Cover Strip Tease

I now have a publication date for Colonel Brandon in His Own Words. It’s June 28th! But next to the debut of the book itself, the cover reveal is the most exciting. Don’t you agree? That’s scheduled for June 1st at Austen Variations. For my own subscribers, however, I have a teaser today. Strip by strip, I’ll be peeling away layers of the onion, exposing Colonel Brandon, the man, along with his cover!

Colonel Brandon is such an intriguing character. Rather mysterious, in part because there’s a lot Jane Austen doesn’t tell us about him. I’m glad, though, because that left so much scope for my imagination as I wrote this book! I wanted to get to know him better and flesh out his story, to fill in all the blanks in his character, his past, and his courtship of Marianne. Still, especially since I wasn’t planning on changing any of the given facts of the original story, I started by gleaning every morsel of information I could about the colonel from Sense and Sensibility.

Colonel Brandon… was silent and grave. His appearance however was not unpleasing, in spite of his being in the opinion of Marianne and Margaret an absolute old bachelor, for he was on the wrong side of five and thirty; but though his face was not handsome his countenance was sensible, and his address was particularly gentlemanlike.  – Sense and Sensibility

This is most of what Jane Austen tells us when we first meet Colonel Brandon. And we know by how he behaves that he’s an honorable man. He appreciates music, too, and he has a sad history. We eventually find out that he loved a girl named Eliza once – a distant cousin and his father’s ward. However, she was forced to marry his brother instead and she later died. And we know that Colonel Brandon has now finally found another young lady that interests him – Marianne Dashwood – but the outlook there isn’t good either, because she prefers the younger livelier Mr. Willoughby.

The missing information? Well, for one thing, nowhere in the entire book is his first name ever mentioned! He’s just “Colonel Brandon,” “the colonel,” or occasionally “Brandon.” That worked fine in S&S, but it wouldn’t do for an entire book where he’s telling his own life’s story. So as I now reveal this first part of the cover – the main title – I will also reveal how I addressed that issue. Removing strip number one!

In the very popular 1995 film adaptation of Sense and Sensibility, he’s called “Christopher” Brandon. Since that given name is not from the book, I could have rejected it, called him something else, and not been technically wrong. But it would have sounded wrong anyway, because so many have grown accustomed to thinking of him as Christopher. So why fight it? Christopher it is!

Next, if clothes make the man, what does Christopher Brandon’s wardrobe say about him? Let’s take a look. Removing strip number two!

Although we see him here in a private moment, with coat off, these are definitely the clothes of a gentleman. Colonel Brandon was born into a family of landed gentry – a younger son. He had an older brother, and, as I have it, two older sisters. He’s the baby of the family, in other words, with no expectation of inheriting Delaford, the Brandon family estate.

So, after losing Eliza, he took a commission in the army to establish a life for himself. But was it really his choice or was he somehow forced? And why the military rather than the other standard option for a second son: the church? And why India? What he did and saw and experience during those five years away from England, profoundly changed him. But how? Removing strip number three!

Never fear! Colonel Brandon will answer all our questions in his own words, as the rest of the title reveals. Here the official book blurb:

Colonel Brandon is the consummate gentleman: honorable, kind almost to a fault, ever loyal and chivalrous. He’s also silent and grave, though. So what events in his troubled past left him downcast, and how does he finally find the path to a brighter future? Jane Austen gives us glimpses, but not the complete picture.

Now Colonel Brandon tells us his full story in His Own Words. He relates the truth about his early family life and his dear Eliza – his devotion to her and the devastating way she was lost to him forever. He shares with us a poignant tale from his military days in India – about a woman named Rashmi and how she likewise left a permanent mark on his soul. And of course Marianne. What did Brandon think and feel when he first saw her? How did his hopes for her subsequently rise, plummet, and then eventually climb upwards again. After Willoughby’s desertion, what finally caused Marianne to see Colonel Brandon in a different light?

This is not a variation but a supplement to the original story, chronicled in Brandon’s point of view. It’s a behind-the-scenes look at the things Jane Austen didn’t tell us about a true hero – the very best of men.

Now I suppose you’d like to see the last two strips removed and the full cover exposed. I did tell you, though, that this post was a teaser, didn’t I? I lot has been revealed (about the book as well as the cover), but a little something has to be left to the imagination. You will have to wait a few more days to see the rest. Visit Austen Variations June 1st, or return here that same day, when I will replace this big, fat question mark with the final cover – stripped bare, no more teasing!

Posted in Austen Variations, book launch, cover design, fun & games, Jane Austen, Jane Austen Quotes, my books, Shannon Winslow, Shannon Winslow's writing, Uncategorized, writing | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

Spring Surprises

No dramatic developments on the writing front this month. Colonel Brandon in His Own Words continues to steadily progress through the post-production phase, with a summer launch date in view. So basically this post is my excuse to share some pretty pictures and a tidbit of personal news with you.

