Today we have author Kelsey Bryant who took on Sense and Sensibility for the Vintage Jane Austen Series and gave us the delightful Suite and Suitability. It’s been great getting to know Kelsey, who is probably Eleanor Dashwood’s biggest fan. In addition to the Vintage Jane Austen Project, she has written for several magazines, blogs, and has two contemporary novels on the market.
How did you get involved in the Vintage Jane Austen Project?
One day, Hannah Scheele and Sarah Holman were talking and somehow formed the scheme for the Vintage Jane Austen Project. Knowing me well, they asked if I wanted to write one of the books. I have hardly ever felt more excited to say yes!
How big of a Jane Austen fan are you?
A very big one, but not the sort who eats, sleeps, and breathes her. I haven’t made a fan website, nor can I quote from her novels very accurately. She is one of my two favorite authors, however, so although I know she’s not a perfect writer, I still feel a little defensive every time she’s criticized. I think I’ve read everything she’s written that’s been published. I own a fair collection of Austen memorabilia and I traveled on an England tour three years ago that was themed around Regency costumes. I sewed my own dress (a first) for it and participated in the Jane Austen Festival Promenade in Bath, England, and it was one of the best days of my life . . . so, yes, I suppose I am a pretty thick Janeite, aren’t I?
Sense and Sensibility is my favorite Austen novel, and one of my favorite novels in general. I adored the idea of writing my own version of it because I’m extremely fond of all the characters and their dynamics, especially Elinor and Marianne Dashwood and Edward Ferrars. Elinor is my favorite fictional character in all of literature.
How well do you think Sense and Sensibility translates to the Great Depression?
Very well indeed. I had no problems with it. Elinor became Ellen Dashiell, a precise, hard-working secretary; Marianne became Marion Dashiell, an aspiring singer/actress; all the other characters translated fluently as well. The Dashwoods’ money troubles fit into the Great Depression, as did the issues of class and suitable marriage partners. I was surprised and delighted with how seamlessly it could be adapted.
What kind of research did you do to prepare yourself?
Because I wanted a Midwestern industrial town, I settled on Canton, Ohio, and researched its status in the 1930s. My favorite book on the subject is The Secret Gift by Ted Gup, a fascinating, nostalgic true story that anyone might enjoy reading, not just those who are researching the time period. I visited Canton to do onsite research and look for answers to questions I couldn’t find from afar. I also read books about the decade in general. Then I pursued the other special areas of interest that my story possessed – Broadway, Hollywood, New York, industry, et cetera – as I began to write. Watching period movies and reading fiction of the era was certainly a fun way to get a feel for it.
Did you stick pretty closely to the source material, or did you find ways to deviate and/or add new scenes?
I deviated while keeping true to the spirit and skeleton of the original. My brain needed the stimulation of creating slight differences in the story, not just remaking the original with new hair and clothes. I left out some characters and introduced new ones that better served my version. I changed the family relationships of some of the characters: for example, Sir John Middleton and his mother-in-law, Mrs. Jennings, became the married couple Melvin and Jennie Maddox, who were relatives of Mr. Dashiell’s in my version, not Mrs. Dashwood’s, as in the original. I also added a few twists to further change it up and make it more fun for me to write and more unexpected for readers. The biggest, perhaps, was keeping Mr. Dashiell alive but in prison instead of killing him off like Mr. Dashwood.
What did you find most challenging about this project?
Well, besides the normal frustrations of tying up all the threads and actually weaving Suit and Suitability into a cohesive, satisfying novel, I would say Marion’s character was the most challenging. Which is quite appropriate, as she is the most challenging person that her family knows, too. I wanted her to be liked by at least some readers, but I also didn’t want to diminish her personality. Writing her was a tricky balancing act. Also, some of her interests, such as the way Broadway worked in the 1930s, were rather difficult to ferret out details for accurate portrayal. But she and I made it through okay, and I love her as much as I love Ellen, even if I still don’t relate to her as well.
What other books do you have on the market? Currently, two novels targeted for homeschool girls – Family Reunion and England Adventure, books one and two of the Six Cousins series.
Thanks, Kelsey, for joining us today! Check out Kelsey’s website kelseybryanauthor.weebly.com to learn more about her writing! And for more information on the complete Vintage Jane Austen Series, visit vintagejaneausten.com.