THE JAMES GANG
Each month I interview an author or publishing insider who has “James” in his/her name. My May James Gang interview is with Harper-Collins author, Syrie James.
1. Let’s get the most important question asked first: Why James?
My name is really Syrie James—and has been ever since I married my college sweetheart, Bill James. My maiden name is Astrahan, so I was thrilled to marry a man with a last name that was easy to spell and pronounce!
2. What fiction genre(s) and/or sub-genre(s) do you write?
I mainly write historical fiction.
3. Tell us about your latest release.
The Secret Diaries of Charlotte Brontë is the true story of the life and romance of the author of Jane Eyre. I’d always wondered: what inspired Charlotte Brontë to write that brilliant novel? How much of Jane Eyre was based on Charlotte’s life? And what was her relationship with her sister Emily, the other famous Brontë who wrote Wuthering Heights?
I did extensive research and visited the Brontë Parsonage in England, where I was allowed access to original letters and documents written by the family. It’s a captivating story. The Brontës lived a secluded life in the wilds of Yorkshire in the Victorian era. The father, an eccentric parson, was going blind. The only son became an alcoholic and a drug addict. And yet all three sisters—Charlotte, Emily, and Anne—became published authors at the exact same time, writing novels that stand among the most enduring works ever written in the English language.
Not only that, but Charlotte had a real-life romance, as fiery as the ones she created, with her father’s curate, Arthur Bell Nicholls. He was in love with her for nearly eight years before he had the nerve to propose—a passionate proposal that threw her household and the entire village into an uproar. My novel is told from Charlotte’s point of view and reveals her stormy relationship with Mr. Nicholls, her evolution as a novelist, and her secret passion for the man she could never have—the man who was the basis for all the heroes in her books.
4. Is there a core story and/or a theme(s) in your books?
I love to write romantic novels with compelling, fully fleshed out characters who find and fall deeply in love with their soul mates, while at the same time showcasing their struggles to achieve something meaningful in their lives. In the case of Jane Austen and Charlotte Brontë, an important part of each novel focuses on their development as writers, and how they came to terms with their own creativity. I felt a great responsibility to do justice to these brilliant women and to tell their stories accurately, while at the same time getting inside their minds and trying to imagine how they must have felt about things.
Another core story element has been the featuring of a male hero who’s deeply in love with the heroine from afar. When he’s finally able to reveal his feelings, they come pouring out in a passionate, romantic torrent. Those scenes are such fun to write!
5. What is your next project?
I return to nineteenth century England with Dracula, My Love: The Secret Journals of Mina Harker. I’m retelling Bram Stoker’s Victorian classic from the point of view of the heroine—revealing the untold, passionate love story that unfolded between Mina and the young, fascinating Count Dracula, to whom she is drawn despite herself.
In Stoker’s novel, Dracula only appears very briefly and is the villain. I saw him as a romantic character who was very much misunderstood, and I wanted him to be the hero. I enjoyed exploring this new take on the story, filling in the voids Stoker had created, answering all the questions he’d left unanswered, and inventing both Dracula’s and Mina’s personal histories, which had never been revealed before. My editor at HarperCollins was so happy with the manuscript that she didn’t ask for a single revision. The book comes out on July 20 and can be pre-ordered on Amazon.
To view a brief clip of my interview on WEDU-PBS television about Dracula, My Love, please click here. The full interview is available on my website video page.
6. Do you have a favorite hero and/or heroine in your books and why?
I love all the heroes and heroines in my books. I do so much research and planning that by the time I start writing, I feel that I really know and understand who they are. It was such a privilege and honor to “become” Jane Austen and Charlotte Brontë for a time.
I have to say, though, that my favorite hero so far is my incarnation of Dracula. In order for Mina to fall in love with him, I had to be able to fall madly in love with him myself—and I did. He is intelligent, thoughtful, well-read, charismatic, and of course incredibly handsome. He is a powerful supernatural being who has taken advantage of his gift of immortality to expand his mind and talents, and he’s good at everything. And I do mean everything.
7. Do you have any awards, reviews or kudos you’d like to tell us about?
I’m honored to report that out of all the books in the country, the Women’s National Book Association chose The Secret Diaries of Charlotte Brontë as a Great Group Read of 2009, designating it as an enriching selection for Book Club discussions. The film rights have been optioned by a British production company. The Sacramento Book Review wrote, “James takes the biography of Brontë and sketches it into a work of art … a can’t-miss novel for Brontë fans and historical fiction buffs alike.” Austenesque Reviews gave it 5 stars and called it “an excellent combination of truth and conjecture that is a gratifying and magnetizing read!”
You can order The Secret Diaries of Charlotte Brontë on Amazon or read other reviews here.
The Lost Memoirs of Jane Austen—in which Jane Austen reveals the untold story of her romance with the one, true, great love of her life—sold at auction after a two-day bidding war between three major publishing houses. I was thrilled when the book became a bestseller and was named a Best First Novel of 2008 by the Library Journal. News Review called The Lost Memoirs of Jane Austen “A love affair equal to anything Jane Austen wrote.” The Los Angeles Times said, “Through humor, Jane comes alive.” Many readers said I’d fulfilled one of their most cherished fantasies by giving Jane Austen a romance of her own. The Lost Memoirs of Jane Austen is available on Amazon or you can read other reviews by clicking this link.
8. What do you enjoy most about being an author?
I love everything about being an author! I love the research. I love reading biographies and the preserved correspondence of a real-life person, and then having the fun of bringing those dry facts to vivid life in scenes with dialog. I love getting into my characters' heads, figuring out what they’re thinking, and plotting out stories. The people become so real to me! I love getting up every morning and picking up wherever I left off in the story. I love the fact that when a book is finished, it goes out into the world and is read by people all over the world, who get to share this experience I created. I love getting feedback from my readers. It means so much to me!
9. How do you promote your books and your author brand?
I’m a guest speaker at various events and do book signings. I do interviews like this and send out promotional e-newsletters. I work hard to maintain my website, www.SyrieJames.com, and try to answer emails from readers. If you enjoy my books, please tell a friend!
10. Do you have a bit of wisdom you’d like to impart or a favorite quote?
I feel very fortunate to be where I am today, and I can sum it up with the following truism: “the secrets to success are threefold, and they all begin with P: passion, patience, and perseverance.”
Mark Twain once said: “Twenty years from now you’ll be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.”
I truly believe that no matter who you are, how old you are, what you do, or what you wish for … 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. Just go for it!
Thanks, Syrie! Next month, I’ll interview Thomas Nelson author, Cara Lynn James!
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