Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Holidays at Pemberley: Somewhere in Hertfordshire, 1790

Here's a peak at the beginning of my next novel, Holidays at Pemberley, or Third Encounters: A Tale of Less Pride & Prejudice Concludes. This snippet is essentially a prologue. Please do let me know what you think, keeping in mind I'm still editing, and look for the book in November of this year!

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Somewhere in Hertfordshire, July 1790

Of all the many modern contrivances of man, though most have their faults, few pose more danger to life and limb than the improvements in conveyance. The faster a curricle bowls along, the greater its risks, but such is the demand for speed and convenience that we think little of such perils until they wreck havoc on our own lives, as they are so often wont to do.

Though only 12 years of age, Thomas Westover had already been master of  Glendale for half his short life, and so when his mother’s chaise upended itself –
instantly killing not only Mrs. Westover, but also her lady's maid, the faithful coachman, the postilion, and two footmen – he was quite ready to address the necessities of the moment, rather than lose himself in the childish hysterics which his younger brother, David, was currently engaged. His own highly capable coachman (also orphaned in the accident) had adeptly saved the family coach from meeting the same end as the more stylish vehicle it followed, and having assured himself of both his brother and sister’s wellbeing (the latter of whom, having just completed her first season, was perfectly capable of administering to the former’s needs), Mr. Westover took command of the situation: ordering mercy for the squealing horses, confirming the status of the departed for himself, and commandeering two of the coach horses to transport himself and a footman to the small town of  Meryton, which, according Paterson’s Roads, should not be more than two miles distant. Only an hour had passed since the departure of his mother from this Earth when Thomas road into the town, where he found himself quickly taken into good hands. Carts were sent to retrieve the bodies, and the Mayor and his wife took it upon themselves to collect Mr. Westover’s siblings and servants, transporting all to their own home to provide whatever solace might be had in wholesome food and clean beds.

Miss Westover made some protest upon learning the Lucas children had sacrificed their own rooms for her family’s comfort, but Mrs. Lucas was insistent, and Cordelia, feeling the enormity of her new responsibilities as keenly as her brother, had little strength to resist. Her mother was gone. It was she who now must parent two boys. All the concerns of yesterday – balls, fashion, and suitors – were now chimeric in their triviality. Her own shock and grief, too, was inconsequential. Nothing mattered more than the traumatized boy clinging to her neck, inconsolable, and the stoic young man before her, burying his own pain beneath the responsibilities of position. The care of the kind tradesman’s family was a blessing, and she accepted it as graciously as her present state of mind allowed.

The Westovers continued in Meryton for three nights, and though they were suffered to remove to more suitable lodgings at the local inn, they remained in the custody of the Lucases, to whom all the town seemed to think they belonged. Tom and Cordelia shared their concerns regarding indebtedness to such a family and how it might be repaid, concluding that a dinner hosted by themselves at their lodging, along with a shipment of produce from Glendale upon their return, would serve as sufficient testament to their gratitude. It would not do to maintain the acquaintance, but the family must also not be slighted.  Cordelia was particularly determined to honor the eldest child of the house, a little girl a few years younger than David, who had assiduously pursued his acquaintance until finally rewarded by a game of spillikins, breaking through the sensitive boy’s determined depression. Though she had no notion that such diversion would keep his mind from sorrow for long, she was relieved enough to see his attention to a simple childhood occupation that she purchased a much admired doll from a local shop and presented it to Charlotte. The girl shyly accepted her present, abundantly pleased with the tribute, and it was her memory that the elder Westovers chose to dwell on when recounting their companions during those first dreadful days of mourning. Far better to recall a child’s pleasure than the hurried business and deplorable duties that seemed to fill their lives in the weeks and months to come, but her image, like that of her family’s, dissipated with time, eventually leaving little behind but a tenderness for the middle class uncommon amongst the gentry.  

