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Review: "Letters of Love & Deception" by Emily C.A. Snyder

Letters of Love & Deception and other Austenesque Stories is available at Amazon.

This is a lovely collection of short stories by Emily C. A. Snyder, author of another Austen-themed publication Nachtstürm Castle. This time around Snyder treats us to two different styles of paraliterature that draw upon all six of Jane Austen's novels as inspiration.

Part I: Heroes and Histories captures the behind-the-scenes moments of Austen's original works. The short and bittersweet "Something Blue" features the character of Miss Bates' from Emma. We learn that she was not always destined to spinsterhood; in fact there was one of her former acquaintance who took delight in her ways some called ridiculous! Another gem from Part I is "A Most Persuasive Correspondence". Here we are treated to the illicit correspondence between Persuasion's two splendidly-matched villains, Mrs. Clay and Mr. Elliot.

In Part II: Types and Trifles, Snyder runs with her imagination, taking on various "what-ifs" to hilarious results. What if all the villains from Austen's novels were thrown together on one Dark and Stormy Night? Would all of them come away alive? What would all the heroes, meeting at a club, talk about? And would Bingley ever be able to finish a sentence? Most importantly, how would you inspire Mr. Crawford to fetch you a glass of lemonade? The final story, "Pride and Paraliterature" is a satiric take on the phenomenon of monster mash-ups, concluding that nothing proves so dangerous to Mr. Darcy as that original adversary, Miss Bingley.

I have read these stories time and time again and never tire of them. I catch new, subtle references to Austen's beloved novels with each new read. The best parts are when we see the true essence of the original characters in a new situation. And then there is Snyder's writing which is as similar to Austen's in syntax and approach to subject matter as I've read anywhere.

The following are some questions I had for Emily about the inspirations she had behind writing the book and her writing process.

I notice you have a gift for writing natural and humorous dialog. Does this come from your theatrical background? How much do you think your background in theater influences what you write?

I do enjoy dialogue and have always found that characters' voices come fairly easily to me.  I think much of that does come from theatre and from playwriting.  Since all I can reliably rely upon in a script is the dialogue (since the director, cast and crew are free to change the stage directions), dialogue must tell potential actors/directors who the characters are, and often what they are doing as well.

My first play was written my senior year of high school, when I was doing an independent study comparing Oscar Wilde and Emile Zola.  Part of that project was to conclude with a creative writing piece in that author's style.  I decided to take the same characters I'd written for the Zola piece and transpose them to Wilde's Earnest-like British upperclass.  The result is The French Butler, which has since been published by Playscripts, Inc.

What I learned from that project, and what I hope has carried over ever since, is not only the rhythm of individual voices, but also the interplay between voices.  In real life, we tend to pick up on each other's words, so that the end of one person's sentence might be the beginning of someone else's.  Dialogue is as much about "throwing the line" to the next person, as it is about what the person himself has to say.

That said, it's such a luxury to have narrative to write as well!  I had been writing plays for so long, that at first it was difficult to commit to narrative.  If Miss Bingley approached Mr Darcy sinuously in prose, she would always approach Mr Darcy sinuously in prose.  If this were a play, I probably wouldn't even write that she approaches him, let alone sinuously, so that the actors and directors would be free to have her move, or stay still, or Mr Darcy start jigging (if they really wanted to).  So it took some getting readjusted to remember Miss Bingley would not, on the whole, object to my describing her action.

I like that the stories from Part I fit seamlessly within Austen's original works. What was the impetus behind writing these? Were you reading Persuasion one day and wondered "Hmm...I wonder what Mrs. Clay and Mr. Elliot are really up to!"

Yes, pretty much!  With Miss Bates, I absolutely fell in love with her character, particularly by Sophie Thompson's depiction of her.  (My mother and I still yell: "PORK, MOTHER!" to one another on occasion!)  She was so sweet, so silly, so tiresome, so winsome, that I wondered why she had no typical happily ever after.  Why was she so particularly involved in Jane's romances?  And more to the point, if she had a beau, what sort of fellow would he be?  I loved what Mr Knightly said about her to Emma in the strawberry scene, and it seemed to me that he knew something of what Miss Bates' disappointment had been.  There's more to that story, I'm sure!

For the other three, it's fascinating to think how much time can pass in the composition of a letter - and that the composing of a letter is an entirely separate occasion than its reception.  For Captain Wentworth, he was such a passionate fellow that it seemed impossible he hadn't written variances of The Letter many times over.  For Isabella, she gives up James Morland so easily and sent such a ridiculous letter to Catherine that it seemed there was something else going on.

