Reader, I Referenced Her: Jane Eyre in My Debut Book

Somewhere in the middle of writing my debut novella, BROKEN RESOLUTIONS, I realized I had a problem.

Let me give you some background. I’d set my book on New Year’s Eve at a small, rural public library. By Chapter 3, quiet librarian Penny had been bribed by her boss to host a risqué singles’ event. And because the numbers were uneven, she was forced to participate too.

The first group activity required each of the singles to choose his or her favorite romantic passage from a book. Penny randomly assigned them into pairs, and those pairs then read their selected passages aloud together. Penny, naturally, found herself matched with our hero—reclusive bestselling author Jack Williamson, in disguise as a mild-mannered accountant for the night.

Penny unknowingly picked a passage from Jack’s book (as you no doubt expected). And Jack picked, um… well… uh…

There. That was the problem. What on earth should Jack’s book be? I wanted to choose a story whose plot and premise most romance readers would already know. I was planning to quote some passages from the book, and I didn’t want to deal with copyright issues, so I was only considering books in the public domain. And since Jack wrote literary fiction, it had to be a well-respected novel. A classic.

Then inspiration struck. Of course, I thought. Of course I need to use Jane Eyre.
Upon first glance, it fulfilled all of my superficial requirements: Jane Eyre is a well-known, critically lauded romantic novel situated firmly in the public domain. But Charlotte Brontë’s book also complemented my own for so many other, more important reasons.

I’d already described Penny as a soft-spoken, small, and seemingly insignificant woman who possessed a fierce spirit and unbreakable dignity. She worked with children in a profession where education was paramount. The parallels with Jane were striking. Unmistakable, really, once I knew where to look.

Similar to Rochester, Jack was hiding a secret as he wooed Penny. Finally, as with Jane and Rochester, Penny and Jack shared an almost immediate affinity—a recognition that they’d finally found their perfect intellectual and emotional partner.

And as soon as I decided to use Jane Eyre, I realized I could continue to reference the book throughout my manuscript. So I did, borrowing a little of its beauty to burnish my own story. And because, unlike Penny, I’m not dignified at all, I eventually had my couple engage in a little Jane Eyre cosplay. (Sorry, Charlotte Brontë.)

Knowledge of Jane Eyre isn’t necessary to understand or enjoy my book. I wrote a modern, sexy romantic comedy, not an academic treatise. But I’d love for readers familiar with Brontë’s story to recognize and enjoy the parallels as much as I did.

Dear reader, I appreciate your attention. And whether you choose my book or someone else’s, I hope you read something absolutely wonderful today.


Romance has never had a happy ending for librarian Penny Callahan, who could write the book on cheating, heartbreaking liars. So she’s made a resolution: no men for the next twelve months. If she can just get through the library’s New Year’s Eve singles night, she can return home to her pajamas and a good book. But when she finds herself checking out a hot hunk with an irresistible smile, an evening in the stacks becomes a lot more tempting…

Reclusive author Jack Williamson never should have trusted his mother. Even though he’s trying to avoid being recognized, she guilts him into attending a dating meet-and-greet—where an adorable librarian makes him question his lonely lifestyle. Is this just a fleeting, flirty scene? Or could love be the next chapter for them both?


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While I was growing up, my mother kept a stack of books hidden in her closet. She told me I couldn’t read them. So, naturally, whenever she left me alone for any length of time, I took them out and flipped through them. Those books raised quite a few questions in my prepubescent brain. Namely: 1) Why were there so many pirates? 2) Where did all the throbbing come from? 3) What was a “manhood”? 4) And why did the hero and heroine seem overcome by images of waves and fireworks every few pages, especially after an episode of mysterious throbbing in the hero’s manhood?

Thirty or so years later, I have a few answers. 1) Because my mom apparently fancied pirates at that time. Now she hoards romances involving cowboys and babies. If a book cover features a shirtless man in a Stetson cradling an infant, her ovaries basically explode and her credit card emerges. I have a similar reaction to romances involving spinsters, governesses, and librarians. 2) His manhood. Also, her womanhood. 3) It’s his “hard length,” sometimes compared in terms of rigidity to iron. I prefer to use other names for it in my own writing. However, I am not picky when it comes to descriptions of iron-hard lengths. At least in romances. 4) Because explaining how an orgasm feels can prove difficult. Or maybe the couples all had sex on New Year’s Eve at Cancun.

During those thirty years, I accomplished a few things. I graduated from Wake Forest University and earned my M.A. in American History from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. I worked at a variety of jobs that required me to bury my bawdiness and potty mouth under a demure exterior: costumed interpreter at Colonial Williamsburg, high school teacher, and librarian. But I always, always read romances. Funny, filthy, sweet—it didn’t matter. I loved them all.

Now I’m writing my own romances with the encouragement of my husband and daughter. I found a kick-ass agent: Jessica Alvarez from Bookends, LLC. I have my own stack of books in my closet that I’d rather my daughter not read, at least not for a few years. I can swear whenever I want, except around said daughter. And I get to spend all day writing about love and iron-hard lengths.

So thank you, Mom, for perving so hard on pirates during my childhood. I owe you.



  1. Jane Eyre is one of my most favorite books. I absolutely love what you did with it, and the parallels in Broken Resolutions. Awesome! You’re book is a gem.


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