Oh, and don't miss the excerpt from Pride/Prejudice at the end of the post.
Tell us about your recent publication.
Pride/Prejudice is what I call “the hidden story” of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. It takes the same characters and plot and brings to light the homoerotic subtext. Most of us are familiar with the central romance, of proud Mr. Darcy and prejudiced Elizabeth Bennet, and how they learn the truth behind their mistaken “first impressions” (Austen’s original title). But I see a similar development in the relationships between Mr. Darcy and his “gentlemanlike” friend Mr. Bingley, and between Elizabeth and her friend Charlotte. In both cases, one of the partners has to learn to respect the other’s choices and to treat him or her as an equal.This is a bisexual love story: the same-sex relationships are in addition to the m/f ones, not instead of them. I’m not changing the story, only showing a part of it that couldn’t be seen in Austen’s time. I don’t think Austen was consciously writing “bisexual” characters; that’s a modern way of categorizing people. But the kind of friendship she portrayed between Mr. Darcy and Mr. Bingley, the affectionate but domineering control that Mr. Darcy wields, can very easily support a sexual interpretation. Elizabeth’s sense of betrayal at Charlotte’s marriage to the loathsome Mr. Collins also carries an implication of jealousy. And the exploitative relationship between Mr. Darcy and Wickham practically requires a sexual aspect to make sense of it.
What gave you the idea for this story?
Writing my first novel, Phyllida and the Brotherhood of Philander. That story took a traditional Georgette Heyer form of the Regency romance—a witty, drawing-room comedy of manners—sexed it up, and queered it by making the hero “slightly bisexual” (as I described him in my presentation for a conference—see below). The idea was to use all the clichés or standard tropes of these m/f romances—the alpha male rakish hero, the marriage of convenience, and the Bertie Wooster-ish group of the hero’s friends—to tell an m/m/f romance, giving the hero a hea with his wife and his boyfriend.
Phyllida has a minor subplot in which the hero thinks his wife is the author of Sense and Sensibility, which was published anonymously. (She actually writes trashy gothic novels.) And it got me thinking about Pride and Prejudice, because I saw the possibility in that novel for a similar m/m/f situation. Because P&P was published in 1813, it’s usually read as taking place in 1812, so it was a natural progression from writing an m/m/f love story set in 1812 to telling P&P as an m/m/f story—or slightly m/m/f/f.
Why do you write?
When I started, it was to write the kind of thing I wanted to read but didn’t see anyone else writing: an m/m/f love story in the form of a traditional m/f romance novel. I think of Phyllida as my fantasy autobiography—what’s sometimes called a “Mary Sue.” If I could go back into the fictional past and be the heroine of a Regency romance, this would be it.
Working on P/P was a very different experience. I wasn’t writing “my” story; I was writing Jane Austen’s story, trying very hard not to change it, but to bring out some of the hidden aspects. Writing about other characters, as opposed to a version of me and my fantasies, changed how I felt about writing.Now I think it’s more like what real writers do: they look for truths—about the world, about themselves, about relationships—by telling a made-up story. I see writing as a conversation with readers. It’s not just me talking to my computer. When we write something intended for publication we hope other people will read it and be moved by it. I’m still writing for myself, in the sense that writing fiction allows me to be completely honest—or as close as anyone can get. But I’m also putting this candid viewpoint out there and saying, “This is what interests me, what turns me on, what makes me laugh. What do you think?” Naturally I’m going to get negative responses as well as positive ones, but that’s what it’s all about—a way to reveal, through my fiction, the true self that feels hidden within my physical being and day-job existence, and see how other people react to it.
To what/whom do you credit your success?
First: to the fact that I write comedy within an old-fashioned narrative style. People can enjoy my stories on different levels: as genuine romance or as a humorous take on a familiar genre or story. Most of the books I read growing up were written at least fifty years ago (I’m almost 55), and many of them had a style that’s deceptively easy. The reader assumes it was as easy to write as it is to read. Only when you try to emulate it do you find out how hard it is to achieve. But I keep trying.
Second: my editor at HarperCollins. He’s the one who, in his words, “came across” the POD Phyllida and liked it enough to give it a chance at real publication. It was the humor that attracted him. HC published Phyllida as regular fiction, not as romance, and I think my editor was surprised that some readers took it seriously as a love story. Many people assume I was one of the select few to be picked out of the slush pile, and want to know my secret. The truth is even stranger. I did send my manuscript to publishers and agents, but gave up after six months and did print-on-demand instead.
