The Darcy Brothers with Susan Mason-Milks
I know, it has been a looooong time since I have had a new post here on "Writing and Ramblings." For those of you who follow my Facebook Page, you know that I have had to take a step back from social media because of mental and physical exhaustion, a soul-sucking day job, trying to sell my house, and in general just being overwhelmed by this thing called life. So I guess that's my "ramblings."
On the "writings" side, in addition to working on three novels, I am also preparing to go to The Novel Experience Event this weekend in Atlanta with a huge FREE booksigning on Saturday, March 29th, with 300 authors! So if you are in the area, I hope you'll come say hi! In any case, recently I have been a very bad blogger.
Fortunately, I have many lovely friends who are willing to stop by for Coffee! Today, I am excited to have fellow Austen Variations Author Susan Mason-Milks joining me for Coffee again. Susan dropped by last October to tell you about her latest release, Please, Mr. Darcy!
This morning she is here to tell us about the special "Readers' Choice" project The Darcy Brothers. Susan is joined by other authors from the Austen Variations group, Abigail Reynolds, Monica Fairview, Maria Grace, Cassandra Grafton, and Regina Jeffers. So for all of us who just cannot get enough of Jane Austen, here's our chance to play along and decide what happens next!
Creating The Darcy Brothers
Many authors who write in the Jane Austen genre ask the creative question: What if events had gone a little differently than in the original book? Six authors at the Austen Variations blog decided to explore one of these "what if" scenarios but with an unusual twist. We call it Reader’s Choice. It’s a bit like those “choose your own adventure” books you might have read as a kid.
To kick off the story, the group decided on some basic parameters for the story. One of our authors wrote the first chapter, and at the end, we asked readers to vote on one of three options for the direction of the next chapter. Each week voting is open for about 24 hours, and then based on the fans' selection, the next writer in the rotation must create a new chapter, incorporating the winning option. New chapters are posted every Wednesday. Sound like fun? It's been a real learning experience for the writers involved!
The current story [The Darcy Brothers] began last fall and features a number of old friends from Pride and Prejudice. It also added a few new characters to the landscape, primarily Fitzwilliam Darcy’s younger brother, Theophilus Darcy or Theo. It was our vision to have him be a typical younger brother but with all the charm that Darcy is missing. Although a tad irresponsible, Theo's not a bad person - just the kind of handsome, redeemable rake we all love!
The story opens with Darcy and his brother Theo headed to Rosings for the annual Easter visit with their aunt, Lady Catherine. If you have children, this little exchange will sound familiar in spite of the fact that these two are in their twenties.
“So tell me again, why am I going to Rosings?” Theophilus Darcy stretched his long legs across the floorboards of the traveling coach until his feet were not quite touching his brother’s boots.
Fitzwilliam Darcy grunted and shifted in his seat until his feet were free once more.Theophilus grinned.Darcy clamped his jaws together and swallowed back his sharp words. Theo would not provoke him to intemperate speech, not today. Not again.He drew a deep breath, savoring the fragrance of the newly refreshed leather upholstery. He would never admit it to his brother, but he delighted in the scent. Simple, elegant, and made to last, exactly as it should be.“I asked you a question, brother dear.” He tapped his boot against Darcy’s.Darcy jumped. “Stop that. There is plenty of room in this coach without you crowding me.”Theo chuckled and pulled back just enough that Darcy would have to concede he complied, but not an inch further. “So touchy. Always have been as I remember. You never liked sharing a seat with me, even when we were children.” He tapped Darcy’s boot again. (From Chapter One by Maria Grace)
Theo has become so popular that both fans and writers sometimes have difficulty remembering Theo isn't one of the original characters. What do you mean, Darcy didn't have a brother? While preparing for the story, we found a portrait from the Regency period that we all agreed could be Theo, and we've used that as a visual cue throughout the story. Almost every week, we give away items with Theo's picture on them - everything from magnets to key chains. Just to add to the fun, I discovered a company called Theo's Chocolate in Seattle, and one week we did a giveaway of chocolate bars from Theo's.
After seeing a presentation on the Lizzy Bennet Diaries at last year's annual meeting of the Jane Austen Society, we decided to experiment with adding other social media. Theo has his own blog which is used to post the letters he writes to his sister, cousin, and friends. He also tweets under the name @Theo_Darcy. Some of Theo's friends and family have twitter accounts, too: Georgiana @PemberleyG; Colonel Fitzwilliam @Col_Fitzwilliam; Elizabeth Bennet @LizzyB1813; and his friend Monty @DBMontgomery.
Because fans and authors have had so much fun interacting, we recently took that idea to a whole new level by adding a follow up blog post called "Reader's Perspective" in which one of our readers does a bit of story analysis, asks questions about the story, and makes suggestions for the story. Writers and other fans add their own thoughts to this interaction creating a unique dialogue. It's been amazing just how many comments are generated between the story itself and the follow up. The Reader's Perspective has been so successful that two fans are now working together to create it.
A few weeks ago as part of the Reader's Perspective some fans said they thought the story was going too fast and that there were scenes that they'd like to see "missing" from the plot. As a result, we stepped back and took another look at the story - and agreed with them. Much to the fans' delight, we created five new scenes to add to prior chapters. We all think these scenes really enrich the story, and we're so glad we listened.
So besides listening to the readers, what has the writing team learned through this? Communication is the key. We continually check in with each other, share ideas, and brainstorm story elements behind the scenes.
The Darcy Brothers’ two-part finale begins tomorrow, March 26 and concludes on April 2nd. On April 9th, we'll have another interactive feature - an interview with Theo Darcy to answer fan's questions. Will there be a book? Yes, probably some time late summer/early fall. And a sequel? Absolutely! We just can't get enough of Theo!
The innovative writing team for The Darcy Brothers includes Monica Fairview, Maria Grace, Cassandra Grafton, Regina Jeffers, Susan Mason-Milks and Abigail Reynolds.
You might be surprised to learn that when Ms. Mason-Milks read Pride and Prejudice for the first time in the eighth grade, she was not impressed! That changed when she saw the now famous 1995 mini-series version of the story. Deciding to give Austen another chance, she read all the novels and fell in love. She says, “Writing stories inspired by Austen’s books offers a way to spend more time with characters I’ve grown to love. Just because the book ends, it doesn’t have to be the end of the story.”
She lives in the Pacific Northwest with her husband and three naughty cats.
Ms. Mason-Milks is a member of the Austen Variations group blog along with nearly twenty other authors who all write in the Austen genre. For the blog, she has helped coordinate several creative projects including a celebration of the 200th anniversary of Pride and Prejudice called Pride and Prejudice: Scenes Jane Austen Never Wrote (published by White Soup Press), and the innovative Reader’s Choice, serialized stories in which readers vote on the plot direction of the next chapter. Starting in April 2014, she’ll be coordinating the real time retelling of Persuasion (P200) on Austen Variations.
Web address: www.austen-whatif-stories.com
Austen Variations: www.austenvariations.com
Facebook: Susan Mason-Milks