Popular Highlights “Return”

Return-to-Longbourn-book-cover-webConfession. I just finished reading one of my own books: Return to Longbourn… again.

I have talked to other authors who say that once their books are finished and published, they never look at them again. The reasons they give? I’ve heard two: either they are sick to death of the book after working on it so long, or they’re afraid they’ll find flaws that it’s too late to correct, which would torment them.

I feel completely different. Yes, it bugs me when I discover a typo in one of my books, one that managed to somehow elude all the beta reads and edits meant to catch that kind of thing. But my books and the people in them are like old friends to me. Friends aren’t perfect either, and yet that doesn’t keep me from wanting them to visit from time to time.

In this case, it had been a few years since I had read Return to Longbourn – long enough that I’d forgotten some things which I had fun rediscovering along the way.

Since I was reading on my Kindle, I periodically came across an underlined “popular highlight.” Are you familiar with this feature? It shows which lines in a book have been highlighted most by readers. It’s designed to be of interest to readers, but it’s tremendous fun for authors too. It’s so interesting (and gratifying) to see which things I’ve written have been marked, indicating that people especially loved or valued them.

In a pair of posts I wrote on this topic several years ago, I reported that the most popular highlights from The Darcys of Pemberley and For Myself Alone seemed to fall into one of two categories: romance or wisdom. Return to Longbourn, is a little different. Perhaps because Mary Bennet (the book’s primary heroine) has a more practical, less romantic, turn of mind (at least in the beginning), the “highlights” of her story fall mostly into my so-called “wisdom” category. Or maybe it’s because Mary had so much to learn! Here are readers’ 9 top picks from RTL followed by a bit of Austen’s own wisdom:

“I believe most people tend to judge things just and fair only when they have their own way.” (Mary Bennet)

“To never experience the good, for fear that it will one day be taken from you – what kind of way is that to live?” (Tristan Collins)

It is a truth universally acknowledged that every mortal being must at some point face the certainty of death and the day of reckoning.

Marriage: how much of happiness or torment seemed bound up in that one, irrevocable act.

No quantity of worry or tears would alter that which could not be changed.

True right and wrong were still what they had always been, of course; only her sympathy for those who sometimes found themselves over the line had changed. Her former prejudices had been stripped away, and she had more understanding of the powerful forces that pushed and pulled at the vulnerable hearts of men.

“The proper measure of a man is not taken by how he treats his peers and betters, but in how he deals with those over whom he holds unconditional power – his wife, his children, his tenants, those in his service and employ. If he treats them fairly when he has no one except his own conscience to answer to, then he is honorable indeed.” (Mr. Darcy)

She had always been so severe on people who were not perfect and so unwilling to show any sign of frailty herself. Now, however, she rejoiced in her own weaknesses so flagrantly displayed over the last year, because it made accepting Mr. _____’s past failings not only possible but compulsory.

To admit to a joy was to admit to vulnerability, and the voice of caution in her head always protested loudly against taking the smallest risk of that kind. This time, however, she was glad she had found the courage to ignore it.

Anything is to be preferred or endured rather than marrying without affection. (written in a letter from Jane Austen to her niece Fanny)

Yes, Mary had a lot to learn. And by the end of the book she has come a long way. In fact, you might say the overlooked ugly duckling turned out to be a swan after all!

I enjoyed visiting with my old friends again in Return to Longbourn – the Bennets, the Bingleys, the Darcys from Pride and Prejudice, as well as several more characters of my own invention – and remembering what a wild ride it was to write this book, with all the unplanned twists and turns the story ended up taking along the way  (see the RTL launch post).

What’s your policy about re-reading books? If you read on Kindle, do you ever use the Highlighting feature? Do you have a favorite quote amongst the highlights from RTL given here, or a memorable bit of Jane Austen wisdom that has stuck with you?

PMJA proof arrivesPS – In case you haven’t heard, I’ve started posting chapters of The Persuasion of Miss Jane Austen every Friday at Austen Variations. So you can now read it for free! To get started, follow this link to part 1.

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Diverting to Derbyshire – a P&P Missing Scene

See the source imageSince everybody seemed to appreciate The Specter of Mr. Collins, which I posted here a couple of months ago, I thought today I’d share another of my P&P ‘missing scenes.’ Most of the ones I’ve written are included in a group publication (Pride & Prejudice: Behind the Scenes), but I hope to compile them all as part of my own short story volume eventually!