Third: I also have to thank some influential bloggers, especially Michelle Buonfiglio and her blog, Romance B(u)y The Book, and the Smart Bitches, Trashy Novels. They both gave the POD Phyllida great publicity, and I suspect this was one of the reasons my eventual editor decided it was worth a look.
How did you start writing?
I had read a number of Marion Zimmer Bradley Darkover novels years ago. I especially liked The Heritage of Hastur with its homoerotic coming-of-age story and the villain, Dyan Ardais, who is primarily same-sex oriented but admits to being “a man of impulse”—desiring a woman, even marrying, on one or two occasions. Then, much later, I found a book of Darkover fanfiction. Like all overconfident neophytes, I thought I could do as well as some of those writers, and I sat down and wrote a story, told in the first person, about being one of Dyan Ardais’s “impulses.” (Yes, reader, I married him.)
The story sucked, but at the time I was quite pleased with it. I wrote several more, chronicling the adventures of the little family I created with Dyan, his boyfriends, and our two children. Eventually the stories became longer, then novellas. I had written two full-length novels and was halfway through a third when I realized two things: 1) Bradley had stopped permitting fanfiction, so all this work was unpublishable; and 2) while my first efforts were atrocious, I had gotten better with practice and could perhaps try to publish something. That’s when I switched to Regency romance. The comic mood of most regencies suits my voice, and it was a genre I felt comfortable working in.
If you could change one thing about the publishing industry, what would it be?
Publicity. I would make it possible for new, marginal writers to get publicity, like readings, interviews—ideally, a book tour—if they want it.
When the big publishing houses pay an enormous advance to a celebrity or bestselling author, they obviously don’t want to lose that investment, so they’re willing to put additional money into publicity to make sure the book performs up to expectations. Authors like me, who get very small advances, aren’t worth the extra expense. If our books don’t sell, the publisher hasn’t lost hundreds of thousands or even millions of dollars, only a very few thousand. There’s no point in throwing any more money down the drain after that initial small loss.Blogging is just about the only way new authors have to promote ourselves, and I’m not very good at it. Public appearances and interviews are much easier for me. It’s something I enjoy doing, and I think most books sell better when the author is right there with readers, face to face, answering questions and sharing her pleasure in her work. But it only happens now for the few authors who already have the big sales or get a big advance, and can be counted on to fill seats. I would be willing to set aside some of my minuscule advance for PR instead of taking it as cash, but since I would need help making the arrangements and getting gigs, I suspect the publishers would still consider it not worth the trouble.
Of course, being featured in a special segment like this Author Spotlight is much, much more fun than trying to be a conscientious blogger or Twitterer—and I thank you for giving me the opportunity!
What is your proudest moment as an author?Being invited to be a panelist—a speaker—at the conference held at Princeton University last year called “Love as the Practice of Freedom? Romance Fiction and American Popular Culture.” My proudest moment was meeting the other panelists: multiply-published romance novelists like Jennifer Crusie and Eloisa James; and scholars like Stephanie Coontz, author of the pioneering nonfiction work, Marriage, a History: How Love Conquered Marriage—and then standing up and speaking about my one published book (at the time), and realizing I was, however briefly, part of this group.
Kirk, or Spock?
Spock. I figure he must be bisexual, as it’s the most logical orientation, being open to relationships with both (or all) sexes ;)
Here's an excerpt from Ann's newest release, Pride/Prejudice:
Excerpt from Pride/Prejudice by Ann Herendeen, HarperCollins publisher.
That first ball in the Meryton assembly rooms lingered in Fitzwilliam Darcy’s late-night torments for weeks. It had all gone as he had foreseen. Every family in the neighborhood had made a point of calling on Charles as soon as he moved in—even before. “I scarcely had my furniture unloaded and my trunks unpacked,” he remarked in his cheerful, uncomplaining way, “when the local squires began riding up to ‘get acquainted,’ as they said.”
The ball reflected the fruits of their labor, all the gentry for miles around attending, and worse, all the dreary, middling sort of people, the attorneys and the merchants, anyone who had acquired sufficient capital to retire from business or buy a tiny plot of land and could now call himself a gentleman. That in itself was bad enough, but naturally they all had families, and for some reason their progeny ran to daughters—at least that’s how it looked to Fitz.
“My goodness!” Caroline Bingley said, gliding up to take his arm. “It’s like a scene from some disreputable opera.”
For once Fitz was in agreement, and grateful for her protection. He could only be thankful that he had had the good sense to stay in town until the previous evening and had not had a chance to be introduced to anyone; he could therefore claim to be unable to ask any of this enormous local harem to dance.