Spring is my favorite season. Yesterday was sunny and 70, and I think the threat of snow is finally past. I know snow is beautiful, and I love taking pictures of snow-covered scenery. But it’s also cold and really inconvenient, especially when it shows up unexpectedly. So by the end of March, I’d definitely had enough and was ready for it to be over.

Winter didn’t give up without a fight this year, however. I thought we were in the clear a couple of weeks ago. After all, the calendar said “April,” the days had grown dramatically longer, and it was almost Easter! Out in the garden, some of my early-bloomers were already in full flower. Even my magnolia was budded and ready to open.

Then on April 13th, “Surprise!” The temperature dropped and so did a layer of gravelly snow, which the weather folks on TV informed us was called “graupel.” Who knew?

The wintery conditions didn’t stick around long, just long enough to blight most of the magnolia buds with a brown tinge. Most, but fortunately not all. And there are lots more spring flowers coming!

Oh, I do have one more recent little “surprise” to report – the bit of “personal” news I mentioned. Something I wasn’t expecting at all!

After being SO careful for SO long… After my husband and I had taken all the proper preventive measures for months and now years, apparently we slipped up somewhere. You know, had a little “accident.” I had my suspicions that something was up, and so I took a test.

Then came the hard part; I had to break the news to my husband. I was afraid he wouldn’t take it very well, but he had a right to know. After all, we were in this together.

“I don’t know how to tell you this, Honey,” I began, showing him the plastic stick, “but the test is positive. Surprise.”

He looked mystified. “What does that mean?”

“Well, either we’re pregnant or I have Covid.”

But, there really was no suspense or question about it. Since he knew that one of the options was an impossibility at this point in our lives, it had to be the other. Yes, I had Covid, which meant he probably did too. Surprise.

Although this true story (only slightly embellished) is told with a little humor to soften the blow, everybody knows Covid-19 is no laughing matter. I’m just very grateful we didn’t catch it at the beginning, when it was a lot more dangerous.

So after we thought the threat had pretty much passed. Surprise. We’re back in isolation. Not the end of the world, just very unpleasant and very inconvenient – you know, kind of like one of those unexpected late snowfalls. Well, maybe more like a blizzard. I think we’ve rounded the corner, though (yes, I did say “we” because my DH has it too). We’re over the worst of it and on the mend. The upside? I guess we don’t have to worry about catching Covid anymore, at least not until the next variant comes along.

I hope you are staying well and enjoying all the beauties of spring… with only AGREEABLE surprises!

Yesterday I had the agreeable surprise of finding several scarlet strawberries quite ripe… There are more gooseberries and fewer currants than I thought at first. We must buy currants for our wine.

Jane Austen – a letter to Cassandra, June 6, 1811
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Cover Design Prototypes – Taking a Poll

I’m at that awkward, in-between point. Colonel Brandon in His Own Words is basically finished, and it’s out to a few trusted beta readers. Until I have their feedback, I can’t do much more with the manuscript itself. So I’ve been thinking ahead to the cover and even the audiobook.

As many of you know, I have a strong interest in art as well as writing. And so I particularly enjoy the cover design process, which combines the two. I always take a very active role, but I have to leave the technical stuff to my graphic designer. I simply don’t have that kind of expertise.

That’s still true, at least as to the final product. But I did discover a free online design program that has allowed me to play around, indulging my imagination and creating some possible prototypes. It’s pretty addictive, in fact. Once I got started, I was having so much fun I couldn’t stop!

Before I knew it, I had a dozen designs, made, as you will recognize, using images borrowed from the 1995 adaptation of Sense and Sensibility. These are just for inspiration, you understand. I don’t have permission to use the movie stills in the final product.

However an “artist’s rendition” might achieve something with a very similar look and feel (as I did with Fitzwilliam Darcy in His Own Words). So I thought it would be fun to show some to you and take a poll – to see which design you prefer, and if you have any further suggestions! Here are 4 contenders for your consideration.


What do you think? Do you have a favorite? What would you do to improve on it? Which elements do you think are most effective? A new combination to propose? Or is it back to the drawing board?

The Colonel, though disclaiming all pretensions of connoisseurship, warmly admired the screens, as he would have done anything painted by Miss Dashwood… and after they had received gratifying testimony of Lady Middletons’s approbation, Fanny presented them to her mother… “Hum” said Mrs. Ferrars, “very pretty,” without regarding them at all.  (Sense and Sensibility, chapter 34)

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Creating Your Own Amusement

My big news is that the first draft of Colonel Brandon in His Own Words is finished! I don’t say “rough draft” because it’s already pretty refined, at least I think so. Soon, I will send it out to a few beta readers for their feedback, and then we shall see.

As you know from previous posts (here and here), this will be Colonel Brandon telling his own story, including, but not limited to, his perspective on the territory covered in the original novel. And as with my other books so far, it will supplement what Jane Austen has already told us, not change it. The rest comes from my imagination. Well, except that I admit that certain parts of this book may be inspired by glimpses we get from the movie adaptations.