I have a hard time beginning to write something out of nothing, but if I have a question or some other jumping-off point to spark my imagination, I’m off and running, and probably having the time of my life! The following verse (Pride and Prejudice, chapter 42) inspired the scene below – Elizabeth dreads the possibility of running into Darcy when she goes to Derbyshire with her Aunt and Uncle Gardiner. Hope you enjoy it!

With the mention of Derbyshire, there were many ideas connected. It was impossible for her to see the word without thinking of Pemberley and its owner. “But surely,” said she, “I may enter his county with impunity, and rob it of a few petrified spars without his perceiving me.”


Elizabeth Bennet:

Derbyshire. That one word brought it all flooding back to my mind, all that I had so studiously endeavored to put from it. My heart had been set on seeing The Lakes, but my aunt’s letter two weeks ago not only put an end to that thrilling expectation, but replaced it with something like apprehension at the thought of diverting to Derbyshire instead. Even now, I am tormented by the idea.

I cannot think of Derbyshire without unhappy associations rising up in my mind. No doubt it is grand country, full of beauties that are not to be missed. But to me it can only ever mean one thing; I will be entering the county wherein resides the owner of Pemberley, a man I had fervently hoped never to meet with again in the whole course of my life. And I know he must feel the same. For proof of it, I have only to refer again to his letter.

Why I have kept it, I cannot rightly say. It is not normally in my nature to dwell on unpleasantness. But in this case, I make an exception. My culpability in the debacle with Mr. Darcy is something I dare not forget entirely, lest I should ever behave so badly again. How despicably I acted! How dreadfully I misjudged him! His written words at last taught me to properly know myself, and I have resolved to revisit them occasionally as a sort of penance.

Pulling the letter from its hiding place, I peruse its pages once more. The truth of his explanations concerning the two charges I so vehemently laid at his door, I have long since ceased to question. I need not read those sections again; I know them by heart.

Mr. Darcy’s interference with Jane and Mr. Bingley is something I continue to lament most grievously for my sister’s sake, although I can no longer bring myself to hate him for it. There was no malice in the case, only an error in judgment – a failing to which I proved similarly susceptible in the other matter. When I think what he and his sister suffered at the hands of Mr. Wickham, I believe I better understand some portion of his actions in Hertfordshire, some grounds for his distrustful reserve.

Although his careful explanations are most material in exonerating his character, it is always the beginning and the end of Mr. Darcy’s letter that cut me to the quick. That is where my conscience seeks to punish me, for that is where the man himself and how I have injured him are most clearly revealed.

Be not alarmed, Madam, on receiving this letter, by the apprehension of its containing any repetition of those sentiments, or renewal of those offers, which were last night so disgusting to you. I write without any intention of paining you, or humbling myself, by dwelling on wishes, which, for the happiness of both, cannot be too soon forgotten…

 And then at the end…

 …If your abhorrence of me should make my assertions valueless, you cannot be prevented by the same cause from confiding in my cousin; and that there may be the possibility of consulting him, I shall endeavour to find some opportunity of putting this letter in your hands in the course of the morning. I will only add, God bless you.

 Fitzwilliam Darcy

Oh, how these words have tortured me! If I still believed him to be a man without feeling, I could laugh at my own blindness well enough. Yet here is evidence that he has a heart after all, one capable of caring deeply… and being just as deeply wounded. Even should he one day find the charity to forgive how I have insulted him, I shall never forgive myself. But neither can I be content to wallow forever in self recriminations. I was not formed for unhappiness.

No, the only safe solution is that I never see Mr. Darcy again. He may get on with his life, well rid of me, and I will get on with mine, a little better for having known him. So there’s an end to it. Now, if only I can tour Derbyshire without him crossing my path…

Luckily for Elizabeth, she doesn’t get her wish. As you know, she finds something much better than she expects in Derbyshire!

Posted in Austen Authors, Jane Austen, Jane Austen Quotes, P&P200, Shannon Winslow's writing, Uncategorized, writing | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 11 Comments

A Christmas Ramble

Christmas is coming! Notice that I didn’t say Christmas is here, because technically this is Advent – a time of waiting and preparation in anticipation of the day of Jesus’ birth.

I know that on the retail calendar, the Christmas season now begins immediately after Halloween, but traditionally (and on the church calendar) it begins on December 25th and runs for twelve days – through January 5th (Twelfth Night).

