A ‘Puzzling’ Cover Reveal

See the source imageIn just a few weeks, my eighth novel will be published! I can hardly believe it. When I sat down a dozen years ago to make a first attempt at writing a sequel to Pride and Prejudice, little did I imagine what would follow! I’ve learned and experienced so much in that time – things I never expected – and it’s been a fabulous ride so far. I’m not finished yet, either. I have ideas for at least five more books.

For now, though, the task at hand is getting The Ladies of Rosings Park launched. (Have you been reading the preview chapters at Austen Variations, btw?)

Once a story is finished, I get a little impatient with the post-production phase (editing, formatting, cover design, etc.), which seems to take so long. But we’re getting close enough now that it’s time to reveal the cover – always an exciting moment for me!

Instead of the standard “Ta-da! Here it is.” I thought I’d do something different this time, something including audience participation.

To her own heart it was a delightful affair, to her imagination it was even a ridiculous one, but to her reason, her judgment, it was completely a puzzle. (Sense and Sensibility, chapter 49)

Confession: I’ve recently become completely hooked on doing on-line jigsaw puzzles. Do you know the ones I mean? The advantage over regular jigsaw puzzles, which I’ve always loved, is that there are an endless supply of new puzzles to do, and all the pieces are turned right side up for you! Oh, and it doesn’t take over your dining room table for weeks at a time either.

So if you haven’t tried it yet, now’s your chance, because I’ve made my cover reveal photo into a jigsaw puzzle for you! Just follow this link. Change the number of pieces if you want, click ‘OK,’ close out the ads at the bottom, and start sliding the pieces into place to assemble the picture. I hope you enjoy the game! (Sorry, this probably won’t work on your tiny phone screens.)

When the picture is complete, you’ll probably notice that this new cover resembles the cover of Miss Georgiana Darcy of Pemberley quite a bit. That’s intentional, since this book is comparable to that one in many ways. Both take silent minor characters (neither Georgiana nor Anne de Bourgh has a single line of dialogue in Pride and Prejudice) and give them full stories, stories that agree with The Darcys of Pemberley and expand on it laterally. Besides, I’ve always thought Goergiana’s cover was particularly nice.

Now off you go! Have fun, and come back here when you’re done to tell me what you think.



Posted in fun & games, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , | 35 Comments

Posting Preview Chapters – Good Idea or Bad?

See the source imageA few months back, I posed a question on Facebook about posting preview chapters of upcoming novels online. Did people like the practice or not? Did reading the opening chapters ahead of time make them more or less likely to purchase the book when it was finally published? That sort of thing.

Unfortunately, the results of my informal survey weren’t very conclusive. Some said the preview chapters got them hooked, and they would definitely want to get the rest as soon as it was available. Great! Others said that if they really got into the story, they became annoyed that they had to wait for the rest, frustrated that they couldn’t find out what happened right away. Not great.

LRP_banner_03So this is what I decided – a compromise that I hope will make everybody happy. I am going to post chapters of my upcoming novel, The Ladies of Rosings Park, weekly at Austen Variations beginning this Monday, January 22 (follow this link). Read them if you wish or ignore them completely until the whole book becomes available. Your choice. Either way, it won’t be a long wait, because the  novel should be out in early March.

In the meantime, I thought I’d give you a preview chapter of a different book here, one you may not have read yet. If this idea is a big hit, maybe I’ll continue on. But the point is, you don’t have to wait to read more since the book is already available!

chance-at-an-austen-kind-of-life_kindleSo here’s a specially selected chapter from Leap of Hope. Set up: Hope, a modern-day coed from the American south, has been granted her wish for an Austen kind of life (for now, never mind how this happened), and she has just been transported back in time to begin her second chance. She will be slipping into the shoes of a girl named Kathleen (Kate) Barrett, whose personality and situation are as much like another Lizzy Bennet as can be. Do you think Hope is prepared for all the differences and challenges of English Regency life? Would you be? She is depending on her Jane Austen knowledge to get her by until she can settle into her new life. She has to make this work because there’s no going back!


“Kate! Kate, can you hear me?”

I could hear the voice, but I couldn’t answer right away. Even though I remembered where I was supposed to be, I still didn’t quite believe it.

I must have viewed the scene a hundred times at the Center, forwards, backwards, and crossways: Lucy and Kathleen out for a sedate horseback ride on that fateful day. Then, Kathleen had suddenly taken it into her head to race away at top speed. I could see how exhilarated she was – laughing, with the wind blowing in her face – and I could relate.

It seemed a lot like something I might have done in her place. I always headed straight for the more extreme rides at any amusement park or county fair, and I admit to driving a little too fast with the windows rolled all the way down. So I could just as easily have been the one who met with disaster. Well… actually, I did meet with disaster; it just didn’t happen to be on account of my taking risks.

Anyway, Kathleen ignored the warnings her sister called after her and rode even faster. That’s when, as I saw it, she made her fatal mistake. Nearly at the last moment, she turned Horatio’s head to the left, steering him onto a trail that would take them through the woods. The gelding made the corner but Kathleen didn’t. It was horrible to watch. For a moment, she seemed to hang there in midair, half in and half out of the saddle. But gravity won out, like it always does. Over she went, tumbling toes over teakettle to the ground, landing on her behind and knocking her head.

That’s when the exchange was supposed to take place, with me slipping in just as Kathleen slipped away. I could swear we passed practically right through each other and that, just for a moment, she saw me. Maybe I only imagined it, but it seemed like she understood. I like to think so, anyhow.

“Kate! Kate, please wake up!”

This time I opened my eyes. There was the sky directly overhead where it should be – a puffy patchwork quilt of clouds in different shapes and shades – and to one side, a shadowy face hovering. The face gradually came into focus and connected to a body.

“Lucy?” I said. “Is that really you?” At least that’s what I tried to say. What actually came out of my mouth sounded like total gibberish, and then I guess I went unconscious again.

The next thing I knew, I was waking up in a very old-fashioned looking room, like something somebody’s great-grandmother might have thought was stylish back in the day. There was brown paisley print wallpaper, a picture rail all around, and no overhead light fixture where you’d expect to find one. It all seemed both familiar and unfamiliar at the same time.