Continue reading: Part One (A)

Friday, May 24, 2013

Jane Austen Giveaway Hop 2013

Welcome to the Jane Austen Giveaway Hop, hosted by vvb32 Reads at part of Tea at Pemberley. As Second Glances is already up for international grabs as part of the tea party (enter here!), I thought I'd step away from self-promotion for a moment and share one of the greatest novels of all time: Northanger Abbey.

I found this edition (with annotations!) in the bargain bin at Target not long ago, and it only took a second for me to decide to buy every one they had. I thought: "What better book to have on hand to giveaway than the very first Jane Austen novel I ever read?" These copies were destined for the hands of those discriminating enough to appreciate such a gem of a book, which is why it makes so much sense to offer one here to you.

This giveaway is international. Just leave a comment INCLUDING YOUR EMAIL ADDRESS by the 27th telling me about your feelings towards Northanger Abbey. Maybe it's your favorite Austen, or your least favorite Austen, or maybe you've never had the pleasure of reading it before. For a second chance to win, share this giveaway on the social networking site of your choice and BE SURE TO TELL ME ABOUT IT in your comment below.

Don't forget to check out all the other giveaways in the list, and good luck! 

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Tea at Pemberley with Kitty

I'm so excited to be participating in the fabulous Tea at Pemberley at vvb32 Reads! Tonight is all about Kitty, and I hope you enjoy her reading of a scene immediately proceeding the climax of Second Glances: A Tale of Less Pride & Prejudice Continues. I usually strive to allow no spoilers in the scenes I share with the blogosphere, but I made a big exception in this case. Now there is nothing left to be done but fret over the decision. I'm sure Kitty feels pensive about it too. A hearty round of supportive comments would be soothing to us both.


There is also an opportunity to win my fair book, for which I am still eagerly awaiting more reviews. It's interesting to see that First Impressions has received more new reviews since Second Glances' release. Dare I hope there is a tidal wave coming? So far, those I have received are generous. May the trend continue!

Be sure to check out all the Tea at Pemberley events, which are being kept secret until they happen. Today there is a really yummy looking rout cake recipe posted, which I'd just love to try. All I need are some currents and rosewater ...

Monday, May 20, 2013

Invoking Jane Austen: Writing the Intro to Holidays at Pemberley

Those who have been following my writing career closely might remember that one of the very first things I ever posted on this blog was An Apology: a strange little bit of self justification that played no small part in my ability to jump from studying Austen academically to writing Austenesque. It ended up serving as the introduction to my first novel, First Impressions: A Tale of Less Pride and Prejudice, and as I am now about 20% of the way done the 2nd draft of the third and final book in what became a trilogy, I thought it was a good time to look back and compare the beginnings of the the novels, as I think they demonstrate something interesting about my evolving relationship to Austen. I began First Impressions like a true devotee, fearful to tread upon sacred ground:
It is well acknowledged that every author determined to continue, elaborate on, or simply meddle with Jane Austen's novels must be highly tempted to include a pithy universal truth, in the manner of the lady herself, which establishes the theme of the story. It's almost like a religious ritual, an epic invocation: we call for the great authoress to inspire (and forgive) the games we play with her texts. After all, this is hallowed ground on which we tread. So may I ask you, Miss Austen, to please excuse what I am about to do to your tale of Elizabeth and Darcy. I offer this story in homage to your sense of playfulness, not in some mistaken belief that my pen could ever duplicate yours. You gave each character his or her original essence and to them I will endeavor to be true. I promise to try and not to offend your delicate sensibilities with the vulgarity of our modern age though I must assume, in spite of my best intentions, that something here will offend. How can it not? The real question is, Jane, do I have your permission to proceed anyway? If only the dead could speak! Perhaps then I would not commit the following atrocity.
By the time I wrote Second Glances: A Tale of Less Pride and Prejudice Concludes, while I was still a bit trepidatious, time had dulled much of my awe. I chose to frame the story as a letter addressed to Jane Austen, a far more familiar approach than I had dared take with First Impressions. The result reflects my sense of having a place amongst a community of Austenesque writers:

My dear Miss Austen,

How easy it is to trespass upon the dead! You have no ability to defend yourself, and here I am posed to turn this convenient state of affairs to good measure. I will not repeat my previous justifications, offered with sincere humility and good intentions at the time, for now such words would stink of hypocrisy. Dare I apologize for that which I do with great intention and for little reason more than my own personal amusement? No. I cannot find the gall.

