Syrie James is the bestselling author of Dracula, My Love, The Secret Diaries of Charlotte Bronte, The Lost Memoirs of Jane Austen, Nocturne, Jane Austen Made Me Do It, and most recently, Forbidden, a young adult novel she wrote with her son, Ryan M. James. The release of a new novel, The Missing Manuscript of Jane Austen, is scheduled for release in January of 2013.

 

Syrie began writing novels after a successful career in Hollywood, in which she wrote nineteen screenplays and teleplays for Tri-Star Pictures, NBC, CBS, ABC, Fox TV, Fox Family Films and The Lifetime Network. Her novels have gone on to be bestsellers and have been translated into sixteen foreign languages.

I made Syrie’s acquaintance last summer after reading her novel Nocturne. I loved the book so much that I wrote a blog about it! (Real Men Read Romance: https://jsascribes.wordpress.com/2011/09/07/real-men-read-romance/).  She was kind to me then, as she is to me now. Syrie is friendly, down-to-earth, and she writes some seriously good stuff. When I asked her to do an interview for my blog, she was enthusiastic about it and more than happy to oblige me. She has become a good friend, and I hope her insights into the world of writing give you as much inspiration as they have me. For more information on Syrie, check her out at: http://www.syriejames.com/

Q: What inspired you to write The Secret Diaries of Charlotte Brontë?

A: I have always adored the novel Jane Eyre. I felt compelled to know and understand the woman who wrote it. I wondered: who was Charlotte Brontë? How did she come to write this remarkable book, which is still so popular all over the world more than 160 years after she wrote it?

As I started researching Charlotte’s life, I was astonished to discover how many parts of the novel were inspired by her own experiences. I was also captivated by the engrossing saga of Charlotte’s family. Charlotte lived in Victorian England in a tiny village in the wilds of Yorkshire. Her brother became an alcoholic and a drug addict. Her father, a clergyman, was going blind. Her sisters Emily and Anne were also very talented writers. All three sisters, despite the difficulties of their circumstances, became published authors at the same time. Emily’s novel Wuthering Heights is considered one of the greatest masterpieces ever written in the English language. I can’t think of any other family in history who’ve achieved a similar literary feat, and I wanted to explore that and show how it happened.

Add to that the true story of Charlotte’s romance! Her father’s curate, the tall, dark, and handsome Arthur Bell Nicholls, lived right next door to the Brontës for more than seven years, and carried a silent torch for Charlotte all that time, before he had the nerve to propose. Charlotte greatly disliked him for many years, but her feelings eventually changed, and she grew to love him. I knew that would make a fabulous story—and it had never been told!

Q: Which parts of The Secret Diaries of Charlotte Brontë are true?

A: The novel is based almost entirely on fact. All the details of Charlotte’s family life, her experiences at school, her friendship with Ellen, her feelings for Monsieur Heger, the evolution of her writing career, and her relationship with her publisher, George Smith, are all true and based on information from her letters and biographies.

All the critical notices the sisters read about their poetry and novels are real. The details about Mr. Nicholls’s childhood and Charlotte’s experiences with the Bell family in Ireland are factual. Most of the characters in the book—even the girls at Roe Head School—are based on real people.

The details of Mr. Nicholls’s passionate and agonized proposal of marriage, as well as its stormy aftermath and Patrick Bronte’s vehement opposition, are all based on fact, and were meticulously recorded in Charlotte’s correspondence. Charlotte and Mr. Nicholls’s strolls from Haworth to Oxenhope during those bitingly cold days in January 1854 are so well known, that the path came to be called “Charlotte’s Lane.”

 

Q: You also wrote a book about Jane Austen. Did you find any similarities between the two women?

A: Both Jane Austen and Charlotte Brontë were daughters of clergymen, had very close relationships with a sister, and felt frustrated in their search for true love. Both were extremely well-read, and were educated for a majority of their lives at home by their fathers.

The timeless issues which Charlotte wrote about in Jane Eyre were all dear to Jane Austen’s heart, and central themes in Austen’s novels. Both women enjoyed gothic novels, and wrote torrid and passionate stories in their youth.

Both published their books anonymously or under a pseudonym during their lifetime. And of course both were incredibly imaginative and brilliant writers!

Q: Why do you think Jane Austen continues to be so popular with modern readers?

A: Readers are drawn in by her sense of realism, her superb narrative technique, her brilliant understanding of character, her wonderful sense of humor, and the topicality of her subject matter. Her characters all wrestle with social and emotional problems we can recognize, and still confront on a daily basis.

Reading Jane Austen’s novels makes us feel we are in communion with a rarely gifted, wise and subtle mind. Her books are witty and ironic, and, at a time when people worry that the past is being lost, they provide a pleasurable way of connecting to it. But ultimately, what attracts us to Austen now is probably what’s been attracting people to her for two centuries: anyone, at any time, can relate to falling in love.

Q: What inspired you to write The Lost Memoirs of Jane Austen?

A: I have long been a Jane Austen fan. One of my all-time favorite books is Pride and Prejudice. There are few novels which can match it for pure brilliance of plot, characterization and dialog. I adore the A&E mini-series starring Colin Firth and Jennifer Ehle, and the films Sense and Sensibility and Shakespeare in Love. One day, I thought: what about a love story for Jane Austen?

