Contemporary Romance Rewrites 'Pride and Prejudice' with an Astrological TwistPosted by Sharon on November 1, 2020
A nod to Bridget Jones and Pride and Prejudice, Alexandria Bellefleur’s queer rom-com debut, Written in the Stars, tests the possibility of opposites attracting.
Elle Jones, a social media astrologer, and Darcy Lowell, an actuary, go on a terrible blind date that gets off on the wrong foot before it can even start. Realizing how different their values are, they swear off of each other—until Darcy’s brother, also Elle’s business partner, asks about the date. Instead of telling the truth, for fear that he’ll try to set her up again, Darcy tells her brother it was a success. Afterward, Elle agrees to have a fake relationship with Darcy—to keep Darcy’s brother off their backs and to show Elle’s family that she can be taken seriously. But eventually, real feelings develop.
Written in the Stars is a romance novel for those who like their love stories both gut-wrenching and swoon-worthy, both fun and serious, both loving and heartbreaking. Bellefleur, author of Frostbite and a 2018 Romance Writers of America Golden Heart finalist, talked to Goodreads contributor Arriel Vinson about her latest novel. Their conversation has been edited.
Alexandria Bellefleur: Kind of a mashup of a couple of things. I love Pride and Prejudice. I love every kind of retelling of Pride and Prejudice. Bridget Jones's Diary is one of my favorite retellings, being very modern. I was thinking about an even more modern retelling, taking the archetypes of Elizabeth and Darcy and bringing them into the now. What would they be doing and what would they be like? That was my original inspiration.
GR: In Written in the Stars, Elle believes in soul mates and astrology, but after having a bad date with Darcy who doesn't believe in any of that, she's not too sure about her ideals. Why did you want to explore the themes of love, fate, and chance?
AB: That ties into why I wanted to explore astrology as a whole in the novel, because times are so uncertain and everyone is seeking some sort of meaning where they can find it. I wanted to inject a lot of hope into the novel because times are dismal right now and nobody knows what's happening. That concept of fate and soul mates is a fun, slightly fluffy way of providing readers with some baked-in hope, not necessarily absolute soul mates and absolute fate, but just the idea that there could be someone out there for them.
GR: Can you talk more about the idea of baked-in hope? Because I think Elle's and Darcy's ideas of hope look completely different.
AB: Elle’s idea of hope is a little bit more through rose-colored glasses, a little bit more optimistic. Darcy's hope is a little bit more “I kind of want to get through the day and to the next day,” which are two valid ways to explore life and love. I wanted to be able to reach very different types of readers with that concept. The ones that are much more optimistic and the ones who might be on the other side of optimistic, not quite pessimistic but a bit more realistic with it.
AB: When it came to writing a dual perspective, I went back and forth on whether or not I wanted to write it strictly from Elle's perspective. She was the first voice that jumped out at me, but I knew Darcy was going to come across as a little prickly. I wanted to give readers insight into her internal vulnerabilities so they could relate and connect with her, because she has a lot of vulnerabilities. I kind of consider her a cinnamon roll character—where they’ve gone through a whole lot, but they have this very gooey inside. To me, that was Darcy. If you only saw her through Elle's eyes initially, you wouldn't have been able to connect with the romance.
GR: Who would you say was more difficult to write, or was it equally difficult?
AB: I kind of put a little bit of myself into every character I write. It's equally easy and difficult because sometimes seeing yourself, little parts of you mirrored in characters, can make you evaluate parts of yourself. There were certain parts where Elle's optimism was a stretch for me. I consider myself an optimistic person, but even Elle pushes my boundaries on optimism. But diving into Darcy's backstory and her experiences with her mom was a little difficult to write, too.
GR: With them being so different, how did you choose to use the fake dating trope in Written in the Stars?
AB: I love fake dating. It sets the characters up to see what [their relationship] could be if it weren't fake. It also provides some really great situational humor. It pushes them outside of their comfort zone, which leads to those situational humor moments and character growth. It's really one of my favorite tropes to write.
Written in the Stars. Darcy is an actuary, which is practical to the people around her, but Elle works for a dating app that weaves in astrology and is not taken as seriously. Why are careers and the acceptance of them so important in the novel?
AB: I really wanted to write two very different careers and the different family acceptances of them, because I know so many people [who] have what different generations view as “offbeat careers.” Personally, I know that my grandparents don't completely understand me being a writer, saying things like, “You mean you don't go into an office every day?” I wanted to give different perspectives on how people make a living and how they view making a living, whether it's just a career or whether they view it as a calling. Whether it’s something they do to make sure they can get by or it's something they feel is a more important part of their life.
GR: Can you talk more about why astrology played such a large role in Written in the Stars? How did you come up with the idea of the dating app that weaves in astrology?