Were you with us still, Darcy, Elizabeth, and all who attend them could rest safely in your own, motherly hands, instead of being tossed about so unceremoniously by those of us who pen such works as this. The situation is most unfair, but we must have more Bennets and Bingleys, more Collinses and de Bourghs, and all that we who truly love you can do to mitigate our transgressions is to try and honor your memory, even as we infringe upon it. You see, we are selfish and simply cannot help ourselves, and as “there is no hope for a cure”, to utilize your own words, you must forgive us.
I wrote the introduction to Holidays at Pemberley: A Tale of Less Pride and Prejudice Concludes during NaNoWriMo last year, when I completed a very rough first draft of the novel. As I rewrite, I'm coming to think it is the best of the books (it seems each thing I write I like better than the last, which is a great thing), but the beginning is almost surly, my tone has become so comparatively irreverent. I stuck to the letter notion, but this time I addressed it to someone other than my muse:
To my dear readers,

I offer no apologies or attempts to rationalize what I have done. I composed the following for no other reason than my own gratification: to settle the fate of a character or two, lest they feel neglected. If Jane’s spirit continues to influence this undertaking , nonetheless, may it appear in the joy of her characters.

Merry Christmas, Mr. & Mrs. Darcy. Merry Christmas, Charlotte Lucas. May the following meet with your approval.

Alexa Adams 
Quite a change, don't you think? I can't concede that this is any reflection on my love of Jane Austen's novels, but I will admit that my relationship to those books has been greatly influenced by the feedback I have received from readers. Despite my profession to write only for myself, I am increasingly aware of a responsibility to write for them. In many ways, this has freed me from the burden of reverence.

If any of you should be so kind as to lament the end of the series, please be assured that I only stop here in order to pursue new takes on Pride & Prejudice. I plan to write the rough draft of my fifth novel during this year's NaNoWriMo. It will be another "What if?", this time set in the Victorian Era. If all goes well, I'll be pounding it out while hyping Holidays at Pemberley (I might rename it Pemberley Holidays - what do you think?), which I hope to release no later than November. The story focuses on Charlotte Lucas and spans the events of both First Impressions and Second Glances. Right now, it is my entire dream world.

Still haven't gotten your hands on Second Glances? Be sure to stop by vvb32 Reads this week for Tea at Pemberley. There will be a free copy up for international grabs.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Pride & Platypus by Vera Nazarian

I'm not usually a fan of supernatural takes on Austen's work, but the novels of Vera Nazarian are far too funny to miss. Having read and reviewed her previous two, Mansfield Park & Mummies and Northanger Abbey & Angels & Dragons, I kind of new what I was in for with Pride & Platypus, but the first two paragraphs still stuck me as uproariously hysterical:
It is a truth universally acknowledged, that when the moon is full over Regency England, the gentlemen are all subject to its curse.

It is a peculiar monthly Affliction inducing them to take on various unnatural shapes - neither quite demon, nor proper beast - and in those shapes to roam the land; to hunt, murder, dismember, gorge on blood, consume haggis and kidney pie, gamble away familial fortune, marry below their station (and below their stature, when the lady is an Amazon), vote Whig, perform sudden and voluntary manual labor, cultivate orchids, collect butterflies and Limoges snuff boxes, and perpetuate other such odious evil - unless properly contained.
Maintaining the absurdity of her previous works, Ms. Nazarian takes us on a journey through a very different Regency England, one filled with cages and in which status is determined by the nature of a gentleman's beast. Mr. Bennet spends his moonlit nights as a lazy lion, while Mr. Bingley is a noble (and frisky) tiger, Mr. Wickham a sneaky wolf, and Mr. Collins an odoriferous skunk (the nature of his ailment requires a particularly large cage, keeping its minders out of firing range, but Mr. Collins remains under the illusion that he is actually a beast of grandiose proportions). Each beast suits the character's personality, except Mr. Darcy. The proud man must undergo the humiliating prospect, for three nights each month, of dwindling into an awkward platypus.

