Monday, October 9, 2023

Compelling Lamppost

I had to cut a scene I really liked from A Mixed--Up Mashup in which I used a lamppost, a la Narnia, as a portal through time and space. It just really didn't work. This solitary, oddly ornate specimen always reminds me of it. Here is the scene. I'll think of it every time I walk by. 

Elinor and Marianne Dashwood had only just arrived in London that morning and established themselves as part of Mrs. Jennings household when that lady invited them to attend the shops, always the most urgent point of business on a visit to the capital, regardless of how many days one spent cooped up in a carriage getting there. As they stepped from the house towards the awaiting carriage, they were alarmed to be accosted by an unknown lady, who though of unexceptionable attire, was marked in every other manner – her gestures, her carriage, her speech – as an eccentric.

“Forgive me,” she began, somewhat breathlessly, “my dear Misses Dashwoods, for interrupting your outing. But wow! I’m very relieved to have found you. I was sent by your mother. You are to come with me at once.”

“Excuse me, ma’am,” said Mrs. Jennings, moving protectively in front of her charges and gesturing to her footmen for attendance, “but who are you to be speaking to these ladies so familiarly?” 

“I am sorry, Mrs. Jennings, but I have very little time to fully explain. If the two young ladies would just speak with me just a minute, my purpose will be served, or at least I think it will. We just need to step over here for a moment,” she moved her hands in a shooing gesture and mimicked walking, hoping the ladies would follow.


By now, everyone watching this performance was thoroughly convinced that the lady was mad (and I can tell you, quite confidentially, that she also doubted her sanity, so on that point the group was in harmony). As two footmen flanked the stranger, Mrs. Jennings turned to usher the Misses Dashwood into the carriage. In panicked tones, the lady called out, “It would be so much easier if you would just spare me a moment! Please, Miss Dashwood, your mother sends a most urgent message. I ask only a moment of you and your sister’s time!”


Miss Dashwood, hearing a real note of panic in the woman’s voice, could not help but pity her. She paused, her foot on the carriage stair, and asked, “What harm could it do to hear her out?”


“None whatsoever,” Miss Marianne said determinedly, striding up to the lady and taking her hand. “What is it you have to say?”


“If you would but walk with me, your sister, too, all will become clear.”


“Oh no! You shall not whisk them away on my watch!” protested Mrs. Jennings. “Say your piece here, and then be off with you.”


The lady looked with consternation at the looming footmen. “What I have to say is not for all ears. If you would let them step but a half a block away, just out of earshot, that is all I ask. You will still see them. We will go no further than the lamppost, I promise.”


“Absolutely not! If you come with an introduction from Mrs. Dashwood, why not present yourself properly, instead of assaulting gentlewomen in the street? Anything you have to say to them, you may say to me,” she concluded with unaccustomed ferocity.


“Very well,” the lady sighed, rolling her eyes. “I have no more time to argue about it. Please, just come this way,” and this time she actually walked, instead of just miming the act, and the other ladies conveniently followed.


“This is far enough,” declared Mrs. Jennings when they reached the aforementioned lamppost. “Now tell us who you are at once.”


“Gladly,” she replied, already far calmer than mere moment before. “My name is Alexa Adams, though you will probably insist on calling me Mrs. Adams, just like the others.”


“The others?” Miss Dashwood asked.


“Yes, it should all be clear in a moment,” she said, looking around her. “I thought a lamppost a handy spot to use as a portal,” she laughed. “I hope it works!”

“What is this nonsense?” Mrs. Jennings huffed impatiently, but even as she spoke the words, the scenery around them began to shift and change, and suddenly they were no longer standing on a tidy Mayfair street corner, but on a much greener one, almost crowded with trees, with a motley collections of cottages and estates surrounding it. The only thing that seemed to remain the same was the lamppost. Mrs. Jennings turned around once in wonder, uttered a most alarming noise, and fainted on the spot.


The two Misses Dashwood knelt to assist their hostess, looking in vain for the footmen so lately in attendance, but Mrs. Adams, to their consternation, actually looked satisfied with the situation. “Good!” she declared. “I was hoping to not bring her at all, but since she insisted on coming, I’m glad to be able to foist her off on another member of the party. I believe your mother should still be at Longbourn, which you see across the way. Marianne, will you fetch her?”


