I'm pleased to welcome Elizabeth Gilliland to Cozy Up With Kathy today. Elizabeth pens the Austen University Mystery series. WHAT HAPPENED ON BOX HILL is the first book in the series and was released last week.
Kathy: WHAT HAPPENED ON BOX HILL brings the characters of Jane Austen into the present day. While the work of Jane Austen is just as relevant today as it was over 100 years ago, what made you decide to rejuvenate her characters?
EG: When I first started writing WHAT HAPPENED ON BOX HILL, I also happened to be writing my dissertation about Jane Austen adaptations, so the topic was on my mind. I am a big fan of Jane Austen, and I also grew up loving so many of the amazing adaptations that have been made–Clueless, Sense and Sensibility (1995), the Colin Firth Pride and Prejudice, etc. During my studies I found that a lot of fans, academics, and readers really seemed to resent some of the adaptations, but I always thought that anything that allowed me more time in the world of Austen was a good thing. When I thought about writing my own (then hypothetical) version, I knew it would have to be something I’d never seen before, and I love genre hybrids, so I thought why not really think outside the box? Part of what makes Austen brilliant is her adaptability into so many times, cultures, traditions, and genres, so I hope that this is a fitting tribute!
Kathy: Setting plays an important part in mysteries, why choose Louisanna, indeed a college in Louisiana, for the Austen University Mystery series?
EG: Part of the decision was purely practical–I was living in Louisiana at the time I began writing, going to school and teaching at LSU. It was a brand-new culture for me (I do NOT come from the South) and it just felt right. Even after moving to a different Southern state, I still felt like Louisiana had the best flair for this story. There is something really kind of fun and weird about Louisiana that fits the setting for a fun, weird murder mystery.
Kathy: There have been many adaptations of Jane Austen's novels, several set in the present day. My favorite is the film Bride and Prejudice. Do you have a favorite?
EG: I love Bride and Prejudice, too! It’s hard to choose just one, but I think my all-time favorite would have to be Clueless. It’s just such a smart adaptation and it has the most nostalgic value for me. A close runner up would be The Lizzie Bennet Diaries, which is really innovative and fun and isn’t afraid to take the story in new and unexpected directions.
Kathy: What first drew you to cozy mysteries?
EG: I kind of was a fan of cozy mysteries before I knew what they were. Growing up, I spent a lot of time at the local library and read pretty much anything I could get my hands on. I love lots of different genres, but some of the earliest books I remember really sticking with me (aside from Austen) were Mary Higgins Clark and Agatha Christie. Like I said before, I love genre hybrids and a cozy mystery is just the perfect blend of naughty and nice, funny and dark, to keep things interesting.
Kathy: Do you write in any other genres?
EG: Yes - I pretty much write whatever I’m in the mood to read. In the past few years I’ve been doing a lot of literary retellings, but most are genre hybrids, ranging from romance to fairytale noir to space opera. This will be my first published novel, though, but hopefully some of those will be ready to see the light of day in the near future!
Kathy: Tell us about your series.
EG: The Austen University Mysteries re-envisions the main characters from all of Jane Austen’s novels in one modern setting: Austen University, a small school in Louisiana.
The series will work both for fans of Austen and those unfamiliar with her work; the novels contain unique, individual stories that you can follow even if you’ve never read Austen (I’ve had beta readers verify this!) but also pay homage to major plot points and characters that Austen fans will recognize.
Kathy: Do you have a favorite character? If so, who and why?
EG: Hmmm… that’s really difficult, because I truly have grown to love them all. Maybe Tilney, because he was probably the character who most consistently refused to stick to what he was supposed to do.
Kathy: Did you have a specific inspiration for your series?
EG: Aside from Austen, I wanted the book to really pay tribute to Agatha Christie and true crime podcasts, and to have the feeling of Taylor Swift’s “Look What You Made Me Do” lyric video (found here). Also, the series came out after I’d finished writing the book, but the tone of Only Murders in the Building is very similar to what I was hoping to accomplish.
Kathy: What made you decide to publish your work?
EG: My husband was actually very much a driving force, both in encouraging me to write the novel in the first place (I thought I was just having fun daydreaming, but he told me I should actually write it down) and in having the courage to start our own small press and publish. Without him I really don’t think I would have been brave enough to do it.
Kathy: If you could have a dinner party and invite 4 authors, living or dead, in any genre, who would you invite?
EG: Ooh, good question. It will probably come as no surprise from my previous answers that Jane Austen and Agatha Christie would definitely be on the invite list. I would be very curious to meet Lord Byron, so we’ll make him the third. And because I love her and I think she would be as excited to meet Jane Austen as I would be, I’ll make Emma Thompson my fourth.
