I believe it was a tweet that led me to Scott Southard’s website: “The Musings and Artful Blunders of Scott D. Southard.” Or maybe it was a comment from Scott left somewhere in the blogosphere that led me click after click to his blog. Maybe I learned of him and his book, A JANE AUSTEN DAYDREAM somewhere in the Jane Austen circles of social media. Honestly, I’m not sure how I found him. That’s sorta how things go in social media sometimes. We stumble through portals, find ourselves in conversations with people we’ve never met, spend long passages of time lurking and reading a person’s body of work until we feel like we know them, and yet, we leave their site, without their ever knowing we were there. It’s odd, really.
While I don’t remember the precise path that led me to Scott, I do remember a morning spent reading his blog and exploring his work. I was intrigued by the various types of writing he did and I immediately honed in on a particular title that contained two very special words to me. The first word? Jane. The second? Austen.
I remember drinking not one but two cups of tea, which for me, takes a while and I remember reading a post he wrote – either about writing in different genres or whether we cling to certain genre types and labels. I apologize for having a muddled memory of that specific post (maybe Scott will enlighten us and leave a link in the comment section) but it was that post from many months ago that led me to request a copy of A JANE AUSTEN DAYDREAM to review on my book blog.
A JANE AUSTEN DAYDREAM by Scott Southard, a fictionalized account of Jane’s life, is a book that should be placed on the shelf of every book-loving fan of Jane Austen because she’s absolutely “alive” on the pages of this book. She walks, talks, dreams. Her family (especially her older sister, Cassandra) moves about influencing Jane and the events around her. You’ll find a hauntingly accurate reading from a gypsy who predicts Jane will never die. (Through her words, I believe she is immortal.) And with Jane, you’ll explore love and explore deeper the age-old question: Did Jane ever find love in her own life?
If you consider yourself an Austenite, my gosh. Pick-up a copy of this book. Do it now. Use this link. Go get it. Read it, enjoy it like I did. If you don’t know much about Jane and her family, or you find her books a bit challenging to read due to the conventions of speech and writing used at the time she wrote her books, read this one. Read A JANE AUSTEN DAYDREAM by Scott Southard because while the voice and style of the writing is all Jane, Scott has told a tale in today’s language for today’s reader while still delivering the flavors of Jane to her most dedicated followers.
I enjoyed this book as both a writer and a reader. I enjoyed the voice and the style of the writing that was at the same time, both historical and contemporary. I enjoyed the delicate balance between fact and fiction, but most of all, I enjoyed spending time with Jane. Jane Austen, the immortal, brilliant writer.
Julie: Let’s talk a moment about the voice used in A Jane Austen Daydream. I absolutely loved it because it felt like I was reading a Jane Austen novel. Was it difficult capturing her style of writing? Or did it come naturally? When did you realize that it was the right choice for this book?
Scott: Thank you so much and a great technical question straight out of the gate! This aspect of the writing of the book was very difficult for me and one I struggled with (but I love a challenge). See, I wanted the book to “feel” like a Jane Austen novel in its voice, but I also wanted it to be a book that is very readable for a contemporary reader. I didn’t want to turn off anyone who might not reach naturally to a classic work of literature for an evening’s reading. So I had to find a middle ground between the two.
I began to imagine it as a road, on one side was Jane Austen and her distinctive novel voice (which does have some variation and growth from book to book, Emma is different from Persuasion, for example) and personal writings like her letters; and on the other side, me and my contemporary voice. I also had to tone down the word use that might make my readers reach for a dictionary. Wait! Does this make my novel the chicken in the road? Possibly…
Like the voice, I also had to walk a line between how “Austen” to go in it. Yes, the book can be considered a treasure hunt for the Austenities, but I also like to imagine that it is unique enough to be entertaining for those outside the Darcy fan clubs. At the heart of it, it is still my book, and I couldn’t help putting in fun post-modern twists and turns (including one very new literary surprise which I won’t ruin here).
The funny thing is it was not really until I started to read the reactions from readers that I finally could take a breath and feel a little more confident that I did the right thing.
