Cass Grafton and I are longtime friends, despite the fact we have never spent more than a week together in the same place. We have traveled across the world to celebrate each other’s marriages, children, new homes, cancer survival, weight loss, and even the occasional mutual fanaticism. One might think writing a book together would be the next natural step in our relationship.
No? Maybe I left out some important details. That’s what I do. I’m the one who throws around plots and scenes like the Swedish Chef from The Muppet Show. Cass is the one who lovingly and painstakingly crafts the core of the story and gently reminds me the tangent I just introduced makes little sense, throws our climax into upheaval, and also probably isn’t possible.
Believe it or not, I take this feedback pretty well… about as well as Cass accepts that, no matter how beautifully she has described a specific room, none of our characters have entered that room, nor are they likely to; therefore we should not keep its description in the book.
The truth is, no matter how much we’ve each pretend-sulked over the loss of lines or ideas, we went forward because of one simple thing we share. Trust. Almost nothing we have said about the creative process of writing The Particular Charm of Miss Jane Austen has been solely one of our voices. Even as you read this, I guarantee that Cass has combed through these words, tightening up and clarifying me in a way I wish she could do in my actual daily conversations.
When we write as a team, we lose ourselves and we gain perspective. I think this helps keep our characters from becoming too saccharine and our plot too contrived. The story really does start to propel itself forward as our combined voice takes over. I find one of the things that will hinder me when I write solo is the fear a decision I’m making for a character will not read as I intend it to. I never have to worry about that when I am co-writing with Cass. There are automatic checks and balances when we write together. And even though she never let me put in that one thing I wanted to put in, I am tremendously grateful for the adventure that was writing this book with her.
I guess, if we want anyone to give the story a try, I should mention a little on what it’s about and why we wrote it (besides the very clear, concise explanation I provided above).
The Particular Charm of Miss Jane Austen is about Rose, a young woman who discovers that the magic of Jane Austen is not limited to charming, annoying or hilarious characters and witty dialogue. While enjoying the annual Jane Austen Festival in Bath, Rose’s ordered life turns upside down when she comes face to face with her hero which, besides giving her quite a shock, also leads to an incident which endangers the entirety of Jane Austen’s literary legacy, which is then lost to the world. How can they turn things back to how they were?
There’s a lot more to the book than solving this dilemma, of course. The story is essentially about friendship, with a measure of subtle romance thrown in as well. Which brings me to the question of, why? Why would two people who live thousands of miles apart, in different countries with a 9-hour time difference between them, try to write a novel together?
The answer is… because we just knew we could. It might seem counterintuitive, but Cass and I don’t have as much in common as you might think. The things we do share are loves of reading, writing, cats, and thinking the other is hilarious. I’ve only just now realized that we literally did put all of what we share into this book:
Reading – Along with many, many other people, we share a love of Jane Austen’s stories. Her characters have spent countless hours in our imaginations. So much so, that Cass, while staying in Jane’s former residence in Bath, had her own encounter with the spirit of the author and this inspired our plot.
Writing – At some points during the process, due to the time difference, the story was being worked on almost 24/7. I would wake up in California to an email off Cass with notes and the working draft of the latest scene or chapter. There would be a few hours in which I could contact her in Switzerland with questions or concerns and then I would take over the writing and fiddling. At the end of my workday, I would send back everything to her so that she would have it to wake up to. Repeat. We are writing partners who love to write and who know we write better and faster together. What could be more rewarding than truly getting dedicated time to do it?
Cats – There is a kitten in this story and it had the potential to steal the whole show, despite being a very minor character! We have pages and pages of cut material involving this feline.
Hilarity – We deal with some topics in The Particular Charm of Miss Jane Austen that could, if we weren’t careful, get downright gloomy. We always intended to keep humor at the forefront of our writing… I will admit, though, that this is the one area that did not work quite as we expected it to. For whatever reason (sleep deprivation from the late night Facetime meetings?), I would consistently miss the English humor Cass had thrown in, and she would wake up to find all her jokes had been edited out by a confused Californian. I love British humor; Cass really is hilarious. So, why wasn’t I getting the jokes? I have no idea. We had meetings over it. It was a problem. Maybe, for the sequel, I can redeem myself?
