I am thrilled to welcome Jessica Grey to my blog today-she has a new book out called, "Attempting Elizabeth". It sounds fascinating and I asked her if she would tell us all about it!
Pride and Prejudice through the looking glass...or how a writer creates problems for herself.
Attempting Elizabeth started with a basic idea - what if an Austen fan found that she could jump into characters in Pride and Prejudice? Kelsey, the heroine, is living every Austen fan’s dream as she get to experience what it’s like to be in her favorite story. Writing Kelsey’s quest to finally “become” Elizabeth Bennet was loads of fun, but the book couldn’t be only about jumping in and out of Pride and Prejudice. We have to care just as much about Kelsey’s real life as we do her novel-jumping abilities. And so the romance between Kelsey and Australian Mark Barnes was born.
I wanted their romance to mirror the story of Pride and Prejudice. However, as my character is such an Austen fan herself, I figured if she met a real life Mr. Darcy she’d be all over him. In fact, she is so interested in finding a real Mr. Darcy that she misses out on a lot, which is why it made more sense to me to make Kelsey the Darcy. Yes, you read that right: Attempting Elizabeth has a modernized, gender role reversal version of Pride and Prejudice working in conjunction with the fun postmodern, novel-jumping story. And on top of Kelsey being a girl version of Darcy, the reader has to be able to like her! The book is written in first person so that the reader can experience the novel-jumping from her point of view, but that means we also have to experience her internal Darcy-ness.
So the problem I set up for myself as a writer was how to write a modern, female Mr. Darcy that readers will like and identify with? And, conversely, how to write a modern, male Elizabeth Bennet that can still be a sexy hero. No big deal.
For Kelsey, I chose to focus on the awkwardness and uncertainty I see in Darcy’s character. He is proud, but he is also naturally shy. For Kelsey, much of her shyness around Mark comes from her own self-doubt, her inability to trust that people will like her for her. And yet, even though she is shy and doubts herself, she is such a strong personality that she can’t help but be herself even when she’s playing the part of Austen’s characters. When she comes up against the natural “ease and liveliness” of Mark’s personality sparks fly and Kelsey begins to recognize her own Darcy-like tendencies.
While Attempting Elizabeth is a fun, postmodern fantasy about entering a fictionalized world, at it’s heart it is really a love story about two people with very different personalities - different enough that they’re a perfect fit for each other. I hope Jane would approve.
Excerpt from Attempting Elizabeth
I almost jumped out of my skin, Tori’s voice was startlingly close. I hadn’t heard her come up.
“Are you trying to give me a heart attack?” I demanded.
“What are you doing out here? I thought the point was to have fun and dance.” Tori handed me another drink. “I went back to the bar and Hottie is missing...” she trailed off, glancing over my shoulder. “Don’t look now, but Hottie is right there. Oh my god, I think he is coming over here. Maybe he’s gonna ask you to dance!”
I sighed. “Tor, I don’t care. I don’t want to dance with anyone, especially not some slacker who tends bar for a living. I don’t care how hot everyone else thinks he is. I want to go home and take off these stupid shoes and go to bed.”
Tori’s eyes were getting wider and wider as I spoke, and I had a sudden sinking feeling. “He’s right behind me isn’t he?”
She nodded slowly. I was pretty sure her eyes couldn’t possibly get any bigger without popping right off her face. I turned around, my mouth dry, and there he was, just a foot or so behind me. I didn’t know if he had overheard what I’d said. I hoped he hadn’t. He looked more vaguely amused than angry. There was a dimple playing around the edges of his mouth. At the sight of that dimple I felt suddenly weak in the knees. The thought occurred to me that there would be worse fates than spending some time on the dance floor with him.
“I’m sorry—” I started, just in case he had heard me.
“You’re Tori Mansfield, yeah?” He ignored me completely and directed his question at my friend.
"Mark Barnes,” he extended a hand, and Tori, after a brief pause, took it and shook it. “I didn’t recognize you at first. You’re Charlie’s girlfriend, right?”
“Yes, how do you know Charlie...I mean...recognize me? I think I would have remembered meeting you.” Tori blushed.
“I go to Charlie’s poker games on Monday nights. I’ve seen your picture. I didn’t realize it was you until I saw you talking with Danny. I was taking a break, so I just thought I’d come over and say hi.”
He hadn’t looked at me since he’d cut me off, but as he said that, his dark eyes slid over to me with an amused glint.
Oh. My. God. He had heard me. And double oh my god—he’s been in my apartment. Charlie uses our kitchen for his stupid poker games because neither Tori or I are home on Monday nights. Those pictures Hottie, er, Mark, had seen of Tori had most likely included me. They were hanging on the walls of our living room and stuck onto our fridge with “I Love Chocolate” and “Only Mr. Darcy Will Do” magnets.
“Well, it’s so nice to meet you, Mark.” Tori’s voice sounded wrong. Was she...no, she couldn’t possibly be flirting? “This is my friend, Kelsey.”
“Hi,” I managed.
“Nice to meet you.” His voice was completely disinterested, and I noticed he didn’t offer me a handshake like he had Tori.
Triple oh my god. Not only had he heard me, he was annoyed. I really hadn’t meant anything by it. I was just cranky and tired and wanted to go home. But I’d managed to insult him and his profession all in his hearing ‘cause I hadn’t believed Tori that über Hottie was walking toward us. Although, she had been wrong, he wasn’t coming to ask me to dance…’cause, well, right? I mean the skirt was working for me, but I doubt it was working quite that much.
I figured the best thing to do was just lapse back into silence. I wasn’t really sure what to say in the situation. So I didn’t say anything. Mark asked Tori some question, I didn’t even really hear what it was because I was too busy trying not to look like the very awkward third wheel I was obviously becoming to this conversation. I caught Charlie’s name in Tori’s reply, so I’m guessing it had something to do with where he was for the evening.
It was cold, so I crossed my arms across my chest, balancing my drink in one hand. I tried not to glance at Mark's very well defined pectoral muscles as he chatted with Tori. But I failed. After a few minutes the conversation wrapped up and he turned to me with a small half smile and repeated his earlier “nice to meet you.” I mumbled something in return and then he was gone.
As soon as he was out of earshot, Tori hit me with her purse. “What is wrong with you?” she hissed.
Thank you, Jessica, for being my guest today and I wish you the best of luck with your novel! I am sure everyone will be intrigued to read it!!!