Julie: One of the delights of reading A Jane Austen Daydream is the experience of having Jane and her family come to life on the pages of the book. What writing strategies did you use to reshape your research into a narrative piece of writing? How did you make decisions between fact and fiction?
Scott: Actually, we really know very little about the real Jane.
Her sister destroyed her letters and writing upon her death, and the only biography written by someone who knew her (a nephew) feels more interested in the name of the family as compared to creating a real remembrance of Jane. You would walk away from that book thinking Jane was more interested in knitting than becoming one of the greatest novelists of the English language! Yet, when you read her few surviving letters, you realize the two images don’t mesh. She obviously loved gossip and a good joke. So I knew very early on to base my story on her fiction as compared to fact.
The Jane I imagine loves her wit and the wit of others, the more sarcastic the better. She thinks getting in trouble is fun and a new experience is something to savor. She is passionate about her books and feels isolated because no one understands her. And when my Jane leaves a room, she slams the door, she doesn’t carefully close it.
Yes, fiction always won against fact for me. And when I began to outline the book, I thought about her twists, her plots. Granted, there are some twists and turns in the plot that are very me. But for fans of her novels it should all feel natural. Jane is not suddenly solving a mystery or tracking down a serial killer or anything.
I went through a series of paperbacks of her books, each covered with highlighters and folded corners. Whenever I hit a roadbump, I returned to her books. She is the master of this world, I am only visiting.
Julie: I want to believe that Jane found love and I do agree that through her words, she is immortal. Could it be that Jane’s love was her writing? Like a priest married to the church, could Jane’s pledge have been to the written word – forsaking all others?
Scott: It’s hard to imagine someone who so perfectly defined a happy marriage for countless generations not caring about love. When I think of Jane and love I usually think first of Persuasion. A book that might be her own daydream of a possible returning love.
I am speculating here, but I like to imagine that her books were her passion and if she found the right mate he would have recognized that. Consider when her books were published she released them anonymously. She gave up her own name, giving everything just for her books to be read. That is an amazing sacrifice for an artist, we all like to sign the bottom of our “paintings,” don’t we? In the end, all she had to give was her books and she gave them simply, completely.
Julie: A Jane Austen Daydream is not your first novel. What can you tell us about Megan, Permanent Spring Showers, My Problem with Doors, and Maximilian Standforth and the Case of the Dangerous Dare?
Scott: One thing I love to do as a writer is try new things. Imagine me as a chef in a kitchen trying every recipe in a cookbook. I like to imagine that if someone picks up one of my books, they will never know what to expect. It will always be new. Creating a catalogue (hopefully) of unpredictable and very different books.
My Problem With Doors is the story of Jacob and he is lost in time. He has been lost since he was a toddler. See, he can not always guarantee when he steps through a door where he will end up or when. The book is filled with surprises and adventure, as well as some fun cameos like Lord Byron and Jack the Ripper.
Megan is the story of Megan Wane. During the day she works as an event planner in a boring 9-to-5 job, but in her imagination she is a superhero princess ruling a kingdom called Prosperity, a magical world where each morning the moon and sun need to battle for the sky. Megan covers a day where everything changed in her fantasy and in her reality.
Maximilian Standforth and the Case of the Dangerous Dare is a very mad experimental novel hiding in a victorian period mystery. This is the fifth book in a made-up series of thrillers (the introduction walks the readers through the other “books”), and in this episode Maximilian and his loyal biographer Bob are set to stay in a haunted castle; but what they find there might break their very reality.
Permanent Spring Showers is my most recent book (and I am right now looking for an agent or publisher for it) and it is a multi-cast contemporary work about the clash of artists and academics. That line where art crosses reality and the impact it can have on people’s lives and loves and relationships.
Julie: I hear that in addition to writing novels, you also work in radio and that your comedy series, The Dante Experience, has won awards, including the Golden Headset Award for Best MultiCast Audio and the Silver Ogle Award for Best Fantasy Audio Production. What can you tell us about The Dante Experience and the craft of writing for radio?
