Let's Talk Tropes

Let’s Talk Tropes: Austen Retellings

Bottom line: Do you like Austen retellings?

Holly: For some mysterious reason, I became the go-to person for Austen retellings here at TSR, so I’ve read a fair number. (This is ironic to me because Erin and Ingrid introduced me to the BBC’s Pride and Prejudice, which was my very first Austen experience.) When they’re good, they’re really fun…but oh boy, are there some bad ones out there. So this one really hinges on the execution.

Erin: I tend to prefer my Austen retellings in A/V format. I think I might have been most delighted to find those Pemberley Digital serialized versions of Emma and P&P on YouTube back in the day. In books, I definitely tend to enjoy the Austen retellings more if they’re not completely invested in the original because a lot of aspects of the period don’t translate well or simply take up space in retellings.

Ingrid: I’m warming up to them. To be honest, I have historically had a bit of a snooty attitude about them? I guess in my head I thought, hey, the original was just fine and messing with it isn’t necessary…but just because it isn’t necessary doesn’t mean it isn’t a lot of fun. (This is what I’m discovering.)

What criteria are required for a book to qualify as an Austen retelling? What makes for a really successful retelling of Austen’s stories?

Holly: So first, the story has to follow the basic beats of the original. It helps if some of the names are similar, so the reader can easily orient herself. (Note: I personally do not count postscript stories—you know, the continued love of Lizzie and Darcy after the wedding, such as in Death Comes to Pemberley—as strict retellings.)

However, there’s a fine line here. The story should be close enough to be recognizable, but not so close as to be a complete retread, only in a different time period or with dragons or whatever. The worst one I’ve read (which I DNFed and didn’t review) lifted whole passages of dialogue from the original, even though we were in the 1950s American South instead of 1800s England, which just didn’t work for me. 

What I think makes for a really successful Austen retelling is a deep understanding of the source material, and then a willingness to throw it away a bit, so we can really get in to these new characters and believe their path to true love is inevitable because of who they are, and not because of who they are based on. 

Erin: I’d say Holly summed it up nicely. (That’s why she’s the Austen retellings person, obvi.)

Ingrid: Holly shoots, Holly scores.

Why do you think Austen retellings are so popular (both as genre romance as literary fiction)?

Erin: Austen is literary women’s fiction romance, right? So the source material is smart and hopeful and not by men. It feels like it belongs to Romancelandia more than the sources of other retellings. Plus she created some great tension in the originals that doesn’t need to be totally reconsidered because the foibles of people are universal. (I’d say let’s just ignore the social commentary aspect of her writing (which is probably more relevant than the romance), but I don’t think we need to because there’s plenty of romance that also engages in social commentary.)

Holly: Speaking to the romance side of things, her books draw on some hugely popular ideas that have become central tropes in genre romance. Enemies to lovers? Check. Friends to lovers? Check. Second chance romance? Check. Uh…I can’t tell you if there’s a trope in Mansfield Park, so let’s stop while I’m ahead. 

Ingrid: I would also suggest that almost everyone I know stumbled across Jane Austen at about the same age or phase of maturity…so there’s this really kind of visceral Austen response people have when they connect with her at just the right time in their lives. I feel like there’s a thread of connection Austen fans share that is really kind of unique.

What do you think is fun about Austen retellings?

Erin: She’s using some really great tropes and characterizations, and those can be tinkered with and played on in ways that are still delightful.

Holly: What Erin said. Plus! Part of the fun of reading a retelling—any retelling—is recognizing the source material, and therefore knowing what to expect, but then still being surprised, and hopefully delighted, by the way the author plays with the story. 

I’ve also been thinking a lot about this thread by Bianca Hernandez-Knight—mostly her point that romance is a way to Austen for some readers. Because also, Austen is a way to romance. Genre romance is in conversation with Austen, and reading them together can open the door to different ways of thinking about love and society and how books can reflect these ideas. 

Ingrid: Austen has just layers upon layers of juicy characters, I absolutely agree. Each supporting character is just BURSTING with potential and backstory, and Austen manages to really pull these characters along for their own just desserts as well, so it’s ripe with possibilities for retellings.

What do you find problematic about Austen retellings?

Holly: Some of the tensions in the originals don’t translate well to contemporary settings—so when authors try to shoehorn a desperate “I must marry off my daughters or face penury” plot into a modern setting, I generally find it a little bit cringeworthy. 

Erin: You know I love me a Darcy, but honestly there might be too many Pride and Prejudice retellings. Collins and Wickham get shoehorned in whether they’re warranted or not, and it’s just boring. 

