The ladies of IndieJane.org are fast becoming a go-to site for writing inspiration and community for Austenesque authors. But who are the women behind the pink silhouettes? None other than Nancy Kelley and Jessica Melendez - who not only run their own separate blogs, find time to write and edit...and join us for the Teatime Ten.
Hello ladies, and welcome to the Teatime Ten! It's a thrill to have you here today! I love your site, IndieJane.org - tell me a little about how the two of you met, and the conversations that led you to creating this site. (And who did your logo?)
Jessica: Emily, thanks so much for having us on Teatime Ten! We are excited to be sharing with your readers about IndieJane.org! Nancy and I actually met on Twitter, more than a year ago. We followed each other on Twitter because we followed similar Austen-related tweeters and hashtags. We struck up a friendship over our similar interests, which seem to be legion! We actually use the hashtag #separatedatbirth because we tend to think the same things at the same time!
I had the basic idea for Indie Jane. I wanted a place that would be a community and support for independent Austen authors and for the fans who read their works. I felt like this was something that was being missed in the Austen community even though there are so many great small press and self-published Austenesque works out there! I sent Nancy an extremely long and rambling email about the idea, and she came back with so many brilliant ideas that it was mind-boggling. We partnered up and started Indie Jane . . . some of those brilliant ideas have already been incorporated into our community and some are still to come!
Our logo is awesome isn't it? I mean it's really flipping fantastic! It was created by my genius artist friend Victoria Austen-Young (and yes, she IS a related!) I told her I wanted regency Charlie's Angels, sent her pictures of some regency dresses and WOW! If you are interested in getting a logo or book cover art done by Tori shoot her an email at firstname.lastname@example.org
How did you come to read Jane Austen's works? What novel of hers do you return to time and again?
Jessica: I read Pride and Prejudice when I was really, really young. I am not even sure quite how young I was. I do know I was eleven when I read Wuthering Heights and I'd read P&P before that, so maybe ten? I was homeschooled and my parents had a very lenient policy on the classics . . . they were just there on shelves and if I said I was bored I was sent to go find something to read! We also had pretty free access to our local public library. I'd read all of Austen before high school, and of course managed to do at least three college papers on her novels. My two favorites are definitely P&P and Persuasion, although I have a special place in my heart for Northanger Abbey as well. I will admit that I have a horribly hard time getting behind Sense and Sensibility, which is why I got to do the "bad cop" questions for the Indie Jane S&S book club on our discussion boards! (We are doing Northanger Abbey next, you should join us!) [I'll certainly try! It's no secret I love Northanger Abbey! - ed.]
Nancy: I read Pride and Prejudice when I was 14 - a freshman in high school. When I was done, the school librarian recommended Sense and Sensibility... That did not go over well. (For the full story, check out my post on Indie Jane.) However, when I decided to write Jane Austen sequels a few years ago, I knew that meant reading all of her works. Powell's happened to have a pretty copy of Northanger Abbey on sale, so I picked that up and loved it. From there, I read through the rest of her works, and I should finish Mansfield Park sometime this winter.
Right now, I eat-breathe-sleep Pride and Prejudice. My first two novels are both related to that book - His Good Opinion is Darcy's story, and my current untitled WIP is about Colonel Fitzwilliam. Much as I love the book (and I do!), I will be glad to move on to other Austen works when I'm done with Col. F. Frank Churchill keeps buzzing in my ear, so I think Emma is my next obsession.
You both are hard at work at releasing forthcoming Austenesque novels! Tell us a little about them!
Jessica: First of all, I have read Nancy's book and it is ah-mah-zing! You must get it in November when it comes out! My book is in the much earlier stages, it is entitled Attempting Elizabeth and it is actually based on a short I wrote for the Jane Austen Made Me Do It short story contest. It follows a grad student, Sophie Edmundson, who is tired of looking for a real-life Mr. Darcy and discovers, purely by accident, that she can "jump" into characters in Pride and Prejudice. However, she seems to have a problem getting "into" the one character she'd really love to be - Elizabeth Bennet. It's a lot of fun to work on, and I hope a lot of fun to read!
Nancy: Isn't Jessica a great promoter? If you read Attempting Elizabeth when it was one of the entries in the Jane Austen Made Me Do It contest, you know it's an awesome story just dying to be expanded on. As I said, His Good Opinion is Darcy's story. Why was he so reluctant to think well of others, and how did Elizabeth so unwittingly capture his good opinion? What made her stand out from the crowd of women who would have coveted his wealth and position? And then, when he realized how badly he'd misjudged the situation, how did he learn to please a woman worthy of being pleased?
