MA: The anthology was Ulysses Press’s idea – to find the best Pride and Prejudice Regency short stories and put them together for people who either don’t read fanfic online or don’t want to spend hours and hours scouring archives for what they want to read. Originally the theme was “Elizabeth and Darcy’s first year at Pemberley” but I felt that was too narrow (and done before in novel form by many other authors). Really I wanted people to get a good sampling of what’s out there, so there’s a lot of different stories about the same setting, from different points of view, or giving a slightly different reading, or taking place well after the book (when Elizabeth and Darcy have children). And it’s not just about them, it’s about the people around them who don’t always get as much attention in published fiction.
RM: What challenges or difficulties did you face with this particular book?
MA: There’s a ton of material on the internet, some of it dating back to the late 90’s (though two of the stories in the book were new submissions and we did get more submissions than that), but a lot of it wasn’t usable for one reason or another – it was too long, it wasn’t finished, it wasn’t Regency, etc. The most frustrating part was finding a story I really loved with no way to contact the author, because there was no email listed or the email listed was from 2003 and was no longer working. The fan fiction community really helped me out in trying to track down people, but there were stories on my ‘best of’ list that just didn’t make it because I couldn’t reach their authors.
RM: In your Introduction in The Road to Pemberley, you talk about seeing the 2005 movie version of Pride and Prejudice as the inspiration for your Austen fan fiction. What exactly was it about Austen’s work that spoke to you?
MA: I had read Pride and Prejudice before, and seen the miniseries prior to 2005, but that movie just came out in a time in my life when the material spoke to me more than it had previously and inspired me to read more about it and eventually write stories of my own. It was more of a “right time, right place” thing than any particular thing about that movie, which has both its highlights and its flaws, like any adaptation. I haven’t seen every adaptation, but I’ve seen most of them, and they all have good and bad aspects that inspire different people to do different things.
RM: Also in your Introduction, you talk about making the traditional Austen “pilgrimage” to England to visit well-known Austen sites. What were your expectations of that trip and were any of them met?
MA: Man, that trip was crazy. I had a fever through at least half of it and felt miserable the rest. I was traveling with my dad, and we both had sinus infections, so we would go do something in the morning, like visit a cathedral, then crash at 11 am and fall asleep until 4, when everything was closing, then eat dinner and lay in bed all night until things opened in the morning, then repeat the whole process. So we really only got one thing done each day. By the time I got to Chatsworth I was feeling a bit better, which was great because it was a long ride back and forth for a day trip. I really debated how to spend my time on the very brief trip, but ultimately decided Chatsworth was worth it, as the inspiration for Pemberley (maybe – Jane Austen did visit it) and the shooting site for the exterior scenes for the 2005 movie. By the way, they will not let you run down those stairs like Keira Knightly did – they’re closed to the public. But it ended up being the highlight of my trip other than Chawton, because it was an incredible place to visit for reasons unrelated to Pride and Prejudice. I’ve always loved British history, and there’s a ton of it there, plus lovely grounds to walk through. The weather was nice and I could breathe through my nose again so it was great.
RM: If you had just a few minutes to speak to Jane Austen in person, what would you say to her?
MA: “Hi, big fan – Shit, look out! Gorilla!” (I assume all time travel scenarios are gorilla attack-based)
RM: Would you say Austen is your favorite author?
MA: I suppose I have to. I mean, she is, but if she wasn’t I would have my JASNA membership revoked or something. They might even make me turn in my copies of their yearly magazine.
RM: What are some challenges in writing Austen based romance?
MA: You’re writing historical romance, so you have to know a lot of history, but you’re also writing “Regency” romance, which is a category unto itself, and you have to know what Regency fans expect things to look and sound like. Jane Austen wrote contemporary fiction, but she wrote a certain kind of fiction, presenting the world in a certain, genteel way because that was where she had stories to tell, and sometimes amateur and real historians get her Regency and the Regency of other writers at the time mixed up with what really happened and the way things really were (Hint: no one talked like the characters in Jane Austen novels). So you have to cater to expectations on one level and draw your line in the sand and say, “But this is what I want to write and these are the storylines I want to discuss” on another. In my stories, for example, people curse and get injured and have accents and travel and miscarry and do all kinds of things that were everyday occurrences in Georgian England, but are outside of the scope of what Austen wanted to write about, but they’re my books and they’re what I want to write about.
