Please see below for information on the book giveaway!
Gentle Readers: Today I welcome Claire LaZebnik as she shares with us her thoughts on her newest book, The Trouble with Flirting, a Jane Austen for young adults. Loosely based on Mansfield Park, it tells the tale of Franny Pearson and her summer of friendship and romance with the likes of Edmund Bertram, his sisters, and Henry and Mary Crawford, all updated to the 21st-century. There is even a rather demanding, you-shall-never-please-me Aunt Norris in the mix!
In one of my former lives I was a children’s librarian and with the added plus of having children of my own, I’ve have read a good amount of children’s and young adult literature – I can honestly say that some of the works for young people still rate as my favorite reads [Bridge to Terabithia by Vermont’s own Katherine Paterson remains my number one]. Now if I pop Jane Austen into the equation [which I do whenever possible], I have been delighted to discover a treasure-trove of titles that take her tales and adapt them to the world of the 21st century teenager – Polly Shulman’s Enthusiasm and Rosie Rushton’s series spring immediately to mind – indeed there is even a blog out there!: From JA to YA: Adapting Jane Austen for Young Adults! [And most of my Jane Austen friends agree that Clueless might well be the best of all the Austen adaptations...]
I have just found out about Claire [thank you Diana Birchall!] and have not read her first book Epic Fail based on Pride and Prejudice, but am nearly finished with The Trouble with Flirting – a thoroughly enjoyable read that whether you are 14 or 40 or even 64 you will find something to savor in the young love so beautifully rendered by Jane Austen 200 years ago as now transported to a modern day summer theater camp, where even Shakespeare takes a bow.
By Claire LaZebnik
How do you stay true to the spirit of an author who wrote two hundred years ago?
When you sit down to write a modernization of a Jane Austen novel, you get hit by a jumble of emotions. There’s terror—how dare you tinker with perfection?—and dread—no matter how good a book you write, it will never compare to the original—and excitement—you get to spend the next few months of your life thinking about an author you love!—and, mostly, perplexity—how do you bring an early 19th century text into the 21st century? You can’t simply switch “ball” to “prom” and “tea” to “diet Coke” and call it a day. (Not that some haven’t tried.)
My first YA novel, Epic Fail, is loosely based on Pride and Prejudice. For the most part, updating the story went smoothly. The emotions in P&P feel as true today as they ever did: we all know what it’s like to be embarrassed by members of our families and we’ve all at some point given our respect to someone who didn’t deserve it and withheld it from someone who did.
My challenge was figuring out how to give a modern day Darcy a reason to be so guarded that he comes across as a snob: our class distinctions aren’t as clearcut as they were back in Austen’s day and country. But then I figured it out: children of celebrities get fawned over and hounded pretty much everywhere they go in L.A., and, just like Darcy, they learn to be wary of strangers who may want too much from them. So Darcy (now Derek) became the son of two movie stars in my novel.
One thing I never worried about was how to make Elizabeth Bennet accessible to my readers: Lizzie’s about as modern as a nineteenth-century heroine can get. She’s funny, intelligent, wellread, outspoken, and prefers even potentially insolvent independence to life with someone she can’t respect. She transplants beautifully into our modern world.
That project finished, I turned my attention to Mansfield Park.
I love Mansfield Park. It’s like a combination of Cinderella and the Ugly Duckling. Plain and poor Fanny Price pines quietly for her kind, wealthy cousin Edmund, but has to watch from the sidelines as he falls in love with the dazzling and witty Mary Crawford. Mary’s equally charming brother Henry decides he’ll steal faithful little Fanny’s heart, just for the hell of it, then surprises himself by falling more in love with her than she with him. He’s an attractive guy, but morally flawed and conscientious Fanny doesn’t trust him. So she rejects his courtship and waits patiently for Edmund to come to his senses or for senility to descend on her–whichever comes first. (And, trust me, it’s a bit of a toss-up.)
Devout, patient, deeply moral, quiet . . . Fanny Price is about as modern as a whalebone corset.
