Welcome to the Tuesday Author Interview with Christina Boyd for the Who, What, Where, When, and Why.
In 2009, I was a fairly new reviewer at Austenprose, and the blog mistress Laurel Anne Nattress used to send me loads of books to read to review and also books she had already reviewed. I was fascinated to receive your uncorrected proof According to Jane. It's always exciting to read a book before the general public and doubly awesome when it turns out to be a fantastic read.
CHRISTINA: Is there one of your characters you most identify with and why?
MARILYN: I identify with quite a few of my characters. For most novelists, I believe it’s true that we share little pieces of ourselves with our protagonists -- and even, perhaps, with some of our antagonists. I’ll always have a special fondness for Ellie, the heroine of my debut novel According to Jane, though. Ellie’s life and mine are different in many ways (I didn’t have a difficult older sister, for instance, or even a sister at all), but her observations of high school and that persistent feeling of being an outsider came from a place of personal recognition. And there will always remain a lingering fantasy of what it might have been like to have my favorite author -- Jane Austen -- offer me life advice whenever I needed it. No matter how many decades go by, I’d still love that!
CHRISTINA: According to Jane is still a favorite of mine! Clever story. Easy to recommend. It's really every Janeites' fantasy.
What is your latest release?
MARILYN: Ohhh, I’m so excited about this one! I’ve been a huge fan of the film Roman Holiday since I was a teen and have wanted to write a modernized variation on it for years. In my version, an American blogger meets a European Prince in Italy. She needs a story. He needs an escape from the paparazzi. Neither thought love would hit them in the eye like a grande pizza pie -- but that’s Rome for you. (And, okay, it might also be amore.) Here are some additional details about the novella: A modern, role-reversing twist on the classic film Roman Holiday!
American entertainment blogger and aspiring poet, Jenna Bradley, is spending the summer in Rome, visiting her grandparents and working remotely for the online magazine/ezine WORLD VIBE. She's assigned to write a feature on the latest Goodwill Tour of an Eastern European royal – handsome and wealthy, perhaps, but aloof and surely dull. Definitely not her type.
The night before the big meet and greet, however, she comes face to face with an incredibly attractive man who surprises her and quickly wins her over with his wittiness, depth, and charm. He couldn't be more different from the royal stiff she's supposed to interview...or could he?
On the eve of his twenty-sixth birthday, Prince Andrei of Saragovia has had a long day of official duties followed by a little too much Grappa and some unexpected paparazzi stalking him at his hotel. While making his escape, the Prince inadvertently crosses paths with a cute American named Jenna and her friends, and he finds himself caught up in an action-packed 36-hour spree through the Italian capital.
Adventurous, fun, and romantic, Andrei is given a birthday celebration he never would have imagined, and Jenna gets the scoop of a lifetime. But the clock is ticking... What if they could spend more than just a day and two nights together in Rome?
CHRISTINA: Not Another Roman Holiday sounds delicious. Just my kind of escape read.
Best advice for aspiring writers:
MARILYN: I’ve been asked this time & time again. The following advice, “My Five Gifts to Aspiring Writers,” is excerpted from a blog post I wrote back in April 2012, but I feel they’re still so true. I hope these thoughts will be of some help to writers, no matter where they are in their publishing journey:
1. Persistence. Yes, rejection sucks. It sucks for everybody. You can pout for a day or two (want some Belgian chocolate? a grande margarita?), but then you need to revise your manuscript if there's room for improvement -- and, let's face it, there usually is -- and submit the damn thing again. How many times? Well, IMO, until you get the answer you want to hear.
2. A Killer Work Ethic. Be responsible. Get done what you say you're going to do. Or, to quote the wisdom of one of my favorite fortune cookies: "Always over-deliver & under-promise. (Lucky Numbers: 28, 29, 16, 52, 38, 14)" It's stunning how often people don't follow through. Unless a family or health crisis prevents you -- because, on rare occasion, there are legitimate reasons for not finishing a project on time -- show how incredible you are by not being a slacker.
3. Creative Thinking. There will be moments when readers won't get your story's humor (trust me on this) or like your "unusual premise" or relate to your offbeat characters/plot/narrative style. Still, don't play it safe and write something that doesn't have a shred of risk in it. Use your imagination. You're special. It's true, you really are. Show us your unique vision in some way.