RM: You’ve written several books about the characters in Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, in fact your latest book, The Ballad of Gregoire Darcy: Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice Continues, is doing quite well, with a five star rating on Amazon.com. Can you tell us a little about this book?
MA: This book is the fourth in the Darcys and the Bingleys series, so it’s getting a little further down the road, where my cast of what I like to call the “adult” characters is fairly established and most people within that generation are married and have children. I say this because after book 5, which is a very transitional book, the children are old enough to be marrying themselves, and the focus shifts to them. The Ballad of Grégoire Darcy takes place 14 years after the marriage of Darcy and Elizabeth (and Bingley and Jane). Obviously the focus is on Grégoire Darcy, who was introduced in book 2 as Darcy’s illegitimate half-brother, who is much younger than him, far more naïve, and is dedicated to a spiritual lifestyle well outside of the English Pale. I also wrap up some other plotlines – Mary Bennet, still unmarried since her adventures in book 2, gets some romance, and we see more of the next generation, because the oldest of the many children are now in their early teens and their personalities are taking shape. It was very rewarding to me, as a writer, to watch plotlines and characters I had nurtured from the first few books grow, and watch readers become invested in them. The series is not the adventures of Darcy, Elizabeth, Bingley, and Jane – it’s a saga of the massive family that is created by their unions, with all the crazy extended relatives I could fit in.
RM: Are you working on anything now?
MA: All ten books in the series are written, and I just released a free eBook of short stories (Other Tales: Stories from the Ballad of Grégoire Darcy), so I’m waiting on the publisher now and working on my more usual fare, science fiction that doesn’t get published either because it’s not good enough or because the science fiction market is completely insane. It’s probably a bit of both.
RM: In your bio information you mention that you’re an authorized heavy fighter in the Society of Creative Anachronism for sword-and-shield combat. How long have you been involved with the SCA, and other than combat competitions, do you participate in any other events or have any other Anachronistic skills?
MA: I’ve been involved in the SCA since 2003, but I’m mostly a Pennsic person, especially now that I live in Manhattan and don’t have a car so it’s hard to get my armor to practice. Also: I’m lazy. I make it to Pennsic about every other year. I also LARP (… just look it up), which is with foam weapons and no armor, so I have at least 4-5 chances a year to hit people a lot without repercussions. It’s something I make time for: hitting people.
RM: Do you have anything you would like to say to your fans and the readers?
MA: Look out! There’s a gorilla behind you! ……………… Oh shit, now he’s gone.
You can visit Marsha at her website: Marsha Altman, at Austen Authors, her blog Marsha Altman's Blog and on Facebook.
Marsha Altman Discusses
The Road to Pemberley
Marsha Altman is the author of The Ballad of Gregoire Darcy: Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice Continues (May 10, 2011), Mr. Darcy's Great Escape: A tale of the Darcys & the Bingleys (February 1, 2010), The Plight of the Darcy Brothers: A tale of the Darcys & the Bingleys (August 1, 2009), and The Darcys & the Bingleys: A Tale of Two Gentlemen's Marriages to Two Most Devoted Sisters (September 1, 2008).
She is also the editor of the book we are currently reviewing, The Road to Pemberley: An Anthology of New Pride and Prejudice Stories.
Marsha has lived in Jerusalem, Israel and currently resides in New York City. She has a B.A. in History from Brown University and a MFA in Creative Writing from The City College of New York. She does not own any cats.
Here are some Fun Facts about Marsha:
She is an authorized heavy fighter in the Society of Creative Anachronism for sword-and-shield combat. That said, she is not very good.
She has been to Israel about 7 times. She’s not precisely sure.
She has been through the Mishnah 20 times (as of January 14, 2009) and will continue until she reaches forty. She is currently working on a commentary on the social and historical background of the Mishnah.
Her first book was a story about an alien who came to earth because he won a contest. It was 24 pages long (about 25% bad artwork) and written in fourth grade. It was never published because it was written by a 4th-grader.