Time For Thanksgiving


Right after Halloween (and sometimes even before) our retailers would have us begin focusing on Christmas, and now “Black Friday”, which used to be limited to one day, has expanded to an entire season dedicated to shopping for bargains.

I love Christmas. But I often think it’s a shame that in our rush to get to it we tend to overlook Thanksgiving, which deserves to be enjoyed and appreciated for its own sake, not just as a warm-up act for Santa Clause. Of course, not everyone is glossing over Thanksgiving. In fact, I’ve been encouraged to see more than one friend making daily entries on Facebook about things they are thankful for – a valuable exercise.

An interval of meditation, serious and grateful, was the best corrective of everything dangerous in such high-wrought felicity; and she went to her room, and grew steadfast and fearless in the thankfulness of her enjoyment.  (Persuasion, chapter 23)

This year especially, it’s easy to find things not going right in the world – major stuff – and to dwell on them. A while back, I was getting so stressed out by it all that I had to basically stop watching the news altogether.

But when I stand back and take a more objective look, the truth is there are more positives than negatives. I have all the essentials, really (family/friends, food, shelter, reasonably good health, work I enjoy), and most of the rest doesn’t matter.  Besides, studies show that  thankfulness leads to contentment and happiness (not the other way around). Kind of opposite to what we’re used to thinking.

This topic reminded me of one of the segments I wrote for Prayer & Praise: a Jane Austen Devotional – segment 9, Gratitude and Contentment. No room to share it all today, but here’s an excerpt:


Who do you suppose most appreciated the comfort and luxury Mansfield Park provided – the Bertram children, who were born to it, or Fanny Price, who had known poverty and deprivation? While Julia and Maria bickered about who should sit where in their fashionable carriage and which one of them should have the best part in the play they were putting on for their own amusement, humble Fanny felt deep gratitude for the simple things and the smallest acts of kindness – a favor done for her brother, being spared an ordeal, the warmth of a good fire in her no-frills attic room:

While her heart was still bounding with joy and gratitude on William’s behalf, she could not be severely resentful of anything that injured only herself…

This was an act of kindness which Fanny felt at her heart. To be spared from her aunt Norris’s interminable reproaches! He left her in a glow of gratitude…

The first thing which caught her eye was a fire lighted and burning. A fire! It seemed too much; just at that time to be giving her such an indulgence was exciting even painful gratitude. She wondered that Sir Thomas could have leisure to think of such a trifle…

These three references in Mansfiled Park (chapters 31 and 32) are only a few of many expounding on Fanny’s gratitude and thankfulness…



I know mild little Fanny doesn’t make the most dashing, colorful heroine, but I admire her character and would value her as a friend.

Like Fanny Price, Jane Austen herself experienced hardships and deprivation, but she likewise counted the many comforts she did enjoy as blessings to be thankful for. How do I know? Here’s the passage from one of the prayers she wrote, the passage that inspired the above devotional segment:

Give us a thankful sense of the Blessings in which we live, of the many comforts of our Lot; that we may not deserve to lose them by Discontent or Indifference.

Good advice. As I remember seeing on a church reader board: GET RICH QUICK! COUNT YOUR BLESSINGS!

I’ll leave you with my best wishes for a blessed Thanksgiving, whatever that may look like this year, and a bit of COVID humor:

We’ve been told only six people are allowed to meet for a Thanksgiving celebration, but thirty are allowed for a funeral. Therefore, I’m announcing that we will be holding a funeral on Thanksgiving Day for our pet turkey, whose name was Butterball. Dinner to follow the brief service. (In lieu of flowers, please bring a side dish!)

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From Sensibility to Sense

See the source image

Yes, I am working on a Pride and Prejudice novel at the moment (see two previous posts and my progress report at the end of this one), but I like to periodically turn ideas over in my mind for future books too. As many of you know, one of my goals is to write at least one novel related to each of Jane Austen’s, and I still have two to go: Emma and Sense and Sensibility. So I was actually thinking about the latter today, and particularly this quote at the end of the book:

Marianne Dashwood was born to an extraordinary fate. She was born to discover the falsehood of her own opinions, and to counteract, by her conduct, her most favourite maxims. She was born to overcome an affection formed so late in life as at seventeen, and … voluntarily to give her hand to another! … But so it was. Instead of falling a sacrifice to an irresistible passion, as once she had fondly flattered herself with expecting … she found herself at nineteen, submitting to new attachments, entering on new duties, placed in a new home, a wife, the mistress of a family, and the patroness of a village … Marianne could never love by halves; and her whole heart became, in time, as much devoted to her husband as it had once been to Willoughby. (Sense and Sensibility, chapter 50)

I love this insightful account of the revolution in Marianne’s character throughout the course of the story. In the beginning, she is ruled by her feelings alone. Without a single scruple she throws caution (and propriety) to the wind … and herself into Willoughby’s arms, taking her romantic sensibilities so far that she cannot imagine going on without him.