I was flat on my back again like before, but this time at least, it was in a comfortable bed instead of on the hard ground. And now I had six worried faces staring at me instead of only one. The closest person was a youngish man, who I remember thinking was criminally handsome. He kept waving something nasty-smelling in front of my nose, though.

“She is coming round,” he said as he finally put that foul vial away. “How do you feel, Miss Barrett? Can you speak?”

I could not, not as Hope O’Neil or Kate Barrett either one. I had to get a firmer grip on reality before daring to open my mouth.

It seemed to be true, though. Everything had happened just as Cora and Poindexter had told me it would. I was alive as promised and presumably in 1809. This was Kathleen’s house, Kathleen’s room, and Kathleen’s family gathered around the bed, looking at me and seeing their beloved Kathleen. I recognized them all from my research. And the young man must be a doctor, I decided… or surgeon or apothecary or whatever the period-correct term might be.

I shouldn’t have been surprised. This is what I’d planned, after all, what I had asked for. But somehow I don’t think I had understood – not deep down, anyway – that it would actually come to pass.

“Kate, say something,” pleaded Lucy from the other side of the bed. “How are you?”

“I’m okay,” I managed before my hand flew up to cover my lips. Cora had warned me, but it had still been a shock to hear Kate’s voice coming out of my mouth!

“I’m okay?” repeated Mrs. Barrett as if the words were a foreign language to her. “How very odd. What can she mean by it? Mr. Cavanaugh, why is my daughter talking nonsense? Has she gone completely off her head?”

Darn! A mistake already! Ditch the contractions and no ‘okay’ either – too contemporary.

“It should not amaze me if your daughter were to say and do many odd things, Mrs. Barrett,” Mr. Cavanaugh replied, beginning to pack away his instruments in a small black case. “At least in the beginning. It is to be expected in cases of head injury. Not to worry.”

I exhaled a small sigh of relief, silently blessing the good doctor for his explanation. I didn’t necessarily like his tone – which immediately struck me as condescending, possibly bordering on contempt – but he had neatly excused my first error and conveniently established my alibi for all the others that would surely follow. Still, the sooner I got my head in the Regency game, the better. Time to break out that British accent I’d been secretly cultivating too. Choosing my words more carefully and preparing myself for the strange sound of my new voice, I tried again.

“I am well,” I said. “I have a little pain in my head; that is all.” Much better. I could do this. It would just take a little focus and a little practice.

I gazed around the circle at the Barretts, my eyes hungry to take them in for real this time. They were all there – Mr. and Mrs., Lucy, Carmen, and Matilda – in 3-D flesh, not just virtual on a screen anymore. This was my new family!… for better or worse, for richer or for poorer, forever and ever. And it was sort of like a marriage in that there was no going back. The strangest thing was my growing sensation that I had known them all a long time, much longer than the period of my research at Crossroads. Bits of brand new memory began popping into my head too. Looking at Matilda, I had a vivid impression of more than once watching her carefully choose a long, flat blade of grass from the garden to use as a bookmark. Where had that image come from? And Papa Barrett winking at me across the dinner table after a remark that amounted to a private joke between us.

These must be some of the ‘carryover’ memories Cora had talked about, things I inexplicably now knew just because Kathleen had known them before me. Perhaps she had handed them off to me as I slid past her on the exchange, like the baton in the relay races I used to run on the high school track team.

It was a little creepy on one level, considering that I was, more or less, inhabiting the skin of another person, the skin of a dead person at that. Probably better not to think about it too much, I decided. It was just one of those mysteries of life we weren’t meant to understand, like how the universe is infinite or why some women can wear hats and others just look ridiculous.

The more of Kathleen’s memories I recovered, the better; that was the practical point. There would be less groping around in the dark that way, and a lot less stumbling into gopher holes.

Even the stern but distinguished-looking doctor in front of me began to seem familiar, although I couldn’t imagine why. I was sure I’d never run across him in my research. Not even once. That particular flavor of sweetmeat I would have remembered. He was still staring at me, now with one eyebrow lifted, like he was challenging me to say something.

Then he turned to speak to the others. “I believe Miss Kathleen is out of danger,” he said. “Rest is the best thing for her, so if you would be so kind…” He stood, towering over the bed, and began ushering Barrett after Barrett towards the door with a definite air of authority.

I did say something then. “I desire that Lucy should stay with me for a while,” I declared, proud of how I had phrased it. It sounded very Regency-ish to me. At the same time, I reached for my new sister’s hand, thinking it’s what Kathleen would have done.

Lucy smiled tenderly down at me. “May I, Mr. Cavanaugh?” she asked.

“By all means. Someone should probably sit with the patient for the first four-and-twenty hours or so, just to watch for any sign of trouble. I myself had best be getting on, but I will return first thing tomorrow. Sooner if I am needed. Will that be acceptable to you?”

He directed this last bit at me, that is to say Kathleen, with a serious look. I hardly knew how to respond, so I just nodded. Apparently satisfied, the doctor went away, leaving Lucy and me alone.

“Oh, Kate,” Lucy began, still holding my hand, “what a fright you have given us! When I saw you slip from Horatio’s back, I thought for sure I had lost you forever.”

“Did I strike my head?”

“Oh, yes! There happened to be this great stone exactly where you fell. There was so much blood, and then you lay still for the longest time. I hardly knew what to do. I thought perhaps I should ride for help, but I could not bear to leave you. So I screamed at the top of my lungs, hoping against hope that someone would hear and come to my aid.”

“And did someone?”

“He did! A stranger, although I daresay he will be a stranger no longer. It was Mr. Sotheby, the new owner of Coleswold. Just think, Kate! It was only this morning we were discussing how we could contrive a way to meet our neighbor, and now he has been introduced to our family in such an unexpected fashion!” She then hastened to add, “Of course I should have much preferred it had been by ordinary means. Surely Papa would have eventually relented and done what was required, or we might easily have been introduced at a ball.”

“But wasn’t it clever of me to expedite matters by throwing myself from my horse?” I suggested, trying out my best British accent. “Now you must tell me all about this Mr. Sotheby, for I was quite unconscious, you will recall.”

