Former Lawtonian releases debut novel

“Camp Jane: The Winners Rally Round” provides a humorous look at the work of Jane Austen from the eyes of a fan.

What do school psychology, Southwest Oklahoma and Jane Austen have in common?

They all are full of colorful characters that inspired former Lawton resident Susan Andrews to write her humorous debut novel – “Camp Jane: The Winners Rally Round.”

As any fan of Jane Austen’s novels, like “Pride and Prejudice” and “Sense and Sensibility” – or their numerous movie adaptations – can tell you, Austen’s works are rich with spunky Lizzys and handsome, brooding Darcys. When the pandemic lockdown hit last year, Austen fan groups – known as Janeites – exploded. Many people, it seemed, had a lot of time to read. That inspired Andrews, who for three decades worked as an educator and school psychologist at Southwestern Behavioral Health, to imagine a resort where fans of Austen compete for the right to portray their favorite character and where, of course, hijinks and fun would be found in abundance.

Andrews did not have to look far for inspiration. She said the formula is to take Austen characters and imagine how they are like people we all know nowadays.

“At the Behavioral Center, working with thousands of different personalities, over time you come to see core personality features that are universal,” she said. “A lot of what people do, even quirky stuff, has stayed the same over time. A guy who bragged about his fast carriage back in Jane Austen’s day is going to brag about his fast car nowadays. A main character like Lizzy Bennet from Pride and Prejudice who ‘gave her opinion’ very freely is probably going to overshare nowadays, too.”

Andrews retired from Cache Schools, which runs the education department inside Southwestern Behavioral, and now lives in Honduras with her husband Mike, who was a page designer at The Lawton Constitution from 2005-2018. They volunteer with a congregation of Jehovah’s Witnesses on the island of Roatan, a tourist destination that cruise ship travelers may have visited before the pandemic but whose economy was devastated during lockdown.

“Living in Honduras during the pandemic has definitely had its challenges but we feel like we are doing what we are supposed to be doing. We have new neighbors to love here just like we loved our Lawton neighbors.”

Two character types from those Lawton neighbors stand out in Andrews’ book.

“One character is an honorable retired military man, Austen’s Colonel Brandon, so of course I wrote him like the many such men I knew in Lawton. Lizzy, the oversharing character, has a sister named Jane that is the opposite of her, very calm and serene. That made me think of my Native American friends in Cache and Lawton who were opposite of me in that way. So I wrote modern-day Jane Bennet as a beautiful Native American woman named Parker from Oklahoma.”

The book is now available in e-book and print formats on Amazon as well as on Andrews, who performed off-and-on with Lawton Community Theatre in the 1980s and 2000s, is currently working on an audiobook version, quite a challenge because the books’ characters run the gamut of American accents, along with Jamaica, India and several from the U.K.

“I’m a lifelong Monty Python fan,” Andrews said, “so I think lovers of British humor will find Camp Jane right up their alley.”