Miss Marianne, quite bewildered, looked about her in shock. “But, is that not Barton Cottage itself, just there?”


“It is, but your mother is visiting at Longbourn, so that is where you will find her.”


“But it is impossible!” declared Miss Dashwood, pressing a hand to her head as an unaccustomed headache took hold.


“Yes, surely impossible, but here we are, nevertheless. Just that way you can even see your dear Norland. Please, I will explain everything, but first we must attend Mrs. Jennings. Marianne, will you get your mother?”


The stunned young lady complied, the idea of sheltering in her mother’s arms being the most appealing thing anyone could have suggested to her at the moment.


“What is all this?” asked Miss Dashwood, accusingly.


Mrs. Adams laughed. “My imagination quite run awry. I’m sorry to have incorporated you into the story in this jarring fashion, but I promised your mother I would bring you, and I couldn’t simply move an entire London block. We’re already too crowded in as it is. At least I found some suitable clothing, thanks to my friends in the local JASNA chapter. My Regency costume isn’t at all appropriate for day wear. Oh, but I did want to leave Mrs. Jennings behind! I already have too many difficult personalities on hand. I mean, she’s way better than Lady Catherine, of course. I really do wish I had thought to exclude her, but I had no idea what I was doing, you see.”


“No! I do not see,” Miss Dashwood replied in dismayed tones. “Nothing that you say makes the slightest bit of sense.”


“No. I suppose it wouldn’t. Unfortunately, complete explanations will have to wait. I still need to go get Jane Bennet, and I’d better go before Mrs. Bennet arrives. I see her now, approaching with your mother.”


Miss Dashwood looked towards the house called Longbourn, and indeed, there was the welcome of sight of her very own mother, hurrying forward with Marianne, and Margaret, too, trailing behind. They were followed by a large accompaniment of other ladies, whom she presumed to be Mrs. Bennet and her daughters, as well as a few gentlemen, but when she turned to further question Mrs. Adams as to their identities, she had already disappeared.

Monday, October 2, 2023

Conversations with Bard 7: Conversations with Dall-e

I'm chugging along on a Mixed-up Mashup, though I do wish I could come up with a better title. Anyway, I figured it was time to think a bit about cover art, and it seemed only appropriate that this story have a cover that is AI generated. I had a lot of fun playing with Dall-e. Most of the results were atrocious, and hilarious, but I finally found something I felt worked. Thought I'd share the images. So funny.

English & Swiss villages smashed together

Jane Austen time travel

I might use this one somewhere, someday.

I actually really like this, just not for this story.

Feel like I've read this comic.

No zombies, thanks.

Jane Austen in Switzerland! Nailed it.

Mr. Darcy in Switzerland, psychedelic style

Barbie version of Austen through the time portal.


I really like this one, too. Might use it someday.

This is where I landed. I'd love some feedback!


Monday, September 25, 2023

Conversations with Bard 6: Chapters One and Two

I'm making progress! It's slow, but it's also almost steady. Best of all, I'm actually enjoying it, not just forcing myself to write. Whoa, that feels good.

I'm starting to expect that this next draft will be considerably shorter than the previous one. There's a whole lot of hacking going on.

I'm now posting the story at A Happy Assembly. Comments are super motivating, so please, if you're following this, do grab your share of the conversation and tell me what you think:

Chapter Three: The Ladies of Longbourn


There’s no use sitting around despairing, I admonish myself. Focus on what you can accomplish!


I shut the computer. Deep breathes. In, one, two, three. Out, one two three. Again, and again, until my thoughts stop rushing like rapids and settle into more manageable waters.


My clothes! The thought almost sends my mind back into race mode. What must Mr. Tilney have thought of me? How can these characters ever trust me if I cannot present myself in some 19th century respectable way? Their prejudices must run so deep and their innate assumptions be so engrained that even as an historian of the period I am unlikely to be able to fully understand and comprehend their perspectives. Living in a foreign land has taught me well that there are unseen and frankly incomprehensible obstacles confronting any outsider seeking to assimilate into a culture not their own. Adding to that the passage of a few hundred years just further complicates the matter. To my advantage, I do look European, no matter that my heritage is that only achievable in a melting pot. Besides, there is no need to mention my mixed ancestry. They would only write me off as a money lender or barbarian. Better to try and pass as something like one of their own. Hypocrite, my conscience chides, but I ignore it as best I can. After all, I reap the advantages of this appearance every day in my life in Switzerland, where I am happily tolerated as the desirable sort of Auslander, maybe not as good as a Swiss, but generally welcome and assimilable. Why quibble with privilege now?


