If you have read my blog for any length of time, this is not the first time you’ve met author Sarah Scheele. Although we have never met in person, Sarah and I have been long time friends, with a particularly strong writing bond. She is actually the one who invited me to the Vintage Jane Austen project. A Texas native, Sarah has been a writer since childhood and has several books available. Her unique twist on Mansfield Part, now titled Bellevere House, will definitely delight Austen Fans.
How did you get involved in the Vintage Jane Austen Project?
My sister Hannah created the project along with Sarah Holman, who I knew on Facebook. At that time Hannah was massively involved and when Sarah extended an invitation to me, I felt it was right to accept because this project was a big deal in our house. So, a family thing.
How big of a Jane Austen fan are you?
Well, my mother was probably the biggest Janeite on the planet. She didn’t dress up in Regency gowns, but otherwise it was total saturation—movies, characters, everything. I’ve been around it a long time and in a sense I hope that doesn’t show because there’s a freshness that comes with being a spontaneous fan. But in another way it goes pretty deep. When a relative asked what to get me for Christmas in my teens, my mom was quick to jump in and suggest Jane Austen, of course. So I had lots of book copies as well, and I read them—more or less.
Three books were already assigned when I was invited to join. Besides Mansfield Park, the remaining books were Persuasion and Pride and Prejudice. I didn’t feel equal to Persuasion and I’ve never been interested in Pride and Prejudice. So Mansfield Park was the obvious only remaining option and I took it.
How well do you think Mansfield Park translates to the Great Depression?
Remarkably well, actually. Mansfield Park has the most dramatic separation between the haves and have-nots of any Austen novel and the Great Depression made it easy to find parallels. So the money dynamic translated really well and of course the characters are universal.
What kind of research did you do to prepare yourself?
At first I had an angle with the developing war in Europe, but after I removed that it was just a matter of double-checking the details: verifying long-distance telephone connections, researching train travel, finding the names of old glassware. I did some googling on the history of New York, which was absolutely fascinating. And I was lucky there is one kind of orange that makes in the summer, because I was able to keep the Florida orange-grove set. I was happy about that because it’s a good set, I feel, and just fun.
Did you stick pretty closely to the source material, or did you find ways to deviate and/or add new scenes?
I did attempt a bit of cosmetic work because it’s a difficult book. Not that I’d say I really improved on a classic. I’m not that inordinate. But given the opportunity, I did change things around here and there. The long childhood areas with Fanny got cut, Mr. Rushworth got a new twist, and I will admit I threw Edmund out the window in favor of something snarkier and more modern. With appalling results, I’m sure.
What did you find most challenging about this project?
Fitting into a concept created by someone else. I’m a fantasy author, so the whole idea was pretty much—I wouldn’t say out of my comfort zone. More out of my dimension altogether. It was a challenge conforming to all the little regulations of the project and getting interested in the 1930s. Communication was irregular over the years, too, and it was hard to give input because, like I said, it wasn’t my concept. But I hoped my familiarity with Jane Austen would balance all of that and I believe it did, in the end.
What other books do you have on the market?
I have a children’s science fiction novel, a historical story set in 1700s Spain, and a number of fantasy stories floating around somewhere on Amazon. They don’t have any connection to this project.
A big thanks to Sarah for joining me today, and for inviting me to this project in the first place. Visit Sarah’s website to read her blog and keep up on her work: sarahscheele.com
And don’t forget to visit VintageJaneAusten.com to learn more about all the books available in this series.