By the end, she has, through painful experience, gained a more balanced perspective and a measure of common sense. She’s learned that her sister’s more conservative approach to life may have some merit after all. She also ultimately discovers it is possible to love again, and that the second, though different, may be just as satisfying (and far more enduring) than the first.

See the source image

I’ve always identified more with Elinor – sensible, steady, doing what’s right. But, if I look back to my early teens, I realize I may have started out much more like Marianne than I care to admit – overly romantic (something I probably haven’t completely outgrow, to tell the truth) and prone to melodrama. After all, Romeo and Juliet was my first movie obsession (and Leonard Whiting my first movie crush – anyone else with me?) And like Marianne, I wallowed in the misery of my first heartbreak for months. Fortunately, I too lived to love again.

So what about you? Are you more Elinor or Marianne? And would you choose the dashing Willoughby or Col. Brandon, “the very best of men”? Tough decision, probably because we tend to want it all. We’d like to think we are both smart and emotionally deep; and our ideal man would embody all the best of both Willoughby and Brandon. Also, what would you like to see me write for my S&S book?



 

uPDATES:
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A Poison Pen Letter for Wickham

See the source imageThank you! All your positive feedback on my previous post (Fitzwilliam Darcy: in His Own Words) really energized me. Now I’m off and running on what will hopefully become my next novel! – expanding on the Pride and Prejudice saga to tell the story from Darcy’s point of view, beginning months before the scope of Jane Austen’s original book.

So what was Darcy doing before he turns up at the Meryton ball, where he meets Elizabeth? Most of it is open for speculation, and I am very happy to fill in the blanks! We could learn a little something more about his childhood and his relationships with his parents, his sister, and Wickham perhaps. What were his ideas about marriage, and had he come close to taking the plunge before? (see previous post for a clue on this one)

See the source imageThe only situation in Darcy’s prior life that we know very much about from P&P is Wickham’s attempted elopement with Georgiana. Since this event falls within the scope of my work-in-progress, I took another look at D’s letter to E, where it’s spoken of:

Georgiana… was persuaded to believe herself in love, and to consent to an elopement. She was then but fifteen, which must be her excuse… I joined them unexpectedly a day or two before the intended elopement, and then Georgiana, unable to support the idea of grieving and offending a brother whom she almost looked up to as a father, acknowledged the whole to me. You may imagine what I felt and how I acted. Regard for my sister’s credit and feelings prevented any public exposure; but I wrote to Mr. Wickham, who left the place immediately…

I wrote to Mr. Wickham? I hadn’t notice this line before. I was thinking Darcy had handled it with a face-to-face confrontation, as depicted in the P&P ’95 adaptation that I’ve watched a million times. So why would he have chosen to use a letter instead? Hmm. Since I was about to write that scene, I thought I should know.

So I posed the question to all my friends on our Austen Variations Facebook page and got some interesting and insightful answers: Maybe because it was more private. Maybe Wickham had already run away. Maybe it was to distress Georgiana as little as possible. It was simply more Darcy’s style. All good ideas.

See the source imageNevertheless, there it was in black and white: I wrote to Wickham. And since I’m only adding to, not changing, the original story, a letter from Darcy to Wickham I must write!

No problem; I love writing the letters contained in my books. It’s one of my favorite parts! But what would Darcy say in this letter? He must get his point across clearly and powerfully but without putting anything on paper that could be used against him or to soil Georgiana’s reputation. Here’s what I came up with:

You are a rogue and a scoundrel, sir, and if I could do so without harming others, I would immediately expose you to the world as such. But I swear that nothing in all of creation will constrain me if by word or action you should ever threaten harm to me or my family again. If you value your safety, you would be wise to remove yourself from the vicinity at once and keep well out of my sight henceforth. For I shall not be responsible for my actions if I ever catch you within ten miles of a certain person again. I trust I make myself clear.

Darcy doesn’t sign the note, but I’m pretty sure Wickham will be able to guess who it’s from!

What do you think? Why would Darcy choose a letter over a face-to-face? Is this about right, or do you think the letter would have contained something more… or less? What else about Darcy’s life before Elizabeth would you like to know and read about in this book? I love your creative feedback!



Audio Book Update – In case you haven’t heard yet, Leap of Hope is available in AUDIO! Murder at Northanger Abbey, which is in production now, should be ready by the end of October. And I have just signed a contract for Prayer and Praise: a Jane Austen Devotional. I’m hoping it will debut before Christmas!