Scott: I grew up loving radio drama, actually collecting old-time radio shows on cassettes (that probably dates me saying that). This turned out to be a great asset, by the way, for me as a writer since it taught me how to create character voices. Something I can do very easily and naturally. Yes, there are many possibilities in my head thanks to those years listening to the past.
The Dante Experience is about a group of young adults getting a tour of hell, and thanks to horror movies it really isn’t a big deal for them. They end up causing a lot of problems. One character starts a revolt against heaven, another falls in love with a demon and dumps her boyfriend, another character seduces famous characters from history. It was inspired by Douglas Adams’ The Hitchhiker Guide to the Galaxy and Monty Python. It’s that silly and anything-can-happy style of comedy.
The series is not available at this time, but you can hear it on Soundcloud via links on my site for free. I actually mapped out when I wrote the series for it to be a trilogy and I do hope in the future something new could happen with it. Time will tell.
Julie: I’ve always been curious about publishing a blog on Kindle. I see that The Musings & Artful Blunders of Scott D. Southard is on Kindle and that you also blog at www.sdsouthard.com. Are they two separate blogs or two means of delivery? In what ways do you think it’s helpful for a writer to have a blog presence on Kindle?
Scott: Oh, they are the same thing. Actually, I learned about this from another blogger. If someone has a Kindle they can subscribe to a blog and their Kindle is automatically updated each time a post goes up. The reader just pays a monthly fee for these updates. For mine it is only 99 cents a month. A great deal a since I write about two to three unique articles a week.
I love having a blog. It is a great opportunity to connect with readers and also keep my writing and my voice fresh. I like to imagine each as a performance reading, like something you would hear on This American Life. A few times a week I get on a stage and give a little performance for my audience. And I write on a series of different topics including books, parenting, writing, art, film, writing, life and writing. Did I mention writing?
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Chapter IV from Volume II
It has often been said that good things come to those who wait, but the fault with the expression is that it does not take into consideration the especially bad things that you are doing your utmost to avoid. Do bad things travel in different paths and fashions to the good? Can bad things be avoided since they, unlike most good things, are rarely expected or hoped for? Jane had a bad thing that she wanted to avoid, and the only plan she could come up with after an evening contemplating it was to run away—fast.
“Why do you need me to go on this walk with you?” Charles complained. He grabbed a branch from the ground and swung it around himself like a sword. Jane had to step back to avoid being hit.
Jane decided not to answer Charles’ question. “Is it wrong to enjoy our fields and hikes, Charles? Should not the pleasures of walking and breathing fresh air be enough? This may be our last time walking this trail together.”
“That is what you said a few days ago,” Charles moaned. “You cannot have two last times.”
Jane stopped and looked across the valley. The shock of the upcoming journey to Bath seemed to almost take her aback more now than it had earlier.
“I grew up here,” she said quietly, more to herself than to Charles.
“I grew up here too,” Charles said and sat on the ground by her. “I hardly see why that is so important a detail.”
“It is to me.”
“Everyone has to grow up someplace,” Charles said. “I would rather it had been someplace more exciting for me. India or Africa or the Caribbean would all have been better.”
“Do not let Cassandra hear you state your wish to travel to the Caribbean.” Jane frowned.
“No, of course not,” Charles said, lying back on the ground. “I am not stupid, Jane.”
“I did not say you were,” Jane said with a smirk. “You are my favorite of my younger brothers.”
“And you, Jane,”—Charles smiled in return—“are my favorite older sister named Jane.”
“It is a good arrangement.” Jane nodded, holding out her hand to Charles. He took it and rose to his feet.
“And you are my favorite sister with brown, curly hair.”
Jane did a little curtsy. “I thank you, sir. You are my favorite brother who is my height.”
“What a coincidence!” Charles said with a polite bow. “You are my favorite sister who is my height.”
They began walking again.
“Did I mention, Charles, that you are my favorite brother who is twelve?”
“You are my favorite sister who is forty.”
“I am not forty!”
“And it was such a pleasant game.” Jane sighed, looking up at the sun. “What time do you think it is?”
Charles eyed the sun as well. “Thirty minutes till noon.”
“We’ll keep walking. Show me that one path that you claimed no one knows about but you.”