A case in point: the picture above. Nowhere in the book does it say that Colonel Brandon reads to Marianne during her recovery. And yet it’s not incompatible with the facts we are given either. So, since I particularly like this image from the ’95 movie, I ended up incorporating the idea into my novel – not Brandon reading to her, but instead telling her, by installments, a story from his military years in India. It becomes part of their slow, tender courtship.

As I have been making another pass through the book, I came across the section below and decided to share it with you – partly for what it shows of their courtship, but also for what it says about the author/reader partnership in creating the enjoyment received from reading a good novel. We both have important roles to play!

About four days after Edward’s arrival, Colonel Brandon appeared, to complete Mrs. Dashwood’s satisfaction, and to give her the dignity of having for the first time since her living at Barton, more company with her than the house would hold. (Sense and Sensibility, chapter 49)

In this excerpt, Colonel Brandon is enjoying his first visit to Barton Cottage since Mrs. Dashwood, Elinor, and Marianne returned from Cleveland, where Marianne suffered her life-threatening illness. Here’s Colonel Brandon, telling this bit of the story in His Own Words… (PS – do imagine hearing it in Alan Rickman’s voice!)

I was in no hurry to go, having now the fresh reminder of the difference between my cold, solitary existence at Delaford and a home with the benevolent warmth of human companionship.

God had said it in the beginning, right there in Genesis. It is not good that the man should be alone. I will make him an help meet for him.

After Eliza, I had all but given up the idea that God had made another helper suitable for me. Now, however, gazing across the room at Marianne as the others chattered on excitedly about [Edward and Elinor’s] wedding plans, my heart dared to hope again. I prayed once more, perhaps for the thousandth time, that I and the vibrant, responsive beauty sitting by the window would someday be joined.

Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and cleave unto his wife; and they shall be one flesh…

Marianne’s eyes darted my way, as if she had sensed I was looking at her. I was caught, but at least she could not read what my thoughts had been at that moment. In any case, I hoped not.

She smiled, though, and moved to sit nearer to me. “Thank you for your letter, Colonel,” she said. “Mama shared it with me and then asked me to read out to her what you had written of India.”

“I hope it did not bore you, Miss Marianne. Some people find such descriptions tedious.”

“Not at all! To be transported to a place I have never been and never will be… What could be more glorious than that?”

“My words had that effect?” I questioned, never having considered they could do so much.

“Oh, yes, at least for me. Mama said it must be partly my imagination too, for she could not so easily picture the scenes you described, and feel what it must have been like to be there.”

I pondered this a moment. “Yes, I think your mother is correct in saying so. That is the way with all kinds of storytelling, I believe. The teller can only do so much; part of the responsibility for success rests with the listener. Your cooperation in being a willing participant was vital to your own enjoyment of what I wrote, Miss Marianne. In a way, you created your own amusement.”

“I never thought of it in exactly those term, Colonel. Do you mean to say that even Shakespeare would not be brilliant without my help?”

Seeing mischief in her eye, I half smiled. “Perhaps that is taking it too far. I only meant that what I wrote was certainly not a work of genius; it was your interpretation that may have made it seem so.”

“Teamwork, then. That is the key – teamwork between reader and writer, listener and storyteller.”


“Then when shall we team up again? When shall I have the next installment of your story, Colonel Brandon?”

“Of Colonel Dunston’s story.”

“Yes, of course. That is what I meant, and yet you are doing your part.”

“We shall make time for it whilst I am here, I trust, for there is still much more to tell.”

What do you think? Do you like this interchange between them? Does it seem like something that could have occurred during the year before they finally married? Is Colonel Brandon just flattering Marianne, or is there something to his philosophy that teamwork between storyteller and listener is required? Is the relationship 50/50 or something else? What are your thoughts? As a reader, how much does your active participation count towards creating your own amusement?

Posted in excerpts, Jane Austen, Jane Austen Quotes, my books, Shannon Winslow, Shannon Winslow's writing, Uncategorized, writing | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

The Best Movies I Never Watch

I have movies on my mind today, but first a quick update on my work-in-progress: Colonel Brandon in His Own Words. The book is about 3/4 done and it’s all starting to come together! I hope to have it out before the end of the summer. (Read more about it here and here.)

I have a fairly small movie collection – DVDs I have judiciously selected over the years. I normally watch the movie first (in the theater, rented, borrowed, streamed) before purchasing, so that I don’t waste my money on an unknown. I don’t need to own mediocre movies I will only watch once; I want to own movies that are so good I’ll watch them again and again.

That’s the theory anyway. But it doesn’t always work out that way in practice.

Here’s what happens. When I feel like watching a movie, I go to my collection and scan through the titles for something I haven’t seen in a while. But there are some that remain on the shelf. I consistently pass over them, again and again, even though they are really good (or else I wouldn’t have bought them, right?).

