Ari Rhoge is the author of the Pride and Prejudice modernizations, Sparks Fly, Tires Skid and Personally, I’d Rather Lick Sand. Kai read Sparks back when it was still on a fan fic website, and liked it so much that she was compelled to review it alongside the abundant published versions of Pride and Prejudice. Last year, Sparks was released as a book in its own right, to Kai’s delight!
Ari specializes in Jane Austen retellings.
Kai Raine: Please tell us a little bit about yourself.
Ari Rhoge: I’m originally from Philadelphia. I studied English Lit in college and I’m at the tail end of my second year of law school right now. It takes me three cups of coffee a day to reach baseline these days. My favorite flower is the tulip, and, I really want a tattoo but I’m still afraid of being reprimanded by my mother – even though I’m 26.
Kai: What inspired you to write Jane Austen retellings?
Ari: I remember very specifically picking up Pride and Prejudice to read for the first time in the eighth grade and then watching the 2005 Joe Wright movie with my mom in theaters and just falling head over heels. She ended up buying me a boxed set of all the books for my 16th birthday and I decided to take a crack at modernizing a Persuasion story – sort of how Clueless modernized Emma or how 10 Things I Hate About You modernized The Taming of the Shrew.
I really wanted to play with these beloved stories by “translating” Regency dialogue into contemporary dialogue. I got the biggest kick out of that, and I was always amazed at how fluidly I could translate it, because Jane Austen was so ahead of her time.
The modernization turned into a stress-writing habit that I would turn to throughout high school and some of college. I would sit there with the Hunsford proposal, or Louisa’s accident in Bath, and think of the best ways to translate them into modern times in a way that would keep the theme and relationships intact.
Kai: What was it about Persuasion that made it the first story you were compelled to modernize?
Ari: I loved Anne a lot! She’s sort of the underdog of the Austen heroines. Elizabeth is the fan-favorite but I wanted a modernization with kind, obedient, family-minded Anne.
Kai: Apart from Clueless, do you read or watch other Jane Austen modernizations? If yes, do you have a favorite?
Ari: I liked the Lizzie Bennet Diaries web series! I thought that was really nicely done. Curtis Sittenfeld wrote a modern day Pride and Prejudice novel a couple years back called Eligible that I found really interesting—especially because I had read her book, Prep, as a teenager.
Kai: Why do you list the author of your books as “Ari Rhoge and a Lady”?
Ari: Apparently this is a Regency convention. My publisher advertises their authors like that as an Austen homage / Regency callback.
Kai: At this point, you’ve written several versions of Pride and Prejudice. Which parts of the characters is it important for you to consistently carry through each version?
Ari: It’s always important for me to accurately represent family dynamics, since I come from a large, complex, Eastern European family. I’m also one of four siblings. So I try to include the back-and-forth, and inside jokes, and quick insults, because siblings fight and confide and bicker and laugh together, and that’s important to me to convey.
It’s also been important to me to show that Lizzy Bennet is flawed – she misjudges Darcy but she also has a temper, and maybe isn’t so polished, and drops one too many F-bombs.
Kai: Which of your Jane Austen modernizations are you most proud of, and why?
Ari: I have a soft spot for Sparks just because I feel like I put the most of myself into it and I spent the longest time writing it. My writing style shifted and changed as the years went on that I wrote it. I turned to that story whenever I needed a really good outlet. I think I’m proudest of the Hunsford scene.
Kai: Do you have a favorite version of Pride and Prejudice?
Ari: I’m biased towards the 2005 movie, just because it was the first adaptation I ever saw and I love the chemistry between Matthew MacFadyen and Keira Knightley (or… the height difference? Same thing, am I right).
Kai: Do you have a least favorite version of Pride and Prejudice?
Ari: I actually can’t think of any! I like all versions, and I do mean all, because I was recently gifted a guinea pig version of Pride and Prejudice for my birthday. I have no regrets.
Kai: What draws you to Jane Austen?
Ari: Her wit, as always. I also genuinely believe she was ahead of her time in her critiques of social classes, and the convention of marriage in general. We actually had to read the Collins proposal in a Family Law class I had last semester, just because marriage was so contractual and she had such a wonderful way of depicting it in a humorous way.
But also her characters are so flawed and messy and real – Lizzy Bennet is really easy to update to a modern setting, but so are all the secondary characters and heroines of her other stories, especially Anne Eliot.
Kai: You have a version of Emma and a version of Persuasion on fanfiction.net; do you have plans to turn either of these into a book, or to write retellings of other Jane Austen stories?
Ari: I don’t as of yet have plans to publish the others – but I’ve always wanted to write a really solid updated version of Northanger Abbey. I love that book. I wish Austen got a chance to parody even more genres of writing like she does with gothic murder mysteries in Northanger. Plus, Henry Tilney is hilarious.
Kai: What’s a book, movie or story you’re particularly into at the moment? Why?
Ari: I’ve been so terrible about reading fiction lately but I’ve been switching off between A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara and Difficult Women by Roxane Gay when I need a study break. I like the close friendships in A Little Life, and the short stories in Difficult Women are shocking and compelling (especially “The Mark of Cain”).
Movie-wise, I really enjoyed Lady Bird recently. I’m a sucker for coming-of-age stories.
Kai: What’s the most crucial insight you’ve had about writing?
Ari: You really have to write what you know and let go of what you think it should look like. I think the most relatable stories I’ve written have been those where I drew from real relationships in my life. You can do that regardless of the genre.
Kai: What’s one thing about you—your life, your habits, your favorite things, etc.—that people find hard to believe?
Ari: That I speak and understand Russian! My parents are from the former Soviet Union.
Kai: Is there anything you hope your readers will take away from your stories?
Ari: I just hope they enjoy reading them as much as I loved writing them, and I hope I make them laugh.
Kai: If you died tomorrow, what would you want people to remember about you?
Ari: Hopefully, that I made them laugh, and I always offered a shoulder to lean on. And that I always smelled nice.
Her other stories are still available on fanfiction.net, where she is listed as orchidvines.
Read Kai’s 2014 review of Sparks Fly, Tires Skid here!