“I will not. That is a secret. What are we doing here, Jane?” A louder whine entered Charles’ voice.
“Avoiding the apocalypse,” Jane said in a dark tone. “Avoiding the end of all things.”
“I would like to see that! Do you think there would be actual devils there?”
“You want to see a devil?”
“At least once, yes. I have heard so much about them recently.”
“That is true.” Jane laughed, recollecting the new Reverend’s sermon.
And, as if he was called by their conversation, in that instant Jane could see Mr. Blackwell approaching over a hill. Her plan had failed, and her own personal demon was approaching. She looked at her brother. “Not all devils come in red.”
Charles looked over in her direction, seeing Mr. Blackwell. “You do not mean Mr. Blackwell? He is far too boring to be evil.”
“Hush, Charles. He is to me. Protect me. Do not leave my side. If you leave me, he will do something most evil, worse than you can imagine.”
“What is that? Kill you? Maim you?”
Charles glared in his direction. That was all he needed to hear.
“So you think I ought to refuse him, then?”
Charles did not reply for there was no need; the expression on his face at the thought was a clear enough message for Jane.
“Ah! Miss Austen! Master Austen! I have been looking for the both of you. Your mother thought you both might be out on a walk.”
Blackwell sounded already out of breath from the excursion.
Charles held his stick out as a drawn sword and stood in front of Jane. Mr. Blackwell seemed surprised to see Charles standing in such a manner.
“Is something wrong, Master Austen?”
Charles did not answer.
Mr. Blackwell looked to Jane for direction. She only shrugged.
“Could you give us some privacy, Master Charles?” Mr. Blackwell asked smugly.
“I cannot do that, sir,” Charles said, crossing his arms across his chest. “I have agreed to act as my sister’s escort on this hike. Only she can send me away.”
Jane could not have been prouder of Charles, but Mr. Blackwell was not to be undone so easily. “Will you leave if I give you a pound?” he asked.
“Rather!” Charles exclaimed quickly and handed his stick to Mr. Blackwell. The money was quickly exchanged and, before Jane could protest, her brother was running away down the trail towards town, waving back at her.
Jane had never been so disappointed with her brother Charles.
She was now alone with Mr. Blackwell. There was no excuse or escape possible for her. I will be calm, she thought. I will be mistress of myself. I will be polite and listen and then say no when asked.
“Will you take my arm?” Mr. Blackwell said in a most dignified manner.
Jane did so; it felt overly rude not to. They began to walk.
“I am uncertain if you have noticed, Miss Austen, but there is a matter of great importance to me that I have wished to speak to you on. It is for that reason that I have searched you out.”
Even though Jane already had a fair idea where this conversation was going, she decided it was best to pretend ignorance.
“I do not know what you mean, Mr. Blackwell. What could you have to speak to me alone about? We have spoken in private before.”
Mr. Blackwell rubbed his eyes, complained about the pollen in the air and the effect it had on his allergies, and then continued with the meat of the conversation. “It is a matter of quite some delicacy,” he said, “probably the most delicate—well, I would assume as much—that a conversation can be. Of course, it could be said that the planning of one’s funeral could be just as difficult.”
Jane did not know how to answer to that. Was he comparing his proposal to making funeral arrangements?
He waved Charles’ stick in front of himself as if to say he was moving on with his speech. “The last thing, Miss Austen, that I wish to do is sound like a sermon or a lecture. This is hardly the place for such a discussion.” He coughed before continuing. “Since the beginning of time, since the dawn of man and the arrival of woman with the removal of Adam’s rib, man and woman have been tied together. Throughout the early Bible, every great prophet and man of God has had a wife, a noble and proper woman by his side—”
“I do not believe Jesus or many of his apostles did.”
“Yes, that is true,” Mr. Blackwell said. He sounded flustered by the interruption. “Circumstances were different in that situation, I think it can be rightly said.”
Jane decided not to ask how and waited for the rest of his argument. After a short cough he did continue. “A woman is needed by a man. How else is a house to be cleaned? The matter of a household to be upheld? The garden and the food prepared? And, if you do not mind me being a little less than delicate, how else is there to be offspring without the woman’s presence? No, it can rightly be said that for a man to be complete he must have a woman by his side.”