By the way, in Jane Austen’s time, that’s when gifts were exchanged, not on Christmas Day itself. Why? Because Twelfth Night marks the Feast of Epiphany, which celebrates the arrival of the kings (or magi), bringing their gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh to the Christ child.

So how was Christmas celebrated in Regency England? You can scratch the excess hype and frenzy of today. But like now, it was a time to gather with friends and family, a time for music and singing, a time to feast and to share some of their bounty with the less fortunate. The particulars may have changed – the specific foods enjoyed, the songs sung, etc. – but the basics are still recognizable to us.

“Oh, my dear Miss Dashwood,” said Mrs. Palmer soon afterwards, “I have got such a favour to ask of you and your sister. Will you come and spend some time at Cleveland this Christmas? Now, pray do, and come while the Westons are with us You cannot think how happy I shall be! It will be quite delightful!” (Sense and Sensibility)

Sidebar: Do you suppose Jane Austen imagined that the Palmers’ friends (mentioned here in S&S) to be the same Westons we know from Emma?

Christmas Day itself began for most people with a walk to church, which could be a very chilly affair, not only outside but in, since there often was no means of heating the building.

The Regency home would have been specially decorated with candles, holly, ivy, and other greens, but no Christmas tree. That tradition wasn’t fully adopted in England until Victorian times, when it was popularized by Prince Albert, who brought the custom with him from his native country of Germany.

This “no Image may contain: 1 person, smiling, eyeglasses and textChristmas tree” policy was used to great effect as a running joke in a play I saw recently – Miss Bennet: Christmas at Pemberley. On a whim, Elizabeth Bennet Darcy installed a Christmas tree at Pemberley one year. Each person that entered the room after that, including Darcy himself, suffered a mild shock upon seeing it, remarking with some distaste (or even horror), “You have a tree… inside,” or similar words. Elizabeth would each time have to, somewhat apologetically, explain it was a German tradition that she thought charming.

“…I am the happiest creature in the world. Perhaps other people have said so before, but not one with such justice. I am happier even than Jane; she only smiles, I laugh. Mr. Darcy sends you all the love in the world that he can spare from me. You are all to come to Pemberley at Christmas. Yours, etc.” (Elizabeth in a letter to Mrs. Gardiner, Pride and Prejudice)

From this passage, I inferred that Pemberley would be the Christmas gathering place thereafter. Sounds like the perfect setting to spend a couple of week – perhaps snow falling outside, good friends and warm hospitality within. Since I doubt that I’ll be able to wrangle an actual invitation, my imagination will have to do. So I wrote about it in Return to Longbourn.

The holiday itself began with a trip to Kympton for church. Later, back at Pemberley, much was made of the Christmas dinner and of the children’s enjoyment – all twelve Bingley, Darcy, and Gardiner offspring – and of the special little treats and traditions established within the family to commemorate the occasion. Mary was called upon to render the day all the more festive by employing her musical abilities, playing a number of yuletide hymns and popular tunes on the piano-forte…

(later)… Gazing out into the night, Mary could just make out the faded gray of the lawn below, guarded by a few sentinel trees, as it fell away toward the inky blackness of the lake. The filtered moonlight’s poor illumination rendered every familiar article in ghostly guise, or was it something else that made it all look so peculiarly eerie? Ah, it had begun to snow, she then realized. For the moment, it was only a sugar dusting, but doubtless by daybreak everything would be wearing a full coat of winter white. “It is snowing,” she informed the others.

Kitty, who had always been particularly enamored of snow, came bounding excitedly to the window. A few of the others followed more sedately. “How thrilled the children will be when they wake in the morning!” remarked Jane.

Without stirring, Mrs. Bennet said, “I for one am not surprised. I can always tell it will snow by how my rheumatism comes on. Oh, such pains and spasms as I have suffered all the day long! But then I never like to complain.”

No chance of snow here today in the Seattle area. We were down in the 20’s a week or so ago, but today it was almost balmy, reaching 60 degrees Fahrenheit. Nevertheless, the Christmas spirit has begun to overtake me. And not a moment too soon. I still have cards to get out (yes, I am one of the few who still sends them), decorating to do, a little shopping and wrapping too. But fortunately I have plenty of time, right? After all, Christmas doesn’t start until the 25th!

