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'My Lady Jane' authors tell 'revised history' of English monarch

Posted June 5

Author Cynthia Hand wanted to write a young adult comedy book about Lady Jane Grey but knew there was one major problem: Grey’s life was depressing.

Readers familiar with history may remember Grey for her nine day stint as queen of England from July 10-19, 1553, but they may also remember Grey’s story doesn’t have a happy ending — she was beheaded less than a year after her time as queen.

That didn’t stop Hand.

Instead, she recruited help from her best friends and young adult authors Brodi Ashton and Jodi Meadows, and together they co-authored “My Lady Jane” (HarperTeen, $17.99, ages 14 and up), a fantasy novel they call a “revised history” of the monarch, which is set to be released June 7.

The three became friends while on tour for novels each had previously authored and became fast friends. Hand first turned to Ashton, recognizing her knack for comedy. Once she agreed, they pitched the idea to Meadows.

“(Jodi) says I didn’t even tell her what it was about, which was maybe a good thing, and she said yes, unknowingly,” Hand joked. “I like to say that Jodi’s a master of fantasy and I chose her because of her skills with fantasy, which is all true, but really I just wanted an excuse to hang out with my friends.”

“My Lady Jane” begins with 16-year-old King Edward, son of King Henry VIII, as he is diagnosed with “the Affliction” and given six months to a year to live. Shocked at the news, Edward fears for the future of his people, who are divided between the Eðians (pronounced eth-ee-uns) — humans who can switch between human and animal form — and Verities, people who believe the Eðians should be extinct. The line of succession has Edward’s sister Mary, a Verity, taking the throne after his death, which Edward believes will result in disaster.

With the future of his country hanging in the balance, Edward heeds the advice of his primary adviser, John Dudley, Duke of Northumberland, and alters the line of succession in favor of his cousin Lady Jane Grey and her future male heirs. Jane isn’t married, so Dudley convinces Edward to decree for Jane to marry Dudley’s son Gifford, an Eðian and rumored ladies’ man.

Jane, a voracious reader and Eðian sympathizer, agrees to the arranged marriage for Edward’s sake, albeit unhappily. Just a few days after the wedding, Dudley declares Edward has died, and Jane ascends to the throne. Things seem a little fishy to Jane and Gifford, and the two seek to uncover the truth while navigating their budding romance.

The book’s chapters alternate among the perspectives of Edward, Jane and Gifford, with each author providing voice to one of the characters.

The authors said Ashton writing the character of Gifford was a natural choice because of her knack for comedy. Assigning Jane and Edward didn’t come quite as easily.

“We sat back and went back and forth,” Meadows said. “‘I could write Edward’ or ‘I could write Jane.’ We were just doing that thing where we’re both being overly polite.”

“We don’t do that anymore,” Ashton added with a laugh.

Meadows ended up writing Jane, and Hand wrote Edward.

Although none of the authors had previously written with co-authors, they said there were many benefits.

“It’s like you’re getting paid hanging with your friends, and you only have to write a third of a book,” Ashton said.

At one point, Hand said she was troubled by a few lines in one of her chapters. She spent hours stewing over them but was unable to think of how to fix the problem. She woke up the next morning, dreading the fact that she needed to change those lines, but when she logged on, she was overjoyed to find one of her co-authors had fixed it for her.

“I really feel like we’re the perfect storm of our personalities,” Hand said. “We’re able to sort of cover each other’s weaknesses and sort of bolster each other’s strengths.”

The authors said they hope readers will connect with their characters, especially Jane. Unlike other popular heroines in today’s literature and film, Jane’s strength isn’t in fighting but in knowledge.

“Most of us are not Buffy or Katniss or Tris or those characters,” Meadows said. “Most of us are not athletic and strong in that way, and we don’t see this other kind of strength in books very often. That’s one of the things that I definitely hope resonates with a lot of our readers that they can see their passions reflected in Jane.”

“My Lady Jane” contains clean language. Any violence is limited to mild sword fights. There are repeated but brief mentions of people being naked when changing from E∂ian to human form, and one character’s observations of women’s bodies are mildly lustful. The prospect of sexual relations between married people is discussed several times, but none of it is described beyond mildly descriptive passionate kissing.

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