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Authors: Michael Thomas Ford

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BOOK: Jane Goes Batty
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Jane shut the window and leaned back in her chair. Not for the first time since stumbling across the site (damn Google and its ability to ferret out every last mention of her and her book) she considered writing the author a note. But she knew that would
end poorly. Kelly had told her—and she’d soon found that he was quite right—not to read everything written about her. Unlike the past, when critics were allowed to criticize because they knew something about books and writing, the invention of the Internet made it possible for anyone with an opinion to share it. This was not, as far as Jane was concerned, a good thing.

She had to admit, however, that despite her relentlessly snarky tone the blog’s author was not stupid. Her name was Wen Bao, and if her biography was to be believed, she was thirty-three and lived in Fargo, North Dakota. What she did there was unclear, but Jane liked to imagine that she worked some dreary minimum-wage job simply in order to afford the books about which she wrote. As an ear piercer in a mall, perhaps, or a gift shop clerk at the Roger Maris Museum.

This was unkind of her, Jane knew, but it allowed her to not dislike Wen Bao as much as she might otherwise. She
had
disliked her upon first encountering the blog. That was only natural given her maternal feelings toward
Constance
. But after a few days (or perhaps it was weeks, or months) she had been able to read the post with a little more objectivity, and when she did so she was able to see that what Wen Bao had so succinctly stated were the very fears she herself had about her novel.

No, not fears. Truths. For she knew—had always known—that this novel was different from her others. But that was because she herself was changed. She had written
Constance
in a fever brought on by her infatuation with Byron. Their correspondence had awakened things in her, and these feelings found their way into her pen.
Constance
was, after all, her love letter to him. It was only natural that some of his infamous melancholy should color it.

And then there was what happened at Lake Geneva.

“They can hardly expect me to remain myself,” Jane told Jasper. “Not after that. And yet they don’t want me to change.
They like me the way I am. Was. Not that they even know that I’m me. Still, it hardly seems fair to expect a woman to stand absolutely still for two hundred years. I’m
not
Jane Austen any longer, at least not
their
Jane Austen.”

She’d seen this before. She remembered when Amy Heckerling had borrowed liberally from
Emma
in creating her movie
Clueless
. A certain segment of Jane’s readership had cried foul, going so far as to say that Jane would be scandalized by what had been done to her novel.

“But I rather liked it,” said Jane as Jasper got up and padded out of the room. “How are they to know what I would and would not like, anyway? It’s not as if they
know
me. Really, knowing a writer through that writer’s books is about as likely as understanding the inner workings of a clock by listening to its chime.”

Still, she had fooled a great number of people. More than one critic had compared
Constance
favorably to her previous books.
But not Wen Bao
, Jane thought.
She saw through me
.

It occurred to her now—and she was positively astonished that it hadn’t already—that perhaps the change in tone of
Constance
was what had caused the novel to be rejected so many times. Her earlier novels had brought into popularity a certain kind of story, one that
Constance
was not. Well, not completely, but enough that it was troubling to editors.
At least for the first twenty or so years
, Jane thought.
I can only assume that later editors simply hated it. Until Kelly
.

The phone rang. Jane, glancing at the clock, saw that it was after eleven.
Who’s calling at this hour?
she wondered as she picked up.

“I hope it’s not too late.” Kelly said.

“No,” said Jane, suddenly seized with a panic that he was calling to ask about the undelivered manuscript. She tapped her fingers on the keyboard loudly. “I’m just writing.”

“Good,” Kelly replied. “Because that’s why I’m calling.”

Jane’s anxiety doubled. “It’s coming along
very
well now,” she said. “I’ve had a breakthrough. I think I can have it to you before Labor—”

“I’m not checking up on you,” interrupted Kelly.

Jane hesitated. “You’re not?” she asked.

“Do you really think I’d call you this late to see how the book is coming along?” Kelly said.

“Well …” Jane said slowly. “You
did
say you were calling about the book.”

“I did,” Kelly agreed. “But it’s not about when it will be finished. That will be up to your new editor to worry about.”

Jane breathed a sigh of relief. Then Kelly’s words sank in. “My new editor?” she said.

“That’s the big news,” said Kelly. “I’ve got a new position. I’m going to be an agent at Waters-Harding. Actually, I’m going to be
your
new agent. I made that part of the deal.”

Jane was at a loss for words. “Congratulations,” she managed.

“You don’t sound very excited,” said Kelly.

“Oh, I am,” Jane said. “Very excited. It’s just that I didn’t know you were looking to leave editing.”

“I wasn’t, really,” said Kelly. “But last week I had a meeting with Knut Amundsen about another author they represent and out of the blue he asked if I’d ever considered being an agent. I guess he was impressed with my negotiating skills. I said I hadn’t given it much thought, and he said I should. Then he offered me a job.”

“That really is wonderful,” Jane told him, her composure regained. “I know you’ll be a wonderful agent.” She paused a moment so as not to appear anxious. “So who will my new editor be?”

“A wonderful young woman,” Kelly said. “Jessica Abernathy. She comes from Fourth Street Books. She adores
Constance
. Didn’t stop raving about it the whole interview.”

“Jessica Abernathy,” Jane said. The name was familiar, but she couldn’t place it.

“She’s young,” Kelly continued. “But she’s edited some really good books. I really think you’ll—”

“Jessica Abernathy!” Jane exclaimed. “Of Fourth Street Books?”

“Yes,” said Kelly. “Do you know her?”

Indeed I do
, Jane thought.
She’s number 116
.

“No,” she said, trying to calm herself. “I must have seen her name somewhere.”
As in on her rejection letter
, she fumed.
Adores
Constance
my foot. I’m sure she said it just to get the job
.