I approach my wardrobe, an overflowing spectacle of shopaholism in a land where built-in closets are virtually unknown, and pause. Keep breathing, I tell myself. Are you sure getting dressed is actually a good idea?


Most people don’t think so much about their clothes. For me, clothes have always been my armor. When I am happy with my attire, I feel like I can take on the world. When I am insecure in it, I have a tendency to crumble. Since childhood, no matter how disrupted or dysfunctional my family was, we hid it behind fashion. It’s the family business, and in a world long before Instagram, my parents were always camera ready, and they made sure that I was, too. We always looked prosperous, even when we were broke, which fortunately wasn’t too, too often. Donning Regency garb wasn’t such a different deception. Don’t over think it! My philosophical contemplations will have to wait for another time.


Recent events have given me a lot of practice in compartmentalizing. 


I slide open the door and dig out my Austen festival gown, relieved I veered from the costume pattern I based it on and added additional fabric to the back. It created a better silhouette, fully draped, even though it took nearly twice as much fabric to achieve it. That was a good decision, I commend myself. Now make some more. Shoes are a bit of an issue, ironic for a person with so many, but I do have a pair of leather ankle boots that look something like they ought. Gloves are also a problem, as the ones I own are stained, but they’re better than letting all those Regency ladies and gents see my broken and chewed up nails. Undergarments are impossible, as I never did invest in proper stays and chemises, but I do the best I can to fake the silhouette with an old-timey nightgown and shelf bra, and I don’t think I look half bad when I survey the final effect. White gown, check. Spencer, check. Reticule, check. Bonnet, check. I may not pass Bernadette Banner’s scrutiny, but it will have to do. I can’t let myself fall down the rabbit hole of trying to fix it the irreparable. There is no time right now to fall apart.


Funny how crisis can stop a meltdown in its tracks. Or escalate it. Our brains are truly fascinating.


I have just put the finishing touches on my hair, which being naturally curly easily conforms into something like a Regency do, when I hear the door unlock, and the chatty voices of my two children fill the apartment. The sound is a welcome reassurance that they’re still on this plane of reality, but also a source of self-criticism, as I wonder how I could have possibly failed to remember they would be home for lunch. They have been my first concern for so many years. A surreal day feels even more so as I contemplate being pulled outside my domestic world, pulling a stray curl from beneath the bonnet for effect. I grab my passable boots and head for the door.


“Mommy!” Matt yells out. He only has two volumes: loud and louder. “You were supposed to pick me up from Kindergarten!”


I come out into the hall where both kids are taking off their shoes before entering the house, a habit learned here. “Oh, I am sorry honey. I got busy and totally forgot. How was the first day back?”


Before he can answer, my tween, though poking busily at their phone, interrupts. “Have you been outside, Mommy? There’s something seriously sus going on, all over town! This massive old house just appeared out of nowhere on the Spielplatz at school, and it’s not the only one! They are all over town! Sophia says there’s a whole mansion in the Dorfplatz. It looks like something right out of one of your Austen movies,” they finally look up, holding out their phone to show me a picture, and notice my appearance, “What are you wearing?”


“My Austen costume.” I say it like it’s a question, taking their phone and examining the image. “Sure looks like Pemberley.”


“Why,” they demand, eyes narrowing, “are you dressed like that? What is going on, Mom?”


“I don’t have time to explain it all right now. I need you to feed yourself and Matt today. Just heat up the leftover pizza from the weekend, and I bought a bunch of apples. Eat them. Then I need you take Matt back to Kindergarten, please.”


“You’re not taking me?” he looks at me with ready tears. “But you were supposed to pick me up! I waited and waited, and then Rose walked by and told me to come home. But I don’t want to walk with Rose! I want to walk with you, Mommy! It’s my first day back at Kindergarten, remember? And I’m scared to be alone in the street.”