I think a lot of Austen retellings also want to play with the storytelling but don’t make the effort to interrogate social issues like Austen was doing. 

Ingrid: Any time you take something that just works really well as it is and you try to morph it into something fresh you’re going to be taking a big risk. So there’s that, and there’s also missing all those subtleties that are in the originals. Darcy is iconic because he’s Darcy–which means he’s one way on the surface and then through the cracks of his shell the light kind of comes streaming in until he’s just radiantly dreamy. You can’t just take him and repackage him, you have to really see it and let it unfold. So I think it’s probably really easy to love Austen’s characters but it’s very difficult to take the time to unfold them the way they deserve to be unfolded.

Do you have a favorite Austen story you like to see retold?

Erin: My favorite Austen is Persuasion, which is weird because I don’t love second chance romance, but I think it’s the most romantic of her books. But I’ve never read a Persuasion retelling. So I guess in practice, with my limited options, I’ll have to choose Emma. Knightly is totally my speed.

Holly: Emma is my favorite Austen because it’s so stinking hilarious and I love me a difficult heroine. But I’ve never read an Emma retelling. Does that mean I should pick Persuasion as my favorite, for symmetry? My real answer is: please send me all the recs for Emma retellings, thanks. 

Ingrid: Emma. Second choice would actually be Pride and Prejudice, but only if it’s done RIGHT.

What’s one Austen retelling you loved? What’s so great about this book and the way it handles repackaging the source material in a new and exciting way?

Erin: Holly picked a movie for one of our prior LTT discussions, so that opened the gates and I’m going to pick Clueless. It’s so 90s and really, really ridiculous, but aww. And you can watch it and realize that yes, it is true that Paul Rudd does not appear to age at all. 

Slash also after reading Wulfric Bedwin for 5 books, Slightly Dangerous by Mary Balogh totally hit the spot.

Holly: Pride, Prejudice and Other Flavors by Sonali Dev. Dev just absolutely nails the balance between telling a recognizable story and making it her own. 

Ingrid: What is the matter with you guys?? You’re completely ignoring the classic, Bridget Jones’s Diary. It is both a stellar book and a phenomenal movie and it has Colin Firth in it. Colin FIRTH. And he COOKS and he SMIRKS. And if you recall, he likes her just the way she is after throwing Hugh Grant across the street. We clearly need to discuss this further.

My First Smut

My First Smut: Smut in the Pandemic

My First Smut is a recurring feature where we talk about our formative smut experiences. These short confessionals may include such details as: What book did you read? How old were you? Were there other people involved? What made the experience special? What role does smut play in your life?

This week, author Jane Morris talks about finally giving romance a chance in the early days of the pandemic…and loving it.


First romance novel you read:

Credence by Penelope Douglas

How old were you?

Late thirties

How’d you get your hands on the book?

I saw it recommend on Instagram and the pandemic had just started, so I grabbed the ebook.

What was the reading experience like?

I was never willing to try romance because I judged it wrongly, like many people do. This book completely transported me. The descriptions of everything made the world so real, and I was able to escape into this immersive atmosphere of nature and passion and longing.

What made the experience special?

The fact that I felt like I was in on a secret while reading made it memorable. It was like doing something I wasn’t supposed to be doing, reading while my kids played or slept. The fact that the sex scenes were so visceral and including every detail made me feel like I was a voyeur in their world, a world I would totally judge in real life while secretly wanting to live in it.

What role does smut play in your life?

It’s a fabulous escape from everyday life. Instead of drinking hard liquor on Friday nights like my husband, or smoking a joint like I did in my teens to escape, I enjoy the process of finding the perfect story that grabs me by the throat and won’t let go. Reading those books inspired me to write my own, and include every dirty detail just the way I would want to read it.

Bio

Jane Morris is the author of the bestselling Teacher Misery series. Her new contemporary romance novel based on a historical love triangle, Memento Mori, released earlier this week!

Connect with Jane at teachermisery.com or on Twitter and Instagram @teachermisery.


Thanks Jane! We’re always excited to hear from people who are new(ish) to romance and embracing the genre whole-heartedly! Looking forward to reading Memento Mori—watch this space for a review coming soon!

Have an early smut experience you’d like to share with us? If you’d like to see your story featured, send us an email or fill out our questionnaire and we’ll post it in an upcoming week.

About Blogging

Guest Post: Talking Blog Tours with Psst… Promotions and Let’s Talk Promotions

Last year, Mud and I were asked by the lovely bloggers at the Smut Report if we could give an “inside view” of sorts on blog tours. Why are they important? What is the point of a blog tour?