The irony of one of the sexiest heroes in all of English literature taking on the form of a platypus is hysterical in and of itself, and I entered into the book anxiously expecting that this transformation would pretty much undermine his attractiveness. I was wrong. First of all, Mr. Darcy is the perfect platypus. The humiliating nature of his beast explains his extreme hauteur, his intense gaze at Elizabeth suits the creature, and his altered form is even still kind of sexy (have I shocked anyone?), if in a kind of pathetic, cutesy way:
The moon illuminated the chamber as the thing swam about the tub, paddling with its front webbed paws, in absolute dreamy silence, punctuated by occasional sneezes and gentle snorts. While elsewhere, hellish tigrine roars continued to rip the night, interspersed with occasional doggish yelps, barks, and howls from another direction, the strange aquatic creature finally climbed out of the tub. It moved, waddling like a peculiar mammalian lizard and retracting its webbed hands to reveal otter claws underneath in the front appendages and sharp heel spurs in its hi8nd legs, not to mention a long beaver tail in the back.
It helps to mention that the nature of Mr. Darcy's affliction explains the frequency with which he appears in a soaking wet shirt in this book. Ms. Nazarian is remarkably clever.

I must say something about the footnotes, having rather vociferously complained about them in my review of Northanger Abbey & Angels & Dragons. They are still ever present in this book, though they are less concerned with sexual innuendo than previously. Instead, Ms. Nazarian present dueling editors, one making outrageous claims while the other scoffs. I found this extremely amusing for the first fifty pages or so, but then it got to be a bit ridiculous. By then end, I found I couldn't be bothered distracting myself from the story with their perusal. I must also just mention my confusion regarding Ms. Nazarian use of italics, which are ratyher pervasive and usually nonsensical.

Like Northanger Abbey & Angels & Dragons, this book doesn't work quite as well as Mansfield Park & Mummies (which really is a triumph), but it is still a lot of fun. There are parts of the plot that are kind of weak (particularly in regards to Georgiana Darcy), but who am I to criticize a plot turn as unbelievable when the premise is Mr. Darcy turning into a platypus? Pretty much anything goes after that. These novels are great fun, and I will certainly read and review the remaining books in the series as they come out.

This review is my fifth for the Pride & Prejudice Bicentenary Challenge, hosted by Austenprose. Here is a list with links to my previous posts:

Mr. Darcy's Little Sister vs. And This Our Life by C. Allyn Pierson

An Unlikely Missionary by Skylar Hamilton Burris

The Disappearance of Georgiana Darcy by Regina Jeffers

The Three Colonels by Jack Caldwell

Monday, May 13, 2013

Mr. Darcy's Little Sister vs. And This Our Life by C. Allyn Pierson

 I'm not sure that what I am about to do is in any way fair.

In fact, I'm so uncertain about this review that I spent two months trying to figure out a different way to go about it.

May Ms. Pierson please forgive the following ...