But she couldn’t tell Kelly that. It would seem petty of her. Besides, it was possible Jessica Abernathy had never even read Jane’s manuscript. She could have just rejected it out of hand, then not recognized it when she read the finished product.

It will be all right
, she told herself.
You can handle this
.

“When do you start?” she asked Kelly.

“Two weeks,” Kelly replied. “Then I’ll be your agent. We’ll get you a much better deal than the one you got last time.” He laughed at his little joke.

Jane tried to laugh, but ended up coughing.

“Are you okay?” Kelly asked.

“I just swallowed a little wine,” said Jane. “I’ll be fine.”

I’ll be fine
, she repeated to herself as Kelly continued talking excitedly about his new job.
I’ll be fine
.

Twenty minutes later she hung up, having listened to only about half of what Kelly had said. His excitement had only deepened her sadness, and now she felt as she had that first night sitting in the balcony at the opera. She didn’t want to lose Kelly as her editor. She particularly didn’t want to have to work with Jessica Abernathy.

She turned the music back on and sat back in her chair, her eyes closed. Whatever incentive she’d had to work on her novel was now gone. What was the point? Jessica Abernathy was going to hate it anyway.

Jane listened as Lord Ruthven wove his spell on the doomed
Janthe. Despite knowing it would always end the same way, Jane couldn’t help but hope for the girl’s salvation. As Ruthven sang Jane translated his words in her head.

Yes, beloved, I belong to you forever,
And forever, beloved, you are mine!
Ah, only love, love makes me happy,
I devote my life to you alone!

Jane opened her eyes. “Don’t believe him, Janthe,” she said. “He’s going to break your heart. They always do.”

“I’
M SORRY, WHAT WAS YOUR NAME AGAIN
?”

“Anthony,” the man answered as he rummaged around in one of the many bags he had with him. “But you can call me Ant. Everyone does.”

“Ant,” Jane repeated. “Of course. And you say you’re with the film people.”

Ant nodded. “They were supposed to tell you we were coming,” he said as he fiddled with the controls on the video camera in his hands.

“Yes, well, I’m afraid they didn’t,” said Jane, squinting as a bright light blinded her.

“Sorry,” said the girl who was positioning the lights behind Ant.

They were in Jane’s living room. Jane was seated on the couch, anxiously watching Ant come perilously close to knocking over a ceramic figure of a badger that had been given to Jane in 1908 by Kenneth Grahame as a thank-you for convincing him to change his lead character from Miss Slug to Mr. Toad. When Ant turned his back Jane retrieved the badger from the side table and placed it safely under the couch.

“Like I told you,” Ant said. “We’re shooting scenes for the DVD extras.”

“The DVD?” Jane said. “But they haven’t even made the film yet.”

Ant snorted. “Tell me about it,” he said. “But they want this stuff done earlier and earlier.” He pulled a roll of duct tape from one of the bags and unrolled about six inches of it. “If you ask me,” he mumbled, tearing the tape with his teeth, “it’s because they want to get the interviews when everyone’s still excited about the project and doesn’t hate each other.”

He applied the tape to the side of the video camera while he continued to talk. “We used to do the DVD stuff six months, sometimes a year after the movie wrapped. But then you run the risk of losing people for one reason or another.”

“Losing them how?” Jane asked, shifting uncomfortably in her chair.

Ant shrugged. “Costars who fell in love on the set break up,” he explained. “The director has a falling-out with the studio. Someone is in rehab and can’t film.” He laughed. “Well,
that
always happens. Anyway, if you get this stuff done before shooting even begins, you’ve got it in the can and ready to go.”

“That seems prudent,” Jane remarked.

“One film I worked on a couple of years ago, the leading lady got divorced after the film wrapped,” said Ant. “She dealt with it by eating everything in sight and blew up like a Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade balloon. When I went to shoot her interview for the DVD we could only shoot her from the chest up. Even then her face was so fat she looked like one of those bodies that wash up on the beach a week after a plane crash. Every time she talked I kept waiting for a crab to come out of her mouth.”

Jane put a hand to her cheek.
Do I look puffy?
she wondered. The girl working on the lights was also the makeup person, and she had put powder on Jane’s face fifteen minutes earlier. But suddenly Jane felt sweaty. She started to ask if the girl could refresh her makeup, then stopped herself.
You don’t want to seem demanding
, she reminded herself.

“You ready to go?” Ant asked the girl, who was still fussing with the lights.

“Almost,” she said just as one of the bulbs in a light popped. The girl swore loudly.

Ant rolled his eyes and sighed wearily. “Let me guess,” he said. “You don’t have a spare.”

“I think there’s one in the van,” the girl told him. “I’ll be right back.”

With the girl gone Jane took the opportunity to ask Ant a question that had been on her mind. “I understand why they might want interviews with the stars of the film,” she said cautiously. “Or with the director. But why me?”

Ant nodded. “It’s weird, right? I mean, you’re just a writer. You didn’t even write the script.” He shook his head. “That’s Julia Baxter for you.”

Jane’s interest grew with the mention of the film’s director, whom she had yet to meet or even speak to. “Julia Baxter asked for me to be included?” she said.

“No offense, but she thinks people actually give a crap about who wrote the book a film is based on,” said Ant. “Like anybody reads
books
anymore.”

“Imagine,” Jane said. “The idea.”

She eyed Ant with growing dislike. She was already annoyed with him, ever since he’d arrived at her bookstore that afternoon and immediately started bossing her around. As she hadn’t been expecting him, his behavior was even more upsetting, and until he’d explained his presence she had considered biting his neck.

He reminds me of George Wickham
, she realized.
He’s all bluster and no substance
.

“I don’t think I’ve read a book since high school,” Ant said, oblivious to the fact that he was making himself even more unappealing to Jane. “I just wait for the movie.” He laughed.

BOOK: Jane Goes Batty
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