Pamela Aidan is the nom de plume of Pamela Mogen of Coeur d’Alene. By day she is the director of the Liberty Lake Municipal Library, a job she has held since December 2003 and which feeds her “little librarian soul.” But her fan base goes far beyond Liberty Lake library patrons. In a matter of days, the 50,000th copy of “Fitzwilliam Darcy, Gentleman,” will be arriving at the home of one of her desperate, devoted readers.
Mogen has written a book in three parts that retell the story of Jane Austen’s “Pride and Prejudice” from the viewpoint of the male hero, Mr. Darcy.
What began as an experimental piece posted on a Jane Austen fan-fiction Web site evolved into a wildly successful publish-on-demand venture that recently caught the eye of the fiction buyer at the head offices of Barnes & Noble in New York City, who alerted Amanda Patton, the historical romance editor at Simon & Schuster.
“It’s all very incestuous back there,” Mogen said. “Everyone knows everyone else.”
Mogen has just signed a contract with Simon & Schuster, who will rerelease her trilogy, one book every six months, beginning in June 2006.
From her comfortably cluttered basement study, lined with wicker chairs, fluffy persimmon pillows and creamy Cape Cod cottage furniture, “Her Grace Lady Pamela” shyly tells her story.
“I was a book-y kid; practically all I did was read. Horseback riding was my only sport, and I was in all the plays at school, but writing was always in the back of my mind. I first read Jane Austen’s ‘Pride and Prejudice’ in high school, not as an assignment, but self-assigned in my determination to read the classics. In less than a chapter, I was thoroughly enchanted.”
Two decades later, the 1995 A&E production of “Pride and Prejudice” “blew me away,” she said. “It was a marvelous, inspiring interpretation. Colin Firth’s performance opened up possibilities of who Darcy really was. Darcy is so sketchy in Austen. Darcy’s side of the story begged to be explored. The A&E film engendered a huge revival of interest in Austen’s writing, and the new devotees wanted more.”
Mogen then delved into two Austen fan-fiction sites on the Internet: The Republic of Pemberley and The Derbyshire Writers’ Guild. Reading fan-fiction posted on the Web, she became convinced that she could write as well as what she was seeing there and knew that if she wanted to hear Darcy’s side of the story, she’d have to write it herself.
She wrote and posted a “short, experimental piece titled ‘Be Not Alarmed, Madam’ that explored Darcy’s thoughts and feelings as he prepared to take his letter to Elizabeth the morning after his disastrous proposal. The reaction was astonishing. Readers loved it, and I was encouraged to think I might have some ability as a writer.”
In 1998, Mogen began writing “An Assembly Such as This,” the first book of her trilogy, and posting five- or six-page sections as they were completed. She was living in Atlanta at the time, raising three sons, and working as a school librarian. She got up at 5 a.m. every day and wrote for two hours before work.
She soon realized that she needed her own Web site.
Armed with a “how-to” book she had bought at a yard sale, she taught herself the proper programming and created her Web site called Austenesque. Before long her fan base numbered in the thousands, hailing from 90 countries around the world.
The response of her fans persuaded Mogen to investigate the publishing world.
“It looked like a long, drawn-out affair,” she said. “I know people are disparaging of the self-publishing industry, but I discovered Lightningsource, a publish-on-demand company, at a Christian Booksellers’ Association convention. I found that many of the vanity presses send their manuscripts to Lightningsource. It takes some time and work, but it eliminates the middleman. There’s no upfront fee. The author gets all the royalties. They provide formatting guidelines and cover art templates. I signed a contract and created Wytherngate Press, becoming my own small press. Now, in addition to my own books, my husband, Michael, and I are publishing books for other authors, using the publish-on-demand technology. We do the formatting, getting the pages and cover art ready for printing.”
The second book in Mogen’s trilogy, “Duty and Desire,” was published in August 2004, and the third, “These Three Remain,” in November 2005. She is still riding the wave of Austen resurgence: Last month, she sold 9,000 copies of her books, and her books have been on the historical romance best-seller lists at Amazon.com and Barnes & Noble since the beginning.
“I think I’ve been successful because I had established a huge fan base already,” she says. “I’d been developing a following on the fan-fic sites since 1998 and spent five years posting the work online.”
But hitting the Austen wave was “sheer luck that happened to coincide with my particular passion.”
Asked why Austen is enjoying such a resurgence, Mogen says, “Women are fascinated with Austen’s female characters because they seem real. They’re strong, yet feminine and flawed. They’re gracious and well-spoken. They don’t have to be uber-women or assume masculine characteristics to be fulfilled and complete. There’s a hunger – it seems to be international – to be seen as a treasure worth winning at any price. The male heroes see women as worthy of their respect, and they win their women. They have to change and grow, but they do it, and always in a noble way that affirms self.”
Mogen has been planning a fourth book based on Lord Dyfed Brougham, a character she made up, but her readers are clamoring for more Darcy and Elizabeth.
“I’m hesitant to do that, because it’s been done. It feels like a compromise. But I might continue their story down the road a couple years, looking at them as a young family, and bring in Lord Dyfed Brougham’s courtship of Darcy’s younger sister, Georgiana. If I’m going to develop as a writer, I have to develop new characters and stories and eventually quit traipsing after Jane.”
But for the foreseeable future, Mogen’s traipsing seems justifiable.
“I’m surprised and amazed … I can only shake my head in wonder,” she said. “Writing, publishing, responding … it’s all been such an adventure.”
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