The California Dashwoods
by Lisa Henry
Hi! I’m Lisa Henry, and welcome to the blog tour for my new release, The California Dashwoods. I’m visiting some of my favourite blogs around the place to talk a bit about writing The California Dashwoods, and sharing some of my influences, my ideas, and even an excerpt or two! Don’t forget to leave a comment, for your chance to win a prize of a $20 Amazon voucher plus a vintage copy of Sense and Sensibility that I’ll post worldwide. The winner will be drawn on May 10.
When I was a teenager, I discovered Douglas Adams and adored him. Who doesn’t, right? But this was about the time when I was trying to figure out how to write books myself, and I remember being really struck by this odd little exchange in Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency:
“Look, can you make a note for me to tell Susan—not you, of course, secretary Susan at the office.”
And then, a paragraph or so later:
“That’s you, I mean, of course, not secretary Susan at the office.”
And I’d never seen this before in a book. It’s something that happens so often in real life, isn’t it? We know a bunch of people with the same name, and we figure out who we’re talking about by using context clues, or we clarify by using you-Susan and secretary-Susan. It just really stood out to me as being one of those things where art not only doesn’t imitate life, but it takes pains not too. Even similar names are generally discouraged. Try to write a book where your main characters are called Jason and James and I’ll bet you won’t get that past your editor.
Which brings me to Sense and Sensibility. Did you know there are three separate characters in that thing called John? Which might not matter back in Regency times when you’re talking about Mr Dashwood, Mr. Willoughby and Sir John. But when it comes to updating those characters and throwing them into the modern world, and suddenly you’ve got yourself John, John and John.
When it came to The California Dashwoods, I had to fudge the names a little for all the characters. Elinor became Elliott, but I changed Edward to Ned because I didn’t want two E-names for my mains. And Margaret became Greta, because Elliott already had an M-name sister in Marianne. And this was before I tackled all the Johns!
With John Willoughby, Marianne’s love interest, it was easy enough to turn him into a charming playboy called Jack, but I was left with the problem of John Dashwood and John Middleton. One is our MC Elliott’s half-brother, and one is his mother’s cousin. And both of them are pretty important to the plot.
Initially I thought of just changing one of their given names, but in the end I decided that no, why not let a little bit of real life creep in there? So that’s what you’ll find in this teensy excerpt here—along with my subtle nod to Douglas Adams—when Elliott and his mom are making plans for the future:
“Do you remember John?” Abby asked. “Not John John. My cousin John.”
Elliott sucked jam off his finger. “John in California?”
“He lives in a little town called Barton Lake. He has a store there. It’s where I met your father, actually. He and the Family were there for the summer, and they wanted an au pair for John. John John, not cousin John. I thought, well, I can make more money looking after some spoiled little snot-nosed rich-kid brat than I can doing chalk drawings on the pavement, and—” She cut herself off with a laugh. “And the rest is history.” Continue reading