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Fitzwilliam Darcy, In His Own Words

See the source imageGetting this next novel started has been a bit of a struggle. I wanted to do a P&P book from Darcy’s point of view, but what could I bring to the story that would be something new?

The “what if”s always intrigue me, especially when it comes to two people happening to meet when they so easily could have missed their opportunity to get together. When I think of my own marriage (or those of my 2 sons) for example, it’s so clear that a small change anywhere along the line could have made all the difference. (see more on that here)

As he quitted the room, Elizabeth felt how improbable it was that they should ever see each other again… (Pride and Prejudice, chapter 46)

In this case, though, I’m thinking of Darcy and Elizabeth. What if Mr. Bingley had rented some other house and not Netherfield. What if Darcy had not accepted the invitation to spend some time there? What if he had become engaged (or even married) to someone else before meeting Elizabeth?

So I decided it would be interesting to start this book (tentatively titled Fitzwilliam Darcy: In His Own Words) before the timeline of Pride and Prejudice to take a look at those questions. I’ve got less than 50 pages written so far, and the idea is still evolving. (I don’t plot my books, as you may already know). So I’d love to hear what you think of the concept. Here’s the prologue as it stands now (remember it’s Darcy telling the story):



I still occasionally suffer that recurrent dream – a nightmare, really.

I awake at Darcy House in London. Morning light is filtering through the draperies at the windows, painting ghostly shadow patterns across the opposite wall. I feel a great sense of well being at the start of a new day. All is right with the world, or at least my portion of it.

Then I turn toward the other side of the bed and see… not Elizabeth, as I expect, but the Honorable Miss Amelia Lambright. Only of course she is no long an honorable miss, not when she has spent the night in a man’s bed. Then I suddenly remember why she is there. Her name is Miss Lambright no longer; she is Mrs. Darcy now.

My heart lurches and I break into a cold sweat, not because the former Miss Lambright is so horrid unappealing, but because she is not Elizabeth.

I tell myself it surely must be a hallucination or some trick of the light. So I shake my head to clear any cobwebs, rub my eyes and blink. Still, the wrong woman is before me. Please, God, let it be a dream!

I fight to awaken, to claw my way back to the world where I belong, the world where Mrs. Darcy has not blonde but dark, satiny hair and sparkling eyes. My throat is constricting; I cannot breathe. I cannot find my voice to call out. Elizabeth, where are you? I must find her! My life depends on it.

When on these disturbing occasions I at last come to myself, it is many minutes before my heart and breathing return to normal, and longer still until my mind can quiet itself.

Even after I have verified that Elizabeth is indeed beside me where she belongs; beheld her face, a peaceful portrait of repose in whatever meager light offers; pulled her warm, familiar form to fit close against mine; and heard her sleepy but unmistakable voice murmuring my name with affection…

Even then my soul quakes within me for how close the vision from which I have just awakened came to being true, how close I came to missing Elizabeth altogether. Then she and I would have been only two ships sailing the same stretch of sea, perhaps even passing within sight of each other occasionally but never happening to come into a common port together, at least not until it had been too late.

My happier outcome depended on the slimmest thread of unlikely circumstances being precariously strung together without error. At any one of a dozen junctures, the course of my life could have carried me in a completely different direction.

When I consider this, I shudder. Then I thank God for His providential care in guiding me safely through. I thank Bingley for Netherfield. And Wickham. Strangely enough, now, years later, I can think back with some philosophy, enough to acknowledge the part he unwittingly played.

Were it not for Wickham and his nefarious but timely intervention, I would likely be married to Amelia Lambright today.



What do you think? Are you intrigued? What other ideas would you like to see me explore in this (or another) novel?

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Amazing Grace: Must-See Movie

For the last month, I’ve been busy with the blog tour launching my latest novel: Murder at Northanger Abbey (see previous post). Someday I’d like to do a “real” book tour, like authors used to. But I suppose it’s just as well this one was designed to be “virtual” instead, because in the current Covid crisis, it wouldn’t have worked for me to travel all the places I’ve visited – various destinations in the US, plus England, Italy, and Portugal – meeting lots of people and signing books in person.

Next up? I have just a few chapters written so far of another P&P book, this one from Mr. Darcy’s point of view. Also, I have not one but two audio books in production! Leap of Hope is already recorded and just needs to go through the editing process. And Murder at Northanger Abbey will hopefully follow close behind. I adore audio books myself, and so it’s a real thrill for me to be able to offer so many of my own in that format!


 

Amazing GraceNow, on to the main topic of this post: the movie Amazing Grace. I first saw this excellent movie several years ago, but current events got me thinking about (and watching) it again.