Although I believe Lucy Barrett was as solicitous for my health as any sister could possibly be, she was equally enthusiastic for the subject I had suggested. Once I had assured her I was not too tired to hear it, she launched into an animated recital of Mr. Sotheby’s merits in impressive detail. He was rumored to be rich. Most importantly, though, he was definitely single. Lucy had cleverly induced him to give up this information. He must also be handsome, I suspected, judging from the way she was blushing as she talked about him. His gallantry could not be doubted, considering how he had managed to be around just when help was needed.

“And he is so strong!” Lucy continued, breathlessly.

“A definite virtue in a man.”

“He lifted you so easily, as if… as if…”

I could not resist filling in the blank from my own frame of reference. “As if I weighed no more than a dried leaf?”

“Yes, it was exactly so! How well you have captured the idea! And then he carried you all the way home without becoming the least bit tired. It is unfortunate that you were deprived of seeing it for yourself.”

“Unfortunate, yes, but if I had been awake, there may have been no need.”

Lucy laughed. “I suppose you are right.”

“I can imagine, though. I have witnessed such things before,” I added, thinking of that rain-drenched scene in my favorite film version of Sense and Sensibility.

“Have you? When?”

“Oh, never mind about that now. Tell me more of Mr. Sotheby. And what of this Mr. Cavanaugh? His manner implied some level of acquaintance, but I really cannot at this moment remember.” Here, I closed my eyes and reached one hand to the back of my bandage-wreathed head to reestablish the reason for my lack of recollection.

“You poor darling!” Lucy cooed. “I suppose it will come back to you in time, but let me help you along a little. You met Mr. Cavanaugh at the most recent assembly, where you refused to dance with him, I might add.”

No wonder, then, that he seemed none too friendly. “But why would I refuse such a reasonable request? Did I say? I love to dance, after all, and there is nothing objectionable in his looks.”

“Nothing whatever! He is such a fine figure of a man. No, you told me it was something else that did not suit you. Something you overheard him say, although I cannot now recall what it was.”

But suddenly I did recall – another carryover memory. Mr. Cavanaugh had been speaking to some gentleman or other when Kathleen happened to be passing unnoticed behind them.

“In truth, I find these country assemblies more punishment than pleasure,” he had declared, clear as anything. “One feels obligated to dance with every mother’s daughter sitting down in want of a partner, no matter how undesirable. Really, I sometimes think these affairs are more irksome than even the ‘marriage market’ balls of the London season. It is the same everywhere; if one has a tolerable fortune, one is considered fair game for every husband-hunting miss in the country.”

How rude! How very Mr. Darcy-ish of him (the Darcy before Lizzy taught him the error of his ways, that is). No one could blame Kathleen for refusing to dance with the man after that!

And then I remembered something else I (Kathleen) had heard at the same assembly. “You were quite right to cut the man, deary,” an older lady standing nearby told me. “I wonder that the man has the nerve to show his face among us after what he did to poor Mrs. Conner, may she rest in peace. Imagine, refusing to come when she sent for him, all because she had no money to pay.”

Kathleen had seen Mr. Cavanaugh for what he was that night. Now it was my clear duty to go on disliking him in Kathleen’s place, out of loyalty to her and on principle. He probably only bothered to attend me because my father had enough money to pay him well.

With this new information in mind, I announced to Lucy, “He’s a conceited snob, stuck up higher than a light pole.”

“A what?” she asked.

“Oh… I mean… I mean that he gives himself airs,” I corrected. “He thinks too well of himself, above his company. And who is he, after all? Only a doctor.” My outburst had been another mistake, but at least I had remembered that doctors had no special status here.

“Now, Kate,” Lucy chided, “Mr. Cavanaugh is a gentleman from a very good family, we are told. I hope you do not intend holding the fact that he also has a profession against him. Really, I think it quite commendable that he should want to do something useful with his time. There are far too many idle young men about as it is. So I said before and you agreed with me. Do you really not remember, dearest?”

“It’s coming back to me, little by little. So you have a high opinion of this Mr. Cavanaugh as well as the handsome Mr. Sotheby.” This reminding me of another Austen reference, I asked, “Do you never see a fault in anybody, Jane? All the world are good and agreeable in your eyes, I suppose.”

“Jane?” Lucy repeated, her brows drawn together with confusion. “You know my name as well as your own, Kate. You had better rest, as Mr. Cavanaugh recommended. That will no doubt set your brain to rights. I will sit with you a while, but you must close your eyes now.”

I humbly obeyed, relieved to have an excuse to shut my big, fat mouth too. I had begun feeling at home in my new role, to enjoy being in character, so much so that I let down my guard. And look what happened!

When Lucy described our handsome new neighbor coming to rescue ladies in distress, I had pictured Willoughby sweeping Marianne up into his arms. And when Lucy spoke so favorably of Mr. Cavanaugh and Mr. Sotheby both, I had heard Jane Bennet’s voice.

Although I was tickled beyond anything to finally be a living, breathing part of the culture that had inspired the Regency stories I loved so much, ideas like this were bound to keep popping into my head. How was I supposed to stop them popping out of my mouth? That was the question. It seemed like this was going to be harder than I’d expected since everywhere I turned I was sure to see something that would remind me of Austen – her books and the movies made from them. My mistakes might be blamed on my accident for a while, but not forever.

Keep your head in the game, Hope, I coached. Then I reminded myself of one more very important fact. There was no more Hope; I was Kathleen now.

I Hope you enjoyed your sample chapter from Leap of Hope! Leave a comment about it or how you feel about the practice of posting preview chapters, and have a great day!

His person and air were equal to what her fancy had ever drawn for the hero of a favourite story…  (Sense and Sensibility, chapter 9)

Posted in English Regency culture, Jane Austen, Jane Austen Quotes, my books, Shannon Winslow, Shannon Winslow's writing, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

William, Fitzwilliam, and Fitzwilliam

ISee the source images it possible to have too many Williams? I like the name – very much, in fact. Even so, there ought to be a limit as to number.

One thing I’ve learned as a novelist is that you shouldn’t confuse your readers with character names that are too similar. If you’ve already got a Terry in the story, don’t name somebody else Jerry. If you have a Ron, don’t add a Don or a Rod. It’s even worse if the names are foreign-sounding, unpronounceable, and all begin with the same letter of the alphabet. Have you read books like that? It’s a nightmare trying to keep the characters straight.