I first read And This Our Life: The Chronicles of the Darcy Family by C. Allyn Pierson early in my Austenesque explorations, and it was a book I returned to repeatedly. It was listed at the first in a series, and for years I dutifully checked Amazon to see if the continuation would soon be released, until a rather disgruntled day in September of 2010 when I saw that Ms. Pierson had indeed released another book, just not the one I wanted. It took only the moment to see the publisher was Sourccebooks for me to understand what had happened. Like so many of my other favorite Austenesque novels, And This Our Life had been republished under a new title, Mr. Darcy's Little Sister (the name "Darcy" is almost mandatory in thes endeavors), with a fancy new cover, and having undergone internal tweaking. I understand this process to a decent degree, having negotiated with Sourcebooks several years ago regarding First Impressions. They offered to publish my book, but the deal fell apart in marketing, my story not having enough of a hook for their formula to work. I imagine Ms. Pierson had similar conversations, and I'm sure it was rather intuitive for her to shift the book's focus to Georgiana, as she always had a large role in the story. Unfortunately, some of the best parts of the original novel were sacrificed in this transition, and while the second version of the book is still a fine novel, I could not read it without mourning what was lost.

I actually didn't have the courage to take up Mr. Darcy's Little Sister until this year, when I decided to read it for the Pride & Prejudice Bicentenary Challenge. It had been languishing in my Amazon shopping cart for nearly three years. I knew it had somewhat expanded on the original story, and as I was aching to learn what happened next it was bound to be read someday. The novel as it currently stands develops Georgiana Darcy's transition into adulthood. The beginning is lengthened to further delve into her burgeoning emotions, but, as in And This Our Life, most of her story is devoted to the pursuit of Colonel Fitzwilliam. There are some moments of incredibly heightened drama which will keep readers steadily turning pages, but I really think Mr. Darcy is Ms. Pierson's strongest character, and his adventures are sadly cut short. My absolute favorite part of And This Our Life was an episode when Mr. Darcy is sent my the Prince regent (along with a fabulously portrayed valet who was pretty much complete cut in the revision) to war torn France on what essentially amounts to an espionage mission. While he still makes the journey in Mr. Darcy's Little Sister, we only hear of it second hand. There was also some strong and wonderful references to The Scarlet Pimpernel (a personal favorite) in the first book, and while some of this remains, it is far more oblique. I was grateful to finally learn a bit more of what happened to the Darcys in the months following the end of And This Our Life, but despite of my pleasure in Ms. Pierson's recognition by the much revered traditional publishing market (for she is an excellent writer), I can't help but wish she had self-published her original intentions for the second book, rather than just tacking a few of them onto the end of this re-branded effort. It is one of the unfortunate realities of those revered traditional publishers that sometimes, in the quest for sales, a fabulous book is altered into something more easy to advertise, but less enjoyable to read.       

I do hope, should Ms. Pierson ever read this review, that she is offended by neither my preference for her first effort, nor the gall displayed in comparing the two. The good news, for readers and the author alike, is that And This Our Life is still available on Kindle. Ms. Pierson is sure to make far more money on these sales than those to which Sourcebook claims a cut, and so I have little compunction in suggesting that this is the book that should be purchased. It's really must-read JAFF, and who knows? If enough people continue buying it, maybe we'll still get that second book someday. 

This is my forth review for the Pride & Prejudice Bicentenary Challenge, hosted by Austenprose. Here is a list with links to my previous reviews:

An Unlikely Missionary by Skylar Hamilton Burris

The Disappearance of Georgiana Darcy by Regina Jeffers

The Three Colonels by Jack Caldwell

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Happy Mother's Day! Free Books and Giveaway Winner!

First and foremost, in honor of all the mothers out there I've made both my novels, First Impressions and Second Glances, available for free Kindle download today. If your idea of a good Mother's Day is curling up with a delightful book, let me suggest my excessively pleasant stories as the perfect choice.

I'm also gratified to announce the winner of my handmade, Jane Austen inspired Mother's Day cards is:

Sophia - Elizabeth!

Congratulations! I will soon be in touch via email to arrange shipment. 

Happy Mother's Day everyone! 

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Reading Jane Austen to Children

In the first few months of her life, my daughter was introduced to her parents' literary world. We read Pride and Prejudice, Alice in Wonderland, and the entire Harry Potter series aloud to her (also helping ourselves through long, sleepless nights). As she developed and became more active, her patience for such activities quickly dwindled. We had to find new ways of developing her taste in reading.

