Books: austenland
  From ostensibly jane to austenland

In fall 2000, after over a year of on-again, off-again writing of a novel that would become the goose girl, I finally had a complete draft worth showing. I sent it off to a writer friend to read and suddenly found myself with no immediate writing project. I was already a fairly obsessive writer, used to having my daily time of computer torture, so I looked for an in-between project. My Austen story. It had been bubbling inside me for a few years, and I thought it might make a nice short story. After the anguish I endured completing a first draft of a novel, I wasn’t eager to return to novel-land again in a hurry. Yes, a nice short story. That would be just the thing.

So I wrote a story called “Ostensibly Jane,” about a woman named Lydia, a wealthy business woman who takes a vacation at an Austen-themed estate and winds up finding unexpected romance. How did it turn out? I won’t tell, but it wasn’t the same ending you’ll find in austenland.

I showed it to my husband, I showed it to my friend Rosi. Both agreed—“Um, nice, but it doesn’t quite work.”

I reworked it with their comments, making it longer, returning to it between drafts of the goose girl. By draft 5 it had a new ending (nope, still a different one from the ultimate conclusion of austenland). I showed it to my sister, my husband, my new agent—“Um, nice, but it doesn’t quite work. And there’s really no market for novellas.”

I saw it like a movie in my head, so I tried to write it into a screenplay. After researching screenplay writing and wrestling with it for awhile, I thought, what am I doing? I’m a novelist, not a screenwriter. Stick to what you know, stupidhead. (Yes, sometimes I call myself stupidhead, but I mean it kindly.)

This story spread itself in my life like a large, sleeping dog—not insisting much, but often underfoot to suddenly trip me. Every so often, I’d open the file I had and read a random page, and I’d think, “I like this story! Why doesn’t anyone else?” And I’d fiddle with it a bit, get discouraged, and return to whatever real project I was working on at the time (enna burning followed the goose girl, and then princess academy and river secrets).

Finally I took the time to dig deep, changed the main character, found more of her story to tell, and wrote it into a short novel. I showed it around. “Um, nice, but…” So I put it on hold yet again. By now I had three young adult books published, a fourth on its way, and my writing career was very satisfying. I had no reason to pursue this squirmy little short story/novella/novel that no one seemed to like but me. Then I would open up the file (sometimes to escape a particularly brutal writing session), read a random page, and think again, “I like this!” Clearly I had fallen in love with what the book could be, not with what it was. So I tried again to make it what it could be. And again. And again. I showed it to more writing friends, who gave wonderful advice and encouragement. I kept at it between other novels, kept trying to find Jane Hayes and her story. Eventually, I thought, here she is.

In early 2006 I sent it to an agent. She read it overnight and called me the next day. She sent it to over a dozen editors. Many began to turn it down, some were still considering, then we got an offer from Bloomsbury. They are the same publisher with whom (at this point) I’ve published four other books with four more on the way, but oddly this wasn’t an in-house connection. I’d never worked with the adult side of the house—it was just a quirky coincidence that they were the ones to fall in love with the story.

At last! Someone besides me falling in love with the story! From the beginning, this has been what I think of as a dessert project. I never had high expectations that it would see print. Everything that comes out of it is a bonus, a gift, a bowl of chocolate soup with meringue islands or homemade pistachio ice cream. How lovely to have a dessert project reach the table.

The title changed from ostensibly jane to austenland (my friends and family still stubbornly refer to it by the original title). It got a beautiful jacket and, huzzah!, is setting off to greet the world and cheer other Austen fans and silly women like me who adored Colin Firth’s Mr. Darcy just a little too much.

Here’s my word count record of a dozen of the drafts I did over six years:

1 – 10,700
2 – 11,500
3 – 13,000
4 – 14,500
5 – 17,500
6 – 37,290
7 – 40,200
8 – 46,286
9 – 46,627
10 – 49,900
11 – 52,600
12 – 53,000

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