Kathy: What are you currently reading?
EG: I’m reading John Green’s THE ANTHROPOCENE REVIEWED for a book club that I’m in. I don’t know if it’s a book I would have chosen for myself, but it’s really interesting!
Kathy: Will you share any of your hobbies or interests with us?
EG: I’ve gotten back into cross-stitching lately. I used to do it a lot when I was younger, fell out of it for a long time, and took it back up again (like everyone and their mother) during the early days of quarantine. It is incredibly relaxing and I’m glad it’s back in my life!
Kathy: Name 4 items you always have in your fridge or pantry.
EG: Cottage cheese, grapes, dark cocoa powder, and honey
Kathy: Do you have plans for future books either in your current series or a new series?
EG: There are two more books to follow soon in the Austen University series - next up will be THE PORTRAITS OF PEMBERLEY and the third and final will be LOVERS' VOWS.
Kathy: What's your favorite thing about being an author?
EG: So many things, but today something cool and new happened - I got to look my book up on Amazon and click through the ‘look inside’ preview. I’ve done that for a thousand other books before, but doing it for my own book, I had a weird lightbulb moment realizing, I’m publishing a book! I don’t know why, but that really made everything feel real!
The First Austen University Mystery
Freshman Caty Morland is excited to be a student at Austen University pledging the Pi Kappa Sigma sorority. Although she's having some issues with her roommate, Isabella, Caty still considers the girl her bestie If only her brother wasn't such a jerk. When Isabella winds up dead, Caty is certain it's murder, not an accident, and is determined to investigate, just like the heroes on her favorite podcast. With some cute boys, some sorority house drama, and some mysterious goings on, Caty will have to keep her wits about her lest she meets an untimely end!
WHAT HAPPENED ON BOX HILL transforms Jane Austen's characters into university students in modern day Louisiana. While you don't have to be familiar with the original characters, basic knowledge does make this mystery even more fun. I love seeing the interplay of characters from different novels, though admittedly I really only know the PRIDE AND PREJUDICE gang.
I was never a part of sorority life, in fact my university didn't have Greek life at all, a fact for which I am extremely grateful. Indeed, modern day sororities and fraternities mirror the societal mores of Jane Austen's time. I think Jane would appreciate this aspect in particular. The timeline, going back and forth telling the story from before Isabella's death and Caty's investigation after, was a bit cumbersome, especially with all of the characters involved. I did like how Caty thought through her investigation, making plenty of mistakes and assumptions along the way. However, the idea that the local police were encouraging her was a bit unbelievable.
WHAT HAPPENED ON BOX HILL is a fun reimagining of Jane Austen characters in a thoroughly modern world.
What Happened on Box Hill: Austen University Mysteries by Elizabeth Gilliland
About What Happened on Box Hill
Cozy Mystery 1st in Series
Setting - Louisianna
Bayou Wolf Press (February 1, 2022) 240 Pages
What would happen if you combined all of Jane Austen’s characters into one modern-day novel?
Murder, of course.
When Caty Morland’s roommate, Isabella, falls to her death on Initiation night, Austen University is quick to cover up the scandal and call it a tragic accident. But avid true-crime lover Caty remains convinced that Isabella didn’t fall; she was murdered. With the help of Pi Kappa Sigma President Emma Woodhouse, Caty organizes a dinner party with the most likely suspects, including familiar faces such as Darcy, Elizabeth Bennet, Knightley, and Marianne Dashwood. The theme of the night is murder, and Caty has three courses to find out what happened to Isabella--and to try to keep the killer from striking again.
About Elizabeth Gilliland
Elizabeth Gilliland teaches English at the university level, putting as much Austen into her syllabi as she can get away with. In 2018, she completed her Ph.D. from Louisiana State University, where she wrote her dissertation on Jane Austen adaptations and fever-dreamed this series in a caffeine-induced haze. She is a proud member of the Jane Austen Society of North America, and excerpts of the Austen University series have won awards through JASNA and Jane Austen & Co/The Jane Austen Summer Program. She lives in Alabama with her husband and son.
Twitter: @egilliland7 - https://twitter.com/egilliland7
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Purchase Link Amazon
This sounds interesting! Thank you!ReplyDelete
Thanks, Jo! I hope you enjoy!Delete
Thanks for having me, Kathy! It was fun doing the interview with you - thanks for helping me get the book out into the world.ReplyDelete
Thanks so much for stopping by!Delete
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