Emma, Mr Knightley, and Chili Slaw Dogs: An interview with Mary Jane Hathaway

Hello My Dear Romantics!

So as I mentioned last week I am interviewing the fabulous Mary Jane Hathaway writer of the Austen Takes the South series.

You may have seen my previous review of the first book in the series Pride, Prejudice, Cheese Grits, well since that review Ms. Hathaway has been fortunate enough to have her series picked up and republished by Simon and Schuster Publishing House!

So in honor of her re-launch for the series I’d like to welcome to the blog Mary Jane Hathaway!

Hi Mary Jane! I’m so excited to have you join us today. For my readers who are just getting to know you please tell us a little about yourself and how you came to be a writer.

Mary Jane Hathaway is the pen name of an award-nominated writer who spends the majority of her literary energy on subjects un-related to Jane Austen. A homeschooling mother of six young children who rarely wear shoes, she’s madly in love with a man who has never read Pride and Prejudice. She holds degrees in Religious Studies and Theoretical Linguistics, and has a Jane Austen quote on the back of her van. She can be reached on facebook at ‘Pride, Prejudice, and Cheese Grits’ or her regular author page of Virginia Carmichael (which is another pen name, because she’s just that cool).

Who, other than Austen herself, are your literary heroes and how did they contribute to your literary career?

I love classic literature! I grew up in a house packed to the brim with old books and my heart still beats wildly for Elizabeth Gaskell, Louisa May Alcott, The Brontes, Charles Dickens, George Eliot, and many more.  In modern literature I love Franny Billingsley, Laura Whitcomb, Shannon Hale, Rick Riordan, Cassandra Clare, Alan Bradley, anyone with a truly distinct voice and story to tell. I guess they remind me to search for my own words, and although we want to imitate our heroes, we also know that our voice is a God-given unique gift. There is only one of you and only one of me. We’re meant to speak our own story. 

I know you write under a few pen names what are they and what is the story behind them?

At the time of my first contract, someone (can’t exactly remember who now) told me that Munoz was too difficult to remember. So I went with my maiden name for my books with Love Inspired/ Harlequin. Then as I wanted to self publish my Austen books but was afraid that people would be confused when I switched to longer, stand alone novels, I chose Mary Jane Hathaway. Mary is my legal first name. Jane should be obvious!! And Hathaway is my mother’s side of the family. So, both of my pen names honor both sides of my family (and Miss Austen).

What was your inspiration for this series?

I read Bridget Jones’ Diary and laughed myself silly. But I couldn’t share that series with most of my friends because of the immorality and the language. It started me thinking of a sweet version of Bridget Jones’ Diary (which was really a new take on P&P). I needed the perfect setting because so much of the story relies on family obligations and expectations. I also needed a place with a very rich dialogue and long-standing customs. What better place than the South? I live in Oregon and we pretty much sound like every newscaster you’ve ever heard. We also eat normal food, nothing out of the ordinary. We also have very little history (our big claim to fame is living on the Oregon Trail). So, it was a blast to dive into the rich heritage and history of the South to set the stage for a P&P retelling!

So I have to be honest I’ve read almost every book Austen ever wrote and Emma was one of my least favorites however your spin on the story actually raised my opinion of the Emma character.  What about this character spoke to you and made you want to take on her story?

I love Emma because she always thinks she has the perfect plan. I’m the same way! I always think I can (refurbish that vintage desk, paint the house, bake a soufflé, write a novel). Most of the time, it’s a major fail and someone has to come in and fix my mess. With Emma, she has a good heart, truly. And that is her saving grace. In my book “Emma, Mr. Knightley, and Chili-Slaw Dogs”, Caroline comes up with plans that she believes will help everyone around her. As her plans don’t work out, she has to face the fact that her idea of what people need isn’t always the reality.

Was there any part of this story that you had trouble writing about and why?