Charles was already dangerously entangled, with a plump, glowing girl, all smiles and lush curves, just the sort that would be considered the beauty of this benighted backwater. In London, of course, she’d be dismissed as a country milkmaid, but Charles conversed so spiritedly with her during the dance, and was on the verge of claiming her for an ill-advised second set, that Fitz attempted to intervene.
“Quite a prize, eh?” A vacuous old tradesman who had been elevated to the rank of knight took hold of Fitz’s arm as he stepped forward to put a word in Charles’s ear.
“I beg your pardon?” Fitz said, lowering his eyelids with disdain at the man’s coarse, red face.
“Miss Bennet,” Sir William Lucas said. “Our own native rose, you know. It seems your friend hasn’t wasted any time. We may see some interesting developments soon, eh, what?”
Fighting the urge to plant the mushroom a facer, Fitz turned away and almost collided with Charles. “Not dancing, Fitz? How can you be so stupid?”
Fitz shrugged. “You are dancing with the only handsome girl in the room, other than your sisters.”
“Oh, Miss Bennet is the most beautiful creature I ever beheld!” Charles exclaimed, his voice unnecessarily loud over the thin strains of music from the small orchestra. “But there’s her sister forced to sit down, and almost as pretty. Why not ask her?”
Despite his best efforts, Fitz couldn’t help sliding his eyes in the direction of the seated girl, curious as to how the sister of a country beauty would appear—buck teeth, perhaps, or a giggler, or spotty—and by the worst of bad luck his eyes met hers as, sensing his covert scrutiny, she turned her head toward his side of the room. Wide, dark brown eyes, fringed with delicate lashes; expressive, humorous eyes, yet earnest; lively but honest. Gentle and innocent as a doe’s but with the wit of a philosopher. Playful and seductive as a kitten’s but with humanity and Christian grace to temper any impropriety…
Fitz felt himself blushing like a schoolboy, frowned, and looked away. By God! He would not be made a fool of! “I’m afraid she is not handsome enough to tempt me,” he said, ashamed of the words as soon as they left his mouth. “You had much better return to your charming partner and leave me to my uncharitable solitude.” He watched Charles follow his advice, annoyed at being obeyed so promptly, and became aware of Caroline standing nearby, apparently having witnessed the entire disgraceful incident.
“Miss Bingley,” Fitz said, giving a slight bow and attempting a smile. “Will you do me the honor?”
“Why, Mr. Darcy,” she said, “I worried, for one breathless moment, that Cupid’s arrow had pierced your heart.”
“What the de— I mean, whatever are you talking about?” Fitz said.
“But then I recalled,” Caroline continued, “that you do not possess a heart to be wounded.”
Fitz was grinding his teeth as he led her out to form the quadrille.
That night was pure torture, and only the fact that mortals rarely possess the gift of foresight, and Fitz could not, thankfully, anticipate that worse was to follow, allowed him to bear his trials with gentlemanly composure.
“Wasn’t it splendid!” Charles said, standing so temptingly naked in the center of the bedroom, arms outflung in rapture, twirling slowly and tilting his head up to stare for some reason at the ceiling.
“Very nice,” Fitz said.
“Nice?” Charles repeated. “Nice? That is the most mewling, pathetic, inadequate word in the English language. The ball shall be anything you say, except nice.”
“Very well,” Fitz said. “It was not nice in the least. It was horrid. It was hot, crowded, dreary, noisy—and noisome.”
“You mean it stank?” Charles was diverted. “Now you’re teasing. Explain yourself.”
Fitz stretched his long limbs on the bed, artfully displaying the beginning of tumescence over the curve of a muscular thigh. “Come here, you provoking creature, and I’ll explain at length.”
Charles let his arms fall to his sides, and his mouth drooped. He was not hard—a disturbing and unwelcome development. “You know, Fitz, I’ve been wondering if we’re getting too old for this.”
Something pierced Fitz’s heart, and it wasn’t Cupid’s arrow. He willed himself into control. “What do you mean, my dear?” he asked.
“Surely I don’t have to recite your lessons back to you,” Charles said. “This. Us. All that Achilles-and-Patroclus, Damon-and-Piteous stuff you talk about.”
“Pythias,” Fitz corrected. “What is it, Charles? Do you doubt my feelings for you?”
“No, never,” Charles said. “But Fitz, you always called it a youthful love.” He paused, looking down at himself, as if the question had arisen within his body, in his chest, covered with silky hair, or his slim waist with its trail of that same dark hair leading to the dense thatch at his crotch. When he spoke again, his words tumbled out in a nervous rush. “That beautiful girl tonight. Miss Bennet. She made me think that maybe it’s time for me to put aside childish things.”