I loved writing this book. I became particularly attached to the version of Darcy I heard whispering hints in my ear... I'll miss the Darcy In My Head when His Good Opinion is finished.
Why do you feel that Austen authors thrive so well in the world of independent publishing? Are we really that tech savvy, or is traditional publishing that archaic?
Jessica: I think there are two reasons. Firstly, I think the Austen community is chock full of great writers. This could be because we are reading and emulating such a brilliant writer! Secondly, I think that the Austen community is more open to indie writers because so many authors come out of the fan fiction community, so there is more of a willingness by readers to embrace self-publishing.
Nancy: I think Jessica nailed it on the head. An audience that is already accustomed to reading works that are essentially self-published - because that's what fanfiction is - has very little qualms about buying from an indie author. If most of the well-respected traditionally published Austen authors came from a fanfiction background, then why wouldn't the self-published works by other authors be equally good?
In addition to writing fiction...you write about writing! Where do you like to write? What do you find is the biggest distraction from writing? What is essential for your routine and why?
Jessica: Writing about writing is funny for me, because I feel like I'm dispensing advice. I am such a huge believer in everyone's process being different and "whatever works for you works for you," so I often don't listen to writing advice, and here I am now giving it! I try to keep my loosey-goosey philosophy as front and center as I can though!
As for my process: I usually leave the house to write, either going to a coffee shop or my husband's office. I have a two year old and a three year old and their names are Distraction One and Distraction Two. I am pretty significantly ADD, so the two things that are essential to my routine are 1) caffeine (actually essential to daily life as well), and b) headphones with music. My music has to have lyrics, because the words filter through my brain just enough to divert whatever section of my hyper little mind needs to be occupied so the rest of me can focus.
Nancy: By contrast, I love to write about writing... usually. I can basically pull a writing post out of my hat, whereas an Austen or publishing post requires a bit more thought. Writing about writing is just saying, "Hey, here's something that happened to me this week, and here's how it applies to writing." Easy!
I generally write at home, either on my couch if I'm editing or at my desk if I'm writing new material. However, I have a strong partiality for a certain coffee shop a few miles from my house... Oh, their oatmeal scones... Sorry, you asked about distractions? Right. The internet and all the wonderful people who live there is my biggest distraction. On Twitter, I use the hashtag #coneofsilence to indicate my attempt at ignoring you all and focusing on my work. Sometimes that doesn't work and I actually have to pull the plug for a time. And essential... I don't know. I can write with or without music, with or without a beverage, with or without my cat draped over my legs... I'm pretty flexible.
Recently, you've launched the Jane Austen penpal exchange! How did that come about? How is it going?
Jessica: The Dear Jane Pen Pal Project is an exciting new part of the Indie Jane community. It came about through a conversation on Twitter with Patricia Marquez or @PattyMarq. She was lamenting the fact that people don't write handwritten letters anymore, and wouldn't it be cool if Austenites could exchange letters, so I immediately suggested we utilize Indie Jane to put it together. Right now we have over forty participants from nine different countries exchanging letters! The first installment of Dear Jane asked for a six month commitment. At the end of the six months we will run sign-ups again, so if you missed out the first time look for a new opportunity early next year!
Jess, I love that you're also a fantasy/fairy tale author. What correlation do you find between writing Regency and writing Fantasy?
Thanks Emily! And I love talking fairy tales with you on Twitter! My first self-published novel, Awake: A Sleeping Beauty Story, is due out in February. You can actually read the synopsis and first chapter of it on my blog. In a way, fantasy is easier to write than Regency. There is magic after all, so you make your own rules. The hard part of fantasy is creating a world or a system that is cohesive and true to itself. In Regencies, all of those rules are already set for you; you just have to learn them! Of course that is the difficult part - lots of research! However, I do see similarities between the two because to modern audiences Regencies are a fantasy. I am not sure if I'd be more shocked if I walked into the Sleeping Beauty fairy tale as does Alex Martin, my main character in Awake, or if I walked into a Regency England. Both are so far removed from the actual life experience of readers, and that is why both genres make for great escapist fiction.
Nancy, I can't thank you enough again for your hosting the Dueling Fitzwilliams on Indie Jane! Anything else you'd care to spill about your Fitzwilliam (or for that matter your Frank Churchill)?