I was attracted to the story of Emma because she’s such a fun character, but the love story was hard to write. We’re all used to the ‘cute meet’ and instant attraction and characters finally admitting their love for each other. But this story has the hero and heroine in love, without really understanding the depths of their feelings. I had to find ways to plant that idea in the readers’ mind, without bringing the characters together too soon.

In the end, I loved writing it because it taught me how to subtly describe two people in love, but in such gentle ways that the characters themselves could be caught off guard my the realization.

I know there were some added scenes between your original release and the relaunch of Emma, Mr. Knightley, and Chili Slaw Dogs.  Without giving too much away can you tell us what they are and how they add to the story?

I can absolutely tell you what sort of scenes were added. My wonderful editor, Beth Adams, asked if I could expand a little on the reasons behind Frank’s deception, Lauren’s reasons for assisting him, and Caroline’s job issues in the end. She also wanted a little bit more time between the moment that Caroline and Brooks first kiss (and misunderstand each other so thoroughly) and the actual proposal. The plot line of Lexi Martinez was central to the story, but it didn’t get much page time, so that was another place I got to fill in details. In the new version, Caroline goes to Lexi’s home and talks to her dad at the gas station. This is a pivotal scene, because she realizes how arrogant she was to assume she knew what was best for Lexi. Just like Emma assuming that she could tell Miss Harriett Smith that she should refuse Robert Martin just because he’s a farmer, Caroline meant well, but was very wrong. I also tried to give a little more satisfaction to the villain, since that was something  readers mentioned. In the original Emma, Frank and Jane Fairfax get to ride off into the sunset happily married, I tried to leave the “villains” of my books un-chastised. But what works for Miss Austen doesn’t always work for us! I needed to give them some comeuppance.

What’s the next Austen book you are going to take on in this series and can we get a little taste of the new story?

Persuasion, Captain Wentworth, and Cracklin’ Cornbread is the next book. It’s about an African-American woman from a wealthy, very traditional family. She falls in love with a white boy  from the wrong side of the tracks who has an unmarried single drop out for a mom and an absent father. Her aunt convinces her to dump him before she leaves for Harvard, saying he had no future.

  The story begins as Jeremiah “Jem” Chevy (our hero) comes back into Tupelo, Mississippi on a program from his medical school called the Rural Physician’s Program. (We have it here in Oregon, too. A qualifying medical student can erase their school debt by serving in a rural area for a certain number of years.) His heart has healed, or so he thinks, and he isn’t too worried about running into the beautiful girl who broke his heart ten years before.

Our heroine, Lucy Crawford,  is now on the verge of losing her home, Crawford House, because her father has reversed mortgaged it to the max, and her two sisters are living off his credit cards. She’s trying her hardest to keep the family together, but her job as a historian at a Civil War battlefield isn’t going to save the house. Their family history is rich and they have the respect of the entire community, but they’re in massive debt. In the ten years since Jem left, her life has only gotten sadder and more solitary. She was wrong to break up with him, but by the time she realized her mistake, he was gone forever.

    These broken-hearted people might never cross paths, if the board of the Free Clinic didn’t manage to work out a deal with her father, and now Jem and Lucy are thrown together on a daily basis.
  A story of love lost, love found, and second chances set in the beauty of the deep South. There’s laughter, hope, and lots of Jane Austen!

So, I like to ask a personality question just for fun.  I know you’re happily married but, if you could meet and marry any Austen hero who would it be and why?

Mr. Knightley!!! He brought Emma a book, and he was always in his library reading. I think we’d make a great pair and raise lots of lovely little bookworm children! 😀

Mary Jane, it’s been great talking to you about your re-launch. Before you go, do you have any advice for our aspiring writers out there?

Write the book you want to read. I’d heard that before, but never quite understood it, until I laughed my way through Bridget Jones’ Diary. I just kept thinking, “This is great, but I sure wish…” So, I decided to stop wishing and start writing.

Thank you so much for having me over here!