And yet, to a lesser extent, that’s what Jane Austen did in Pride and Prejudice. Her leading man she named Fitzwilliam Darcy, and then she added a Colonel Fitzwilliam to the mix, the odious William Collins, and a Sir William Lucas for good measure.

See the source imageThe two Fitzwilliams I understand; Darcy was christened with his mother’s maiden name, which, naturally, is also his cousin’s last name. Probably a common practice at the time (and something I actually carried forward to the next generation by naming D&E’s son “Bennet” in The Darcys of Pemberley). In truth, there really wasn’t any confusion in the original story. Fitzwilliam Darcy is “Mr. Darcy” to one and all, and Colonel Fitzwilliam is either “Fitzwilliam” or “Colonel.” Mr. Collins is always just “Mr. Collins,” and Sir William Lucas, a minor character, is referred to as “Sir” William. That was clear enough.

I ran into trouble right away, however, when I began writing my first sequel (The Darcys of Pemberley). Although Elizabeth might continue calling her husband “Mr. Darcy” in formal situations (just as Mrs. Bennet did with Mr. Bennet in P&P), she probably wouldn’t in the comfort of their own home and family. She would probably have called him Fitzwilliam. But then what happens when Colonel Fitzwilliam shows up? Since he was a major player in the story as well, I had to come up with a solution, or there would be a lot of awkward conversations. Elizabeth says, “Fitzwilliam, do you agree with Fitzwilliam’s position on the subject?” Then one of the gentlemen called Fitzwilliam answers, but we’re not sure which one it is!

I decided that, to avoid confusion, Elizabeth would call her husband “Darcy,” whether that was entirely correct or not. Crisis temporarily averted.

But when I started Miss Georgiana Darcy of Pemberley, the difficulty only got worse. It’s written in first person from Georgiana’s point of view, and she would be constantly referring to her brother in thought and dialogue. So what was she going to call him? I might get away with “Darcy” for Elizabeth, but not for Georgiana! Once again, she couldn’t refer to him as “Fitzwilliam” because the other Fitzwilliam would feature even more prominently in this book than in my first. And although I had sidestepped the issue in TDOP by having Georgiana use “Brother” on the few necessary occasions, I couldn’t go on like that through the length on an entire novel! No.

Consequently, Georgiana informs us early on that she typically calls her brother “William,” and all is well… for a time.

See the source imageLate in the story, however, Sir William Lucas enters the action and shows up at the same place and time as the other two men. Now I have a new variation of the original dilemma. Instead of two Fitzwilliams, I have two Williams! It took some fancy footwork to maneuver through that scene without confusion and without endless repeats of the names William, Sir William, and Fitzwilliam. Here’s an excerpt, in Georgiana’s words:

Then I noticed a large party of horsemen approaching from the north, trailed at some distance by a carriage. It was quite an unusual sight, and all eyes turned from their work to watch the spectacle. I was wondering at the meaning of it, even growing a little fearful, when I began to suspect something familiar in the figure leading the group rapidly onward. As they drew nearer, I was certain.

“It is my brother,” I said to Charlotte, who was at my side. “Sir William, it is my brother,” I called out to him and to the others.

Then I took another look. “And Colonel Fitzwilliam,” I added. Although I suppose I should not have been so surprised that William would come in search of me, I was entirely mystified as to why a party the size of a small army would accompany him. And what on earth was Fitzwilliam doing among them?

These questions were set aside for the moment, for William was upon us. He drew his horse to an abrupt halt, quickly slipped from the saddle, coming to my side and taking me into his fervent embrace. “Are you well, Georgiana?” he asked a moment later, holding me at arm’s length and studying my person for any ill effects. “There has been trouble here. Have you come to any harm?”

“I am well,” I quickly assured him, “as are the others. Only a few bumps and bruises. It was a minor accident caused by a broken axle, and Sir William has been taking very good care of us.”

“Thank God,” he exclaimed as he took a moment to shake Sir William’s hand. “Elizabeth was so certain it had been something much more serious.”

“Elizabeth!” I repeated, reminded of my former alarm. “How is she? If she has been worrying about me, I believe I have spent the same hours fearing something ill had befallen her. In fact, I had the most compelling premonition.”

William laughed, more from relief than amusement, I expect. “What is it with the female mind?” he asked. “Always imagining the worst and perceiving mountains of trouble where there are only molehills…”

As I said above, it was a tricky business getting through that scene without confusion or continual name repeats. In the end, I was saved by the fact that only one of the three men in question had a speaking part in the above exchange. I made sure of that!

Another variation of the same challenge confronted me with my latest novel, The Ladies of Rosings Park (due out early next year), which is written primarily from Lady Catherine’s and Anne de Bourgh’s points of view. In P&P, Lady Catherine calls her nephews “Darcy” and “Fitzwilliam,” but I couldn’t imagine their younger cousin doing the same. And Anne has no lines of dialogue in the book for Jane Austen to set me a precedent. I decided that Anne would follow Georgiana’s example. She calls Mr. Darcy “William,” and Colonel Fitzwilliam she calls “John” – his given name in my books. (Here is another possible source of confusion, since many other JAFF writers have settled on “Richard” instead! Jane Austen doesn’t tell us.)

I have no choice with a sequel; I need to do the best I can with the cast of character names I have inherited from the original. And you would think I’d have learned my lesson in the process. But I actually set myself a bigger challenge in The Persuasion of Miss Jane Austen, where I wrote two stories running parallel – what was happening in Jane’s own life set alongside what she described in Persuasion as a reflection of it. I had two of everything: two heroines (Anne and Jane), two captains (Wentworth and Devereaux), and two admirals (Croft and Crowe). The admirals were the hardest to keep straight because of the similarity of names. Argggh! And no one to blame this time but myself.

I swear I’ve finally learned, though. No more similar names and no additional Williams allowed!