Over to you, Cass!
To be fair, there’s not really a lot I can add! Ada speaks for both of us when she describes how and why we wrote this story.
Jane Austen was, of course, a huge influence on us. We have been massive fans of her writing for many years. Her ability to weave such marvellous stories, which still resonate with readers 200 years later, leaves me in awe. Her characters cover such a wonderful spectrum, from the good and the bad to the downright hilarious! She is such a joy to read and re-read, but although she was a large part of the inspiration for the plot, we knew one thing right at the start.
There was no way we were going to have Jane Austen as a main character in our book! Put words into Jane’s mouth? Do justice to such wit and cleverness? No, no, no. The prospect was, quite simply, terrifying, and we made a decision right there and then, at the beginning, she would only ever be in the background…
Best laid plans and all that! Jane, of course, decided differently; she became a key character in the story – and why? Because she wouldn’t stay out of it! She would have her say, no matter how hard we both tried to circumnavigate and continuously batted her away. (It sounds disrespectful when you put it like that, but seriously! Jane was quite a handful at times!)
As you can imagine it became quite a challenge, and we have some hilarious cut scenes where Ada became quite carried away. She claims it was at this point I said, ‘hands off Jane’ but I’m a Brit. I think I was a lot subtler than that, and in the end, like all aspects of this book, her character and her words became a full collaboration between us.
As for the funny lines, what can I say? Ada fully understands and loves the British sense of humour, but her response whenever I’d say, ‘hey, what happened to that incredibly witty line I put in there’, would be, ‘that? I thought that was just filler’!
An avid reader of novels of all kinds, Ada’s habit for finishing a book in a sitting is to blame for her strong prescription eyeglasses. Nothing gives her more simple and pure joy than getting lost in a story.
In college, she majored in both English and Art and has continued to be indecisive about which pursuit rules her time. While working as a customer service representative for trucking software, she wrote instructional material. Then, she spent ten very fulfilling years building a photography business before deciding to semi-retire, partner with Cass Grafton, and write a novel. Ada is a member of the Romance Writers of America.
She was born and raised in Southern California and hasn’t really spent more than a few weeks anywhere else… ever. She prefers temperatures above 70 degrees Fahrenheit and gets a big kick out of rain. She lives with her mother who enables her book addiction shamelessly, a wonderfully hilarious husband and three very silly and earnest children. Recently they all adopted a cat named Silver Charm aka Willow Sweet Pea… Ada calls her Kitty.
A fan of Jane Austen’s works since her long-distant school days, Cass has been indulging her appetite for all things Austen for many years. Having long wanted to be a writer, the two passions came together in recent years, and she began publishing her endeavours. A Fair Prospect, a Pride & Prejudice-inspired Regency romance, was released in three volumes in 2013 under the name of Cassandra Grafton.
Cass then went on to be part of the co-writing team on The Darcy Brothers, another Austen-inspired historical novel, before settling down to co-write with one of her best friends.
The Particular Charm of Miss Jane Austen, a contemporary mystery/romance, was released in 2016.
A former college lecturer and then PA, she is British born and bred (though she did live in the USA for five years). Cass has two grown up children and splits her time between Switzerland, where she lives with her husband, and England, where she lives with her characters.
She is a member of the Romance Novelists’ Association and the Society of Authors.
B.R.A.G. Medallion Honoree
Lovely article ladies and many congrats on the BRAG medallion! Very well deserved.
Dears Cass and Ada
Loved everything about this new book of your’s conception! I’ll try to get it as soon as I can. Where will it be released?
But you wrote a estory right above that startled me very much, which is Cass’ encounter with Jane’s spirit!!!!! Was it so? How was it? It must have been really inspiring for her as a writer. Meeting Jane would be really a dream come true. I would never be afraid of her. I would like to learn more about this encounter, if possible.
Congrats on your work!
Your description of co-writing a book could be a page in my diary. How fortunate you were to find each other. Hold dear that friendship and collaboration of trust. I know you will and rejoice for you.