I can be okay with an ambiguous ending if there’s a good reason for it, which makes me a little more broadminded that some. (My sister, for example, who pretty much insists that I pre-watch any unknown commodity before I play it for her on one of our “movie days,” to be sure the ending is acceptable = unequivocally happy.) To me, on the other hand, it’s possible for an ending to be satisfying without being classically “happy.” Here are some examples from my collection:

With Atonement (I skip over all the grueling war stuff, btw), we’re given a better alternative ending to believe if we choose (which I do). Before We Go and Before Sunrise leave it to our own imaginations to decide how things work out, so it’s up to you. 500 Days of Summer doesn’t end the way you expect, but you’re left with the understanding that all will be well. Similarly, with Becoming Jane, we don’t get the outcome we may have been rooting for, but we understand that Jane and Tom made the right choice and were not left miserable because of it. A higher good was served.

These are exceptions, but in general, I’m all about the happy ending. That’s what I want and expect after I’ve invested my time and money. And I often feel annoyed (or worse) if I don’t get it – be it book or movie.

I know tragedies can be beautiful and moving too, and that’s where I get into trouble. I watch one and think, “Oh, that was such a good movie!” And so I buy it for my collection. But then, now knowing how it ends, I can’t bear to put myself through the anguish of such a heart-wrenchingly sad story. I say, “Not tonight. I’m in the mood for something light and happy.” Problem is, I’m basically always in the mood for light and happy.

So these wonderful films – City of Angels, Romeo and Juliet, Tristan + Isolde, Sommersby, First Knight – sit neglected on the shelf, month after month, year after year. Some of them I have literally never seen a second time and I can barely remember. I just know they’re very sad. And so, they have become the best movies I own but never watch.

Do you have this issue too? Thoughts on any of the movies named here or others you would add to the list? As for movies I do watch more than once, here’s a related post: My Movie Picks. It’s several years old now, and there are probably a few things I would update. But it’s still pretty accurate. And speaking of happy endings…

Colonel Brandon was now as happy as all those who best loved him believed he deserved to be. In Marianne he was consoled for every past affliction; her regard and her society restored his mind to animation, and his spirits to cheerfullness… (Sense and Sensibility, chapter 50)

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Beneficial Exercise

I’m pretty dedicated to my morning walks – about 2 1/2 miles with significant elevation gain, over the roads and trails of our rural neighborhood. It’s something I started on my own years ago, after I quit my “day job,” and which I now continue with my husband since he retired. We go rain or shine, or even in 8-10″ of snow like this morning! I draw the line at high winds, though, since we’re surrounded by large trees that have a way of blowing over from time to time.

It’s my main form of exercise – good for body and mind alike. Writing is a very sedentary occupation. But I inevitably find that getting the blood moving enables the words to flow more freely too, and a brisk turn out of doors is the best cure for writer’s block I’ve yet discovered. So, 5-6 days a week, we put on our hiking boots and set out from home on one of a variety or routes.

“I do not wish to avoid the walk. The distance is nothing when one has a motive; only three miles. I shall be back by dinner.” (Pride and Prejudice, chapter 7)

I think Jane Austen would approve. In her stories, she uses a person’s activity level as one subtle clue to his/her character. Her favorites, like Elizabeth Bennet, tend to be, if not truly athletic, at least lively and energetic, with a fondness for walking and dancing. Meanwhile, those less favored often demonstrate more indolent habits (think Mr. Hurst, Lady Bertram, and even Mr. Bennet). The fact that Austen expected her heroines, as well as her heroes, to be physically active, puts her ahead of her time since fine ladies of her day were not generally encouraged to much exert themselves. As you remember, Elizabeth’s walk to Netherfield surprises her family and positively shocks Mr. Bingley’s sisters:


That she should have walked three miles so early in the day, in such dirty weather, and by herself, was almost incredible to Mrs. Hurst and Miss Bingley; and Elizabeth was convinced that they held her in contempt for it. …Mr. Darcy was divided between admiration of the brilliancy which exercise had given to her complexion, and doubt as to the occasion’s justifying her coming so far alone.

I’ve carried on Jane Austen’s custom in this as well as many other things – sending my heroes and heroines on long walks as often as possible, not only for their benefit (often giving them a better chance for private conversation with each other) but also for mine! There’s nothing more tedious (for the reader or writer) than having nothing for your characters to do except sit around a drawing room day after day.

In Return to Longbourn, for example, I sent Mary Bennet on an important walk with the new heir, Tristan Collins, which ended with their dashing back to the house together, thoroughly drenched by the rain. Come to think of it, Mary got drenched again later in the book, this time on a ride instead of a walk, and with a different man altogether! (Hmm. Must be that whole wet-shirt fascination thing.)

And it’s the same for my other novels. I’m sure you will find significant long walks in most if not all of them. But there’s one walk that stands out in my mind at the moment, and so I thought I’d share it with you today. This scene is from The Persuasion of Miss Jane Austen and represents what happened in Austen’s own life that inspired what she wrote in Persuasion – specifically the proposal Jane received from one Captain Philippe Devereaux (whose fictional counterparts are Anne Elliot and Captain Wentworth):

Then Philippe rode over that fateful morning from his temporary lodgings to propose one more walk to Ashe before the breakup of the party.