So there lay my challenge with Mansfield Park: finding a way to make Fanny accessible to modern readers. I still wanted her to feel like an outsider, so in my version she arrives at the Mansfield College Theater Program for a job sewing costumes, while all the others teenagers are enrolled in the summer acting program. But she’s not meek, submissive or embarrassed by her position: she takes some pride in the fact she’s earning her way, and when she’s given a chance to participate as an actor, proves she can hold her own against the more privileged set.
Nor does my Franny (I added an “r”) sit around waiting for Edmund/Alex to notice her once he’s clearly crushing on someone else. She still carries a torch for him, but it’s summertime and she knows she might as well have fun.
So there I was, writing my update of MP, feeling pretty good about how I’d made Fanny more modern and brought the plot into this fun summer acting program setting, and everything was falling into place–and then I got to the ending. In Austen’s version, morality triumphs. The two people who’ve acted in a conscientious and thoughtful way end up together, while the morally lax ones ride off into the sunset. Actually, let me correct that. First the morally lax ones ride off. Then Edmund spends some time moping around because he really really liked Mary and is so bummed she didn’t come up to his high moral standards. And then he remembers about faithful little Fanny who’s still watching him hopefully from the sidelines.
Times were different when Austen wrote Mansfield Park. Young women of no means didn’t have a lot of power. Sitting around waiting—and turning down the occasional wrong suitor—was pretty much the only option for someone as poor and dependent as Franny.
But I couldn’t make that ending work. Not today. Not with a more modern heroine. I found it hard to respect a 21st century girl who sits around passively waiting for the guy she loves to appreciate her, especially when that same man has made it clear he preferred someone else pretty much all along.
I tried to make it work. I wanted to be true to Austen and true to the novel I’d read so many times and loved so very much. But it wasn’t working. No matter how wonderfully romantic I tried to make the moment when Franny and Alex came together in my book, I felt resentful toward him. He didn’t deserve her.
So I sent an email to my editor. “May I please just try changing the ending?” I asked.
“Sure,” she said.
So in my version, Franny learns that the guy who makes you wait while he pants after someone else just isn’t worth waiting for.
I love Austen—madly, passionately, deeply. That’s why I’ve wanted to pay homage to her with these modernizations: if you’re going to steal, steal from the best. But I wouldn’t be faithful to her legacy of capturing universal human truths and emotions and setting them in a very specific time and place, if I didn’t recognize that times change and women are much freer now than they were back then—and give my readers a Fanny Price for our time.
About the author:
Claire LaZebnik’s most recent novels, Epic Fail and The Trouble with Flirting (HarperTeen), are loosely based on two of Jane Austen’s classic works. She’s currently finishing up The Last Best Kiss, which is due out in summer 2014 (also from HarperTeen) and is inspired by Austen’s Persuasion. Her first novel, Same as It Never Was (St. Martin’s, 2003) was made into an ABC Family movie titled Hello Sister, Goodbye Life. Her four other novels for adults, Knitting under the Influence, The Smart One and the Pretty One, If You Lived Here, You’d Be Home Now, and Families and other Nonreturnable Gifts, were all published by Hachette’s Grand Central Publishing imprint. LaZebnik co-authored two non-fiction books with Dr. Lynn Kern Koegel (Overcoming Autism and Growing Up on the Spectrum) and contributed a monologue about having a teenage son with autism to the anthology play Motherhood Out Loud.
An interview with Claire at L. S. Murphy’s blog
The Trouble with Flirting
by Claire LaZebnik
Find it at your local bookstore, or at Amazon
Book Giveaway! Please enter into the random drawing for a copy of The Trouble with Flirting by commenting below: either by asking Claire LaZebnik a question or telling us why you would like to read this YA novel based on Mansfield Park and how you might fashion the ending. Deadline is Monday March 25, 2013 11:59 pm; winner will be announced on Tuesday March 26th. Domestic eligibility only [sorry all, our postage rates make international mailings impossibly expensive]. Good luck all, and thank you to the publisher HarperTeen for donating the book for the giveaway, and to Claire for her posting here today [and her delightful book!]