Caroline Ashley is a journalist on the rise at The Washington Post until the sudden death of her father brings her back to Thorny Hollow to care for her mentally fragile mother and their aging antebellum home. The only respite from the eternal rotation of bridge club meetings and garden parties is her longtime friend, Brooks Elliott. A professor of journalism, Brooks is the voice of sanity and reason in the land of pink lemonade and triple layer coconut cakes. But when she meets a fascinating, charismatic young man on the cusp of a brand new industry, she ignores Brooks’s misgivings and throws herself into the project.

Brooks struggles to reconcile his parents’ very bitter marriage with his father’s devastating grief at the recent loss of his wife. Caroline is the only bright spot in the emotional wreckage of his family life. She’s a friend and he’s perfectly happy to keep her safely in that category. Marriage isn’t for men like Brooks and they both know it… until a handsome newcomer wins her heart. Brooks discovers Caroline is much more than a friend, and always has been, but is it too late to win her back?

Featuring a colorful cast of southern belles, Civil War re-enactors, and good Christian women with spunk to spare, Emma, Mr. Knightley, and Chili-Slaw Dogs brings the modern American South to light in a way only a contemporary Jane Austen could have imagined.

Emma, Mr. Knightley and Chili-Slaw Dogs

Re-Readability Rating:

4 out of 5 stars

This book has made it to my list of books I love to wander back around to when I need a good read to pass the time of day.

Romance Rating:

5 out of 5 stars

Love the kiss scene! Great banter and dialog but I will say the lack of communication did get on my nerves just a tiny bit.  We human beings can be so silly sometimes.

Mary Jane Hathaway is also giving away some awesome Prizes!!!!

Leave a comment telling us your favorite Austen character and why for a chance to win a free e-book copy of Emma, Mr. Knightley, and Chili Slaw Dogs or a pair of Jane Austen inspired earrings from Etsy.com! You have until Tuesday, February 4th, 2014 11:59pm EST

Book EARRINGS Pride and Prejudice Jane Austen quote vintage Typewriter

You can also keep up with Mary Jane on Facebook: Pride, Prejudice, and Cheese Grits Fan PageVirginia Carmichael Author Page

Twitter: Mary Jane’s Twitter

and her blog: Virginia Carmichael @ Blog Spot

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26 thoughts on “Emma, Mr Knightley, and Chili Slaw Dogs: An interview with Mary Jane Hathaway

  1. I am extremely inspired along with your writing talents and also with the format for your weblog. Is this a paid topic or did you customize it your self? Either way keep up the nice high quality writing, it is uncommon to see a great blog like this one nowadays..

    • Thanks so much for the encouraging words. 🙂 Definitely not a paid topic. I started the blog because I’m an avid reader of romance books but have never liked “bodice rippers” and the like. I like stories where the main characters fall in love by spending time talking and getting to know each other. So I just decided to tell others about the books I found that I especially liked. Little to no vulgar language and no sex scenes! I just figured there had to be other people out there who might like them too. I also figured it be a great way to maybe “meet” some of the authors I especially liked to see if they let me interview them. I’ve meet some great women through this blog! Thanks for stopping by and sorry for the extremely long answer. Lol 😀

  2. BeckyC says:

    I have all the usual favorites: Darcy, Elizabeth, Wentworth, but I have a special love of Colonel Fitzwilliam. I am always on the hunt for a good book that brings more of his character to life.

  3. Heather Fox says:

    My favorite love story of all time is Persuasion with Miss Anne Elliot and Captain Wentworth. I love the movie with Sally Hawkins and have watched it at least 10 times!! Pride and Prejudice is a close second, when Mr. Darcy tells Elizabeth she has pierced his soul. Colin Firth makes you swoon!

  4. Laura says:

    I like Mr. Knightly on the Male side and even though Persuasion is my favorite book, Fanny Price is my fav. Female character. I love her spunk and backbone and ability to be patient.

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