Posted in Jane Austen, Uncategorized, writing | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 8 Comments

Q&A with Author Collins Hemingway, part 2

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As you may recall, last year I hosted author Collins Hemingway on blog tour for his trilogy The Marriage of Miss Jane Austen. That Q&A was for the release of volume 2. Well, he’s back today with volume 3 of this ambitious work, now completed! I’m always fascinated to hear about another author’s journey, especially one who shares my passion for Jane Austen and her writings. So I hope you’ll also enjoy the articulate Collins Hemingway as he sits down with me to share a bit more of his story:

SW:  Many contemporary authors have written sequels or variations of Jane Austen’s books, but far fewer have attempted to make Jane Austen herself the heroine of a novel, as you and I have both now done. What inspired you to do so?

Collins HemingwayCH:  Admiration for her intelligence and character, as reflected in her books and letters. I was wowed by what her brother Henry called “the extraordinary endowments of her mind.” I didn’t want to steal from her—at least not very much—but I did want to make use of her qualities in a meaningful way. In parallel, I had begun work on a general story of a woman set in the early 1800s, and I realized that the voice kept morphing into Austen’s. When I dived deeper into the details of her life, I realized I could combine her personal story with the major events of the Regency era in a way that stayed true to both.

SW:  What would you say makes your approach in this trilogy unique?

CH:  I’ve read four novels with Jane Austen as a character. (I’m sure there are more.) Two kept her as a single woman. One was a compilation of incidents intended to show where the critical scenes in her books originated. Another provided an interesting travelogue of early Australia by taking her there during the “lost years” of her twenties. Yours, Shannon, The Persuasion of Miss Jane Austen, is the only other one I’ve seen in which Jane marries or has a significant relationship.

You used some lovely sleight of hand to give Jane the happily-ever-after ending that she gave to her own characters. I was not so kind. I wanted to test my protagonist by putting her in the middle of the most difficult personal and social issues of the day. I wanted to show the experiences of most women in the early 1800s. I couldn’t think of a more powerful or resilient woman to build the story around.

Many readers think of Austen’s works as romantic romps—and they are fun. But she also wove into the narrative the most serious issues of the day—premarital sex, illegitimate children, and slavery, to cite the main ones. The publishing limitations for “lady writers” in 1800 made it impossible for Austen to write directly about such topics. It wasn’t until I saw how much she did within the shackles of the time (pun intended) that I really began to appreciate Austen as a person and an artist. I wanted to find a way to give her the chance to deal with those issues directly rather than obliquely—by making her the central character while also writing in a similar voice.

By the way, I immersed myself in Austen’s letters and novels, and the biographies and histories, but I did not read any other fiction about Austen until I was well into the second volume and knew where I was going. I was like an actor who did not want to see any other performances for fear they would influence mine.

SW:  That has always been my policy too, Collins. Now, since you were writing about such a strong character, I’m curious if Austen ever exerted her will and threatened to take over your story. Readers may be surprised at the idea of a character hijacking a book away from the author’s control, but it happened to me when I was writing “Return to Longbourn,” believe it or not.

CH:  I believe it! Both Jane and the main male protagonist at times balked at my stage directions. First, at a critical juncture, I could not get Jane’s husband Ashton Dennis  (you’ll recall she once signed a letter “Mrs. Ashton Dennis”) to move ahead as planned. So I went back and reviewed everything, looking for the path that had led to the dead end. I realized that Ashton’s emotional set would be totally different from what I had planned. When I recast the story according to his feelings instead of mine, the words began to flow.

A similar thing happened with Jane. Halfway through the third volume, Jane was not going to follow my script. Somehow, my unconscious knew there was a problem and would not let me move ahead until I understood what Jane wanted to do (something far more radical) and I revised the plot accordingly. What this means, of course, is that characters learn and grow along the way, and the author needs to pay attention.

SW:  You’re so right. I know we talked a little about this last time, but I think readers would find it interesting to hear how you have successfully reinvented yourself over the course of your career. Coming from a business background (marketing, computers, aviation, technical writing), you seem an unlikely candidate to end up writing historical fiction based on the life of an English author from 200 years ago.

CH:  True. In college, it took a while for me to determine what I wanted. The result was that I ended up with a major in English literature and a minor in science. I worked my way through school as a sportswriter and after graduation became a journeyman reporter and editor. Newspapers were then among the first ordinary businesses to use computers—for writing, editing, and production. I became the computer guru in the newsroom, and that led me to technical writing—a career in high tech and related nonfiction works.

But all during these years I wrote fiction. Most of my work was unpublished—deservedly so—but I continued working hard to learn the craft. I hope that this shows in The Marriage of Miss Jane Austen.

My goal was to write a powerful love story, a sweeping epic, and a deeply personal examination of a woman’s psyche as she’s immersed in the happiness and trials of life. I’ve stayed true to Austen’s life—surprisingly so, considering the novel’s premise. Everything that happens is consistent with what we know, or it parallels events that have poor provenance. History aside, my goal was to capture Austen’s heart and soul. It’s up to readers to decide whether I succeeded or not, but I hope at the very least they will appreciate the respect with which I have treated this extraordinary woman.

SW:  I couldn’t agree with you more about that, Collins – heart and respect! Thank you for sharing your thoughts and insights, and I wish you continued success with your trilogy. I know you are willing to answer any questions readers may leave for you in the comment section below. Where can they follow your blog tour?

CH: I am posting the blog tour on my book’s FB page.

Experience the Stunning Finale to the Jane Austen Saga

In the moving conclusion to The Marriage of Miss Jane Austen, Jane and her husband struggle with the serious illness of their son, confront a bitter relationship with the aristocratic family who were once their friends, and face the horrific prospect of war when the British Army falters on the continent. The momentous events of the Napoleonic wars and the agonizing trials of their personal lives take Jane and Ashton to a decision that will decide their fate—and her future—once and for all.

(Find all Collins’s books here)

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Progress and Cover Art

Image may contain: house and outdoor

Just wanted to give you a quick update on my progress with The Ladies of Rosings Park. I’m up to 85,000 words now, which is probably about 85% complete. The happy ending is in sight, and I wish I could hole up in a nice hotel somewhere – one with comfy beds and room service, of course – and just write, write, write! That’s not in the cards, though, so I’ll have to do the best I can at home with the many interruptions that come along.

I intentionally interrupted my writing a couple of weeks ago, however,  to work on some art to be used for the book’s cover. I wanted to give my cover designer plenty of lead time to do what he does best. So I stepped away from the computer keyboard and pulled out paint and paintbrushes instead. You see the results above – a little 5X8″ acrylic.