While we hope we were able to give a few insightful answers, there was one we didn’t think we really answered below and that is that it’s a great way to introduce an author to a blogger. Authors are generally homebodies that just don’t see the glamour in the minutia of their work, writing one sentence twenty times “because it didn’t look right at first.” While authors are often readers that adore the authors of the books they love, they put this glass ceiling of their own making between them, separating themselves from the “real” authors.

Authors work hard on pieces that often start out as “side projects”—it takes time away from their sleep, their family, their work, their sanity, and to offer any more of themselves on something that maybe won’t work out, on a bad review, or a soured experience—a lot of times, they just can’t do it. They can’t make themselves pry more time away from their lives to offer themselves up to an email they might never hear back from and they can’t afford to pay for someone—a personal assistant or a promo company charging hourly wages—to do it for some indeterminable period of time.

A blog tour has a few really great aspects that makes them perfect, especially for indie authors: one, it has a flat rate; two, an expected timeline; and three, at the end the author can freak out at being so brave as to put their work out their into the world and then go back to the hermit lifestyle.

That, of course, isn’t all authors, but it’s a lot of them. Blog tours have formed so many blogger-author relationships that it’s almost always included in the checklist—edits, cover materials, and blog tour.

And that makes Mud and I, as blog tour organizers, really happy.

And another cool thing? Blog tours aren’t just an indie author thing. Big, NYT-bestselling authors do blog tours, just like small, self-published authors. Big and small publishing companies realize the value in blog tours, so by promoting, you’re joining the playing field of all authors, with sales big and small.

Now onto the questions we were asked below.

Continue reading “Guest Post: Talking Blog Tours with Psst… Promotions and Let’s Talk Promotions”
Dueling Review, Recommended Read

Dueling (?) Review: Glitterland by Alexis Hall (2013)

Spoiler Alert: We all loved this book. So this is more of a long discussion post than a duel.

Spires, Book #1

Holly:

Heat Factor: Sex first, emotions later

Character Chemistry: I’m not entirely sure why Darian puts up with Ash, but I’m glad he does

Plot: One-night stand becomes something more

Overall: I finished this book and immediately made Erin and Ingrid agree to read it because I needed to talk to someone

Erin:

Heat Factor: There’s a lot of sex, and the sex does a lot of work, but it’s poetically rather than graphically written

Character Chemistry: “It doesn’t make any sense, but something in you speaks to something in me.”

Plot: Ash puts himself way outside his comfort zone and challenges himself to embrace the happiness he finds there

Overall: This has been on my TBR for a while, and I had a couple false starts because Chapter 1 was really uncomfortable, but the rest of the book was really beautiful

Ingrid:

Heat Factor: It’s kind of like eating dessert first, and then getting a little uncomfortable, so when you get the real food you’re kind of relieved/grateful and also just deeply satisfied?

Character Chemistry: This is probably a healthy dose of sexual healing mixed with a serious case of the ole grumpy + sunshine

Plot: Ash meets this glitter pirate, Darian, who just oozes joy at a stag party and tries really hard to pretend this man isn’t leading him into a life where he can find his own happiness and it DOES NOT WORK.

Overall: This book is absolutely like that song you hear on the radio and you’re like, oh god I’m not going to be able to stop humming this later, and that’s exactly what happens but you really love it…

Continue reading “Dueling (?) Review: Glitterland by Alexis Hall (2013)”
Wrap Up

May Wrap Up: All Our Favorite Smut

Happy Memorial Day, y’all! (Or for our non-US-based readers…happy Monday!) With summer just around the corner, now sounds like the perfect time to pick up a romance. Here are our favs for this month:

Erin’s Choice: Rebel Hard by Nalini Singh

Look, Erin has loved every Singh book she’s read, and Rebel Hard is no exception. (She’s trying to convince Holly and Ingrid to read all of the Guild Hunters series with her, but 13 books is a commitment.) She says that the everyday romance of Rebel Hard is amazing. (Here’s her full review.)

Ingrid’s Choice: The Leveling Up series by K.F. Breene

When she was reading these books, Ingrid continuously texted Holly and Erin about a) how funny they were and b) why weren’t we reading them already? The heroine is a GARGOYLE SHIFTER for crying out loud. (Here’s her full review.)

Holly’s Choice: Serving Sin by Angelina M. Lopez

Look, this book might seem like it’s *just* a bodyguard romance—and it is definitely an excellent bodyguard romance. But it’s also a really smart portrayal of a powerful woman in a deeply misogynistic space. Also also, this is your periodic reminder that Lopez writes some of the hottest sex around. (Here’s her full review.)


Other fun stuff!


June Preview