“An excellent notion,” said Henry, in response to the Captain’s suggestion. “Do not you agree, my dear Eliza? It will serve as our take-leave visit.”

“Yes, to be sure, although it pains me to think that we must go away tomorrow. Jane, you will walk with us.”

Looking up from the book I pretended to read, I saw her wink at me. “Certainly, if you wish it,” said I, as if it were all one to me.  

 “I would not lose your company for one hour,” continued Eliza, “even to gain that of the Lefroys.”

With no one else available to join in, we four set off for Ashe parsonage, walking at a brisk rate to match the bracing chill in the air. Once out of sight of the house, the Captain and I slackened our pace, steadily dropping behind the others, as we had so often done before. Words were not necessary to orchestrate this alteration, or the fact that our parallel paths soon drifted a little closer, to the point where the sleeve of his coat might happen to brush mine occasionally. I could then at least imagine I felt his warmth bridging the gap between us, though we never touched.

“I believe I owe you an apology, Miss Austen,” he began at length as we went along.

I looked sideways up at him. “Truly? Whatever for? And please, do call me by my Christian name whenever we are alone.” I longed to hear myself addressed so. And, coming from his lips, I expected that one syllable would sound as sweet as the most elegant sonnet.

He paused and looked at me. “Very well, Jane.”

A wave of pleasure washed over me at his caressing tone, and time seemed suspended for a moment while the exquisite sound hung in the air.

Then he remembered himself, resumed our walk, and continued with his thought. “I owe you an apology, or at least an explanation, for my behaviour to you in London. You must have wondered why I ended our conversation so abruptly, especially when we had been doing so well together.”

“You did give me an explanation,” said I, determined now to make light of the circumstance that had hitherto given me so much anxiety. “You said you feared detaining me from my friends overly long. Still, I thought I must have said or done something to displease you.”

“Not at all. Quite the opposite, I assure you. Perhaps you did not suspect it, but I knew within minutes of our first meeting that I could care for you, that an attachment was indeed already beginning, on my side at least. The longer we were together, the more difficult it would be to break away. And, not being in a strong position to make any commitments, I believed I owed it to us both to part before any real harm was done.”

“Yet you followed me to Hampshire anyway.” I stopped and turned to my companion, and he did likewise.

“Yes,” he said almost breathlessly. “I suppose I changed my mind.”

Perhaps it would have been more correct to demure, but I simply said, “I am so glad you did, Philippe.”

This seemed to decide him. Rewarding me with a gratified smile, he took both my gloved hands in his and hurried on. “The world would tell us that it is imprudent to contemplate marrying on so little. I have some money saved, otherwise there will be barely anything above my pay to live on. But I love you too passionately for delay, Jane, and I am asking you to believe in me. I am resourceful, hard working, determined, and, despite my history, I count myself a lucky sort of person. With you by my side, I cannot fail of achieving great things, both in my career and as regards to fortune. There is plenty of prize money to be made in the war, and I still hope to recover at least a portion of my family’s property as well. Dearest Jane…” Here he dropped to one knee. “…will you trust me? I may have no right to ask, but will you marry me now, while I am undeserving? If you agree, you will never regret it, I promise.”

Dear God! How long ago that scene played out! And still, I have yet to forget one detail of it – the stray lock of dark hair forming a flawless curl on the captain’s forehead; the small puffs of fog created when his warm breath merged with the frigid air as he spoke; the call of a distant rook punctuating the brief silence after he finished. These and other precious remembrances compose a sharply drawn picture in my mind, undiminished and unmarred by the passage of time. The words spoken on that wooded pathway remain so perfectly preserved that I have no difficulty recalling them even now, more than seventeen years later, recalling them and ascribing the substance of my captain’s sentiments over to his fictional counterpart. I take my pen and write:

Captain Wentworth had no fortune… But he was confident that he should soon be rich; full of life and ardour, he knew that he should soon have a ship, and soon be on a station that would lead to every thing he wanted. He had always been lucky; he knew he should be so still. Such confidence, powerful in its own warmth, and bewitching in the wit which often expressed it, must have been enough for Anne.

Likewise, it had been enough for me as well. I agreed to marry Captain Devereaux that day, and it would be impossible to say which of us was the happiest – I, in receiving his declaration of love, or he in having his proposal accepted. We laughed and kissed by turns, forgetting to make much progress towards our destination. I smiled so much that by the time we finally did reach Ashe, my cheeks ached for it. If only that initial happiness, that boundless, unlimited joy, had been stout enough to withstand the storm to come.

Well, what did you think? Was this a walk worth taking, even beyond the beneficial exercise? It’s hard to imagine one that had a more significant bearing on those involved. And the proposal just wouldn’t have been the same if it had taken place in a drawing room! Don’t you agree?