This is my rendition of Belton House in Lincolnshire, England – a National Trust property. You will, I hope, recognize it as the manor house used in the 1995 miniseries of Pride and Prejudice as Rosings Park, Lady Catherine de Bourgh’s stately residence. Can you picture Lizzy walking up to this imposing structure for the first time while Mr. Collins rattles away about the impressive number of windows?

Elizabeth saw much to be pleased with, though she could not be in such raptures as Mr. Collins expected the scene to inspire and was but slightly affected by his enumeration of the windows in front of the house, and his relation of what the glazing altogether had originally cost Sir Lewis de Bourgh.

To learn more about The Ladies of Rosings Park, read this previous post: Number Eight is Underway.

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Making a Scene at Georgiana’s Ball

Image result for anne de bourghWhen I mentioned on Facebook that I was writing the scene where Anne de Bourgh crashes Georgiana Darcy’s 18th birthday ball (for my work-in-progress, The Ladies of Rosings Park), I started to receive comments from enthusiastic friends about what they thought that scene should contain – creative suggestions I wished I could use for the book but couldn’t, since the book has to match the tone of Pride and Prejudice. Then I had this messaging conversation:

Friend: Wow! Anne crashing Georgie’s birthday ball sounds like it might be fun to read.

Me: Probably sounds more dramatic than it is. These people are all much too polite to cause and ugly scene, more’s the pity.

Friend: Bummer!

Me: Maybe I’ll write a mash-up version just for fun!

So that’s what I decided to do for this blog post. Here goes!

Anne de Bourgh made her way determinedly toward the door, outside of which a carriage waited to take her to London. “I am going to Georgiana’s ball, Mama. I am of age now, so there is nothing you can do to stop me.”

Lady Catherine followed close upon her heels, shaking her fist in the air. “You may be of age, but I still hold the purse strings. Just you remember that!”

Her daughter paused to deliver her parting salvo. “Perhaps I will find myself a rich husband at the ball, and then all your threats will be meaningless. In any case, I am going. Good-bye, Mama!”

The astonished but straight-faced butler opened the door, and Miss de Bourgh marched through it and on to the adventure ahead. She was quite shocked, really – probably no less so than her mother – that she had actually done it. She had stood up for herself and declared her emancipation from her domineering parent at last! Perhaps it was the recent upturn in her health that had given her the courage. Or perhaps she had finally reached her limit. It mattered only that she was liberated.

“Woohoo!” she shouted as the carriage left the grounds of Rosings Park. She raised her arms in jubilation, kicking up her heels and laughing hysterically. It was probably not decorous behavior. It was definitely not ladylike, and yet Anne cared no more than a jot. She had missed so much being cooped up in Kent; she did not mean to miss anything else, beginning with her cousin’s eighteenth birthday ball. She had another stop to make first, however.

Several hours later, the de Bourgh carriage, boasting its distinguished coat of arms, pulled to a stop in front of a brightly lit townhouse in Berkeley Square – one belonging to that old and honored family, the Darcys. The young lady who alighted, however, barely resembled the one who had come into London earlier that day by the same equipage. Her clothes – feathered headpiece down to her satin dancing slippers – were all new and up to date, and so was the styling of her hair. A bit of fresh color, expertly applied, highlighted her cheeks and lips.

No, it was not a miracle but the nearest thing to it that could be found this side of heaven – on Bond Street, to be more specific – something the fashionable establishment that performed the transformation called a Complete Makeover (which would soon become the rage among those with plenty of money and less than perfect appearance).

Now, finally, after years of being unfairly kept back from what was rightfully her due, Miss Anne de Bourgh, brimming with confidence, was ready to make her social debut. If only she had held an actual invitation to the ball, she should have felt no qualms whatsoever upon nearly reaching the door. But it was a small detail, one she trusted would be quickly overcome.

Image result for butler opens doorA forbidding-looking butler opened the door. “Good evening, Miss,” he said.

“Good evening,” she returned, inclining her head slightly. Anne intended to carry herself through the doorway in a regal manner so there would be no question of her belonging. Unfortunately, her new and unfamiliar slippers caused her to trip and nearly fall to the floor. She would have too, but for the butler’s quick action.

As he caught the young lady, he looked at her more closely. “Do you have an invitation, Miss?” he inquired haughtily.

What happened next is a matter of some dispute. Miss de Bourgh accused the butler of assaulting and otherwise hindering her person. The butler insisted that the lady was somehow to blame. In any case, noise of the scuffle between them soon brought Mr. Darcy to sort out the trouble.

“Is that you, Anne?” he asked, somewhat incredulous. “Heavens! What are you doing here?”

“Sir, kindly tell your man to unhand me!”

“Yes. Yes, of course. Henderson, please release the lady. She is my cousin Miss de Bourgh.” Darcy took his fair cousin’s coat and gave it to a waiting footman. “Now, come in, dear Anne. Come in. I was never so surprised to see anybody in my life, and looking so well too! You are most welcome, of course. Georgiana and Elizabeth will be delighted to see you. Indeed, we should certainly have sent you an invitation had we thought there was any possibility of your actually receiving it and also your mother’s permission to come.”

“Yes, well, I decided to come without – an invitation or Mama’s consent either one.”

“I applaud your courage and fortitude, my dear. Now do make yourself at home. You may find Georgiana through there,” he said, pointing the way. “On the other hand, you may not. She has been skittish as a colt tonight, and I have not seen her this half hour. I would almost swear that she has gone into hiding. But you will please excuse me now. I must return to my duties before things get completely out of hand.”

Anne watched the retreating back of her handsome cousin, the man originally intended to be her husband, and she felt… Honestly, she felt only relief that he had found a way to foil the plan. When she thought of marriage, which she did but rarely, she pictured quite a different sort of man – blonde perhaps, slightly built like herself, and spectacles. Yes a bookish gentleman would suit her perfectly.

Image result for bowl of punchRecalling herself from her musings, Anne smoothed her gown, struck an elegant pose, and looked about herself. What she saw was a party in full swing. The dancing had not begun, and yet the well-turned-out throng of people had already commenced carrying on. Their spirits were very high indeed, and it seemed that the largest bowl of punch she had ever seen was at the center of it all. What was in that punch, she wondered?