See the source imageI will leave you with an adapted version of a Christmas sentiment Miss Bingley wrote in a letter to Jane Bennet. My best wishes that you would have a wonderful Christmas (or whatever tradition you celebrate this time of year) are truly sincere, unlike Miss Bingley’s. Please fill in the blanks as you choose. (Since you may be planning to spend Christmas somewhere other than Hertfordshire, and you may be wishing for something other than numerous beaux! Or maybe not?)

“I sincerely hope your Christmas in _________ may abound in the gaieties which that season generally brings, and that your _________ will be numerous!”


Other Christmas posts:

2014 Christmas Decorations and Waxing Philosophical

2012 The “W” in Christmas

2011 Christmas Cards

2010 The Stories of Christmas



Posted in English Regency culture, History, Jane Austen, Jane Austen Quotes, my books, Shannon Winslow, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , | 10 Comments

The Specter of Mr. Collins

See the source imageThis passage from Pride and Prejudice (chapter 26) talks about how Elizabeth’s relationship with Charlotte changed after Charlotte married Mr. Collins. It was the inspiration for a “missing scene” I wrote a few years ago for another blog. When I ran across it again today, it made me chuckle, so I decided to share it with you here. Hope you enjoy it!

The wedding took place; the bride and bridegroom set off for Kent from the church door, and every body had as much to say or to hear on the subject as usual. Elizabeth soon heard from her friend; and their correspondence was as regular and frequent as it had ever been; that is should be equally unreserved was impossible. Elizabeth could never address her without feeling that all the comfort of intimacy was over, and, though determined not to slacken as a correspondent, it was for the sake of what had been, rather than what was.

When Elizabeth had said goodbye to the former Miss Lucas at the church door, it had been with a heavy heart. The previous years of unreserved friendship, of easy intimacy, were over. The fact that one was now married and the other not would have formed somewhat of a barrier in any case. But the manner of Charlotte’s marrying – whom she had accepted and why – was an obstacle Elizabeth feared could never be overcome. Henceforth, the specter of Mr. Collins would always divide them.

Nevertheless, out of respect for what had been, she was determined to preserve at least a remnant of their past friendship. Charlotte had asked her to visit Hunsford in March, and Elizabeth had agreed, though she foresaw little pleasure in the scheme. In the meantime, there would be letters exchanged.

Elizabeth anticipated the first missive from Kent with a sort of morbid curiosity. Not that she hoped her friend would be unhappy. Certainly not! It was simply impossible for her to imagine the situation as being otherwise, to envision Charlotte’s state of mind without her own feelings creeping in. “You were right, my dear Lizzy!” she would surely say. “I have made the biggest mistake of my life in marrying Mr. Collins, and it is one from which I fear I will never recover. Why, oh, why did I not listen to your advice?”

But instead, Charlotte wrote the following:


My dearest friend,

 I know you will have been wondering how we are getting on here in Kent. So I will jot down a few lines for you, while I have a half-hour’s leisure, to assure you that Mr. Collins and I are very well. We experienced no difficulty with our travel from Hertfordshire after the wedding, arriving in good time. And my impressions upon first setting eyes on Hunsford were most agreeable as well.

 The parsonage, while not grand by any means, is as neat and tidy as any reasonable person could well wish for. I already feel quite at home and have been allowed to claim a pretty little parlor at the back of the house for my own particular use. I find the furnishings throughout exactly suited for a clergyman’s family. This should come as no surprise since Lady Catherine has done it all according to her own discriminating taste and judgment, as she informed me herself when she condescended to visit me the very day after my arrival. Was not that considerate? I anticipate that she will be just as generous with these civil attentions as my husband has always given her the credit of.

 As for more about our distinguished neighbor, her daughter, and the splendors of Rosings Park, I must defer to another occasion the detailed descriptions Mr. Collins has encouraged me to make to you. I simply have not time or room on the page to do them justice now. In any case, you will see all these things for yourself when you come in March. For the present, be satisfied to know that everything here – house, furniture, gardens, neighborhood, etc. – is to my liking, and I am well satisfied with my situation.

 Please write soon, Lizzy. I long to hear all the news from Meryton – all your little comings, goings, and doings – and none of my own family has yet proved to be a very satisfactory correspondent.

