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Here Be There Dragons. . . An Author Interview with Maria Grace

Editor's note: Remember that Jane Austen Books has a curated selection of reading for JASP 2023 available for online purchase (they won't be with us in person this year, so make sure to visit their virtual store!). Maria Grace's delightful (yes, this assessment is based on reading and enjoying several!) series is among the titles they have pulled together for us.

 

Six-time BRAG Medallion Honoree and #1 bestselling historical fantasy author Maria Grace has written dozens of Austen adaptations, including an incredibly popular twelve-book Gaslamp fantasy series that recreates Austen’s well-known Regency plotlines with an entertaining twist: dragons. (read more about the "Gaslamp" genre here.)


Fun and full of fresh elements like estate Dragon Keepers, a governing secret society known as the Blue Order, and temperamental firedrakes, Jane Austen’s Dragons is the basis for Maria Grace’s plenary address at this year’s Jane Austen Summer Program. The talk is titled

"Impertinence and Impropriety: Using Dragons to Voice Austen's Big Ideas,” and will be given at 2:00 p.m. on Saturday, June 17.


Maria Grace was kind enough to speak with us about Austen, her well-loved book series, and

what we can expect to hear from her in mid-June ahead of her appearance at JASP 2023.

 
You’ve written several Jane Austen adaptations—over 30 of them, in fact! What first drew you toward adapting Austen in your fiction, and what encouraged you to stick with her source material after each new book?


What drew me to adapting Jane Austen? I think it was my unfortunate propensity to ask, “What if….”

Jane Austen creates brilliant, relatable characters, who are identifiable as real people. I have always been fascinated by the forces that shape personality and influence the decisions that people make. From there it is only a small step to start asking dangerous things like, “What if one important detail had been different for a character—how could that have changed an entire story?” Once the question gets asked, it demands an answer, and the story insists on being written.


One of your many book series, Jane Austen’s Dragons, is the foundation for your plenary address at JASP this year. What inspired the overall concept of this series? Was it difficult to mix dragons like wyrms, firedrakes, and cockatrices with Austen’s characters and still maintain a Regency-like (Gaslamp) feel to each of the twelve stories in the series?

The Jane Austen’s Dragon series was born at a pizza buffet with my three (then much younger) sons. I’ve always kicked around ideas with my family, and that day we were just getting silly. One of the boys suggested “What if there were dragons?” which is an entirely reasonable thing for a teenage boy to say when confronted with Jane Austen.


What one might argue is less reasonable is that I took the suggestion seriously and we

immediately launched into a very animated discussion about how that might work. Clearly, the dragons had to be hidden from plain sight since they were not included in the original text. . . somehow, they had to be there in the background.


Over many more slices of pizza and several false starts, the Pendragon Treaty and the Blue Order which governs the British dragons took shape. Once we established how the dragons disguised themselves and what sort of agreement they had with human society, working that into the fabric of Regency culture posed surprisingly few challenges. If anything, dragons helped make some of the societal conventions of the era make more sense (difficult as that may be to believe.) The whole world has ended up working so well that I just released book 12 in the series!


Dragon myths have existed in England for a long time, from epics like Beowulf to the tale of St. George and the Dragon, as you state on your website (randombitsoffascination.com). As a self-described “research addict,” what is the most compelling draconian story or legend you’ve found and why?


My favorite dragon story to date is the story of the Mordiford dragon, which inspired my

character of Elizabeth. It is the story of a young girl, Maud, who befriends a little dragon that

then grows up to be rather ferocious. Ignoring the sad ending for that particular dragon, I was fascinated by the idea of a young girl with a special affinity for dragons and friendship with them. I could not resist writing that character. If you’re interested, you can find the full story here.


Are there any interesting non-draconian Austen-adjacent facts your research has brought you to?