“Unless he is the Messiah or an apostle.”
Mr. Blackwell blushed. “Quite. I am sure now the matter of my point is far from your understanding, so I will begin again. When I heard of the rectory being available and that your father had two available daughters, it seemed a right situation for everyone. And after reviewing both you and your sister over the last fortnight, my eye has fallen on you. Do you need a moment to catch your breath?”
Jane did not need a moment; however, it would have probably hurt Mr. Blackwell’s feelings not to take one, so Jane did her best to fake a surprised reaction.
Her performance seemed to impress the Reverend. “I must say,” he continued, “that, at first, my decision to pick you over your sister was not an easy one. Cassandra is the eldest and seems more knowledgeable in the running of the household; however, there is little that I could teach her. She is already molded, as it were, by life. But you, Miss Austen, I believe could gain from my presence, making our future lives most beneficial for both of us. Something a little inferior I shall of course put up with, but it must not be much. If I am a fool, I shall be a fool indeed, for I have thought on the subject more than most men.”
Jane did not know what to say. She had prepared herself to a certain extent to be uncomfortable during this conversation with Mr. Blackwell, but never to this extreme.
“There is, for example, the time you spend writing. I have taken a moment to read the work you were writing. How disappointed I was to read material of such a common manner.”
“Common?” Jane exclaimed in surprise, more shocked at that moment by his review than the idea he had read her fiction without her permission.
“I think that is the best word to use, yes. You deal with the common man and the common man’s problems—love on the mortal plain, as it were. Or would it be better to say ‘common woman’? Perhaps, perhaps. Hardly what I would call an important piece like a lecture or an essay on life or God! Folly to squander your ability on such trifle! And the literature you seem to read—Gothic novels and the like—they are hardly any better. I have heard of the plays you have performed in the barn in the past. Those practices would quickly have to be put to an end. There is a higher plateau that one should aim for. Do you catch my meaning?”
Jane did and let go of his arm. This did not have the effect Jane hoped for, because Mr. Blackwell took the opportunity to grab her hands tightly. His own hands were cold and very soft. “Miss Austen, Jane, my dear, if I may be so bold. Let me say, however, that your mind is one of great potential. I have met few people more clever, especially within your sex. Your father and mother should be proud. Even though much of your time seems to be wasted on your wit, humor, performances, and little writings, there is such a potential there for serious contemplation. And in saying as much about your brain, I think you understand what I am saying now and what I wish to ask. Might I assume your answer?”
“Assume my answer?”
He let go of her hands. His face twitched into a smile, the second smile of his that Jane had seen. It was no more pleasant than the first. “Then we are agreed,” he said. “We must be quick. Your family is leaving next week and there is much to arrange in such a short time. Your father could do the service, and I am sure your mother and your sister could help with many of the arrangements.”
Jane stepped back. She could not be subtle now. The time for being delicate had passed. “I must say you misunderstand me, Mr. Blackwell. I did not give you an answer, especially not the one you assumed. It was not a statement, but a question.”
“I do not understand. Did I not make my intentions plain?”
“Yes, you most certainly did. I think even the least intelligent members of my sex that you have supposedly met would have understood. May I speak plainly?”
Mr. Blackwell nodded.
“I would like to begin, Mr. Blackwell, by thanking you for the compliments you have bestowed on my intelligence and upbringing. I am sure if my parents were here they would thank you as well.”
Mr. Blackwell nodded appreciatively in response.
“But in regards to your other points, I do believe I need to protest. Do I consider my humor, as you put it, and love of literature a fault? No, I do not. They are not a form of sin to me, but something I believe as important to human nature and growth as chastity and faith.”
“That is because you are young, Miss Austen,” Mr. Blackwell said with a sigh, “but I do promise, in time, I can help you understand the finer contexts of my argument.”