Fitz took several breaths and counted to ten, then to twenty and backward to one. “I see,” he said, when he had his voice so modulated that his desire to commit brutal murder did not leak through. “A scheming, mercenary female, who from the look of her is on the cusp of becoming an old maid, finds that Providence has dropped a handsome, unattached young man with a considerable fortune into her sphere. Even before her first dance with this savior is finished, she has so poisoned her innocent victim’s mind with thoughts of matrimony that he—”
“Stop it!” Charles shouted. “Just stop it! It’s not amusing in the least.” He strode to the door, yanked it open with such force that he almost struck himself in the face, remembered he was naked and slammed it shut again. “Just let me find my dressing gown and I’ll leave you to your poisonous thoughts.”
Fitz had already risen to the occasion. He wrapped Charles in a strong embrace, pressing what was left of his by now dwindling erection against his friend’s equally flaccid member. “My dear,” he whispered. “My dearest, sweet man. Forgive me. I think only of you, of your welfare. You know I never wish to hurt you.”
Charles tried to free himself but was no match for Fitz’s strength. “Let me go, Darcy,” he said. His voice was icy, as Fitz had never heard it.
Fitz released Charles and stepped back, as one does instinctively from attack. “Please, Charles,” he said. “Let’s not quarrel over this.”
“It’s too late,” Charles said. “We already have. Haven’t we?”
“Not if we don’t allow a trivial exchange to enlarge into a disagreement,” Fitz said. “Whatever I said was meant in kindness to you. And I humbly and deeply apologize for any unintended affront to your beautiful Miss Bennet.” This time his voice shook with the lie, but it worked to his advantage.
“Oh, Fitz,” Charles said, remorse flooding him at last. “You know I can never stay angry with you.” He lay down on the bed.
Hallelujah! Fitz thought, blasphemously and with Low Church vulgarity.
“She is lovely, though, isn’t she?”
“What?” Fitz’s hand was involuntarily arrested on its path to Charles’s lovely thick cock.
“Miss Bennet. Isn’t she the most beautiful lady you’ve ever seen? And do you want to hear what’s even better?”
“Please,” Fitz said, the last vestige of arousal draining from him like bilge from a beached ship’s hold. “I’m all aquiver with curiosity.”
“She has the sweetest disposition of any woman I’ve ever known,” Charles replied, oblivious to any sarcasm.
“She would, naturally,” Fitz muttered, but softly, so Charles heard nothing of the words.
“Let me tell you everything she said,” Charles said, nestling into Fitz’s arms, resting his head on Fitz’s shoulder as if they had already fucked themselves into exhaustion instead of having stopped everything dead from some sort of willful perversity.
“Yes, do,” Fitz said. “Tell me everything.” He might as well get it over with, he thought, giving the night up for lost. Dawn was almost here anyway, and they’d have only a precious couple of hours of sleep. Pity what little time they had was wasted on hearing that, amazing as it seemed, this aging country maiden was possessed of every virtue and free of every vice.
In the end, Charles allowed Fitz one quick romp before snuffing out the candle, but it was an unsatisfying, hasty business, and Fitz was so discomposed by the insipid narration preceding it that it turned into a dry bob instead of the real thing. He could tell Charles’s heart and soul were far away, across the meadows in the neighboring village of Longbourn, where this damnable Miss Bennet was no doubt lying equally chastely in her sister’s arms and enumerating dear Charles’s considerable and genuine good qualities. . .
Which was what led to his body’s failure, Fitz realized later. The sister’s beautiful eyes had intruded on his mental vision just at what should have been the height of pleasure. Fitz imagined her watching him, those innocent but wise orbs staring unblinking while he groaned and sweated over Charles’s firm buttocks, and he lost whatever meager strength he had regained.
“Never mind, love,” Charles said. “It’s late. You’re tired, that’s all.”
“Yes,” Fitz agreed, taking the path of least resistance. “But I am sorry.”
“Don’t be,” Charles said, stroking Fitz’s damp hair back from his high brow. “It’s only what I said before. We’re too old for this.”
This time the voice in Fitz’s brain rang its clarion warning, unmistakable: Get out now. Take Charles and get away.
He gave thanks every day since that he hadn’t listened.
From Pride/Prejudice by Ann Herendeen. Copyright Harper Paperbacks, 2010.
For more information visit: http://www.harpercollins.com/