This is my stop during the blog tour for Phi Alpha Pi by Sara Marks. This blog tour is organized by Lola’s Blog Tours. The blog tour runs from 14 till 28 May. See the tour schedule here.
Phi Alpha Pi is the oldest and largest sorority on campus and new president Lizbeth has a busy senior year ahead of her. She’s determined to keep her sorority in good standing on campus after a year on academic probation. She’s trying to manage the new sorority house manager, Mrs. C, who has her own ideas about how to support the sorority sisters. All while trying to find balance with her own academic goals to complete an honors thesis, graduate, and decide her future plans.
The last thing Lizbeth expects is her anger when Wil, a new member of the Alpha Pi fraternity, pushes every one of her buttons. Lizbeth finds Wil, a new transfer to the university with his best friend, to be rude, snobby, and judgmental. Even though she tries to avoid him, he seems to be everywhere, scowling with displeasure when he sees her. That is, until his Thanksgiving proclamation of love. That causes Lizbeth to reconsider how she sees the world.
You can find Phi Alpha Pi on Goodreads
Interview with the Author:
Why did you select Pride and Prejudice to modernize? Why not another Austen Story?
Pride is one of my two favorite Austen novels. While Modern Persuasion was the first one I published, this was the first one I wrote. It was the one that had been spinning around in my head for years. When it came time to pick the one to publish, I felt like I was too close to these characters and needed more editing for the story. The 21st Century Austen series will have two more: Emma and Northanger Abbey. The remaining two aren’t stories that I particularly like, so I’ll probably skip modernizing them.
What would you be if you weren’t an author?
For a long time I wanted a job where I could sit on the couch all day and watch TV shows, but that got boring the summer between graduating and getting my first librarian job. My parents think I can do anything I put my mind too. There was my childhood dreams of being Princess Leia or a unicorn, mermaid princess (something main character Lizbeth and I have in common). In High School I was positive I was going to be a television editor or producer until I realized I didn’t really enjoy it. My mother still thinks that I should do this, 20 years later. I’m already thinking about what comes next! I want to be a professional Wikipedian. Not paid by people to edit for them, but paid to do whatever I want to do on Wikipedia.
If your characters met you in real life, what would they say or do to you?
I think I would get along with Marie more than other characters. Will and I share some personality traits, especially being introverts (which nobody believes I am), but Lizbeth is the woman I wanted to be at twenty-one. I’m not sure she and I would get along, but I like to think we would.
When you are writing a modern version of an old book, how much do you feel obliged to stick with the original plot line? Modern individuals might make totally different decisions than the characters in the original story make. If these decisions are crucial to the plot, how do you get around that?
I think Austen’s themes are universal and timeless. Pride and Prejudice, especially, speaks to the complexity of communication. We all still judge people based on limited information and sometimes we never let go of first impressions. We can look at Mr. Darcy now and realize he suffers from social anxiety, but without that knowledge would we have judged him differently than Elizabeth did? Think of how many people can relate to his problems with that in mind. I think the three most difficult characters to modernize were Charlotte, George/Jorge, and Lydia. Charlotte wouldn’t need to marry Mr. Collins today, so I thought about what might motivate her to think that could work best for her. I also had to recognize that it wouldn’t really last very long. Women like Lydia still exist, but her life wouldn’t be destroyed by running off with someone and not getting married. There had to be a different panic and I didn’t want to use the crutch of rape. She needed a trauma. George/Jorge might be a jerk for his behavior, but every reader found his classic set up of seducer to be lack luster. I had to reconsider what he could do to really ruin lives in the 21st century.
What were you like at school?
I was actually invisible at school. I wasn’t popular, but I wasn’t bullied either. After elementary school I attended middle and high school out of my normal area. I didn’t grow up with the people in my schools and I didn’t spend time with them outside of school. The friends I had in the area only spent time with me outside of school. It made school a very different experience for me than for others. I don’t value high school the way others do, especially because it wasn’t the end of my education. It also allowed me to observe people outside of my neighborhood and community.
Give us an insight into your main character. What does he/she do that is so special?
Lizbeth is an extrovert who doesn’t need to be the center of attention (as opposed to Lydia who does). She’s smart and had the benefit of being raised in a family that could afford to let her find her passion. She holds everyone to a high standard and they want to meet her expectations. She can be oblivious to what’s going on around her. She keeps her own secrets, especially with information she thinks can be used to manipulate her. She can be judgmental, but she can put aside her judgements to help the people she loves. She can also admit when she’s wrong, at least, once she realizes she was wrong.
How much research do you do?
For Phi Alpha Pi my research focused on life in a sorority in the south. I wasn’t in a traditional sorority. While I was at Florida State University I was actually in a co-ed fraternity that focused strongly on community service (Alpha Pi Omega). We didn’t have a house, but I had friends who were in the traditional Greek system. I wanted to originally set this at Florida State, but they have weird sleeping arrangements that didn’t work for me. I talked to family and friends who had been in sororities around the country to get an idea about the positive things that could happen in a sorority. I didn’t want to dismiss the large number of negative things that sororities and fraternities are associated with, but they weren’t going to have a place in this story.