And for Mr Elliot and Mrs Clay, it's mentioned rather hastily at the end of Persuasion that they've run off together.  I wanted to know what was occurring between them. And since I had just read Evelina and Sorcery and Cecelia, both epistolary novels, and was beginning work on my own Sable Valentine, I thought it might be fun to see how they spoke to each other in letters...where they might be much less bound by social niceties than one is in polite conversation!  I'll admit Mrs Clay, who is really quite a cipher in the novel, proved to be shockingly fun - and a worthy adversary to Mr Elliot.

We know that Austen wrote, at least initially, to entertain her family by reading aloud. Do you practice this yourself? If not, do you have someone you bounce your ideas off while you're writing?

It depends on what I'm writing as to whether I bounce ideas off my family.  Most of the stories were written for the enjoyment of other Janeites, and I received notes back from them as I was writing it.  Once upon a time, The Republic of Pemberley hosted a board called Bits of Ivory, which was a place to post Austenesque literature.  Many of my stories began there.  What was great was that you essentially wrote for an immediate audience.  It was rather like a cyber version of writing a chapter and running downstairs to read it virtually aloud.  So there was definitely a performative element (to which I really respond as a writer).

Alas, that board seems to be currently closed.  But reality is not!  I freely admit that I rushed around Pride and Paraliterature to my family, most particularly my sister Julie, for their amusement.  Jules' laugh at Miss Bingley's ultimate literary fate made the times of staring blankly at the screen all worth it!  So, in conclusion, I suppose I do tend to write performatively, but I don't tend to solicit as much advice in the initial writing.

 I think one of the funniest stories is "A Matter of Resolution" where you bring together all the disappointed foils such as the Crawfords, Miss Bingley, Miss Elliot and Isabella Thorpe. In some ways these characters are more interesting than the heroes and heroines of the original books. Do you have plans to feature any of these characters more in upcoming work? 

I'm glad you like that story!  It was so much fun to revisit all of the disappointed foils - or at least, those who remain disappointed at the end of their respective novels.  I'm always intrigued by the "ones who got away."  There's something so particularly human about them, in some ways even more than the heroes who of course end up happy, while the foils are left in venial ambiguity.  They aren't evil, per se, but their pettiness gets in their own way.  There's something sad about them, but comic, too!

Of course, "A Matter of Resolution" is about all of Austen's more villainous foils; she had sweet foils, too.  My current work-in-progress is Presumption which is based on more "ones who got away," in this case finding a happy ever after for Colonel Fitzwilliam and Maria Lucas - and even one for Anne DeBourgh! - and hopefully a future novel on the redemption of Henry Crawford, for which the stories in Letters of Love & Deception are certainly two of the moments between the end of Mansfield Park and the forthcoming novel!

"Pride and Paraliterature" is a satire on the monster-mashup phenomenon. I found this story interesting not only because of the monsters, but also in the way that you made the story interesting in spite of them! Do you have any interest in getting into the monster-mashup genre yourself (other than this story)?

I have to confess that I haven't been able to get past the first chapter of either Pride and Prejudice and Zombies OR Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters.  The idea, I think - at least for the first one - is admirable.  It's rather like Shawn of the Dead, which is a brilliant film; the quintessential romzomcom.  But the execution, the sheer labor evident in the stretching of Austen's works into [fill in the random paranormal big bad] pains me.  I'll be hoity-toity and say it pains me because I love Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Shawn of the Dead while absolutely HATING Twilight et al.

I'm not against monsters, but I'm against using them poorly OR arbitrarily.  Monsters are a metaphor; hence if you employ that monster, you are employing all their metaphoric meaning.  You can't have a sea monster just because your title has an "S" in it.  You can have a sea monster if you're at sea.  And even then, there's a variety of sea monsters.  Are you interested in exploring creatures that look charming but kill you?  Go for mermaids.  Are you interesting in exploring creatures that look human but are emotionally distant?  Go for selkies.  Are you looking for something that's all consuming and toothsome?  Have a kraken.  But for pity's sake, sea monsters aren't scenery; they're action.

That said, writing "Pride and Paraliterature" was a hoot and a half, and kept surprising me with its twists and turns.  I did try to use the monsters as scenery, while fitting in the givens of Austen's story into this world casually infested with creatures.  And, as you said, it seemed to me that Miss Bingley is still Darcy's most potent nemesis of all!

Would I ever write a full-length monster mash-up, though?  The closest I've come is Nachtstürm Castle, and again - although I certainly stuffed it full of trapdoors and doppelgangers and ghosts and evil butlers - I hope that they all felt organic to the story, since it was a Gothic novel, and a parody to boot.  I think the only way I could ever write a full-length monster mash-up, a la Pride and Prejudice and Zombies would be as a parody of Pride and Prejudice and Zombies.  However, I think such a joke ON a joke would wear thin after more than a few pages.  Which is exactly the length of "Pride and Paraliterature"!

Thank you for the interview!


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