Austen Echoes – Writing a Contemporary Series

As I may have mentioned, I’ve been busy over the last few months writing a contemporary series of Austen-influenced novellas for New Zealand-based press Romance Café Publishing. All three stories are now complete, are well into the editing phase, and are getting close to publication. I hope to find out soon exactly what their release dates will be, and I’ll certainly keep everyone up to date when I get more information.

I’m so excited about this series, and I’d love to tell you all a bit about it.

The first thing to mention is that I’m long-winded, and my novellas have all drifted into short-novel territory, ranging from 45,000 to over 50,000 words. My publisher is happy with that, and I’m delighted to be able to tell a more fleshed-out story and really develop my main characters.

The second is the setting. The basic backdrop to the entire series is a concert choir, a group of committed and talented singers who come together once a week to rehearse for their next concert, leaving their daily lives behind as they step into the large room where the music happens.

By day, they are doctors, lawyers, parents, artists, entrepreneurs, and everything else you can imagine. But at heart, they live to make glorious music. I’ve called my fictional choir the Eglinton Echoes, after a major street that runs through Toronto, the city where this story takes place. It’s a first-rate choir, the sort that sings with the symphony and makes recordings, and its members are serious musicians. I am a musician as well, and writing about music, well, it makes my heart sing!

Now, this is where it really gets fun.

For each of my stories, at least one of the main characters is involved in this choir. They know each other, sing together, go out for drinks together. Sometimes they just tolerate each other, other times they are good friends. They interact within each story, and between stories. And, at times, the same event is pivotal for different stories, but since it’s seen through a different set of eyes, it takes on a very different meaning.

It’s been a ton of fun, and a real challenge to put this idea into practice. I’ve had to keep a detailed timeline, to make sure that everything fits into place in each story. What the choir is singing, who is involved, when rehearsals are, who is present at different events… If my Elizabeth Bennet character leaves a party part-way through her book, she also has to leave that same party part-way through Emma’s book, for example. And if my Mr Knightley character is shaking hands with my Frederick Wentworth character in the Emma-inspired story, he has to do the same thing in the Persuasion-inspired one.

As you can imagine, this involves lots of note-keeping, and lots of checking and re-checking!

Of course, I’ve had to reimaging many aspects to my stories, to keep the characters and their situations well-grounded in the modern world. Mr Darcy can’t be landed gentleman with ten thousand a year. That just doesn’t happen in today’s Canada. But he can be the heir to a hugely successful financial enterprise. And Captain Wentworth couldn’t really make his fortune as a naval officer, but he could be a self-made man, with an inauspicious background but with grit and intelligence and a lot of hard work. And Emma… well, wouldn’t she be perfect as a YouTube influencer?

One of the many things I’ve decided to change are the characters’ names. They need to be modern, while still reflecting Jane Austen’s inimitable originals. And so, Elizabeth Bennet is now Elise Benzion, and Fitzwilliam Darcy is F. William Pemberton, known as Will to the three or four people who he calls friends. Austen-lovers will know immediately who is who. And non-Austenites will hopefully just love them as they are, no background knowledge necessary!

These are not exact retellings, but are contemporary reimaginings, an homage to the author whom we all love so much. The details might have shifted a bit, but the essence of each story is intact. These are my Austen Echoes, as I have provisionally named the series. I hope you will love them.

To give you a taste of what to expect, here’s an excerpt from the first of my three, All the Wrong Notes, inspired (of course) by Pride and Prejudice.

* * *

Early June

“Tell me again why I’m here?”

Elise Benzion glared at her friend through a haze of smoke. She coughed and pushed past the phalanx of smokers, seeking the entrance to the downtown Toronto edifice, Janet scuttling behind her.

“Because I want to meet someone, and you promised.”

Janet pulled the large glass door closed behind her and pushed Elise a little further into the small, modern lobby. The air here, at least, was smoke-free and blessedly cool. Thank God for air conditioning.

“Come on, Elise,” Janet cajoled, “won’t you at least try to enjoy yourself? Speed-dating isn’t for everyone, but I know Maggie Jennings, who runs this one, and she’s careful about who she lets in. You might even meet someone yourself. You know you keep too busy at work to get out. Please?” She dragged out the last word, a supplication if ever Elise had heard one.

“Fine. But you owe me. What do we do?”