Why do you write?
For years I constructed stories in my head and played them out over and over in different ways. I realized I had to write the stories down to be able to move on. I would just obsesses about the characters and plots in intricate detail if I didn’t. Once I wrote them down I could move on to the next story. When I discovered National Novel Writing Month I found my place to focus on the writing. I spent years writing the one big story that had been in my head for most of my life. Once that was done I was finally ready to move on to other projects.
How do you think you’ve evolved creatively?
When I first started writing, it was primarily this weird universe of inter connected fan fiction for the tv shows, movies, and even books I loved. For years I mostly borrowed characters from other universes. It started with the ideas of what I would do in that universe. What if I was Buffy the Vampire Slayer? What if I was an elf in Middle Earth? What I have been writing recently is more using the plot structure of another author, Jane Austen in this case, and seeing what they would be like in modern situations. Austen was both a creature of her time and ahead of her time. So many of her plots can be applied to modern situations.
What is the hardest thing about writing?
For me, it’s finding the right story to tell. I often sit with an idea in my head for years. I live with the characters and get to know them. I can tell you the day to day things in their lives, but that isn’t a story. I have to find the problem they need to resolve and that can take time. While I do that, I have an inclination to tell you all the details of their lives. I always struggle to cut out the details that aren’t important.
What is the easiest thing about writing?
For me, it’s the flip side of the hardest thing. I find it really easy to develop the characters. I spend a lot of time thinking of my characters. It often seems like I am living with them and talking to them. I know so many rich details about their lives. I know their motivations and the choices they make.
How long on average does it take you to write a book?
I started taking project management classes right before Modern Persuasion was published. When I started working on Phi Alpha Pi again, I applied those skills, especially scheduling. I realized that from the first words going on the paper in November, it would take about three years to finish a novel. Phi Alpha Pi technically took four years, but if I had published in the order I had originally written, it might be different. The last year is really spent editing and formatting the book, but it takes time to make sure it’s ready.
Do you ever get writer’s Block?
I use to get it until I discovered what I need to do with it. I get blocked when I have to write something I don’t want to really write. I’m the only one accountable to my writing plans and when I remembered I could change anything I want, I started getting good at recognizing when I was hitting that wall. I stop forcing myself to write something and start writing whatever is in my head that’s easier to work on. Eventually I come back to the block, but I do it when I am excited about that project again. It’s about taking your mind off the problem. I find I resolve the problem when I’m not trying to force myself to write.
Do you read much and if so who are your favorite authors.
I read a lot. I generally read over 100 books a year. I think Jane Austen is my favorite and clearly she has a strong influence on what I am writing right now. I’ve also been reading Stephen King since I was a teenager and I love mystery novels. I’ve read most of Sue Grafton’s series.
What advice would you give to your younger self?
Answer: As tempted as I am to advise my younger self, I wouldn’t give me any. I am who I am now because of the choices I made, the advice I listened to, and the advice I ignored. I wouldn’t want to risk changing who I became because of my ego thinking I am smarter now than I was then.
As one of the largest and oldest sororities on campus, there was usually someone in the Phi Alpha Pi two-story Greek revival style mansion. Members were eating, studying, or simply enjoying each other’s company. Today there were twenty women moving into their rooms and unpacking for the start of the school year. Lizbeth, as chapter president, had been one of the first sisters to arrive, but still hadn’t unpacked. She and the other officers were too busy helping their sisters move in. Lizbeth had already put out a small, literal fire from a fallen candle. Then she put out figurative fires of roommate mix-ups and fights about who got which bed. Now Lizbeth sat alone in her room, exhausted and anxious to get out of the house, if only for a few hours.
Lizbeth had never been this involved in the sorority. She had agreed to the position, for her senior year, to help keep the sorority off academic probation for low grades. This had been a looming threat in the past. Lizbeth had helped by teaching the sorority sisters ways to get organized, creating study schedules, and helping create an atmosphere that turned studying into social events. She was glad her best friend Jane, who was Membership VP, was helping with the move in. There were sisters that Lizbeth didn’t know and relationships she didn’t understand. Jane was good at soothing hurt feelings and mediating fights. She had to run a membership meeting later in the day. Rush Week, the week before classes started so potential new members could attend all events, launched tomorrow.
“Lizbeth, did you see the shirts she got the board members?” Marie said, entering her room.
Marie, the sorority treasurer, was holding a hot pink T-shirt up to her body. At twenty years old, she was petite and wore her black hair long with bangs that nearly covered her eyes. When she pulled them back she revealed bright hazel eyes and a nose just a bit too big for her face. Marie was Lizbeth’s “little sister,” a bond between sorority sisters that often lasted the rest of their lives. As their resident gadget geek, she always had the latest technology toy. She had the first Fitbit, the first GoPro, was also the first to adopt new social media, and had happily taken over the sorority’s web presence.
Lizbeth had seen the shirt Marie was holding in the gift basket their housemother had given each officer as they moved in. Mrs. C, as they were instructed to call her, was brand new this year and a bit over-eager. She had welcomed each of the officers with a huge hug and said basket, which had also included tons of candy, candles, and school supplies. She gave each sister a candle as she moved in. It was one of these very candles that Lizbeth had put out when it fell and burned the carpet. Their previous housemother had never been this excited to see them.
