Welcome to my blog, inspired by my newly published novel, “Mr R. – A Rock & Roll Romance.” Actually, the book is just entitled, “Mr. R,” but my publisher and Amazon added the subtitle to distinguish it from the “Mr. R” line of distressed jeans.
My novel is a reimagining of Charlotte Brontë’s “Jane Eyre” – set in Germany and Ohio in the 1970’s and 1980’s, with a poetically minded rock star filling the shoes of Ms. Brontë’s classic romantic hero, Mr. Rochester. I figured I might as well start with a short Q&A, so readers can get to know a little bit more about me and the book.
Why re-write “Jane Eyre”?
Lots of reasons. I’d wanted to write a novel for years, but I always found a good reason to put off the project until later. Then in November, 2007, my childhood friend Mary died of breast cancer, and it made me realize I shouldn’t keep putting off the things I’ve always wanted to do.
Fumbling for a plot, I thought I’d first try my hand at “rewriting” a classic as an exercise. I loved the Jane Austen-inspired novel “Bridget Jones Diary” and the movie “Clueless,” but I’d always preferred Charlotte Brontë to Jane Austen. I’d read “Jane Eyre” multiple times at that point in my life, so it seemed a logical choice to begin with. And it was Mary who first told me the story of “Jane Eyre,” so it was a poignant choice as well.
What were some of the challenges you faced updating “Jane Eyre” to the late twentieth century?
The biggest obstacle to the plot was trying to think of a good reason why Rochester didn’t just divorce his wife, or why he would keep a “mad woman” locked up on his property. In my first draft, I had Rochester admit to the Jane Eyre character that he was the child of divorce, and that he had promised himself when he was young that he would never walk out on a marriage. But in subsequent drafts, it became clearer to me that the reason Eddie didn’t divorce his first wife was because he truly loved her. And that realization drove the way I reshaped the novel. It forced me to rewrite Eddie’s “mad wife” as a much more sympathetic character – as a woman who could inspire such deep and devoted love.
First draft? How many drafts did you go through?
Many! I wrapped up my first draft in the late spring of 2008. Told from the first-person point-of-view of the Jane Eyre character Jenny, this book was a simple re-write of “Jane Eyre.” The only part that really diverged from Ms. Brontë’s original was the last section in which Jenny runs away from Thornfield. I called this draft “A Wing and a Prayer” (for the Pilot and the convent school girl). It was fun day-dreaming about ways to modernize the plot, but it was even more fun twisting and changing the story.
When I finished that draft, I wrote some sequels to my book, placing characters from Eddie’s band in the other novels by the Brontë sisters. But then I realized that “A Wing and a Prayer” didn’t fit in with the series I had created. So I changed it. First I condensed the first part of the book (describing Jenny’s childhood) into a single opening chapter. Then I put the whole novel into third-person point-of-view, so I could include some scenes which Jenny didn’t witness. But then, still unhappy with my work, I threw out the entire manuscript and rewrote the novel from Eddie’s point-of-view, so it would fit in better with the other books in the series.
Yes. I’ve written three more books about Eddie’s band mates. But more about them later.
Okay. But what’s up with the pop music angle?
I’ve been a huge Beatles fan since I was twelve, so writing this series of books has allowed me to blend my love for British Invasion bands with my love for classic British literature.
Are the Pilots based on the Beatles?
No, but they are inspired by the Fab Four. Eddie is the rhythm guitarist with a talent for writing clever lyrics, but he’s no John Lennon. Eddie is too reticent, and he’s disinclined to shoot off his mouth, indulge in political ramblings, take drugs, or engage in artistic “happenings.” Tony is the “cute” Pilot, but unlike Paul McCartney, he’s not a songwriter, and even though he’s the lead guitarist for the band, he’s a much better singer than he is a musician. Gerry went to rehab about the same time that Ringo Starr did, but there the comparison between the two drummers stops. And there really is no Beatles counterpart to the classically trained pianist Jim, who serves as the Pilots’ keyboard player.
I did, however, try to capture the Beatles’ sense of comradery in my depiction of Eddie’s band. The Pilots really are like brothers. But unlike the Beatles, who underwent a famously acrimonious split, the Pilots just went their separate ways when Eddie retired from the music industry, and remained friends. And, like the Beatles, the Pilots all have wicked senses of humor. So I’ve tried to include a lot of silly, humorous lines and passages in “Mr. R” as well, in homage to the Fabs.
How did you decide which plot points to keep and which to discard from the original “Jane Eyre” story?
Well, as I said, my original draft clung very closely to Charlotte Brontë’s novel. With each subsequent re-write, however, I started adding new scenes to flush out the characters, and cutting out passages which I had only included because they paralleled chapters in the original book. Taking the story out of Jenny’s point-of-view forced me to leave out a lot of the “Jane Eyre” allusions. I have tried to keep the “gothic” spirit of the original novel alive, though I substituted more modern elements in my book (incorporating a crop circle and a Ouija board, for instance).
This book is rather racier than “Jane Eyre” too!
That’s right! My first draft was pretty wholesome. One of my beta readers even suggested I wrote it for “gentle readers.” But having a rock star as the protagonist forced me to change the tone. There’s a lot of swearing in the novel, not to mention the sex, drugs and rock and roll. One book I used as a reference as I rewrote my manuscript was Keith Richard’s autobiography, “Life.” Eddie never lived his life on such a wild scale as Keef, but the characters around him did. And I wanted them to ring authentic.
Will Brontë fans be aghast?
I hope not. Despite the R-rated scenes, I tried to keep the original romantic feel of “Jane Eyre.” “Mr. R” is, above all, a love story. And it focuses on many aspects of love, including sacrifice and forgiveness.
I’ve also incorporated a lot of small details in the story that make direct reference to Charlotte Brontë’s 1848 masterpiece. I hope Brontë devotees will enjoy uncovering them as they read my book.
Can you name a few of those references?
The Pilots stole their name from the original Mr. Rochester’s dog. Eddie’s mistress Maria Mesrour stole her last name from Mr. Rochester’s horse. Other names in my book are variations on people and places found in “Jane Eyre” or in Charlotte Brontë’s actual life. And some of Eddie’s best lines are lifted directly from the original novel. You can’t beat perfection!
Okay, so let’s hear some more about those sequels.
I’ve placed the Pilots’ pianist Jim McCudden in a ghost story mash-up of Emily Brontë’s “Wuthering Heights” and Anne Brontë’s “Agnes Grey.” I sent drummer Gerry Enis tripping into the pages of “The Tenant of Wildfell Hall” in a time-traveling fantasy that’s set on a Pilots tour during 1967’s “Summer of Love.” And Tony Wright plays a central role in an original novel I crafted that was inspired by a two-chapter fragment Charlotte Brontë left unfinished at the time of her death.
Sounds intriguing. When can we look for them in bookstores?
First things first! I’m busy promoting “Mr. R” at the moment. But I’d love to hear from readers who are interested in reading the sequels. I hope you enjoy reading them as much as I enjoyed writing them!