“Of course I remember, my love,” I bend down to his level and give him what he calls a “smush hug.” We’ve had a lot of smush hugs in the months since his accident, like somehow we could squeeze the memory away. “I am so sorry I wasn’t there today, and on your very important day, too, but this is an emergency. I need you to be brave and let Rose help you. You’ve been so brave! I know you can do this, and I’ll pick you up. I promise.” Better set a reminder! I pull my phone from the reticule hanging round my wrist. My WhatsApp is exploding, but I ignore the many messages and set an alarm. “But if I’m not there, honey, please just walk home. Or wait for Rose again. You’ll check on him, won’t you dear?”


“No need. School is cancelled for the rest of the day. Maybe tomorrow, too. It’s hard to teach with a random house in the middle of the schoolyard.”


“You could have told me that upfront. Is Kindergarten cancelled, too?”


“I don’t think so.”


“Walk him over and please make sure. I’ll pay you to babysit,” I say to mollify them, awkwardly jamming my feet into the boots. This gown is a nuisance. “Just call me if you need anything.”


They look at me skeptically, arms crossed. “Sure, if it’s really an emergency, and you’re not just off to have tea with your Janeites.”


“Actually, my appointment is with Mr. Tilney. I had asked for Darcy, but Bard sent Tilney. But maybe they’ve found each other, and I can have tea with both.”


“You’ve really lost it this time, haven’t you?”


“If it’s an emergency,” pipes in Matt, who has been listening with both attention and incomprehension, “then where is the ambulance?”


“Not all emergencies require ambulances, my love.” I smush him again, for good measure. “I need to be going. Rose, I promise I will explain to the best of my ability after school. Please, just take good care of Matt. I’ll see you soon.”


“OK, Mommy, but I have a weird feeling that all these funny houses about town are somehow your fault.”


I look at them, wanting so badly to properly explain, but knowing that time is of the essence. “I’ll tell you everything when I get back.  If daddy gets here before me, tell him to order something for dinner. Thanks my dears.” I kiss them both on the head and enter the waiting elevator. “Be good,” are my parting words. The elevator shuts on their worried faces, and I leave them behind.




Mr. Darcy and Mr. Bingley hastened towards Longbourn, quite forgetting their intended purpose as they strode towards the home of the ladies who held their hearts. Mr. Darcy could feel the letter in his breast pocket, the slight friction it created a constant reminder of his disappointment and the agony suffered in its writing. But if Miss Elizabeth Bennet was at home, how would he ever be able to deliver it? It was impossible. He would have to find a way to meet her in private, which is precisely the circumstance she would be most determined to avoid. Perhaps she remained at Hunsford, wherever it might be. He knew not why he continued to hurry towards one of the few familiar landmarks in a most bizarre landscape, knowing he must expect a very cold reception. Even should she not be there, he gathered Miss Elizabeth's feelings for him were potentially indicative of her entire family's opinion of him, and if this proved the case, his wrongs against them multiplied. Were the Bennets motivated by the purely mercenary concerns to which he had always attributed them, they would not hold him in such disdain. He had enough experience of the world to know that the truly grasping would forgive him almost anything, at least as long as they thought he had anything to offer which might be of benefit themselves. Instead, Mrs. Bennet had gone to some length to offend him. Why had he not seen it before? He had dismissed her as simply uncouth.

And how would the Bennets greet Mr. Bingley? What would he say upon learning of Mr. Darcy's involvement in separating him from Miss Bennet? His pace slackened, and he began to fall behind his friend. There was every possibility that Miss Elizabeth would tell her sister what she had learned of his interference. Looking about him, he saw with guilty feelings all the houses they had passed by, the residents of each requiring interview. "One moment, Bingley!" he called out, coming to a complete stop.

"What is it Darcy? Do you not see it is Longbourn? I know you think she thought little of me, but I have been unable to forget her. I must see if Miss Bennet is home."

"For once I am as anxious to greet familiar faces as you are, but we really should not have hurried past so many other homes. It was negligent. We have a responsibility to fulfill."

"We can retrace our steps as soon as our call is complete, but I for one will begin nowhere other than Longbourn," he said with unaccustomed firmness.