As you may or may not know, there has recently been some thought-provoking discussion within Jane Austen circles about the presence and the role of non-whites in Regency England. And some very informative articles on the subject have been posted at Jane Austen Variations by my fellow authors over the last few weeks. I will not attempt to duplicate all their fine work, only invite you to read more here and here.

For today, I’ll just reiterate that Regency England was not as homogeneously Caucasian as people often suppose. There were small yet significant numbers of people of color living in England at the time, even some in high position. Jane Austen herself included a mixed race heiress in her unfinished novel Sanditon (expanded into a recently-aired mini-series):

Of these three, and indeed of all, Miss Lambe was beyond comparison the most important and precious, as she paid in proportion to her fortune. She was about seventeen, half mulatto, chilly and tender, had a maid of her own, was to have the best room in the lodgings, and was always of the first consequence in every plan … (Sanditon)

See the source imageMy point is that Jane Austen must have had at least some exposure to people of other races. And although she never addressed wars and political movements head on in her novels, she, and her characters likewise, were not unaware of the major issues of the day, one of those (arguably the most significant) being the debate over abolishing the slave trade that generated so much wealth for the British empire and many of its upper class families, and which is also the subject of Amazing Grace.

The topic is mentioned in passing at least twice in Austen’s novels. In Mansfield Park, Fanny tells Edmund, “But I talk to [my uncle] more than I used. I am sure I do. Did not you hear me ask him about the slave-trade last night?” In Emma, Mrs. Elton exclaims to Jane Fairfax, “Oh! my dear, human flesh! You quite shock me; if you mean a fling at the slave-trade, I assure you Mr. Suckling was always rather a friend to the abolition.”

See the source imageAmazing Grace (2006) is based on the true story of William Wilberforce (Ioan Gruffudd) and his passionate, courageous, decades-long quest to end British sanction of and participation in the slave trade, a quest that is ultimately successful. Along the way, he faces intense opposition, but he also finds formidable allies in the fight:

See the source imageJohn Newton (Albert Finney), a reformed slave ship captain turned Christian minister, who penned the beloved hymn that gives the movie its title.

William Pitt (Benedict Cumberbatch) Wilberforce’s college friend and the youngest prime minister ever.

Barbara Spooner (Ramola Garai) a staunch abolitionist who becomes Willberforce’s wife.

Lord Charles Fox (Michael Gambon) a powerful and unlikely parliamentary ally.

Thomas Clarkson (Rufus Sewell) a radical abolitionist ready for revolution, if necessary.

See the source imageOlaudah Equiano (Youssou N’Dour) a former slave who purchased his own freedom and went on to publish his compelling and hugely successful autobiography depicting the horrors of slavery.

And others, many of the Quaker faith. So while William Wilberforce took the fight to parliament, people from various backgrounds and walks of life worked tirelessly with him, together changing the tide of public opinion and the course of history.

Ioan Gruffud delivers a brilliant performance as Wilberforce. And as you can see, the rest of the cast is stacked from top to bottom with nothing but the best dramatic talent. You can add to this list another old friend from Persuasion ’95: Ciaran Hinds in a less-sympathetic, less-heroic role this time, as Lord Tarleton, an outspokenly pro-slave-trade MP.

As with any dramatization, significant creative licence has no doubt been taken, but my understanding is that the story line follows historical facts pretty closely. And some parts – portions of Wilberforce’s speeches, for example – are taken directly from preserved parliamentary records, etc. That’s the case with the caption in the picture below – what Lord Charles Fox said of Wilberforce when the battle in parliament was finally won.

See the source imageAll this took place during Jane Austen’s lifetime.

No movie can be all things to all people. Obviously, no movie can tell every aspect of such a complex, far-reaching, generations-long, globe-spanning issue as slavery. But Amazing Grace does an amazingly good job of illuminating the particular aspect of the story that is its focus: the atrocity of the slave trade and the political fight to end British involvement in it. That is an important story that deserves to be told, heard, and remembered. Amazing Grace is a must-see movie on those grounds alone, even aside from the fact that it is a tremendously well-made film.

 

 

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Book Launch for “Murder at Northanger Abbey”

MNA bannerThe day is finally here! Maybe some of you have been waiting impatiently for Murder at Northanger Abbey to come out. Believe me, I have too!

Usually I underestimate how long it will take to get everything done and I’m scrambling at the end. So for this book, I decided to be smart and allow plenty of time to finish up all those last-minute details. That way, I wouldn’t be so stressed about making my deadline. Consequently, I’ve been ready for two weeks and have just been waiting for the days on the calendar to tick by. In other words, I still miscalculated, only this time in the opposite direction!

