Fiction Fest: Q&A with ‘Emma: A Latter-day Tale’ author Rebecca Jamison

Rebecca Jamison 4
‘Emma: A Latter-day Tale’ author Rebecca Jamison.

Do you love Jane Austen books? So does author Rebecca Jamison, who penned “Emma: A Latter-day Tale,” which was released in August.

Jamison’s book is a reboot of the Austen classic and gives the story a Latter-day Saint (Mormon) twist.

We’re grateful to Jamison for taking the time to field a few questions in our Fiction Fest hot seat.

By the way, you can get a copy of “Emma: A Latter-day Tale” from bookstores and online at BooksAndThings.com, BarnesAndNoble.com, or Amazon.com.

Take it away, Rebecca!

Obviously, Jane Austen’s classic was the main inspiration for “Emma: A Latter-day Tale,” but what other factors came into play to bring the book to life?

While I was writing “Emma,” I listened to country music, learned how to line dance, and experimented with karaoke. On one family trip, we were listening to a very authentic country music station when my daughter piped up from the back of the van. “Mom can you do your research some other time?” My children suffer so much!

Since Emma’s a life coach, I also delved into the world of personal coaching. I studied so many coaching books that I could’ve probably become a coach myself. Coaches are all about motivational speakers, so I also listened to people like Tony Robbins. That helped me come up with my coaches’ tips of the day.

You also wrote “Persuasion: A Latter-day Tale.” Any plans for another LDS take on an Austen classic?

Yes! Right now, I’m working on an LDS take on “Sense and Sensibility.” Elly, the main character, is a software engineer, who worked for her father’s company until it folded. Now she’s unemployed and desperate for money. I’ve twisted the plot a little bit so that the brother John is Elinor’s ex-boyfriend instead of her brother, and he has taken over the software market their family company used to dominate.

What’s your writing routine like?

I have six children, ages four to seventeen, and my husband is a bishop. It’s a struggle to fit in my writing time. Last summer at the Cedar Fort author dinner, I complained to Carla Kelly that I hadn’t gotten much writing done over summer break. She told me how she’d learned to “sleep faster” when her kids were young. I don’t think anyone else could’ve convinced me to give up my morning sleep, but I’ve taken Carla’s advice. I wake up early to write before the kids get up. It works much better than trying to write when they’re all awake.

How did you become a writer?

In high school, I took a lot of art classes. One of my favorite classes was commercial design, where we worked on the yearbook. I noticed that my classmates hated coming up with captions and copy to put on the pages.  I, on the other hand, preferred writing copy to designing the layouts. Later, as a senior, I took a creative writing class and was hooked.

In college, I studied creative writing on the side while I majored in English. As a graduate student, I chose creative writing as my emphasis and ended up writing a novel for my thesis. (If you’d like to know more about my thesis, see my interview with Tanya Parker Mills.)

When I had children, I put my writing aside. I didn’t write much for the first ten years of motherhood. Then, when I was pregnant with my fifth child, I read Jane Austen’s “Persuasion.” I could not get that book out of my head. At the time, the movie “Pride and Prejudice: A Latter-day Comedy” was very popular, and I kept thinking that someone should write a modern LDS version of “Persuasion.” It was only after I’d written the first three chapters in my head that I realized I could be the one to write it.

What’s the most joy writing has ever brought you?

I love the daily process of writing. My favorite part is when the ideas flow, and the characters start to change the plots in ways I hadn’t planned. Writing is a great escape for a stay-at-home mom. Unlike the dishes and the laundry, it’s something that stays done.

Emma 2x3What role does music play in your writing process?

I’m a very musical person. I play the piano, and I love to dance. I can’t write while I’m listening to music. It was the same way when I first learned to drive. I couldn’t listen to the car radio at all for the first year after I got my license. It distracts me too much.

I do find inspiration from music, however. In my first book, for example, I listened to a lot of love songs to get in the right mood for writing. So much of writing is about emotions, and music helps me feel emotions I wouldn’t otherwise feel.

Besides Austen, what authors have influenced your writing style?

That’s a hard question. I’ve read a lot of books throughout my lifetime. Most readers will note that I have a conversational style to my writing. I like the reader to feel that my character is right there talking to her. One of my favorite writers is Mark Twain. I think he accomplishes a conversational style. I also love F. Scott Fitzgerald and Willa Cather. This year, I’ve read a lot of Andrew Lane, JoJo Moyes, and Carla Kelly.

Which fictional genre most intimidates you to give a try?

I think historical fiction is the most intimidating to me. I’d have trouble keeping all my facts straight.

Which teacher had the greatest influence on your writing?

I had the great privilege of taking three classes from Leslie Norris while he taught at BYU. Every one of his classes was like attending a critique group. We took turns passing our stories around and listening to the other students’ comments. It made me comfortable with other people reading my work, and I became much more immune to criticism. I think Dr. Norris saw his main role as encourager. I’ll never forget how he read one of my stories aloud and complimented me on the lifelike dialogue.

What advice would you give to other aspiring novelists?

Write every day, and let other people read it. Your writing will improve much more quickly if you allow others to read what you’ve written. A good writer is also a good reader. Read the best and cleanest literature you can find, but also read what’s popular. Read books and blogs about writing. Attend writing conferences if you can. Then, don’t be ashamed to put your work out to the world, especially if you write clean fiction. The world needs more clean fiction.