4. Optimism. Yes, rejection sucks. It sucks for everybody. (Do you hear an echo?) I'm not advocating rampant Pollyannaism. It's useful to see the world as realistically as you're able...but, there's no need to be the Loudest and Most Insistent Voice of Doom in the Tri-State either. You're allowed to grumble sometimes. (Though, if at all possible, try to avoid tactless ranting on social-media sites, okay?) But then, if there's any kind of a bright side or silver lining to be found, please try to find it. It'll most likely make you feel better, and it'll most certainly make other people more inclined to want to lend you a hand.
5. Curiosity. What do you care about? What are your passions? What makes life worth living, in your opinion? If you can't answer these questions, for heaven's sake, don't work on a manuscript right now. Go out into the world and experience some of life until you do know. Ask yourself, "What if?" Ask other people, "Why?" and "How?" and "Then what happened?" When you're bursting with something you just have to try to express, then go home and write about those sensations, thoughts, emotions, situations, and complications... Attempt to write what you care about so passionately that it inspires curiosity in others.
And to this original list, I’d add one additional, truly important gift:6. Gratitude. Be openly thankful to those who’ve taken extra time, shared their skills, or offered you support along the way. Try, whenever possible, to reach out and help others on this path as well. It can be a tough road for everyone, but the journey is easier when we can support each other and give/receive appreciation.
CHRISTINA: Thank you for that great advice. Optimism. That's a good reminder.
Is there a time period you would like to set a future story?
MARILYN: I’ve always been drawn to time-travel tales as a reader, but I’ve never written one. Of course, the Regency Era in England always appeals, but I also like the 1920s, especially in France. I just re-watched the film Midnight in Paris with Owen Wilson and was charmed all over again.
CHRISTINA: If you weren’t a writer, what would you be?
MARILYN: See, that’s the problem. I wanted to be dozens of different occupations. To name just a few: A keyboardist for a rock band. A geneticist. An Olympic figure skater. An educational psychologist researching the connection between creativity and culture. (Fun fact: I do, actually, have an MA in that field -- this topic was the subject of my 150-page graduate thesis...) A tap dancer. A painter of animals & nature. A professional chocolate taster. (I couldn’t believe it when I learned that was a real job!) So, the beauty of being a writer was being given the opportunity to live many lives and explore multiple occupations.
CHRISTINA: Maybe that's a character in your next book--a professional chocolate tester. That would be delicious research.
Have you gone on an author pilgrimage or research trip? Where and what was the most memorable moment?
MARILYN: Yes. When I was working on my YA mystery The Road to You, my family and I went on a Route 66 road trip, driving from Chicago to (nearly) California and visiting many of the stops my characters made in the story. It was fabulously fun and truly informative. I documented pictures from our journey on my website. In the book, Aurora and Donovan are trying to find their missing brothers, who were best friends, and they’re using clues from Aurora’s brother’s journal to try to locate the guys. These clues lead Aurora and Donovan to some delightfully quirky sites, like the adorable Blue Whale in Catoosa, Oklahoma and the Cadillac Ranch in Amarillo, Texas. My family and I visited them -- among many others -- as well, and we had a blast. We even spray-painted on one of the Cadillac cars, as is the custom! I felt even closer to my characters’ experiences after that trip and was able to sharpen the details I included in the story.
CHRISTINA: That sounds like a fun road trip. And fun read, too.
Do you hide any secrets in your novels only a select few might know?
MARILYN: Ah-ha! Why, yes, I have! But don’t expect me to reveal them...
CHRISTINA: Ooh, I love knowing that details are hidden. Thank you so much for joining me on this Tuesday Author Interview. I've loved reading your novels through the years, and I look forward to this new release. I could use a good escape book these days.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Marilyn Brant is a New York Times & USA Today bestselling author of contemporary women’s fiction, romantic comedy, and mystery/suspense. Her debut novel According to Jane (Oct. 2009) won the Romance Writers of America’s prestigious Golden Heart Award, and she was named the 2013 Author of the Year by the Illinois Association of Teachers of English. She’s a lifelong Jane Austen fan, has a passion for spies and secret codes, loves travel, music & chocolate, and enjoys being a novel structure analyst for the storytelling website Save the Cat! Her latest releases include the romantic spy comedy The Secret Life of Maggie Blake (May 2022) and the Italian-set rom-com novella Not Another Roman Holiday (Nov. 2023). Marilyn lives in the northern Chicago suburbs with her family, daydreaming new plot ideas for her next book. For more about her writing, please visit her website (MarilynBrant.com).
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