Posted in excerpts, Jane Austen, Jane Austen Quotes, my books, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

November Nostalgia

I’ll get to the nostalgia part in a bit, but first I want to give you the November update. Did you know that this month is National Novel Writing Month? Many intrepid souls set out to write an entire novel in one month… more or less… in what’s called the NaNoWriMo Challenge. I can’t write that fast, but I have been busy and making good headway on my work-in-progress: Colonel Brandon in His Own Words (see two previous posts for more info). With 14 chapters and 35K words, I’m closing in on the halfway point. Although I still have a long way to go, I hope to have it ready for you by early summer.

Time for writing must always rank behind family obligations, though.

As I mentioned in my August Ups and Downs post, my mother just recently passed away. At 89, she had lived a full life, and so it wasn’t a tragic death. Still, we were very close, and it has been hard to say goodbye. For various reasons, we were forced to delay the memorial service for several weeks. And during that period, I did a lot of looking back as I wrote the eulogy and prepared a PowerPoint slide show to commemorate Mom’s life.

I went through tons of pictures, piles of papers, and boxes of memorabilia, coming across some real treasures in the process. Although I was looking for artifacts representing my mother’s life, naturally, I came across a lot from my own too, stirring up memories and feelings of nostalgia.

When I discovered this picture of my mom (age 6) in the process, my first thought was how much she looks like my oldest granddaughter did at the same age! That was so unexpected.

There were lots of childhood pictures of my mom with her younger sister, reminding me of how close they always were (and of how close I am with my own sister). This one also speaks of her life-long fondness for cats, one that I also share.

Some of my favorites, though, are the pictures of my mom and dad together, from when they were young marrieds, then raising a family, and on through to old age: 61 years together before Dad died. I was very fortunate to be born into such a loving, stable home.

You notice we’ve now transitioned into color! Here’s the whole family in front our first house about 1960. (That’s me on the left, standing on the step.)

There are plenty of pictures representing Mom’s love of family, of course. But also a great number showing all the places she travelled in her lifetime – with Dad, with all of us, or on her own. (She made it to 49 of the 50 states as well as 5 of 7 continents.)

Mom was an artist at heart, though, pursuing that calling in earnest once her children were somewhat self-sufficient – studying, painting in almost every medium, exhibiting and selling her work, and also teaching others. Her love of the creative process is something else I shared with her. Although I eventually discovered my true passion was writing, I dabbled in various other art forms first, and Mom and I made a great team at weekend art shows.

So, other than enjoying a walk down memory lane, where am I going with all this? I don’t know exactly, except I felt like I needed to acknowledge Mom’s life and her passing here, sharing a bit of her story with you. By the world’s standards, I suppose, she wasn’t a very important person; she certainly never became rich or famous. Maybe she never accomplished great things. But every life has meaning and value. Every life touches others. That’s certainly true of parents.

It’s all about connections and relationships. And isn’t that what we enjoy most when we’re immersed in a wonderful novel? We can be interested in an individual’s life and adventures, but we care most about whether or not the hero and heroine get together, whether the conflict with their friend/sibling/parent will be resolved.

Jane Austen didn’t write about great military heroes or famous statesmen. She didn’t write sweeping, epic tales of war or the birth of empires. She wrote about fairly ordinary people and their relationships: three or four families in a country village… And yet look how many lives she touched!

Thanks, Mom, for how you loved and cared for your family, and for all you taught me.

Edward’s loss is terrible, and must be felt as such, and these are too early days indeed to think of moderation in grief, either in him or his afflicted daughter, but soon we may hope that our dear Fanny’s sense of duty to that beloved father will rouse her to exertion. For his sake, and as the most acceptable proof of love to the spirit of her departed mother, she will try to be tranquil and resigned.

Jane Austen, letter to Cassandra, October 1808

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Sense and Sensibility: the Themes Just Keep on Coming

See the source image

You’ll be glad to hear that I’ve made at least some further progress on the next book: Colonel Brandon in His Own Words. It’s still slow going, but I have several chapters written – about 20K words – which means I’m closing in on about a quarter of an average length novel. Unlike my usual practice, however, I’ve been bouncing around a little – writing not in logical order but whatever scene inspires me that day or pops into my head. I think I’ll end up assembling the book in a similar fashion, just following the colonel’s flow of thought, his stream of consciousness, rather than strict chronology.

Colonel Brandon’s life could easily break down into phases: early life with Eliza, military years, empty years after his return and before meeting Marianne, and then what happens with Marianne. But I don’t want to write a Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4 book. What particularly interest me is how those periods of his life connect. Where are the crossovers, the repeated patterns, the common themes?

To be honest, I’ve never given that much thought before – at least not this early in the writing process – to developing themes in a book. If something shows up along the way, I’m just happy to take advantage of it as a bonus. But this time I couldn’t help noticing certain refrains at once. Sense and Sensibility is loaded with them.