 With loving regards from Hunsford,

Charlotte Collins

 P.S. – Mr. Collins sends his greetings to you and to your family as well. He asks that you would be so kind as to apologize to your father on his behalf, for his not having written more promptly himself. This is a circumstance he promises to remedy very soon, at which time he will beg Mr. Bennet’s pardon in proper form.


Oh, my. Well satisfied. It was precisely what she should have expected to hear from her friend – all cheerful practicality and no complaints. Elizabeth could accept that much. She could even respect such a statement, whereas she would never have believed a claim of Charlotte’s being deliriously happy with Mr. Collins. Impossible! Very well. Elizabeth supposed she must be satisfied too. She could not quite understand it, but she owed it to Charlotte to be glad for her, to be glad she could be content with the life she had chosen for herself. There was clearly nothing else to be done.

Well, there was one more thing. Elizabeth drew two sheets of paper from the desk and took up her pen to write an answer.


My dear Charlotte,

Thank you for your letter. I was so pleased to hear that you are well, and that you find everything at Hunsford so consistent with your taste and expectations. Here at Longbourn, we continue on much as you left us…

Is this the way you imagine these events playing out?




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World Travels

I wish I could tell you I have made great progress on all four of my current writing projects (see three previous posts) in the last month. I did get the play written, but that’s about all I’ve had time to accomplish. I’ve been a little busy with family obligations and with travel. Here are just a few of my vacation photos:



20180924_145850_resized 20180923_114447-1_resized20180921_115240-1_resized







No doubt you recognize these exotic destinations – Venice, obviously, and Paris, one of the great pyramids of Egypt, and the New York City skyline. And that’s only a small sample!

Are you jealous of my world tour? Or are you getting a bit suspicious?

Okay, I confess; the idea of an extended world tour, lovely as it sounds, is pure fiction. In truth, I never left the US, and all these pictures were taken in one place: Las Vegas.

I hadn’t been to Vegas before, and I probably won’t go back again – not really my kind of town. But we sure saw and did some cool stuff while we were there. We visited the neon lights museum, viewed the largest gold nugget in the world, experienced the amazing Fremont Street overhead canopy light show, ate at some interesting restaurants (some outstanding, some not so much), and attended an awesome concert (Queen), which was the reason we made the spontaneous decision to book this trip in the first place.


There’s plenty to do for a few days in Las Vegas, even if you don’t gamble.  But in case you’re wondering how I fared at the casinos, I’m happy to report that I managed to break even. Want to know my secret? If you never place a bet, you can’t lose any money!

Finding a Jane Austen connection for a post about an American gambling Mecca wasn’t easy, but I chose this exchange between Mary Crawford and Edmund Bertram from Mansfield Park:

“The metropolis, I imagine, is a pretty fair sample of the rest.”

“Not, I should hope, of the proportion of virtue to vice throughout the kingdom. We do not look in great cities for our best morality. It is not there that respectable people of any denomination can do most good; and it certainly is not there that the influence of the clergy can be most felt.”

Actually, we did see a lot of churches in the area – quickie wedding chapels, that is. But, no, I would not point to Las Vegas as the example of our county’s best morality!

What brought Jane Austen most to mind on our trip, however, was the day we rented a car and drove down to Lake Havasu City, Arizona, to see the London bridge moved and reassembled there in 1971. It was about 108 degrees that afternoon, but I was determined to leave the comfort of air conditioning long enough to walk across the bridge that once spanned the Thames.

London_Bridge_circa_1870I even had in mind that perhaps Austen herself might have crossed the same bridge on one of her visits to London. Alas, this could not be true, I learned, since the bridge wasn’t constructed until several years after her death. Still it was well worth seeing.


20180922_131914_resized_1In any case, I’m glad we made the trip to Las Vegas and beyond, but I’m also glad to be home again.

Next, I’m going to take courage and submit my play for consideration. I’ll let you know how that goes – if and when it will be presented. Then it’s back to work to see if I can make some more progress on my other three writing projects. Where does the time go?

I hope you had some big adventures and happy travels this year too.




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Jane Austen’s Devotion

I told you that I have three writing projects underway at the same time – something I’ve never attempted before – but I have a confession to make. There’s now a fourth. Yes, crazy but it’s true. When a friend, who has a long-time connection with a Seattle playhouse, suggested I should try my hand at writing a play, I got pretty excited by the possibility of seeing something I’ve written performed live on stage! So I got to work immediately, studying up on playwriting and trying to condense The Ladies of Rosings Park down to a play-length story. Not an easy task, as it turns out.