I’ve been blogging for more than ten years now at Random Bits of Fascination, talking about all the fascinating bits and bobs I’ve researched along the way. In general, my current line of

research is usually the most interesting. At least until another research rabbit hole opens up under my feet and I dive in.


I’ve done series on home theatricals, British women archers, sea bathing, and even the history of the color blue, to name just a few. Apparently, I am easily entertained.

I have a background in the social sciences with degrees in sociology, counseling, and educational psychology. I’m always seeking to understand how people saw and interacted with the world two hundred years ago. We have so many misconceptions about life in the Regency Era. So, trying to better understand how they saw the world and the social rules in which they functioned is really what I’m most interested in.


Are you working on anything right now? If so, what can you tell us about the project?


Of course I’m working on something right now! My family would tell you I’m pretty much

never not working on something. (You can hear them laughing in the background…)

After this most recent dragon book, I’ve got four possible books in mind, all of which I hope to get written eventually—just not sure which is first. They all relate to events in the last two books.


One is a side character romance at the School of Dragon Medicine; another is a secondary

character story dealing with dragon smugglers. The other two follow the trials of small dragons demanding equal rights and the challenges of adding sea dragons to the Pendragon Accords. So clearly, I have no ideas whatsoever, right?


Since I can’t leave well enough alone, I’m also working on a new non-Austen-related series, also a Gaslamp fantasy, the first book about halfway written. And then there’s a pile of notes in the plot-bunny corral clamoring for attention. I really need to get writing!



Jane Austen’s Dragons has had an incredible reception, with thousands of positive Amazon and Goodreads reviews from both Austenites and regular readers alike. Was it difficult to work on the series with an established fanbase? How did you manage to juggle their expectations of the storyline with where you wanted things to go?


I have been gobsmacked at the reception Jane Austen’s Dragons has received. I knew I was

going out on a very long, spindly limb deviating from the standard romance plot most Austen-adjacent writers favor. Way out on that limb. In the rain. With a gale blowing.

I only planned to do three books, focusing on the Pride and Prejudice story, assuming, of course, I wasn’t stoned or banned from polite society for attempting it in the first place.

(And yes, I’ve got a number of nasty grams, blog comments, and tart reviews suggesting banning from polite society wouldn’t be a bad idea, but I digress…)


Some people absolutely refuse to read them. Just yesterday I ran across a Facebook thread about ‘What Austen variation would you NEVER read?’ It took maybe two comments on the thread for dragons to appear as a hard ‘NEVER WOULD I EVER’—right after vampires, I think. Reviewers have told me the same thing. It’s just not for them. And that’s okay. It isn’t for everyone. Not the easiest truth I’ve had to come to grips with, but it really is okay. There are also a lot of people who are convinced that the dragons belong in the Austen universe and make perfect sense in the middle of Regency England. And that’s the group I write for.


In many ways, it would have been far easier and more acceptable to write the world without the Austen connection. Fewer reader expectations to contend with that way. But then again, I’ve never done anything the easy way, so there’s that.


Can you give us a teaser of what your plenary address will be about?


The talk is still evolving, but the main thing I’d like to address is how much the modern reader misses that the people Austen wrote for would have innately understood, and how dragons provide a narrative vehicle to call attention to those issues and provide some context for the modern reader. That is assuming, of course, that one of my desk dragons doesn’t replace the entire thing with “A Truth Universally Acknowledged: The Necessity of Jane Austen’s Dragons." Manuscript mischief is an occupational hazard when writing about dragons.

1件のコメント


Benjamin Fife
Benjamin Fife
2023年6月20日

I'm currently recording book 12 & am anxious for the resolution to an awful lot hopefully in book 13. I can't say enough times how tickled I am that I get to be the voice of Jane Austen's Dragons. Serendipitous timing is all I can say. Maria Grace's books have opened so many doors for me as a narrator - now having narrated for 3 additional Austenesque authors. The series is well worth the read (or the listen). Thanks again Maria!


Benny Fife


いいね!
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