Although Jane Austen’s biographers portray her basically as a spinster with a great imagination, I refused to believe that! We know that Jane had a brief flirtation with an Irishman named Tom Lefroy when she was twenty, but his family rapidly sent him away because she had no money.

I was more intrigued, however, by the story that Jane’s sister Cassandra confided to her niece: that the only man Jane ever truly loved, was an unnamed gentleman she once met at an unspecified seaside resort. This tantalizing anecdote is known as the mysterious “seaside romance.” Everyone wonders: who was that man? What happened to him? I decided to invent him.

Q: Jane Austen has a large male readership. Do you think that would have surprised her?

A: Not at all. Sir Walter Scott loved her work, and the Prince of Wales was one of her biggest fans; he even asked her to dedicate a book to him (which she did: Emma.) I think Jane knew she was writing books that would please readers of both genders. She had a gift for portraying the feelings of what women and men are like, and what they’d like each other to be.

Q: What was the most difficult thing about writing Dracula, My love?

A: The most difficult part for me was dealing with Mina Harker’s dilemma and still keeping her real and sympathetic: she’s in love with two men, which would be hard for any woman to handle, but this is the Victorian era with all its sexual and moral taboos, which made it even more complicated.

I wanted this to be a standalone book, so that readers could enjoy it and fully follow the action without having read Stoker’s original. It was important to me to stay true to the facts of Bram Stoker’s classic, while giving it a new spin (as it’s all told from Mina’s point of view.) At the same time, I was interweaving a brand new, romantic story, and creating what I hope are compelling and fascinating back stories for the main characters. Balancing all that was very tricky! I hope you enjoy the result.

Q: Dracula, My Love is very romantic, but there is little or no romance in Bram Stoker’s Dracula. How do the main characters in your novel compare to–or differ from–Stoker’s characters?

A: Stoker’s Mina is smart, strong, logical, and sensitive–a woman with a “man’s brain,” as Van Helsing puts it. I strove to retain all these lovely, essential qualities, while at the same time fleshing out Mina’s character arc and reflecting her evolution as a woman. To that end, I focused on two major elements: the invention and exploration of her personal history, and her inner struggle between her affection for and loyalty to her husband, and her intense desire for that powerful being, Dracula, to whom she is drawn despite herself.

I wanted Dracula to be a central character and love interest–which meant he could not be Stoker’s hideous, selfish, elderly recluse. Neither did I envision him as the suave but evil charmer so often portrayed in the movies. I envisioned Count Dracula not only as an attractive, charismatic, and highly intelligent supernatural being, but a sympathetic one: a man who had a very different explanation for every terrible act attributed to him. A man who’d been completely misunderstood. An accomplished man who’d taken full advantage of his gift of immortality to expand his mind and talents, and who would do anything to win the heart of the woman he loved. Mina would fall madly in love with that man, and so would I.

Stoker’s Dracula can vanish at will, morph into a bat or wolf, and appear decades younger. Given these abilities, I reasoned, he would surely appear in his most attractive form to the woman he wished to woo–just as the female vampires at his castle appear to Jonathan as ravishing beauties.

Q: As a bestselling author what would you say is your secret formula to successful novels?

A: I work long and hard on every book, pour my heart and soul into it, sometimes for years. While I’m researching and writing, I obsess about the book in progress, eat, sleep, and breathe it, and never stop thinking about it. I think that’s the formula to success in anything: be passionate about what you do, give it your full attention, and don’t settle for anything but your very best work.

Q: Any advice to budding authors?

A: Read everything. Study hard. Join writing groups. Write what you love. And: don’t get bogged down by trying to make the beginning perfect. Even if you change your mind midstream about a story or character or book’s direction, just jot down a few notes about it and keep going with that new direction in mind. When you get to the end, then–and only then–should you go back and revise. Reaching the finish line of that first draft is an indescribably satisfying feeling, and you don’t want to derail yourself by constantly revising the first few chapters.

Finally, I believe that the secrets to success are threefold, and they all begin with P: passion, patience, and perseverance. No matter who you are, how old you are, what you do, or what you wish for … I believe that if you press on, keep your goals in sight, and put in the hard work, you can achieve your dreams–no matter how impossible or unlikely they may seem to others.

And remember: Syrie’s next novel, THE MISSING MANUSCRIPT OF JANE AUSTEN, will be published by Berkley, an imprint of Penguin Books, in January 2013.  Be sure to get a copy!

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Comments
  1. Linda Bennett says:

    Jared, this blog is absolutely facinating! I am going to see if I can find these books, and start reading more.

  2. Good deal, Linda. I highly recommend her. Very sharp writing. Let me know how you like the books.

  3. Ethel Freeman says:

    My most favorite novels by Syrie James are Dracula, My Love and Forbidden!! I have been a fan of her novels for years! How did you ever meet her? Is she really nice? I always thought she would be very nice and somewhat eccentric. Lol!

    Keep up the great work you are doing!! I wish more people had informative blogs like yours. Thank you 🙂

    • Ha ha. I agree. Forbidden is probably my favorite. Syrie is very nice and not eccentric at all! lol. Not that eccentric is a bad thing… but she is very sweet and down to earth. Thank you for reading, Ethel.

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