We have the most obvious theme given right in the title of the source book: the tension between sense and sensibility primarily exhibited by the sisters Elinor and Marianne, and not so much Colonel Brandon. Although everybody has some measure of both inside, often at odds with each other.

As in other Austen novels, the similar tension between love and money shows up here too. The Dashwood girls are left without fortunes, which limits their chances of making a good match. And Willoughby ultimately deserts Marianne for Miss Gray, when he can no longer afford to marry for love alone.

Jane Austen has also given us the strong idea of history repeating itself for Brandon. We know that when he meets Marianne, he is struck by her similarity to his first love Eliza. He also expects to have to stand by – again – and see the woman he loves married to another man, as I wrote about in my Prologue (read here). Then there’s the business with Eliza herself; her daughter, who bears the same name, meets with the same fate (mistreated by men and bearing a child out of wedlock).

In both these cases (and with Marianne as well, to a lesser degree), Brandon must have believed he’d failed in his perceived duty – failed to protect the women he loved.

Then I was just thinking about another theme of the book: the question of second attachments, which, as this quotation testifies, applies equally to both Colonel Brandon and to Marianne

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 with no sentiment superior to strong esteem and lively friendship, voluntarily to give her hand to another! – and that other, a man who had suffered no less than herself under the event of a former attachment, whom, two years before, she had considered too old to be married, – and who still sought the constitutional safeguard of a flannel waistcoat!

Sense and Sensibility, chapter 50
See the source image

So it’s my job to tie it all together from this new perspective, supplementing what Jane Austen gave us. I think these themes will come out quite naturally. Colonel Brandon strikes me as a thoughtful, introspective kind of guy, who would be aware enough to notice these repeating elements showing up in his own life. And if he notices, we’ll hear about it, since he’s telling the story in his own words.

Colonel Brandon’s past cannot help but color his view of the future, as it does with all of us to some extent. So can he overcome his tragic history to find happiness at last? Fortunately, we know the answer is yes! Now, I thought you might enjoy this little clip from the chapter I wrote about when Brandon first sets eyes on Marianne. (This is one of many scenes that Jane Austen didn’t write and that I’m happy to fill in!)

Delightful and pretty as can be, Sir John had said. That would be agreeable, of course, but I only hoped they would be pleasant, sensible, well-mannered women with no propensity for silliness or flirtation. There, my age had become my best protection; no doubt it would be the same in this case. At five and thirty, I must have been too old to be of any interest to the girls and too young for the mother. That was as it should be, for I was a confirmed bachelor, long since having passed the point of wanting a wife of my own, and content for my nephew to be my heir.

Then I walked into the room that night, took one look at Marianne Dashwood, and everything changed. A part of me that I had long given up as dead, flared to new life. Miss Marianne was very fair… and very young. In fact, she was exactly of an age and of a remarkable likeness to my Eliza before I lost her. For a long moment, I was struck dumb and stone still; I could do no more than stare. Then I gave myself an inward shake and dragged my eyes away before I could be thought too boorish. Still, I am afraid I was quite stupid when introduced to the ladies, for I could not quickly shake off the startling impression that some measure of the sweet friend of my youth had been miraculously resurrected before my eyes.

Do you think this is how it happened and what Brandon was feeling at that moment? Had you ever thought about these themes in Sense and Sensibility before? Which one most interests you? Did I miss any that you’ve noticed? I wouldn’t be surprised if there are a few more. The themes just keep on coming!

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Making a Start

Sometimes starting is the hardest part of writing a novel (read more about that subject here). That’s seems to be the case this time. At least I certainly hope it gets easier going forward!

I knew I wanted to write a Sense and Sensibility novel, as I told you back in June (post: What’s Next?). Then after your feedback, I settled on telling Colonel Brandon’s story. (Proposed title: Colonel Brandon in His Own Words.) I will delve a little deeper into his backstory – his relationships with his family and especially with Eliza, a bit about his army years, returning home to find Eliza dying, his inheriting Delaford. Then his life is reanimated by meeting Marianne – their relationship evolving from one-sided through to mutual love and marriage. Everything from Brandon’s point of view and in His Own Words.

I looked forward to filling in all those blanks – the stuff Jane Austen only hinted at, just as I did in my previous book (Fitzwilliam Darcy in His Own Words). But still I couldn’t seem to get started. First roadblock: some research, which is not my forte. Another challenge was deciding at what point in time to open the book.

I didn’t want to start at the beginning of his life, writing the book like a perfectly chronological diary: “I was born October 19, 1778…” After all, authors are always told that we should start our stories where the action is. That’s something I haven’t always succeeded in doing. Of course, neither did Jane Austen, so I don’t feel too bad about that.

I could start close to the end and tell nearly everything in retrospective; that would be another perfectly viable option.

But I think I’m going to start in the middle instead, at Colonel Brandon’s point of crisis, when he’s sure he’s lost Marianne forever. There are actually six days between when he goes to Elinor to confirm that Marianne is going to marry Willoughby (“Tell me then, Miss Dashwood, please. Is everything finally settled between them?“) and when he learns that Willoughby is actually engaged to Miss Gray.