While Miss de Bourgh was noticing the room, the room – at least the male portion of it -had begun noticing her as well. When she strolled through in search of Miss Darcy, every gentleman’s head turned. One asked, “Who is that ethereal beauty? I’ve not seen her before.” “I heard Mr. Darcy call her his cousin, a Miss de Bourgh,” reported another. “Miss de Bourgh!” exclaimed a third. “Why, she is one of the richest ladies in the country. Miss Darcy’s fortune is nothing to hers.”

Within five minutes the report had circulated throughout the entire company, and nearly everybody present knew the newly arrived lady’s name, the exact size of her fortune, and the other singular fact: she was neither married nor engaged.

Anne was oblivious to all this. After stopping to enjoy a generous sample of the punch, which she found particularly refreshing, she continued her search for Georgiana. But the crowd began to press about her, and she could make no headway. Everywhere she turned, there was another smiling gentleman, contriving a way to introduce himself and beg the promise of a dance from her. She no more than succeeded in turning one away when two others took his place.

The situation became desperate. When Anne thought she might succumb to the crush, unable to breath, she spotted help. “Elizabeth!” she cried out with all the remaining air her lungs contained.

Mrs. Darcy heard, saw the lady in peril, and instantly perceived that the situation was indeed dire. She came to Anne’s rescue at once, a way gradually opening between them as the guests heeded her command to, “Step back. Step back, all of you. Give the lady some air. You men go away and stop bothering her or I shall have you thrown out of this house and onto the street, every one of you.”

“Come with me, my dear,” Mrs. Darcy told the lady in distress, leading her to a side room and closing the door behind them. “Now, do sit down and let me have a look at you.” Miss de Bourgh did as instructed. After a moment, Mrs. Darcy said, “There is something familiar… Oh, my goodness! Anne, can it be you?”

“It is, Elizabeth. Please do forgive me for making such a scene, especially uninvited as I am.”

“You are not the problem, Miss de Bourgh. It is the others.” Just then, the sound of a muffled sneeze told the two they were not alone. Elizabeth turned to find the source, which she did behind an ornately embroidered oriental screen. “Georgiana! What do you do there?”

See the source imageThe birthday girl replied, “Oh, Lizzy, I could not bear all those people looking at me any longer – the women wanting to find a flaw and the men hoping to win my fortune. Greetings, Cousin Anne,” she continued, going to shake her hand. “So nice of you to come. It has been ever so long, and my, how extremely well you look!”

“She does, indeed,” agreed Mrs. Darcy. “Now, we must think how best to proceed. Hiding here will not do for either one of you. Let me start by fetching each of you a bracing cup of punch.”

While Elizabeth was gone, Anne turned to her cousin. “Oh, Georgiana, I have done it at last! I have done what you encouraged me to do in your letters; I have taken a stand against Mama. As you know, she forbid me to ever see you or your brother again. But I told her I was going to your ball, whatever may come.”

“That was very brave of you, dear Anne! I hope you may not soon regret it.”

“Mama can threaten all she likes to disinherit me, but she has nobody else to leave her money to. Besides, I told her I will not need it because I intend to marry a very rich man.”

“And do you?”

“I suppose I would if the right one came along. What about you, dear Georgiana? But you are very young to concern yourself with finding a husband yet. You must dance and make merry – all the things I was deprived of at your age. You must not waste a single minute.”

“You make me very ashamed of myself, Anne. I urged you to take courage against your mother, and here you find me hiding from my own guests!”

Elizabeth returned with the promised punch. “Here we are, ladies. Drink this. I am sure it will do you good. I had some myself and found it highly therapeutic.”

Anne and Georgiana did as they were told; they each drank down a large draught of punch.”

“Feeling better?” asked Elizabeth. Both the others agreed that they were. “Excellent. Now let us all go out and enjoy your ball, Georgiana. Your brother has been waiting for you to begin the dancing.”

Image result for pride and prejudice ballThus fortified, the three women did just that. Miss Darcy soon discovered she was not as nervous as before, and Miss de Bourgh found the amorous gentlemen much more easily managed since Elizabeth had scolded them. They both danced and danced.

A good time was had by all, in fact, and the ball was an infamous success. All the papers said so.

Much was made of the two young heiresses and their entourage of followers. Speculation continued long about who Miss Darcy would marry in the end, since she showed no particular preference for one gentleman over another. But everybody in the know had already awarded Miss de Bourgh’s hand to Sir Nigel Harrington – a slight, bespectacled young nobleman who had never shown much aptitude for attracting the ladies before, despite all his thousands in the bank. The logic went like this: “Did Miss de Bourgh really dance a full ten dances with Sir Nigel? Then there can be no doubt in the matter; they must be secretly engaged.”

This kind of society gossip and speculation was rather standard fare however – entertaining for a time or until the next big thing came along. What made Miss Darcy’s ball truly unforgettable was something else entirely.

Image result for Pride and Prejudice Lady CatherDuring the supper break, another scuffle was heard in the hall, followed by indignant words. “Unhand me, Henderson! You forget yourself. I am here to collect my daughter, and I will not be prevented!”

The indignant lady was soon identified as Lady Catherine de Bourgh. Her daughter heard the noise and came at once to see what could be done about it.

“Ah, there you are, Anne,” continued Lady Catherine upon seeing her approaching. “You are coming with me this instant.”

“Mama!” cried Miss de Bourgh in alarm. Then, after a moment’s consideration, she knew what to do. “Mama, you look tired.”

“Of course I am tired! You have given me much trouble today, you ungrateful child.”

“Yes, tired and overwrought. Come and have some punch to refresh yourself after your long journey.”

“Well… perhaps I will,” she said starting forward. “Then we must be off…”

Some say Lady Catherine stumbled all on her own. Some say she was tripped – by her daughter or by other means. What is known for certain is that the great lady somehow careened headlong, coming to rest with her face buried deep in the bowl of punch. Before she could be helped out again, she had apparently consumed a fair amount of the contents.  She staggered and blustered her discontent, making an ugly scene before a host of witnesses. Mr. Darcy, therefore, had little choice. He gave the command that his aunt should be taken upstairs to one of the guest apartments and put to bed straightaway so that the party could continue, which it did until early morning’s light.