What a revolution in her ideas! She, who had so longed to be in an abbey! Now, there was nothing so charming to her imaginations as the unpretending comfort of a well-connected parsonage, something like Fullerton but better: Fullerton had its faults but Woodston probably had none. If Wednesday should ever come! It did come, and exactly when it might reasonably be looked for. It came – it was fine – and Catherine trod on air.

I thought this would be an appropriate Jane Austen quote to use today because it comes from Northanger Abbey (chapter 26), it speaks of impatiently waiting (as I have been), and of the happiness when the anticipated day finally arrives.

Yes, the waiting is over! Tuesday, June 23rd did come, and exactly when it might reasonably be looked for.

So please join me in celebrating the official launch of my latest book – my 10th! Here’s the Blurb for Murder at Northanger Abbey, a couple of advance reader comments in its praise, and the Blog Tour Schedule. Then I have a surprise for you and also how you can win a copy of the book.

Newly married to her beloved Henry, Catherine’s eyes are now open to the grownup pleasures of wedded life. Yet she still hasn’t quite given up her girlhood fascination with all things Gothic. When she first visited Northanger Abbey, she only imagined dreadful events had occurred there. This time the horror is all too real. There’s been a murder, and Henry has fallen under suspicion. Catherine is determined to clear her husband’s name, but at the same time, she’s afraid for her own safety, since there’s a very good chance the real murderer is still in the house.

This delightful sequel reprises the mischievous spirit of Austen’s original spoof on the Gothic novel, while giving Catherine a genuine murder mystery to unravel.


“WOW! This book is absolutely incredible! It is intriguing, mysterious, romantic, and such a great continuation of ‘Northanger Abbey!’ Whenever I picked up ‘Murder at Northanger Abbey,’ I was whisked back in time, and went on quite an adventure!”

“I have just finished Murder at Northanger and I really loved it… I re-read Northanger Abbey before starting Murder at Northanger, and it felt as if I was reading the same book. Both the writing style and the characters remained very close to Austen’s, so this was very well achieved in my opinion. I particularly loved to see what you did with Catherine’s character, I do not believe she is a very interesting character, but you made her interesting, and that is impressive…”

“…this is a sensational sequel and I hope Shannon Winslow feels the urge to write more mysteries set in Jane Austen’s literary world, of course. I would recommend this book for not only those who enjoy Jane Austen-inspired fiction, but also those who appreciate historical cozy mysteries.”

I hope that when you read the book, you feel the same way!


Blog Tour Schedule: (links will be added as the posts go live)


Now, I promised you a surprise.

From the title, you will already have perceived that somebody dies in this book. But who? That is the question.

Months ago, I did an unofficial poll, asking readers who from Jane Austen’s original story they would like to see turn up dead. It seems there are several unpopular characters people think deserve to be murdered, but I could choose only one. So I will tell you this much; it was either 1) Isabella Thorpe, 2) John Thorpe, 3) General Tilney, or 4) Captain Tilney.

Murder at Northanger Abbey_KINDLETo be more specific could be considered a spoiler, even though the answer is revealed early in the book. So I will leave it up to you if you want to know now or not. If you do, you will find the answer at the bottom of the launch post running concurrently at Austen Variations. While you’re there, you can enter the giveaway to win a copy of the book. Just leave a comment there!

Murder at Northanger Abbey is available at Amazon (paperback, Kindle) and Barnes & Noble (ebook). Audio will be coming asap!

PS – Find links to three excerpts here.

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Revealing a Cover for “Murder”

Exclusive! First time seen anywhere! The full cover for Murder at Northanger Abbey. I’m very please with how it turned out. It seems to set the right tone for a slightly spooky murder mystery. What do you think?

Murder-at-Northanger-Abbey_Full Cover for WEBI’d never written a murder mystery before, but that seemed the only choice for a sequel to Northanger Abbey. So I went for it, taking an unconventional approach. You see, unlike most writers of the genre, I didn’t decide “who done it” until I was halfway through the book. Not my fault, really; there were just so many good suspects to choose from! Think Gosford Park: lots of people in the house and everybody has a motive. Anyway, you’ll have to read for yourself to see who the real culprit (and the victim) turn out to be!

The official publication date is June 23rd in paperback. But you can get your Kindle copy a day early if you pre-order it now! Here’s the official book blurb:

Newly married to her beloved Henry, Catherine’s eyes are now open to the grownup pleasures of wedded life. Yet she still hasn’t quite given up her girlhood fascination with all things Gothic. When she first visited Northanger Abbey, she only imagined dreadful events had occurred there. This time the horror is all too real. There’s been a murder, and Henry has fallen under suspicion. Catherine is determined to clear her husband’s name, but at the same time, she’s afraid for her own safety, since there’s a very good chance the real murderer is still in the house.