What a miserable week that must have been for him. Plenty of time to think through all that has gone before as well as the bleak outlook for the future. So that’s the situation in the excerpt below. Hope you enjoy this sneak peek! Then I’ll want your opinion.


It is happening again, and I suddenly feel very old. Although I survived it once before – just – I have the gravest doubts that I can do so again. Some days, I do not even wish to.

The circumstances are quite different this time, it is true. But the pain is the same – the sudden wrenching in my gut each time I think of it, which I do nearly every minute of every day; the repeated jolt of panic in my brain, which tells me that I must do something to stop it; the hollow ache in my heart and the certain knowledge of my own pathetic powerlessness. It is all too familiar, for once again the hand of the woman I love more than life itself is being given irrevocably to another, and there is absolutely nothing I can do about it.

It is no doubt weak and self-indulgent, as I have repeatedly told myself, but my mind will persist in entertaining questions of morbid curiosity. I cannot seem to help asking if, overall, it is better or worse this time. Is my disappointment more or less profound, the circumstances more or less regrettable? Will the resulting pain last as long as before and leave scars as deep?  

On the surface, the current event appears worse – at least for myself personally – for I shall not only have the pain that she is lost to me forever but the additional mortification of knowing she does not care for me. Well in fact, she thinks nothing of me at all. So, God willing, I shall be the only one to suffer, which was not the case before.

Poor Eliza. I would not wish Marianne Dashwood to experience the same fate, not for the world. In fact, that must be my chief consolation: knowing that she is happy, even if it must be in the arms of another man. I would willingly sacrifice my own happiness and more if it would secure a lasting one for her. And yet who can say that her current bliss will endure, dependent as it is upon a man of whom I have every reason to think ill? And so my mind cannot by any means be easy for the future – hers or my own.

I’m still very open to suggestions at this point, so what do you think? Is this a good way to start the book? Does it capture your interest and make you want to read more, or not? Do you think it’s cruel of me to leave poor Brandon stuck in this painful place for so long? But then, that’s another bit of writing wisdom: You must torture you hero/heroine before giving them their happy ending. And of course there will be a happy ending!

Colonel Brandon… was silent and grave. His appearance however was not unpleasing, in spite of his being in the opinion of Marianne and Margaret an absolute old bachelor, for he was on the wrong side of five and thirty; but though his face was not handsome his countenance was sensible, and his address was particularly gentlemanlike.  – Sense and Sensibility

Making a Start

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August Ups and Downs

Before you ask, no, I don’t have exciting progress on a new book to tell you about. I wish I did. I will have to count that as one of the “downs” of this month.

But I always look forward to August – good weather, our anniversary, often a trip to the lake – and this year was no different. In fact, we had two trips planned this time – unusual for us, since we hardly ever go anywhere.

First, though, I had a week of jury duty to get through. Not necessarily a “down.” I’ve done it before and found it interesting. It would just be an inconvenience – driving into Tacoma every day, dealing with city traffic and city parking, getting nothing else done. That’s what I anticipated. Instead what happened is that my group number never came up, so I didn’t have to report at all.

Then we were off to Sunriver, Oregon, for six days of vacation! We visited friends in Bend on the way, which was a delight, and we were meeting other friends at our destination. It promised to be a fun getaway!

That promise was mostly kept. We hiked beside the Deschutes River to a falls, and we also traversed the subterranean caverns of a mile-long lava tube. We explored the quaint town of Sunriver Village, ate overpriced ice cream, and floated the Deschutes River. All good.

Mom’s 89th birthday

But while there, I received the upsetting news that my 89-year old mother had been hospitalized with a significant stroke. We left Sunriver early to begin a bedside vigil that lasted ten days until she passed away.

My mom and I were very close, so obviously this was a severe blow, as those of you who have been through it know all too well. And yet, even in this most-serious of downs – loss of a family member – there were blessings. I’m grateful for my mom’s sweet spirit. I am grateful that she didn’t suffer a painful death. I am grateful there was time for everyone to come and say goodbye. I’m grateful that instead of lingering, possibly for years, in the ever-increasing incapacitation that her dementia would have caused, she could talk and walk and recognize her loved ones to the end. And I’m most grateful for the hope of heaven, where I will see her again someday. In the meantime, I’m glad to know she is freed from her struggle, restored, and at peace, safe with Jesus and reunited with my dad and others who have gone before.

One more thing I’m grateful for: that we had a peaceful place to retreat afterward. Although our trip to Montana was delayed, we decided not to cancel it entirely. So this is where I sit now as I write this post. When something bad happens, we more than ever need reminders of what’s good and beautiful in our world. It’s easy to see that here. In fact, it feels like a little taste of heaven.

“I shall soon be rested,” said Fanny; “to sit in the shade on a fine day, and look upon verdure, is the most perfect refreshment.”

Jane Austen, Mansfield Park
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