“Yes, I saw it,” Lizbeth said with a sigh.
“Lizbeth, it says, ‘It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.'”
“Well, she is up on her Austen,” Lizbeth said with a shrug.
Lizbeth sat down on her bed and let herself fall back on the bare mattress.
Marie put her hands on her hips and sighed before responding.
“You know that’s not the point. Some of us aren’t here to find rich husbands.”
“I believe it was the goal for many sisters in her day. She is new and excited. She will learn some of us aren’t like this anymore.”
“She asked me to wear it tonight.”
“No, you’ll wear an official sorority shirt; it’s tradition.”
Marie huffed irritably.
“Are we paying for this stuff? She hasn’t handed me receipts, but I’m worried she will.”
“Let me know if she does. I think this is her gift to us. She made these herself. I mean, the font is comic sans.”
Marie left the room and Lizbeth heard her door bang. All the bedrooms were on the second floor of the house, but the two officer bedrooms were adjacent, so they could all work together. Lizbeth lay back on her bed wishing she wasn’t living this close to Marie and her roommate Lydia. She closed her eyes for a few moments, hoping to catch a quick nap.
“I think we have everyone settled and don’t need to worry about anything until the meeting starts.”
Lizbeth opened her eyes to see Jane come into their room. The only good thing about having to live at the sorority house, as far as Lizbeth was concerned, was rooming with Jane. She had only joined Phi Alpha Pi so she and Jane could be together their freshman year. Last year, when the sorority had just come off an academic probation for low grades, Jane and a few graduates had begged Lizzie to run for president. The year had been difficult for some of the sisters, but Lizbeth had emerged as a leader. There was only one other candidate for president: Lydia. Lydia was the de-facto leader of the un-academic sisters and the worst of the lot. In the end, Lydia had taken on the Programming VP role, something she was very good at. Lydia had already planned so many mixers that Lizbeth had forced her to cancel some.
“Is it true there is a party tonight after the meeting?” Lizbeth asked Jane.
“Yes, Lydia planned with the guys at Alpha Pi. They have a few new brothers who transferred from another school and they want to make them feel welcome before Rush Week starts. Do you remember Caroline? Her older brother Charlie is one of those members,” Jane added.
Lizbeth nodded, vaguely recalling the woman who had transferred to the university and wanted to get involved at this chapter of Phi Alpha Pi.
“Mrs. C is all abuzz about them because they are so rich.”
“Exactly. She thinks Caroline’s brother could be a boyfriend for one of us. It is so sweet of her to want to help us.”
Lizbeth wished that Jane was being sarcastic, but she knew otherwise. Jane was the kindest person in the world. Jane liked almost everyone, so Lizbeth knew there was something wrong with you if you were the rare person Jane didn’t like (and vice versa).
“You’re too sweet,” Lizbeth said.
“Lizbeth, she’s recently widowed. Her children are all off living their own lives. She wants to take care of someone and we need someone looking out for us.”
Lizbeth rolled her eyes.
“I understand, and I feel horrible for her. I mean, you saw the shirts. God forbid we learn to take care of ourselves rather than hunt for rich men to marry.”
“Some members actually want to meet their future husband. Let her get used to us and learn what we need. I’m sure she’ll calm down. If not, well… you’ll certainly be a good balance for her. That is one of the strengths we value in you.”
Lizbeth tossed a stuffed bear at her best friend before getting up and organizing her half of the room
“Tension builds as they each learn about the current version of the person they once loved and resolve the ramifications of their choices.”Links:
About the Author:
Born in Boston, MA and raised in Miami, FL, Sara Marks has two masters degrees and plans to never stop getting over educated. She likes the idea of having all the academic regalia she can ever possess and winning with the most degrees in her family. By day she’s an academic librarian. In what little free time she has, she also knits and plays with her dog Cedric Doggory.
There are two tour wide giveaways during the blog tour of Phi Alpha Pi! There is a US Only Giveaway for a prize pack and an international giveaway for 14 e-copies and a print copy of Phi Alpha Pi!US Only Giveaway
One winner will win a Prize Pack containing:
– Mrs. C’s homemade officers shirt in Comic Sans (you pick XL or XXL)
– A Phi Alpha Pi sorority sticker, candle, and bracelet (some of the items mentioned in the story).
– An illustration by cover designer Risa Rodil
– A rooster dishtowel (so you can make cock jokes with Lizbeth and Wil)
– Autographed printed copies of Modern Persuasion, A Little More Modern Persuasion, and Phi Alpha Pi (not pictured)
For a chance to win, enter the rafflecopter below:
a Rafflecopter giveaway
Open for all Giveaway
These are the prizes you can win:
– 14 winners will each win an e-copy of Phi Alpha Pi by Sara Marks
– 1 winner will win a print copy of Phi Alpha Pi by Sara Marks
For a chance to win, enter the rafflecopter below:
a Rafflecopter giveaway