“Such a good time”: Austin author Vanessa King’s debut novel is a mix of Jane Austen and burlesque
Austin author Vanessa King has just released her first novel, A certain attraction, which is a story by Jane Austen Pride and Prejudice set in the world of modern burlesque in New York. King herself spent time in this world a few years ago and knew she wanted to use this environment as the setting for a book – she just didn’t know what story she wanted to tell.
“Having worked in a show, I had in mind that it would just be a perfect setting for a story,” she says. “But the plot is still the sticking point for me. If I had my druthers, it would only be well-adjusted, intelligent people floating in space, joking around.
A conversation with a friend and fellow writer gave her the prompt she needed, King says. “I was chatting with a friend… and she mentioned that she was working on a story,” she says. “She was doing The Wizard of Oz at a music festival. And I was like, ‘Ooh. Tell ! Do. Okay.'”
King began to describe that night, quickly choosing Pride and Prejudice like his model. “I don’t know if it was because it was the first real classic I read and has stuck in my head ever since,” she says. “But yeah. That was the starting point and I went from there.
“The characters kind of crept in – you know, you’ve got the framework of personalities based on Austen’s characters,” King says. “But instead of having a group of five sisters, it’s more of a kind of found family, with people who work on the show. So you have the stage kitten, which is the one who picks up what everyone else takes. And that’s the main character, Elizabeth. Where Kitten Kaboodle is her stage name.
King was inspired for her protagonist by the work she herself did for two years at Duane Park, the famous New York club Burlesque. “I took classes with the New York School of Burlesque and ended up doing a student showcase. I did two, and my only routine was on the Oogie theme from The nightmare before Christmas, “she said.” But I wasn’t good. I mean, it wasn’t bad. But it was one of those things that would take a lot more commitment… to really get good. so wrote to the principal of the New York School of Burlesque because she had suggested kittens for those who maybe didn’t have all the time to commit. And she suggested that I go to Duane Park. So I just had a shift for a while, and that was great! Picked up after the best. It was such a good time. I mean, the only wait of the burlesque – for the artists and the crowd – is that you have fun, that you have fun, and that shows in every show you attend.
King says she knew while she was immersed in the burlesque scene that she would one day write about it. “It was just memorable,” she says. “It was just such a good time. I mean, it reads like fiction – you experience it and you say to yourself, is it real? It feels like we’re in another world anyway.