You're welcome, Emily! Those #Austenesque twitter chats were certainly serendipitous, weren't they? Since my Colonel Fitzwilliam story is still in its infancy, I think I probably covered almost everything I know about him in the survey. Frank Churchill however... now there's a juicy subject! It's a story no one has really told, which draws me in, and like Darcy and Fitzwilliam, he's been talking to me lately. He feels a little misunderstood, and he wants everyone to know that he was simply so swept away by his deep affection for Jane that he impetuously made some decisions that, in the cold light of day, might not have been the most... well... you understand.
How do the two of you work together as a blogging team? As a writing/editing team? What advice would you have for those who are interested in teaming up?
Jessica: Well, like I've said in previous posts on Indie Jane, Nancy is a definite planner, and I am kind of a by-the-seat-of-my-pantser. Luckily, I'm good enough at planning, and she's good enough at being flexible, that we get on well together. One of the first things that we did was decide what kind of posts we were going to focus on, and then we split them up equally and created a shared calendar so we both know where we are at. The nice thing is we can email each other (usually with the header "brilliant idea") and suggest or change things.
I think the two most important things to look for if you are teaming up with someone is 1) you have to like the person and 2) you have to share a vision. If you are looking for different things it's not going to work out, but if you can come to a unified, cohesive understanding of what you want to do with your blog/site/book/project, then you will be working toward the same goal. And it is so much easier to work toward the same goal than at cross-purposes with each other!
Nancy: Jessica did a great job talking about the Indie Jane process, so I'll tackle writing/editing. If you're looking for a critique partner, your goal should be to find someone who reads the genre you're writing. You want them to get as excited about your story as you are, and if it's not something they normally read, that'll be hard to accomplish. Then, once you've found a group of potential victims, find one you trust. With critiquing, this means someone who has good ideas for stories, or who has an excellent eye for grammar. This person is going to be telling you some home truths about your book, and if you don't trust them going into the relationship, you'll find it much too easy to simply shrug those comments off. Finally, it doesn't hurt if their strengths complement yours. I am (frankly) terrible at physical description. Or maybe I should say terribly lax, because when I set my mind to it, I can do it. Jessica is fantastic at pointing out places that could be described in greater detail. After I moan and groan, I do the work... and you know what? She's always right.
Jessica: I would like the fact that Nancy has stated I am always right properly noted and recorded for posterity. Thank you that is all.
What's next for both of you ladies?
Jessica: Right now I am in edits for my novel Awake: A Sleeping Beauty Story, and I am currently working on its sequel which is a similar retelling of Beauty and the Beast. I am also hard at work on Attempting Elizabeth and hope to have it out next summer.
As for Indie Jane, we have several more exciting community events and blog posts forthcoming. October is Northanger Abbey month! We will be reading it in the book club and having a two-week Northanger Abbey event featuring amazing guest posters like yourself! In November we are having fun with Pride and Prejudice, including watching the A&E version together as we live chat in our chat room on two different Sunday nights. We will also be celebrating Nancy's book launch . . . basically I am calling the whole month #hotdarcy month. It's not to be missed!
Nancy: His Good Opinion will be available for sale sometime in mid-November. For this to happen, I'm working like a mad woman right now, finalizing edits, sending the book off to a professional, working with a cover designer... Okay, I have to quit talking about it. I will also be writing my Colonel Fitzwilliam story in November for National Novel Writing Month, or NaNoWriMo. NaNo is a fun, by the seat of your pants approach to noveling. The goal is to write a 50,000 word draft in 30 days. This will be my 9th NaNoWriMo, and my 6th win.
After all that, I'm taking the month of December to decompress. I'll be in marketing mode for His Good Opinion (Hah! Almost typed #hotdarcy - Jessica has rubbed off on me), but beyond that, I plan to take it easy. No major projects, editing or writing. However, I say this now knowing that I am a workaholic and will probably find something to keep me busy. For instance, I've got this series with Robin Hood and pirates that I'm anxious to get back to...
Thank you for everything!
Thank you so much for having us Emily, we are thrilled that you're involved with Indie Jane and the independent Austen community!
Thank you! I couldn't have asked for kinder hosts to introduce me to the Twittering world of Austen! (Which is to say, if you tweet, look these ladies up!)
Nancy Kelley hails from Vancouver, Washington and is the author of the forthcoming His Good Opinion. You can follow Nancy on Twitter and at Austen Aspirations.
To learn more about IndieJane.org you can also follow them on Twitter or like them on Facebook.