Ah, yes, it was truly a night to remember!

I hope you enjoyed this lively version of events at Georgiana’s ball. In The Ladies of Rosings Park, the scene will take place at Pemberley and play out a little differently, although still with some fireworks. Please stay tuned!

“I am sure he fell in love with you at the ball; I am sure the mischief was done that evening. You did look remarkable well. Everybody said so…” (Mansfield Park, chapter 33)









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Summer Travels and Sagging Middles

Don’t you love the title? Once it came to me, I had to go with it.

However little Mr. Darcy might have liked such an address, he contented himself with coolly replying that he perceived no other alteration than [Elizabeth] being rather tanned, no miraculous consequence of travelling in the summer. (Pride and Prejudice, chapter 45)

With a lead in like that, I should either show you my gorgeous summer tan or maybe my sagging middle. But my tan is not that impressive and my sagging middle is… Well, we’ll get to that later. Let’s focus on Jane Austen first, specifically her travels – summer or otherwise.

Jane Austen actually got around a little more than you might think. She lived in Steventon, Hampshire, in Bath, in Southhampton, and finally at Chawton. She went to boarding school in Oxford and Southhampton as a child. She visited friends and family in places like Kent, Ibthorpe, Bath, Winchester, Clifton, and Adlestrop. She made it to London several times for business and pleasure. And she vacationed with her family in seaside resort towns such as Sidmouth, Colyton, and Lyme Regis.

Not bad, and a bonus for us is that she wrote a lot of letters when she was away (or when her sister was), and many of those letters survived and are available for us to read! But my guess is she would have liked to travel more if she’d had the means.


Lake Coeur d’Alene, Idaho

The same is true for my husband and me, although the limiting factor for us has been time as much as money. Like everybody else, we were busy with careers, kids, and keeping up at home. Even after our sons were grown and I quit my “day job,” my husband was still working, time and overtime, for a few more years. Now, that’s changed. This was the first summer we were more free to go and do. So, go we did!


The scariest ride at Silverwood

Nothing grand this year. Like Jane Austen, no world tours (although technically we did go “abroad” – to Canada). Just stuff in neighboring states and across the border to British Columbia. When our son asked us to go with his family to Silverwood (an amusement park in Idaho), we said “Sure!” When I was invited to a Jane Austen festival at Port Alberni on Vancouver Island, I said “Count me in!” When my husband told me he wanted to visit relatives in Kalispell, Montana, I said, “Why not?” When I suggested zipping down to Salem, Oregon to see the total eclipse, we just took off and went!

Image may contain: 11 people, people smiling, people sitting, table and outdoorIt was lovely, and we had some wonderful times along the way. Part of the fun has been sharing our experiences with others. Whereas Jane Austen sent letters, I’ve been sharing things on social media. (I hope you have enjoyed the pictures on FB!)


Silver Falls, Salem

The only downside to all this coming and going is that I haven’t been able to get as much writing done as I would have otherwise, and that’s where the “sagging middle” comes in. No, it’s not a comment on my middle-aged figure. It’s a writing term.

Some novels get off to a roaring start, end with a bang, but have a long, comparatively dull stretch in the middle, where nothing very exciting happens. This can be deadly, putting you at risk for losing the readers’ interest. I’ve never struggled with that particular problem before. (If I’ve been criticized for pace, it’s been for slow starts instead!) Since I’m not really a plotter, I haven’t necessarily planned it, but something dramatic always seems to come along in the story about then – a death, a surprising revelation, a major plot twist, etc.  So no sagging middles in the past, but I was a little worried this time.

As some of you know, I’ve been working on a book called The Ladies of Rosings Park, which basically tells Lady Catherine’s and Anne de Bourgh’s stories in three parts. The first section, which I zipped right through and thoroughly enjoyed writing, is what takes place from their perspectives during the timeline of Pride and Prejudice. The last part, which I don’t expect to be too difficult either, will overlay the action of my P&P sequel The Darcys of Pemberley, again, from the Rosings Park ladies’ points of view. The middle, the place I got stuck this summer, is what happens in between – the several months after the end of Jane Austen’s novel and before the beginning of my sequel.

Image result for Rosings ParkI knew basically what had to take place. Still, I was struggling with lack of time and inspiration for how to write it. Since we were gone so much, it was difficult to keep any momentum going in the story line. And I began to worry I might have a sagging middle on my hands!

I wish I could give my fellow writers a brilliant solution from my experience – how I overcame the difficulty. I think it was mostly plain old perseverance, though. In any case, I’m happy to report that I successfully got through and am on to section three.

Image result for anne de bourghImage result for lady catherine pride and prejudiceBut what of that sagging middle I was worried about? Is it going to be a tough slog for readers when they get there? No, I don’t think so. I was forgetting that this whole section will be entirely unexplored territory for most, with lots of new action and revelations. What happens to Anne de Bourgh when Darcy marries Elizabeth instead? Is she devastated or relieved? As an heiress, even a sickly one, she must have other suitors. Who are they, and do any of them steal her heart? Does Lady Catherine accept the defeat of her original plan gracefully or keep conniving? What about Anne’s health? Does it ever improve? If so, how? And (what I think is a particularly intriguing question) what really happened to her father, Sir Lewis de Bourgh? He’s absent and presumably dead, but is that all there is to the story?

So now I’m past the tricky middle and on the homeward stretch. Hopefully the ladies of Rosings Park (Lady Catherine, Anne, Charlotte Collins, and Mrs. Jenkinson) will be ready to tell their combined stories sometime early next spring!

(For a couple of sneak previews now, read excerpts on previous posts here and here. Then watch for weekly chapters of the book to be posted at Austen Variation beginning in January!)

Did you experience some special summer travels this year? Share a snippet in comments below! Writers – have you ever struggled with a sagging middle, and how did you find your way out of it? Do you have a favorite passage about travel in one of Jane Austen’s letters or novels?




Posted in Jane Austen, Jane Austen Quotes, life, travel, Uncategorized, writing | Tagged , , , , , , , | 4 Comments