoying the latest releases by her writer friends, she's working on her next novel, eating chocolate indiscriminately and hiding from the laundry.
According to Jane:
It begins one day in sophomore English class, just as Ellie Barnett's teacher is assigning Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice. From nowhere comes a quiet "tsk" of displeasure. The target: Sam Blaine, the cute bad boy who's teasing Ellie mercilessly, just as he has since kindergarten. Entirely unbidden, as Jane might say, the author's ghost has taken up residence in Ellie's mind, and seems determined to stay there.
Jane's wise and witty advice guides Ellie through the hell of adolescence and beyond, serving as the voice she trusts, usually far more than her own. Years and boyfriends come and go--sometimes a little too quickly, sometimes not nearly fast enough. But Jane's counsel is constant, and on the subject of Sam, quite insistent. Stay away, Jane demands. He is your Mr. Wickham.
Still, everyone has something to learn about love--perhaps even Jane herself. And lately, the voice in Ellie's head is being drowned out by another, urging her to look beyond everything she thought she knew and seek out her very own, very unexpected, happy ending. . .
What would you like readers to take away from your book?
That a woman’s journey toward understanding her heart and listening to her own voice can, many times, take far longer than we would like. That the relationship odyssey is often treacherous and strewn with frustrating obstacles. But…the journey is worth it.
Why did you choose to write this book?
I fell in love with Austen’s Pride & Prejudice when I was 14 and couldn’t help but wish I had someone as wise as Jane to guide me through the perils of adolescence. In a way, writing According to Jane was a kind of wish fulfillment! Who better to offer romantic advice than the author who penned one of my favorite love stories of all time, right?
What did you learn while writing this book?
That a writer could tell a good story, but it takes something more to make it a publishable one. My book needed heavy structural revision in order to be marketable. It’s the same story it was when I was telling it chronologically but, in its current form (with flashbacks and other references to the past), it better fits in the women’s fiction genre. The publisher needed that clearer “fit” in order to sell it to the marketing/sales people who, in turn, needed that definitive genre placement to sell it to the bookstore chains.
What was your favorite scene/chapter from the book?
One scene I had a lot of fun writing was the bar scene in the first chapter where my main character runs into her ex-high-school boyfriend for the first time in four years. It was a situation I’d never experienced personally, but I could imagine the comical possibilities so clearly and feel and the frustration of my heroine as if I’d been the one standing there, facing the jerk and his latest girlfriend, while Jane Austen ranted about how “insufferable” he was.
What one thing about writing do you wish other non-writers would understand?
That just because I work from home, it doesn’t mean I’m always available. Fortunately, my friends understand this now, but people I don’t know as well are occasionally mystified by the fact that I can’t just take off in the middle of the day whenever I want. That being a writer requires a lot of self discipline to work, even when there isn’t a boss standing over you, demanding you to get your projects done.
What is the best lesson you have learned from another writer?
That it’s critical to maintain a healthy perspective about the publishing industry. Basically, to keep your priorities very clear so your life doesn’t fall into imbalance. My family is my #1 priority and everything else follows that. I can (and do) work hard at writing, but I’m trying to work equally hard at not being so obsessive about it that I lose too much time with those I love or miss important events.
What is the toughest test you've faced as a writer?
That, once I had a contract, I’d have far less time to actually write! This has been one of the biggest challenges for me. I now have to split my true writing time with promotion and publicity. In some ways, it’s helped me use the real writing time more efficiently--I don’t have a half hour to web surf for just the perfect name for some character’s pet, I need to get to the heart of the narrative much faster and save some of the detail hunting for later. Regardless, it’s proven to be quite a juggling act: promoting book #1, revising and finalizing book #2, drafting book #3…simultaneously…while also still trying to have a family life and make time to sleep/eat/shower. Also, authors are no longer quite so anonymous in today’s world. Aside from the work of keeping up with my online life, the fact that my photo is visible on my website, blog, Facebook page, etc. has made me a more frequently recognized person in my community. That, too, has been surprising, and it’s led to some rather interesting, impromptu conversations at the local Piggly Wiggly.
What was the best advice you’d ever gotten about the publishing industry? The worst?
The best advice was an essay I read that stressed understanding that book reviews (or manuscript critiques) are not personal. The reviewer brings his/her own biases to the story and, in the end, the review is more of a reflection of the reviewer’s beliefs, tastes and values than a commentary on your story. And this is true whether that commentary ends up being positive or negative.
The worst advice I was given was from an editor who told me I should rewrite my book to fit a a particular genre just because that was a hot market… I did not follow that advice AT ALL, and I don’t regret it!
Can you give us one do and one don’t for those aspiring to be a writer?
DO: Work to really understand WHY you write. This is a personal thing, of course, and it’s rare that two writers in a room would share the exact same reason, but what’s YOUR draw? Crafting characters? Plotting something dramatic/suspenseful/funny/heartwarming? The possibility of fame, fortune and lengthy book tours? What brings you back to your notebook or your computer screen, even without a contract nudging you? Remember that and cherish it.
DON’T: Write to trends--write only what you love and feel passionate about.
I borrowed this question from Author Carleen Brice, What is your author fantasy?
Oh, I’m secretly, unrelentingly ambitious, even when I have no right to be. Of course I want the NYT bestseller list *and* the movie. Also, an Oprah invitation and a few RITAs. However, these are not quite enough to satisfy every daydream I’ve ever had. I’d greatly enjoy winning an Emmy, a Grammy, an Oscar, a Tony and an Olympic gold medal (in both ice skating and gymnastics). The fact that I’m pathetic on skates and terrified of the uneven bars is, in no way, a deterrent from these unrealistic fantasies. My simple ability to *imagine* them, makes them almost real. Furthermore, I like shiny things (although I don’t like to dust them), so I hereby promise that if I win ANY heavy golden statuettes--ever--I will dust faithfully. Especially that Grammy award. Really.
What is something readers would be surprised you do?
I used to dance! I was in a touring folk dance group during college and spent a summer dancing at festivals throughout Europe. It was an exhausting and fabulous experience.
Five questions about books:
One book that you have read more than once. Love Story by Erich Segal
One book you would want on a desert island. A very large blank journal (and a pen…)
One book that made you laugh. The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy
One book that made you cry. Never Change by Elizabeth Berg
One book you wish you'd written. (Only one?!) Nobody’s Baby But Mine by Susan Elizabeth Phillips
Our theme for this month is Time Management. Do you have any tips on making time for writing?
Something I do when I’ve only got a few minutes to work and know I might get interrupted is to just grab a notebook page and a pen and jot down (in list form) “things that need to happen in the next scene.” I can expand on an idea if I think of further details and (if time allows) put the events in order. That way, when I’m at my computer and really have time to sit and type that next scene, I’m going into it with some very specific ideas of what’s happening in the plot and with the emotional arcs of the characters.
How can readers get in contact with you? (mail, email, website)
My website is www.marilynbrant.com and I have a Press/Contact page with a snail mail and an email address. I’m also on Facebook, GoodReads and have a Yahoo group, and those sites are listed there, too.
Can you give us a sneak peek of your next book?
My next book is called Fridays at Nine, and it’s a modern fairy tale about three suburban forty-something moms who meet for coffee every Friday morning. One day, one of the women asks her friends if they think they made the right choice in marrying the man they did…and if they’d make any changes if they could. Each woman must figure out how to answer that question for herself…
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