Author’s Obsession with Austen
Yields Successful Novels
By Ellen Birkett Morris
Laurie Viera Rigler
of a Jane Austen Addict
Like many women readers Laurie Viera Rigler had a thing for Jane Austen. She parlayed this interest into two novels in which her heroines travel between modern life and Regency England armed with Austen’s novels as a guide.
Austen’s novels have spawned movies, groups such as the Jane Austen Society of North America, and books ranging from zombie tales to Rigler’s two novels, CONFESSIONS OF A JANE AUSTEN ADDICT, a national bestseller, and the sequel released this year, RUDE AWAKENING OF A JANE AUSTEN ADDICT.
“I was really lucky that I happened to finish the first book at a time when the movie Becoming Jane was coming out and everything Jane Austen was hot again,” observed Rigler.
What does she think accounts for Austen’s enduring appeal?
“It is the timelessness of the stories. They combine satire of social hypocrisy and comment on human nature with this great search for love,” said Rigler. “I think of her books as self help books, as my characters do.”
Rigler was standing in her kitchen one day when pictured her protagonist Courtney Stone, a modern woman, waking up in a four poster bed in Regency England.
Her first book, CONFESSIONS OF A JANE AUTEN ADDICT, follows Courtney as she finds herself inhabiting the body and life of Jane Mansfield, the daughter of a gentleman. Courtney’s struggles to adapt to the rigorous standards of behavior and her quest to find love make for a transporting read.
Her second novel, RUDE AWAKENING OF A JANE AUSTEN ADDICT, chronicles Jane Mansfield’s travels to modern day to navigate a world of puzzling technology and alarming social norms.
Rigler initially thought that she would alternate between the two women’s stories but discovered that their journeys were so different that they needed to be told separately.
“I wrote Courtney’s story in Regency England first and trusted that I would know how to tell Jane’s story when the time came,” she said.
Rigler’s path to becoming a novelist was not a straight line. She started college at 16 with dreams of becoming a classics professor. She graduated summa cum laude, Phi Beta Kappa, from the State University of New York at Buffalo with a B.A. in Classics. Then she worked as an advocate for victims of domestic violence, a legal secretary, and freelance book editor. She worked her way into film work from production coordinating features to producing short films. Two of the short films she produced were commissioned by Showtime. A third short, Blind Curve, was selected for the Cannes Film Festival’s Semaine de la Critique.
Before writing fiction, Rigler teamed with Richard Roeper of Ebert & Roeper fame to write a humorous, gender-specific guide to movie rentals entitled HE RENTS, SHE RENTS: THE ULTIMATE FILM GUIDE TO THE BEST WOMEN’S FILMS AND GUY MOVIES for St.Martin’s Press. She also coauthored POPPING THE QUESTION: REAL-LIFE STORIES OF MARRIAGE PROPOSALS, FROM THE ROMANTIC TO THE BIZARRE for Walker & Company.
The first novel took six years to complete. Rigler cited lack of confidence, fear of rejection, procrastination and getting immersed in research as the reasons why.
“I am a research nerd. I started with Austen’s texts, read books from that period and went to London and Bath to get a feel for it.” She made ample use of the internet, including articles, blogs and information from the Jane Austen Society. She also took lessons in English country dancing.
She described her writing style as “putting together a patchwork quilt.” She completed 10 to12 drafts of the book before she finished it. The second book was finished in two years, building on the research she had done for the first book.
“I wrote an outline for the first book, but the final product bore little resemblance to the outline. The outline was good because psychologically it gave me something to hang my hat on, but I allowed the story to unfold in its own way.”
She said that if she gets writer’s block she steps away from the story and asks her character to show her what happens next.
“I found out that not knowing is the best place for me to be. If you can embrace not knowing in a playful manner wondrous, magical things can happen.”
Her greatest challenge writing the books was fidelity to the language of Austen’s time period. “Every word became a question,” she noted. Rigler got a subscription to the Oxford English Dictionary online and used Google’s book search to look at books from that period. She created a glossary of terms so that she wouldn’t end up duplicating her research.
Rigler pointed out that Jane in RUDE AWAKENINGS had a “language arc” throughout the book where her word usage changes the longer she stays in the present day.
Her advice to new writers who are daunted by the prospect of writing an entire novel is to look at it as a series of sentences strung together to create scenes and a series of scenes strung together to create the book.
“Also, I always kept my theme in mind. The first book was about transformation and the second was about awakening. Reminding myself of this helped me stay focused when a scene was wandering,” she advised.
She was helped along the way by a friend who read every draft of both books and gave her constructive criticism.
Rigler found her agent by paying attention to which agents were making deals for books like hers and by looking up key words to narrow down a list of agents that might be interested in her work. She wrote a query letter to agent Marly Rusoff of Marly Rusoff Literary Agency, who became her agent.
She received several offers on the book but went with a two-book deal with Dutton. Trena Keating edited the first book and Erika Imranyi edited the second.
“It can be disconcerting to get notes from an editor. It can be a knee jerk reaction to get defensive, but editors are so respectful and want to collaborate with you so try to take everything on a case by case basis,” advised Rigler.
Imranyi advised her to flesh out certain scenes and to enhance some “friendship issues” between certain characters. Rigler enjoyed the collaboration.
She is sharing her success by teaching writing workshops at Vroman’s, an independent bookstore in Southern California. Topics include keeping a consistent point of view, sensory description, how to write in scene not summary and writing sparkling dialogue.
Rigler cautioned new writers not to listen to naysayers and not to share their work with everyone, opening themselves to unwarranted criticism.
“A lot of finishing a book is sticking with it and having the vision. I credit what Ron Gottesman, a fellow author and friend, calls the three P’s, persistence, patience and postage,” said Rigler.
About the Author
Laurie Viera Rigler is the best-selling author of the novels CONFESSIONS OF A JANE AUSTEN ADDICT and RUDE AWAKENINGS OF A JANE AUSTEN ADDICT, both published in North America by Dutton / Plume. CONFESSIONS OF A JANE AUSTEN ADDICT has also been published in the Netherlands (Archipel) and the UK (Bloomsbury), garnering enthusiastic reviews in The Guardian and The Observer and receiving a nomination for a Regency World Award for Best New Fiction.
About Regular Contributor
Ellen Birkett Morris
Ellen Birkett Morris is an award-winning writer whose work has appeared in national print and online publications including The New York Times. She also writes for a number of literary, regional, trade, and business publications, and she has contributed to six published nonfiction books in the trade press. Ellen is a regular contributor to Authorlink, assigned to interview various New York Times bestselling authors and first-time novelists.