Karen Doornebos – author of Definitely Not Mr. Darcy and the new novel, Undressing Mr. Darcy – will be talking about her newest book at Flavours Cooking School this Thursday, Feb 20, from 7 – 9 p.m., during a class that features a very hopeful spring-themed menu in which attendees will learn to make something delectable and of course drink wine, because what is a book discussion without wine, after all?
Doornebos pens “Austenalia” (at least for her first two novels) – books inspired by the world of Jane Austen. The Jane Austen Society of North America (of which Doornebos is a member) considers the genre to include historical fiction set in the British Regency era or contemporary versions of Austen plots (like Bridget Jones’ Diary).
Doornebos – her Dutch married name means “thornbush” – is anything but thorny: A Riverside resident, she’s enthusiastic, and eager to share her extensive knowledge of all things Jane Austen.
She is former copy writer who worked on accounts for such big advertising agencies as Foote, Cone & Belding and Leo Burnett, mostly for food and drink brands. Doornebos began her writing career at 21 when she moved to London to work for a management consulting firm, writing copy for some sadly tedious pension brochures. After that she traveled throughout Europe, all the way to Moscow, doing environmental cleanup as a volunteer.
The first novel lay incomplete for a decade while Doornebos tinkered with it, until, on a whim, she signed up for a continuing studies workshop called “A Weekend with Your Novel” at her alma mater, University of Wisconsin at Madison. Each participant submitted a couple of chapters, and Doornebos was taken aside by one of the professors, who told her, “you’ve really got something – finish it!” Inspired anew, she did exactly that.
Definitely Not Mr. Darcy was written in appropriately romantic surroundings at the beautiful Riverside library.
“It’s about a divorced single mother who finds herself up to her corset in a British Jane Austen dating reality show – set in 1812,” she explained in 2011.
The current one, done under contract and with looming deadlines, was done at her dining room table, while Doornebos’ son and daughter were at school. These days she works in slightly less glamorous surroundings at home, without the distractions of a whole library beckoning her – “I just couldn’t deal with the distraction of all those books!”
Doornebos comes from a creative family. Growing up in Chicago’s Beverly neighborhood, her parents were both fine artists who made careers of illustrating children’s textbooks. Her mother was also editorial art director for the Chicago Tribune.
“My daughter, who is 13, has already written three novels of about 18,000 words each,” says Doornebos with pride in her literarily-inclined offspring.
Doornebos is a member of the Romance Writers of America.
Her books “straddle multiple genres,” Doonebos said. “The official classification is ‘women’s fiction’ but it does appeal to romance readers too. I love romantic comedies with a twist.”
Racier than Austen but as observant of human nature, Undressing Mr. Darcy is thoroughly contemporary, fast-paced and amusing, and an Austen or England neophyte can even learn quite a bit from it – the details and historical asides are colorful and entertaining.
Hollywood is a distinct future possibility for Doornebos. “The studio that did Rain Man expressed interested in Definitely Not Mr. Darcy, though there has been nothing solid yet.” And with the second novel now making its rounds, Doornebos says her agent is again after her for more proposals.
Doornebos has only high praise for Flavours owner Denise Norton, “who is going to be a protagonist in a future novel. She is inspiring!” Norton created the menus for the events connected to both Definitely Not Mr. Darcy and Undressing Mr. Darcy. The first event was too-too-English, with scones and cucumber sandwiches; the second (see above) branches out a bit, though still offering the appropriately genteel feeling. And wine – never forget, there will be wine…
Doornebos also loves Centuries & Sleuths, the other event sponsor, and laments the lack of a Riverside book shop. “We are always going to Forest Park and Oak Park to buy books!”
For Undressing, Doornebos lived in England again, and her research offers her readers a vivid look at the architecture, history and odd cultural quirks that, as she describes them, make a visit to London seem irresistibly attractive.
“My days were packed!” says Doornebos. “London and of course Chawton (Jane Austen’s house, a gift from her brother), where visitors can see what daily life was like for Austen, her mother and her sister who lived there with her. They had one servant, maybe two. They were always sewing; they baked their own bread, made their own beer and wine,” she said.
“We cannot even imagine the amount of work they did. They did not even have a horse – just a donkey and a cart,” she adds.
Doornebos, now something of an Austen authority, moves her characters swiftly through a plot garnished with fascinating tidbits such as these.
For more information, or to get yourself and perhaps your book club in on a lively evening of “Food and Fiction with Karen Doornebos” see the Flavour Cooking School website.