Shannon Winslow’s delightful sequel reprises the mischievous spirit of Austen’s original spoof on the Gothic novel, while giving Catherine a genuine murder mystery to unravel.

Read excerpts and more about Murder at Northanger Abbey here, and watch for the launch post June 23rd!

Lismore Castle 2

Lismore Castle

“A particular friend of mine had an account of it in a letter from London yesterday. It is to be uncommonly dreadful. I shall expect murder and everything of the kind.”  (Northanger Abbey, chapter 14)

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Why Not Write a Murder Mystery?

Lismore-Castle3Things are on track for a June 23rd release of my next novel! Yay! All four of my beta readers have reported back with very positive feedback and no major changes recommended. Now just a proof read, formatting, and the final touches to the cover remain!

“I have just finished Murder at Northanger and I really loved it. As I mentioned before, I re-read Northanger Abbey before starting Murder at Northanger, and it felt as if I was reading the same book. Both the writing style and the characters remained very close to Austen’s, so this was very well achieved in my opinion. I particularly loved to see what you did with Catherine’s character, I do not believe she is a very interesting character, but you made her interesting, and that is impressive…”

So says one of the lovely beta readers who previewed the book!

Yes, in case you hadn’t heard, this new book is a sequel to Northanger Abbey – Jane Austen’s spoof on the Gothic novel – entitled Murder at Northanger Abbey.

“What?” you say. “Isn’t a murder mystery a little out of your line?” Yes, but I like the challenge of attempting something new. I would get bored doing exactly the same type of book over and over again.

From the beginning, pretty much every book I’ve written has presented a new challenge. My first (The Darcys of Pemberley), well, it was the FIRST! I’d never written a novel of any kind before, and I wasn’t even sure I could do it. But I borrowed Jane Austen’s characters, which gave me a running start. With the next (For Myself Alone), I faced the challenge of creating my own characters as well as an original story, but still in a Jane Austen style. Since then, I’ve written a story about Jane Austen herself (The Persuasion of Miss Jane Austen); two time-travel books (Leap of Faith, Leap of Hope), one JAFF and one not; a non-fiction book (Prayer & Praise: a Jane Austen Devotional); and three others, each with its own set of joys and its own set of difficulties to overcome.

So why not write a sort of cozy murder mystery? How hard could it be?

One thing that put me at a real disadvantage from the start was that I’m not very good at plotting out my stories from first to last. Unlike some writers, I tend to only have a vague idea of where I’m headed and then fly by the seat of my pants in that general direction, following the story where it takes me instead of sticking to a pre-planned route. Exciting, but a little risky!

For example, I’m pretty sure most mystery writers know “who done it” from the start, but not me. No, it could have been one of half a dozen interesting characters in Murder at Northanger Abbey. All of them had motive and opportunity, and I could imagine a plausible scenario for each one. It wasn’t until I was more than halfway through the book that I finally decided which way to go!

Even then, I wavered. So, consistent with the “new challenges” theme of this post, I did something else I’ve never done before. I wrote an alternative ending – one that works just as well but results in a rather different outcome for the heroine, Catherine Morland Tilney. I prefer the main one, but you can have your pick, because they’re both included in the book!

Will I ever write another murder mystery? I don’t know. I had a lot of fun doing this one, especially carrying on in Jane Austen’s quirky, tongue-in-cheek style from the original. And besides, I never say “never.” I like to go where inspiration takes me, especially if that means tackling a new and interesting writing challenge!

No one who had ever seen Catherine Morland in her infancy, would have supposed her born to be an heroine. Her situation in life, the character of her father and mother, her own person and disposition, were all equally against her… But when a young lady is to be a heroine, the perverseness of forty surrounding families cannot prevent her. Something must and will happen to throw a hero in her way. (Northanger Abbey, chapter 1)

 

northanger+abbey+kissPS – If you haven’t read Northanger Abbey lately or perhaps ever, I’d like to invite you to read/reread it now, so that you’ll be ready for its sequel when it comes out next month! – for that seamless transition the beta reader spoke of above. Think you won’t care for NA? Take another look with an open mind. Although in a different style from Mr. Darcy or Mr. Knightley, Henry Tilney is a worthy hero (and a passionate guy). And some of the early examples of Austen’s patented ironic wit contained in the book are laugh-out-loud funny. Speaking of challenges, I challenge you to read chapter one without chuckling here and there. I don’t think it can be done!

Read excerpts and more about Murder at Northanger Abbey here.

Posted in Jane Austen, Jane Austen Quotes, Shannon Winslow's writing, Uncategorized, writing | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 15 Comments

Can Jane and I Help?