I was fortunate to be given a review copy of Pride & Prejudice: A Counting Primer by Jennifer Adams (you can read the guest post I wrote about it at AustenBlog). Here was a way for me to at least introduce the characters and themes of Pride & Prejudice. My daughter seems to enjoy it, though I admit it is not one of her favorite books (that distinction falls somewhere amongst Mike Mulligan, Curious George, and Fancy Nancy). Still, she enjoys pointing to the pictures and counting the images, especially the ball gowns that represent number 9. I have continued to search for more Austen-based children's books, and I'd like to take this opportunity to share the others I have found.

Jennifer Adams recently published Sense & Sensibility: An Opposites Primer. The whimsical artwork is again by Alison Oliver (these two have collaborated on an entire Baby-Lit series, my favorite of which is Alice in Wonderland: A Colors Primer), and the book is in many ways excellent. Along with the Pride & Prejudice primer, the duo would make a fabulous shower gift for the expectant Janeite. Opposites seems the perfect theme for a Sense & Sensibility board book, and I especially enjoy the big/little juxtaposition between Norland Park and Barton Cottage. Another clever moment comes with over/under, as well as some meat for JAFF readers, as it shows Edward riding a horse over a bridge, and then shows the horse wading under the bridge, along with the tentacles of a menacing looking sea monster. Always makes me laugh. However, the book seems to fall apart a bit at the end. The empty/full depiction of a hen house might have worked well for Emma, but it seems a stretch for Sense & Sensibility. I also could wish they did something with that most obvious contrast between Elinor and Marianne. So what if the cult of sensibility is above a toddler's head? We're not reading Austen to the child because we think its age appropriate.

I have also acquired Cozy Classics Jane Austen's Pride & Prejudice by Jack and Holman Wang. This book features photos of felt dolls representing chronologically presented scenes from the novel. The dolls are adorable (dare I say cozy?), and I like the fact that the basic plot line is represented. Each image is accompanied by a single word (very nice now that my daughter is trying to read a bit). My favorite is "muddy", which narrates a picture of Elizabeth running through a field, skirts six inches deep in mud. As it is also the cover for the book, I suspect the authors were also particularly fond of this image. I must wonder if they destroyed the doll to get it. I have not read the other books in the series, but they have a Moby Dick and a Les Miserables, the latter of which is screaming at me to buy it.   

I have only found one other Austen adaptation for kids, and I am vastly pleased to say my daughter and I agree that it is the best. The book is virtually unknown, but I would highly recommend it to both children and adults. The story is The Beautifull Cassandra, illustrated by Juliet McMaster. First of all, The Beautifull Cassandra is one of my favorite pieces of Austen's Juvenilia (you can read my discussion/review and the full text of it here), and the story is represented in its entirety, complete with Austen's dedication. Ms. McMaster provides an afterword which is perfect to introduce a youngster to who Jane Austen was and why she is important. The book presents Cassandra as a mouse in an appropriately dashing bonnet (my daughter LOVES the hat!). All the other characters are also animals: the pastry cook looks to be a hamster, the coachman a frog (looks great in the bonnet!), Maria is a squirrel, and the widow is a cat (strange friendship). Eliza and I talk about how Cassandra is said to be amiable but she is really a very naughty little mouse, which I believe is introducing her to the notion of sarcastic humor. What more could one wish for their child to imbibe from Austen. I cannot praise this book highly enough. Everyone who reads this post should buy it at once and pray Ms. McMaster creates more of its ilk.
Note: Unlike the other books mentioned, The Beautifull Cassandra is not a board book.

If anyone knows of other Austen adaptation for children, please let me know! Her books are too ever present in my life for me not to attempt every avenue available to indoctrinate my child. I hope this post is useful to those similarly determined to raise their kids according to Jane.