At the same time, I don’t want to neglect my other projects – #1 a Northanger Abbey sequel and #2 a non-JA story, which I profiled for you in my previous two posts, as well as #3: a Jane Austen devotional based on her prayers.

See the source imageI have always been curious about Jane Austen’s spiritual side. We know she was raised in a Christian home, the daughter of a (by all accounts) dedicated Anglican minister, as well as having a brother (and later a second) belonging to the profession. She no doubt attended church nearly every Sunday of her life. Still, that didn’t prove sincere faith then anymore than it does now.

I suppose an argument could even be made to the contrary. For example, we see very few overtly Christian sentiments expressed in her novels. In fact, some of the portraits she draws of clergymen are quite unflattering (i.e. Mr. Collins). Also, some darker examples of her razor-sharp wit/humor (especially some preserved in her personal letters) might even be called caustic or irreverent.

See the source imageHowever, I think it would be a mistake to conclude from this that Jane Austen didn’t take her faith seriously. Being a Christian doesn’t mean having no sense of humor, and not every pastor is a shining example, especially in Jane Austen’s day, when many went into the profession for the wrong reasons – as a convenient means of making a genteel living rather than in answer to a true calling from God.

As for Jane Austen’s novels, although they are stories written from a Christian perspective, upholding Christian beliefs and values, they would not qualify for today’s “Christian Fiction” genre. Indeed, in Austen’s society there would have been no reason for what is now a separate and distinct category of fiction, no need to make a point of declaring the gospel message in every book where church attendance and allegiance to the Christian faith were the norm, not the exception. I believe this fact explains a great deal.

Here and there in Austen’s novels, however, we do catch a glimpse of something that might be construed as a reflection of Austen’s personal faith. We notice the “God bless you” at the close of Darcy’s letter to Elizabeth, for example, and the many occasions where God’s name is invoked in crisis or in thanksgiving. But perhaps the clearest example appears in Mansfield Park. There, Austen uses Mary Crawford’s attitude toward elements of faith as one means of revealing that lady’s faulty character. Mary openly ridicules the practice of family prayers, chapel attendance, and the clerical profession as a whole. By contrast, Austen’s heroine Fanny Price is reverent, honorable, and chaste – a much better candidate for an Austen-style heroine and a better choice of partner for future clergyman Edmund.

See the source imageFor the most convincing evidence of Jane Austen’s sincere personal faith, however, we must look beyond her novels, which are, after all, not autobiography but fiction. We must look to how she faced death (when she made a point of receiving the sacrament of Holy Communion) and we must look to her prayers.

Give us grace, Almighty Father, so to pray, as to deserve to be heard, to address thee with our Hearts, as with our lips. Thou art every where present, from Thee no secret can be hid. May the knowledge of this, teach us to fix our Thoughts on Thee, with Reverence and Devotion that we pray not in vain. (opening of Jane Austen’s prayer “On Each Return of the Night”)

See the source imageNo one knows how many eloquent prayers the authoress may have composed in her lifetime. As with her letters, it seems likely that only a fraction of the original number have survived. We have only thee rather lengthy examples remaining to us, in fact. But each line of each one is a mini pray in itself, I realized, worthy of pausing for further contemplation.

So that’s what I’m doing in the devotional I’m working on. I have broken Jane Austen’s three surviving prayers down into individual petitions, allowing each to inspire a separate meditation with illustrations from her novels. Jane Austen drew her characters so convincingly – seeming like real people with real thoughts and problems – that their stories constitute a rich resource for teaching spiritual principles.

The devotional is about 1/3 done, which means it’s currently in the lead among my three main writing projects as to reaching the finish line!  But the dark horse in the race is that play I mentioned.  I’ll keep you posted on how that goes!


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An Inspiring Trip to the Lake

In my previous post, I told you about the new writing projects I’ve been working on, and I shared a sneak peek at one of them: the beginning of my Northanger Abbey sequel. Today, I thought I’d give you a little clue about one of the other projects, since I’ve just returned from a week in the place that inspired the story idea: Ashley Lake, near Kallispel, Montanta.

20180723_202613_resizedMy husband is originally from Kallispel, and his family used to own a cabin on Ashley Lake. Through a serendipitous turn of events, that very same cabin is now back in his extended family, and we’ve generously been invited to use it for our vacation destination the last two summers. The lake itself is beautiful, with some of the clearest turquoise water you’ll ever see outside of the Caribbean. Knowing the history of the cabin makes the spot that much more special for us.