Janet rustled through the fashionable tote she carried. Like most of Janet’s clothing, the tote probably bore some fancy designer label and cost more than Elise’s entire wardrobe. It was very cute, with just the right amount of decoration, shiny buckles, and beautiful fabric. Just like Janet: Cute, beautifully put together, and a bit expensive. Janet was also stunning and one of the sweetest people Elise had ever met.

Fine. For Janet, she would have a good time.

The two women drifted over towards one of the marble-clad walls as Janet scanned the information on her phone. “It’s simple. We each get an ID card. Women get letters, men get numbers. Then we take our seats at the tables, and every eight minutes, the guys will move to the next table, until we’ve all met everyone. That’s it.”

“And if you like someone?”

Janet giggled. There was no other word for it. “We’ll each sign into the app, and for each man we meet, we’ll click yes or no by his number. Yes means we want to get his contact info, no means we don’t. They do the same for us. Wherever we both want to connect with the other, they’ll give out the contact info we’ve provided.” She giggled again.

Elise sighed. It sounded safe enough. If she didn’t click yes for any of the men, she’d never be bothered by anyone. “Okay. Let’s do this.”

“Yeah, girlfriend!” Janet gave her a high-five, and all but dragged Elise into the hall.

It was, at first glance, somewhat reassuring. The modern downtown building was designed with several fair-sized spaces on the ground floor, clearly intended for large meetings and conferences. This room could comfortably hold about fifty people, she estimated, without being crowded. If Janet’s claims were correct, there would be thirty here tonight: fifteen men, fifteen women. Not a huge pool to choose from, but if the promised culling process was efficient, a decent pool, nonetheless.

The lighting was subdued, without being too dark to see, and there was a table along one long wall with a selection of drinks and snacks. Your ticket got you one of each. More were available for purchase. Fair enough.

The room itself was dotted with tables large enough for two, each with two chairs facing each other. Girls on one side, boys on the other. Elise followed Janet as they checked in with an elegant-looking woman, and then went to find her table. Letter H. There was enough space between the tables that two people could converse without being overheard, but close enough for nothing… awkward to happen. Maybe this wouldn’t be so bad.

Over the next few minutes, the room filled up. Beautiful women and handsome men, all dressed up for a day in the office or a night out, floated around the space, their motions betraying confidence their eyes didn’t quite believe. Elise glanced down at her own outfit. She had come right from work—when didn’t she?—and she looked it. The small arts centre she ran didn’t have a dress code, and while she had taken a bit of care this morning, her nice blue chinos and pale yellow shirt with the gold buttons didn’t quite meet par here. She had slashed a smear of lipstick on her lips and had patted her dark hair into a neater version of its ponytail, but that was all. Janet, with her accustomed elegance, was rocking a deep green dress that matched her eyes and set her auburn hair glowing. All the men would want to match with Janet!

Soon enough, Mrs Jennings rang a little bell and the buzz in the room quietened until only the hum of the ventilation system could be heard. The organiser gave a short speech and repeated the rules that Janet had gone through before, and the event began.

One by one, Elise met the procession of men. Most were handsome, most were charming. All would probably be perfectly fine company over a cup of coffee, but none made her toes curl. These were all professionals, swanning down from their corner offices in the towers above, oozing Success and Establishment. She was an arts-loving do-gooder who had put her MBA to work not on Bay Street, but at a small centre that brought music and painting to under-privileged children, and rented out rehearsal and performance spaces to small organisations. These men thrived on big business and mega-deals. She relied on donations and grants.

There was one person to go before the night was out. A glance towards Janet had revealed her friend, deep in conversation with a very pleasant man with olive skin and a slight accent. Number Twelve. He hadn’t knocked Elise’s socks off, but he had been delightful to chat with for those eight minutes. He was also a music lover, and his lovely smile had reached his eyes. If Janet liked him, she could do a lot worse.

“Thank God this is nearly over.”

A deep masculine voice brought her attention back to her own table. There, across from her, was one of the most handsome men she had ever seen. Or, rather, he would have been if there had been the slightest glimmer of good humour in those slate grey eyes. Thick dark hair with just a hint of curl, a chiselled jaw, a fine nose, and cheekbones to die for, all vied for her attention. The broad shoulders in the impeccable cut suit didn’t hurt either. But that expression he wore undid almost all of it.

“Let’s get this over with.”