AB: I personally am a hobbyist when it comes to astrology. I'm not a professional. I don't claim to be, but I read my horoscope first thing in the morning on Sanctuary World and Co-Star. I did some research on all the different astrology apps. There's an article in The New York Times about venture capitalists putting money into astrology and it becoming a $2 billion industry. That blew my mind. There are all these different astrology meme accounts on Instagram, and it's kind of a fun shorthand way of saying, “Oh, I'm a Pisces” or “I'm a Taurus,” so people can identify with a certain set of traits as a shorthand to communicate with other people.
On a deeper level, I feel like we're living in such uncertain times. A lot of us are seeking some sort of guidance or understanding or meaning wherever we can find it. I thought combining that with a dating app, seeking compatibility with people who might similarly be interested in those things, would be an interesting way of combining those two.
GR: This novel is also about avoidance. The characters are avoiding being hurt again, avoiding judgment and pressure from family and friends. Tell me more about how avoidance plays a role in the novel.
AB: A lot of us have a natural tendency to shy away from things that make us uncomfortable, and growth normally occurs when we are pushed outside of our comfort zone. Tying that in with the opposites attract trope that I used, it really allowed for growth for Darcy in particular, being completely pushed outside of her comfort zone, avoiding dating, and her brother pressuring her to get back in. Then, all of a sudden, meeting somebody who's her polar opposite and believes in all these things that she's told herself don't exist anymore. I wanted to explore being confronted head-on and not being able to escape what it is that scares you. Then, with Elle, there’s avoidance in a different way—avoiding her family's inability to accept who she is, even though she fully accepts who she is. Inadvertently, she ends up having to confront it with the holiday season.
GR: There were a lot of instances where family was present. We got to dig into what these family relationships meant to both of the characters. Why do these relationships play such a large role in Written in the Stars?
AB: A lot of people that I know, and even myself, have complicated feelings about families, particularly around the holiday season. You might love your family, but you don't always like your family. What happens to you really early in your life and childhood can impact you for the rest of your life, then can impact the way you view relationships. I wanted to explore these patterns that repeat and recycle, the tension in what looks like a happy family and the diametrically opposed tension in what is clearly not a happy family.
One of the reasons why I set the novel over the holidays is because during the holidays you can't really avoid the family setup at all.
GR: The novel also really digs into loneliness. There's a moment where Darcy mentions protecting her heart and how lonely that is. How is loneliness a guiding factor for both characters?
AB: For Darcy, her loneliness is more obvious because she's just moved across the country and is more isolated, aside from being closer to her brother. Whereas Elle's loneliness, I view it as that saying “You can be in a room full of people and still feel lonely.” She's seeking somebody who completely understands her. She's trying to combat that. Darcy's moving in the opposite direction. Them being shoved together makes them face that.
AB: So many! I have been reading romance for so long. I came into romance starting with YA. Then I segued into fan fiction—reading fan fiction and writing fan fiction. After college, I started actually reading category romance. Some of the go-to reads that have really influenced me were the authors like Alyssa Cole and Alexis Daria, Courtney Milan, and Christina Lauren. Christina Lauren was always a comfort read for me.
When it comes to Alyssa Cole, Talia Hibbert, and Alexis Daria, I find them to be such kind people in addition to being such talented people. I have so many romance writers that I look up to, I could list a million.
I love what Olivia Dade does in terms of body representation and age representation. I'm just going to cut myself off because I'm going to write a love letter.
GR: I know during these times your reading habits may have totally shifted, but what have you been reading lately?
AB: [Reading has been] my treat to myself after I finished my revisions for book two. I read Something to Talk About by Meryl Wilsner. I loved, loved the book. It was such a delicious, slow burn. My TBR pile is out of control. I have Spoiler Alert by Olivia Dade. I have In a Holidaze by Christina Lauren and The Duke Who Didn't by Courtney Milan. It's in Her Kiss by Rachel Lacey. Love All Year: A Holidays Anthology. I have a bunch on my TBR.
GR: As far as all-time favorites, what are some of your favorite romance novels or novels with a love story in it?
AB: That's like asking you to pick a child. I don't have kids, but if I did...I really loved RoomHate by Penelope Ward. That's one of my favorites because I love the enemies-to-lovers trope and dual timeline in that. I love pretty much anything by Tessa Dare and Sarah MacLean for historicals. They're my go-to comfort reads when the world feels like it's on fire and I just want to stay in bed and read a book. I really enjoyed Wicked and the Wallflower by Sarah MacLean from her Bareknuckle Bastards series. Then Romancing the Duke by Tessa Dare.
GR: Is there anything else you want to add about Written in the Stars or about your writing process—or anything else for readers?
AB: The one thing that I do want to stress to readers is that they don't need to come into the novel with a knowledge of astrology just because one of the protagonists is an astrologer. It can serve as a primer, but I'm not an expert at all. I don't want that to freak anybody out. There are little fun memes scattered throughout the book about romance, like what rom-com are you based on your zodiac sign? It's definitely beginner-level astrology!