Riverside novelist brings Jane Austen to reality TV

Doornebos to host book signing at Riverside Library

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By JEAN LOTUS

There are no zombies in Riverside author Karen Doornebos' new Jane Austen-inspired novel. But there are cellphones, piercings and laptops, alongside Regency-era underwear and chamber pots.

"It's about a divorced single mother who finds herself up to her corset in a British Jane Austen dating reality show - set in 1812," she says.

Doornebos will host a book launch for Definitely Not Mr. Darcy at a signing party Friday, Sept. 9 at the Riverside Public Library, 1 Burling Road, from 7:30 to 9 pm. Jane Austen herself will make an appearance.

The library is a fitting venue - Doornebos wrote much of the novel there, "downstairs at a little table near the window overlooking the [Des Plaines] river," she says. The librarians were "so supportive. They were always asking about the book, saying, 'How's it going?'"

Library Director Janice Fisher - a fellow member with Doornebos in the Jane Austen Society of North America - says that most "Austenalia" follows two paths, "either historical fiction set in the [Regency] time period or a contemporary version of a Jane Austen plot line" such as Bridget Jones' Diary, a remake of Pride and Prejudice or the movie Clueless, a remake of Emma.

"Karen's book is unique. The characters are unique and the ending is different," says Fisher, who owns a collection of almost 200 Jane Austen-inspired "prequels, sequels and fan fiction."

She and Doornebos met years ago at a library book discussion of Persuasion, and they both gave presentations at a 2008 Chicago conference for the JASNA.

"I was blown away when I saw my name in the [book's] acknowledgements," Fisher says.

Doornebos researched the British Regency era (1795-1837) for her novel, perusing, among other resources, a "three-volume Jane Austen encyclopedia at the La Grange Library."

Knowing that historical anachronisms (the wrong kind of fork or an incorrect name for a type of horse buggy) are potential pitfalls the historical writers, Doornebos decided to focus on the interpretation of the early 19th century as seen through the eyes of a contemporary woman.

The book's protagonist, Chloe Parker is a divorced antique linotype artist in love with all things Jane Austen, and especially in love with Pride and Prejudice's most eligible bachelor - Mr. Darcy, who loomed large in her heart for 28 years, the longest relationship she'd ever had with any man, fictional or real.

Perhaps the book's unique interpretation of the Austen milieu was what made a director of the University of Wisconsin's "Weekend with your Novel" workshop pull Doornebos aside when she arrived.

"We had sent an advance chapter ahead, and she told me, 'You really have something here.' That's all it took."

Languishing in a drawer for a decade, Definitely Not Mr. Darcy was rewritten many times, says Doornebos, 46.

"I feel like I created my own MFA program with this one book," she says.

An ad-copy writer for years, the mother of two says she thought up the plot before having kids.

"It's definitely not autobiographical," Doornebos says.

But the book was inspired by an extended-work stay in the Kentish Town neighborhood of London in 1986 after college.

The book is published by Berkley Books, an imprint of the Penguin publishing company. Already she's received a starred review in Publisher's Weekly magazine and four-and-a-half stars in RT, a publishing trade industry magazine for genre fiction.

There's also the timeless sexiness of Mr. Darcy. Austenites become fervent in debates about which film actor is the, ahem, hottest Darcy. Leading men from Lawrence Olivier (1940) to Colin Firth (2005) to Matthew McFadyen (2006) and BBC/ITV actors David Rintoul (1980) and Elliot Cowan have played the haughty but endearing aristocrat over the years.

 "Colin Firth, hands down," says Fisher.

"Definitely Colin Firth," agrees Doornebos.

It's not surprising that Doornebos is a member of the Romance Writers of America. Meeting other genre writers and participating in a critique group meeting in Oak Brook gave lots of support, as well as editing hints.

"Otherwise you're working in a vacuum," Doornebos says.

Although many a new novelist's career has been cut short by the discouraging search for an agent, Doornebos never gave up hope.

"You just have to find one agent, just like you only have to find one buyer for your house," she says.

After the book was polished, Doornebos says she shopped for an agent by sending 16 different email enquiries.

"Simultaneous submissions used to be a no-no, but not anymore with new technology," she says.

To find her agent - Paige Wheeler, of Folio Literary Management in New York - she read the acknowledgement paragraphs in books similar to her genre.

Now she's promoting the book electronically and on various blog and book review websites. She's appearing in Riverside and later Naperville and Chicago's Beverly neighborhood, where she grew up.

 "I think there's a resurgence of everything Jane Austen, [because of] the quality of her writing and the timelessness of her characters," says Doornebos "There are the bad boys, the hypochondriacs, the backstabbers. She wrote about them 200 years ago and you can recognize them in your own life."

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