20200409_101848-1Yesterday was such a beautiful Spring day in the Pacific Northwest. The sky was blue, the birds were singing, the thermometer topped 70 degrees for the first time in a long while, and my magnolia tree burst into glorious bloom. At my house in the country, surrounded by all that “rightness,” it was hard to believe anything could be very wrong in the world. Yet I knew that when I turned on the TV, there would be a new, shockingly high COVID-19 death count. There would be more heart-wrenching stories of loved ones lost, incredible hardships, and financial devastation.

What a strange and unexpected turn our world has taken! Just a few months ago, we couldn’t have imagined that most of us would now be indefinitely confined to our homes, with schools and businesses closed, waiting out a pandemic that’s like nothing any of us has ever seen before.

20200407_120415-1I’m trying to do what little I can. I’m obeying the ‘stay at home’ order to avoid adding to the problem. I’ve sewn and donated a few dozen masks and given some money. But I wish I could to do more to help. Unfortunately, I don’t have the training to save lives on the front lines. I’m not a scientist researching a cure. I’m not even a grocery worker or someone else providing an essential service.  I’m a writer.

Yes, readers do often say how much simple enjoyment books can give. And that’s important. I even received a touching note from a woman who told me how having the positive distraction of one of my novels helped her get through a really dark time in her life. That warmed my heart tremendously!

A novel is still just a novel, though. In these troubled times, what do I have to offer that’s more substantial?

Like many other authors, I’ve decided to offer one of my books at rock-bottom prices. Not one of my novels this time, but something that I hope will give more help and comfort than a mere “good read.” Whether you’re a person of faith or not, I hope you will be blessed by the encouraging messages in Prayer & Praise: a Jane Austen Devotional.

Prayer and Praise_KindleDuring the current crisis, I’m pleased to be basically giving it away to anybody who wants it – as close to free as I can make it, that is. For a limited time, it is available at Amazon for $.99 on Kindle and $5.99 in paperback – at cost. Or it’s free with your Kindle Unlimited subscription.

The 50 uplifting messages it contains are inspired by the prayers that Jane Austen wrote, and they use familiar situations and characters  from her novels as illustrations.

We marvel at Jane Austen’s insights into people and relationships, as seen in her novels. Similarly, we can take courage from her faith as revealed through her prayers and the way she faced the trials of life.

In one prayer, she prays, May the sick and afflicted, be now & ever [in] thy care…an especially timely sentiment for today. Here’s the first part of the devotional segment from Prayer & Praise that line inspired:

When in Persuasion Louisa Musgrove fell and hit her head at the shore in Lyme, she was not the only one to suffer. She may have been the one sick in body, but all her friends and family were instantly afflicted as well. Mary became hysterical; Henrietta fainted from the shock; Captain Wentworth despaired and agonized; and Charles sobbed, crying out, “What, in heaven’s name, is to be done next?” Anne, who felt the horror of the moment just as much, suffered the added pressure of having everybody turn to her for direction.

Today, if this kind of accident occurred, things would go quite differently. Six to twelve people would instantly whip out their cell phones to call 911, and soon the victim would be whisked off to the nearest hospital for the most advanced medical care available. But that’s not always enough. Even today, so many afflictions of body, mind, and spirit remain completely beyond human know-how to mend. So, in our helplessness and desperation, we still cry out to God. We beg for his intervention. We pray for him to guide human efforts toward healing and add to them his miraculous power so that our loved one may be restored.

This is as it should be. God invites us to bring all our needs and heartaches to him in prayer. Cast your cares on the LORD and he will sustain you (Psalms 55:22).

We are now more aware than usual that many circumstances are out of our control and beyond human ability to remedy. Even if you aren’t personally sick or have lost a loved one or a business, we are all ‘afflicted’ in some way by this viral outbreak.

See the source imageToday is Good Friday, the day Christians commemorated Jesus Christ’s suffering and death on the cross. Despite the horror of the event, it’s appropriate to call it ‘Good Friday’ because of the good Jesus achieved through it – his willing sacrifice out of love making our salvation possible. He did for us what we had no power to do for ourselves.

The darkness of that Friday long ago didn’t last forever, though; it turned to rejoicing with Jesus’ resurrection on Easter Sunday.

God willing, we will have brighter days ahead. Whatever your situation, I hope you will take a few minutes each day (using Prayer & Praise or some other means) to reflect on God’s love for you and the hope of the resurrection ours in Jesus Christ. Cast your cares on the Lord, and he will sustain you through this and every other crisis.

[Read more about Prayer & Praise and a full sample segment here.]