There would be no initial chit-chat, it seemed. No social pleasantries. Elise glanced down at the list of questions she had in front of her. “Nice to meet you, Number Seven.” Not a crack of a smile. “Uh, unless you want to start, why don’t I ask you some questions.” No response. “Um, are you a tea or a coffee person.”

The man stared blankly at her. No joy in his expression, no anger. Merely dislike and boredom. “Coffee in the morning. Tea in the afternoon. Whisky at night.”

Elise waited for him to elaborate, but he seemed to have said everything.

“I’m pretty much the same,” she said, trying to draw him out. “Do you like herbal teas? I’ve never really developed a taste for them. I like flavoured black tea, though. If it’s too late in the afternoon, I have to have decaf, or I can’t sleep.”

He stared at her and said nothing.

“Okay, then, here’s another one. Are you a thinker or a talker? Oh, never mind. Definitely a thinker.” She glanced back at her list. “What are the most important things you look for in a person?”

Another blank stare. “The wisdom to know when to stop talking.”

What the…?

“Then why the hell are you even here?” Too late, Elise realised her mouth was moving. She really needed to learn to keep her thoughts to herself.

“I beg your pardon?” The dark brows lowered over slits where his eyes had been.

Ugh! Well, the damage was done. This man, handsome though he may be, was never going to be anything other than a bad memory, so why not speak her mind?

“Have you been this miserable to everyone in the room? I can’t imagine why you bothered to show up at all, if you’re just going to glower at people and not say anything.”

“I am accustomed to a better sort of person.”

“A what? Are you some sort of dinosaur? Or just too hoity-toity for us mortal folk. Well, let’s not waste any more time. I’ve got a book on my phone, which I’m sure is much more interesting than you.” She let out a snort. “Seriously, why are you even here?”

“I came with a friend. Goodbye.”

And despite three minutes remaining before the bell rang, he got up and left, with every eye in the room following him.

“Stuck up, arrogant, miserable bastard,” Elise muttered as she glared after his retreating form. If only it weren’t so lovely to look at.

Be on the lookout for more information on the release dates of these three fun modern Austen-inspired stories!

10 responses to “Austen Echoes – Writing a Contemporary Series”

  1. Hollis Avatar

    ooh, I already like it!!!

    1. Riana Everly Avatar

      These were so much fun to write. I’m not sure which is my favourite. I hope you love them all.

  2. Marie H Avatar
    Marie H

    Oh, I love moderns! You’ve got my attention, and being a Canadian, I love the location. I spent my earliest years living off Lakeshore Blvd. Will definitely look forward to the releases. I hope there won’t be a long waiting period between them.

    1. Riana Everly Avatar

      Toronto, like any big city, can be a bit of a monster before you get to know it, but it has so much to offer as well, and I love the music scene here. I was lucky enough to attend a rehearsal of the Toronto Mendelssohn Choir as part of my research for this series, and they were just amazing.
      I’m not 100% sure yet what the release dates will be, but I think my publisher is hoping to put them out about a month apart. That’s what they’ve done for other series like this.

  3. Nikki Avatar

    Riana, the paintings illustrating this newsletter are fabulous! Did you paint them?

    1. Riana Everly Avatar

      Thank you, but no, I’m no artist. I do enjoy playing around on my graphics programs, though. I found an image I liked, and sent it through some of the cool things my program does to make it look like a painting, and then I spent a while doctoring it up to make it look like I wanted. My daughter is a good artist, though, and hopefully one day I’ll be able to cajole her into doing some cover art for me.

  4. Kirstin Odegaard Avatar

    Congratulations on these 3 upcoming releases!
    Speed dating makes for a great opening scene (and as an avid tea lover, I have to love the discussion of tea as a means to establish compatibility!). Very fun beginning.

    1. Riana Everly Avatar

      Thank you. I had so much fun reading up about speed dating that my husband was starting to get nervous. I don’t judge someone by what they drink (well…. maybe a little), but it is a great ice-breaker. Unless your conversation partner is a cold fish like poor old Number Seven! LOL

  5. cindie snyder Avatar
    cindie snyder

    Congrats on your releases! I look forward to reading more. The excerpt was great!

    1. Riana Everly Avatar

      Thanks so much! I’m just so excited about this series. I’ll definitely post more (and more excerpts) as I hear back from my publisher about release dates. 😀

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