Philadelphia’s Eve Marie Mont teaches high school English and Creative Writing. Though happily married, Eve has a timeless crush on Edward Rochester of Jane Eyre fame.
So, how does a person visit a fictional flame who non-existed in the 19th century? If you’re a skilled storyteller such as Eve, you create the contemporary teenage character Emma Townsend and have her fall into a leather bound copy of “Jane Eyre” and then into Jane herself. Stop right here. While this time jumping, body leaping scenario is indeed a part of Eve’s novel “A Breath of Eyre,” this is neither the meat of the plot nor even the surface of the depths contained with this story.
The heroine Emma is a teen trying to come to terms with all the darkness and defeatism life can throw at her. Emma is shy and insecure, but possesses a strength she has yet to fully understand. Her gift at book travel connects Emma to the strengths and passions Jane Eyre possessed. “A Breath of Eyre” is exactly what the title suggests; a breath of Eyre, not a recast of the characters and original Charlotte Bronte tale.
Emma, thanks to Eve’s skillful hand, comes across as a memorable friend we all have or had at some point in our lives. She draws us into her world to the point where the reader genuinely cares about what is happening to the young heroine as she struggles to understand and overcome her present while negotiating a fictional past. Eve Marie Mont did not create an easily traversed writer’s path with this story. She did however weave two worlds into one in a manner which will leave readers satisfied and looking forward to Emma’s next adventures.
And yes, there is more of Emma’s story to be told. “A Breath of Eyre” is the first offering in a trilogy. Adventures involving “The Scarlet Letter” and “The Phantom of the Opera” are soon to follow. Designed as a young adult (YA) story, “A breath of Eyre” contains modern dilemmas teens face and methods for overcoming those problems. This book could easily become an open line of communication between adults and their teenagers. Yes, it’s that good.
Q) Be honest. Did your interest in Rochester partially inspire this story?
A) Well, maybe just a little… Seriously, I know of few Jane Eyre fans who didn’t have a crush on Rochester at some point in their lives. Sure, some women get over their attraction to a brooding, romantic hero, but for me, Rochester still has tremendous appeal, which I think translates well into young adult literature. Girls will always be drawn to the mysterious bad boy who hides a vulnerable side. My protagonist has several stand-ins for Rochester in her real life—one of them, her English teacher—but it isn’t until she actually meets Rochester in the flesh that that she begins to give up her desire for an unattainable hero and open her eyes to the real love that may be standing right in front of her.
Q) Obviously, you have an affinity for time periods without cell phones or gas powered machinery. What first pulled your imagination into life more than a century ago?
A) Believe it or not, I still don’t have a cell phone I use regularly. I’m tied to my laptop enough as it is; I don’t need or want another gadget to isolate me further in my personal bubble. Obviously we live in a global, technologically advanced society, and I don’t mean to stick my head in the sand. But every year, I see people becoming more detached, less empathetic, and we see the ramifications of this in our levels of stress and unhappiness. I’ve always been drawn to stories in which human connection is valued above all, like those of Jane Austen, E.M. Forster, and of course, the Brontës. I think the pendulum has swung almost as far as it can go before we see a backlash against technology. Personally, I’m hoping for a back-to-nature movement to rival that of the romantic era!
Q) In “A Breath of Eyre,” you actually take the reader to the brink of changing the ending to “Jane Eyre.” Gutsy, considering the thousands of devoted Jane Eyre fans. What made you decide to trespass on what to some is hallowed ground?
A) Honestly, this did scare me a bit, but that scene you’re speaking of is so vital to Emma’s growth that I knew it was right for her story. And I made it very clear that while Jane still gets her happy ending, Emma has to tear herself out of Jane’s story in order to find her own.
Q) The loss of your mother-in-law to ALS (Lou Gehrig’s Disease) partially inspired “Free to a Good Home” in that her passing challenged you to ponder the heartbreak if you lost your husband. Emotion is powerful inspiration. What emotional well did you draw from for “A Breath of Eyre”?
A) I’ve heard from some readers of A Breath of Eyre that they were surprised by how serious the story gets at times—they were expecting a more light-hearted romp through Victorian England and a little forbidden romance with Rochester. And believe me, I love those escapist stories, too, but I guess I use my fiction to explore my fears and to try and make sense of the world and my place in it as Emma does. Jane Eyre treads on a lot of thorny issues like identity, abandonment, class, gender, morality, autonomy. I wanted to echo some of those themes in a modern context. For this book in particular, I drew on my own sense of loneliness and insecurity as an adolescent—a time in which I knew deep down I had something important to say but hadn’t yet gained the confidence to think anyone would listen.
Q) Teaching and writing can’t leave much time for yourself. How do you and your husband stay connected?
A) My release month nearly brought me to the brink of insanity in terms of pressure and stress, but thankfully it was followed by spring break! While I have revisions for Book 2 and a first draft of Book 3 on the horizon, it’s important to take some time for myself—both to fill the creative well and to reconnect with family and friends. Friday nights are almost sacred to my husband and me—we try to keep the TV off, go out to dinner, and reconnect after the busy week. And the return of baseball season means another bonding ritual for us—watching the Phillies!
Q) Any parting thoughts for readers yet to pick up one of your books?
A) I guess I’d just say, try not to go into my book with any preconceived notions of what kind of story it’s going to be. While the cover may suggest historical romance, what’s inside the pages is a strange hybrid of sorts—contemporary, retelling, paranormal—but my hope is that you’ll allow yourself to get lost in the story just as Emma does.
DA Kentner is an author and journalist. www.kevad.net