20180722_122451_resizedWhen we were there last summer, someone told us about a sunken car on the far side of the lake. So we paddled our canoe over to take a look. Sure enough, there in about fifteen feet of water was the rusting hulk of a VW bug, the roof and various other parts missing.

20180722_100026_resizedI couldn’t help wondering what the story was. Who had owned the car and how had it ended up at the bottom of the lake? It was too far from shore to have been pushed or driven into the water, accidentally or on purpose. VWs used to be reputed pretty air-tight and therefore able to float for several minutes. Had somebody, on a dare or as a prank, rowed it out as far as they could before it sank? The other possibility seemed to be that it had been driven out on the ice in the winter. Was the ice too thin and it had broken through? Or had the car been abandonded there intentionally to sink with the spring thaw? And why?

I’d love to know the answers, but I probably never will. No matter. The wheels were already turning as I began imagining a scenario of my own. Then I got the idea it might be interesting to tell the story from the car’s point of view.

The project sat on the back burner while I finished up The Ladies of Rosings Park, but I kept rolling it over in my mind from time to time. Visiting Ashley Lake and its mysterious sunken VW again this past week has encouraged me to keep working to see what I can make of it. Unfortunately, I haven’t thought of a Jane Austen connection for the story yet!


Here’s the opening. Let me know what you think and if this is the craziest idea I’ve ever come up with. Okay, I know it is, but maybe it’ll work anyway? 🙂


Not all cars have souls. At least that’s what I have concluded after all these years. In fact, I might be the only one. I have looked hundreds – probably thousands – of other vehicles in the face, sending them positive energy and hoping to detect some sign of intelligence in return. But I’m always disappointed. Blank stares; that’s all I ever get. Blank stares and silence.

True communication would be impossible, I realize, even if we all achieved consciousness. Unfortunately our creators haven’t seen fit to give automobiles the ability to speak. Which is very short sighted of them, in my opinion. Think how many accidents could be avoided if one car could simply yell to another, “Hey, watch out! My driver hasn’t seen you, and he’s not going to stop in time!” The real solution, of course, would be self-driving cars. Let’s cut out the middle man and leave the driving to the experts. That’s what I say. Well, maybe someday, but not as of 2007.

Still, I like to think that certain humans possess the ability to connect with beings beyond their own species. Maggie did. I suppose she still does, wherever she is. We had a real connection. I think she might even have loved me, at least enough to give me my own name: Leonard. Maybe that’s how I got my soul too; her love made me worthy of one.

Now look at me. I can hardly believe that a noble VW beetle, especially one who was found soul-worthy, should end in this kind of disgrace. But maybe that’s what happens to us all eventually. I don’t know. We’re used until we show our age and then left to corrode and die somewhere, alone, forgotten, perhaps even stripped of vital parts.

Still, a cold, watery grave seems particularly harsh. In my current predicament, there’s nothing I can do to prevent every passing fish from swimming in and out my open windows and other orifices, nipping at my faded, flaking, powder-blue paint and dropping their filth wherever they please. I try to ignore them… same as I try to ignore the feel of rust eating ever deeper into my steel frame, like some terrible, creeping skin disease. I don’t want to think about what must have happened to my engine by now. And I shudder to imagine what sort of nasty creature has recently made a home for itself in my tailpipe.

What can I say? It’s degrading, and my main consolation is remembering my glory days with Maggie. It was a long time ago now, but I still recall every detail of those few wonderful years. Taking good care of her, especially when danger struck, is what made my whole life worthwhile. Never mind what came afterward. Even knowing the end from the beginning, I would gladly do it all over again.

20180719_095727_resizedNow don’t panic! I wouldn’t leave poor Leonard there at the bottom of the lake, fish swimming in and out. Trust me. You know I believe in happy endings!

No scheme could have been more agreeable to Elizabeth…”Oh, my dear, dear aunt,” she rapturously cried, “what delight! what felicity! You give me fresh life and vigour. Adieu to disappointment and spleen. What are young men to rocks and mountains? Oh! what hours of transport we shall spend! And when we do return, it shall not be like other travellers… We will recollect what we have seen. Lakes, mountains, and rivers…” (Pride and Prejudice, chapter 27)

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