Posted in life, Shannon Winslow, Shannon Winslow's writing, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Who Knew Henry Tilney Was Such a Passionate Guy?

See the source imageI especially enjoy writing the many letters included in my novels, trying to make each one a little work of art, as Jane Austen did.  (More on that topic here.) Who can forget Darcy’s 8-pager to Elizabeth after his failed proposal or Cpt. Wentworth’s iconic letter to Anne?

…You pierce my soul. I am half agony, half hope. Tell me not that I am too late, that such precious feelings are gone for ever. I offer myself to you again with a heart even more your own than when you almost broke it eight years and a half ago. Dare not say that man forgets sooner than woman, that his love has an earlier death. I have loved none but you. Unjust I may have been; weak and resentful I have been, but never inconstant… (Persuasion, chapter 23)

See the source imageThen yesterday, as I was forging ahead with the rewrites for my current work in progress (a fun and somewhat campy Northanger Abbey sequel entitled Murder at Northanger Abbey), I came across a letter I composed for the book months ago. Seeing it again, I thought, “Hmm. That’s not bad!” At least I know I would have been pretty excited to receive one like it from my sweetheart. So I thought you might enjoy reading it, too, as a sneak peek for the upcoming novel.

Set up:  Henry Tilney wrote this letter to Catherine during the time they were separated and waiting for the general’s permission to marry. Since the action in Murder at Northanger Abbey takes place months after their eventual wedding, the letter is included in this novel as a flashback of sorts, and the narrative that introduces it is referring to that earlier time period:



 

The lovers thus had parted with a strong understanding between themselves but nearly despairing of the necessary change in the general’s position ever taking place. Henry had returned to Woodston to hope and to pray and to pursue improvements to his domestic situation for Catherine’s sake. Catherine remained at Fullerton to pine and to cry and to watch for the letter from Henry she felt their unofficial engagement would justify.

In the mode of the true romantic heroine, Catherine had secretly intercepted her lover’s initial correspondence, thereafter always keeping it concealed on her person and close to her heart, and faithfully reading the missive through several times a day, despite the tears of exquisite torture it invariably drew from her already red-rimmed eyes.

Fortunately, however, having committed the entire contents to memory, she soon had no need of worrying the paper parcel any further, for indeed it was at the point of falling to bits where the pages had been folded and unfolded an hundred times or more. She could instead call every touching passages to mind at will anytime she chose during those difficult months of waiting. Even now, she could still remember…

Catherine allowed her mind’s eye to travel across those long-cherished pages again, silently reciting the words once more but hearing them in Henry’s voice.

 

My Dearest Catherine,

May I presume to call you mine, though I cannot yet fully possess you? I dare to hope that I may, for when I look into my mind, into my heart, and into my imagination, I find you already resident there, a warm and vital part of me. In these three seats of my affection, there is no one but you, Catherine. In truth, there never was and never will be another. You have captured me altogether, and I ache with longing until our union can at last be made complete.

Do I shock you, my darling, by the force of my affection, with the strength of these sentiments? Indeed, I shock myself. You have been used to hearing only lightness and teasing from me, only joviality and laughter. That is always my preferred way. But I find that I am, after all, capable of much more serious reflections when hard pressed, as I now am by this separation. I find it is difficult to speak lightly when my heart is heavy.

And yet I do not despair at our situation. Although there currently seems no reasonable basis for hope of an early solution, I remain ever hopeful. I refuse to be reasonable if being reasonable means I must consign myself to a world where the contrariness of one stubborn gentleman should overrule all that is good, right, and fitting. If my father will be obstinate in his position, I will hold even more tenaciously to mine. I can even be patient if necessary, because I am convinced that, with right on our side, we will prevail in the end, you and I. I also believe that the reward – the deep satisfaction we may expect to find in our marriage – will be well worth waiting for. But I dare not say more on that subject here.

So I entreat you to join me in this belief, my dearest, fairest Catherine. Do let me hear from you soon to confirm your love and faithfulness, as I do now confirm mine for you. Tell me you will wait as long as it may take for our happiness to be fulfilled.

I remain ever yours, body and soul,

Henry

 

Catherine was glad for the relative darkness of the carriage, for she felt her cheeks grow hot at the review of these passionate sentiments… and especially with the thought of how their implied promise had been more than amply fulfilled since their marriage.



See the source image

Hope you enjoyed this little taste of what’s coming this summer in Murder at Northanger Abbey! (See Work in Progress page for more info and links to two more excerpts)

What do you think? Would you be pleased receiving such a letter? Did you picture Henry Tilney as a passionate guy, a joking goofball, or can he be both?

Posted in excerpts, my books, Shannon Winslow's writing, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , | 13 Comments