“You misunderstand me again,” Jane said quickly. “I should have probably said this at the first, but I do not accept your proposal. And since you have, so fairly, given me your argument for the union let me give you mine for the separation. Art is what I am. It is how I define myself. To lose the part of me that writes, that creates, would be to lose the part of me I love the most. Since you believe my work is one of sin and folly, then I must wonder how you would view me over time for creating it. No, Mr. Blackwell, I think it is obvious from the start that this is not a fine match, or even a passable one at that. I could not hope to make you happy, Mr. Blackwell. You need a finer lady than me.”
Mr. Blackwell was not dismayed. No, he did not even look the least bit deterred by her declaration. “I understand,” replied Mr. Blackwell, with a formal wave of the hand, “that it is usual with young ladies to reject the addresses of the man whom they secretly mean to accept when he first applies for their favor, and that sometimes the refusal is repeated a second or even a third time. I am, therefore, by no means discouraged by what you have just said, and shall hope to lead you to the altar ere long.”
“Upon my word, sir!” cried Jane in surprise. “Your hope is rather an extraordinary one after my declaration. I do assure you that I am not one of those young ladies (if such young ladies there are) who are so daring as to risk their happiness on the chance of being asked a second time. I am perfectly serious in my refusal. It is always incomprehensible to a man that a woman should ever refuse an offer of marriage. A man always imagines a woman to be ready for anybody who asks her. We are not cattle for the trade, Mr. Blackwell.”
These words seemed to hurt Mr. Blackwell although he did his best to avoid showing disdain. He smacked the stick he had been holding twice against his leg and then carefully spoke again. “May I be honest with you, Miss Austen?”
“I believe in your occupation it is a necessity, Mr. Blackwell.”
He coughed and continued in his very dry tone. “You are, I believe, twenty-two—or is it twenty-four?—years of age. Not past your prime, certainly, but getting beyond an acceptable age for marriage and entering what some would call the age of spinsterhood, as it were. Your father and mother, although dear people, are elderly. I do not wish to number their days in saying that, per se, but death is approaching them as he does all of us. His speed with them, dare I say, will be quicker. Your sister, if I can say this correctly, is broken by the death of her fiancé, making her, some would say, a burden on whomever takes her in. For the time being, this is of course your parents, but upon their demise, she will be passed between your brothers in turn. Then there is your young brother Charles and your more questionable relation, Henry. Both are burdens as well—Charles by the sheer act of being young, and Henry, shall we say, because of the problems in his nature. I can see by the pale expression on your face that my words are affecting you. Do you wish for me to continue?”
When Jane did not respond, Mr. Blackwell once again coughed. “What I am trying to say, Jane, is that one should always think of the future and, most importantly, of the impact one’s choices will have on one’s fellow man. When one looks at my proposal as one of choice and its impact over time on one’s loved ones, I believe the answer becomes quite plain.”
He straightened himself, as if he were victorious in the debate.
Jane looked at her feet and took a deep breath. “I do not know what to say—”
“Not so hasty, please. I have by no means finished. Your parents would not complain. Your father and mother both gave their permission last evening. They are thinking of your best interests surely. You need to consider their experience and knowledge, for I am sure they would not have agreed with me so quickly if they did not see this as the best possibility for you. And what will you do when they leave this mortal coil? Will you take up an occupation? Will you work? Or will you become a burden like your sister Cassandra? These are all points to consider that you might not have thought of when you gave so hasty an answer before.”
“You amaze me, Mr. Blackwell,” Jane said. She continued to look at the ground. Her mind was filling with words, sentences, and expressions, but in her emotional state she had a hard time finding the right ones to use.
“That is my hope.”
Jane looked up, a spark leaping into her eyes and her voice shaking as she tried to hold in her anger. “I am not sure it is—not in the way I mean. You first try to win my affection with logic, and now you use fear and in a most crass and inhuman way.”
“It is not my intention to insult.”
“But you did, Mr. Blackwell, and in a most unforgivable manner. I guess it could be said that I should thank you. If you had begun with your heart, or mentioned it at least in passing, I might have been at a loss on how to deny you. This refusal comes much easier since I know now that you obviously do not have a heart at all.”
With those words, Jane turned on the surprised Mr. Blackwell and returned on the path alone. Jane felt the tears running down her cheeks, almost all the way home, without taking any trouble to check them, extraordinary as they were.