"Very well," Mr. Darcy conceded, loath to come between Mr. Bingley and the Bennets again, and he lengthened his strides once more. It was only a few moments before they were at the door and being announced by a harried looking Mrs. Hill.

"Mr. Bingley! How excellent to see you again. And Mr. Darcy, too," Mrs. Bennet’s tone shifted from welcome to disdain as she concluded her greeting. Mr. Darcy noticed how her sudden coldness raised the eyebrows of three unknown ladies on the sofa, two of whom shared a significant glance. If Mrs. Bennet's lack of hospitality did not make him uneasy enough, their acute inspection solidified his discomfiture. Instinctively, his hauteur rose, even as he searched the room for the lady he most wished and feared to see.

"You find us in uproar, as I am sure you know," their hostess said upon completing the introductions. "Do tell me, Mr. Bingley, if you returned to the neighborhood on purpose, or just happened to find yourself amongst us again?"

"The latter, I am afraid, but I always intended to return to Netherfield. It was really very convenient that I just happened to wake up there this morning. Oddly enough, I now find myself neighbor to your cousin's benefactress. Are your older daughters at home?"

"Sadly not. As I have been saying to Mrs. Dashwood, who also has daughters, somewhere in town, no one can know the agony we suffer, not knowing where our dear ones might be!"

"And I have repeatedly assured you, Mrs. Bennet," said Mrs. Charles Musgrove, "that all mothers know such suffering. I have two boys of my own, gentlemen, and very fine lads you will find them. You must come to Uppercross and shoot with my husband. It is not a quarter mile from here." She smiled amiably, pleased with the appearance of these new acquaintances.

 "You forget, Mary, that the park is gone,” her sister, Miss Anne Elliot, reminder her.

"Oh dear! I quite forgot. We must hope that someone has retained their park, or else I know not what Charles will do with himself. He must have something to hunt."

"Perhaps he will begin with his own grounds."

Mr. Darcy looked eagerly towards Miss Elliot. "That must be the first object with us all. We passed several homes on our way here. In which direction lays Uppercross?"

"Due North," Miss Elliot replied.

"Then we must have passed it on our way here."

"It is a Tudor building and quite conspicuous sitting in prominence on the corner. It was much more at home in its cozy grove in Somersetshire."

"I recall it well. Your description is most apt."

"My husband and I live in the Cottage, which is now just a block beyond." Mrs. Musgrove supplied.

"The handsome property with French windows," Mrs. Dashwood added.


“You see, Darcy!” Mr. Bingley remarked. “It was most expeditious coming directly to Longbourn. We would have wasted a great deal of time knocking on doors, just to find most of the occupants already gathered here.”

"It is very convenient we have met you all," said Mr. Darcy seriously. "Several of us have banded together to search the area at the behest of a rather unusual woman, one Mrs. Adams, who seems to be somehow implicated in causing our predicament. I believe we may have met your father and sister there. A Sir Walter and Miss Elizabeth Elliot.”


“My father and Elizabeth are here as well?” Mrs. Musgrove confirmed delightedly. 


“Indeed. They along with any others we can locate will convene with Mrs. Adams at Donwell Abbey, which is the unmistakable property at the top of the street." He addressed Miss Elliot directly, whom he was glad to find a sensible lady of great contrast to the rest of her relations.  “It too looks most conspicuous and out of place, unless Mr. Knightley intentionally designed his stables in the Swiss style.”

"Are we in Switzerland?” Mrs. Dashwood asked. “The scenery resembles that in several watercolors depictions that my late uncle collected in his youth – you recall them, Margaret – but I have never seen buildings in the style I have observed today anywhere before. Further, the people speak German, but their attire! It is all unaccountable. I shall be very pleased to make Mrs. Adams’ acquaintance, should she be able to explain the unexplainable," she concluded.

"So will I,” affirmed Mr. Darcy. “From what those gathered at Donwell have been able to ascertain, we find ourselves in quite dire circumstances.”

"Well I for one am very pleased to find myself amongst so many new acquaintances," declared Mrs. Bennet defiantly. "Even you, Mr. Darcy, can no longer find the society of our neighborhood limited. Only think of the dinner parties we are sure to have!"

"Forgive me, Madame, but I cannot think of such things at a time like this. It is imperative that we learn what has happened to us, and I should think,” he realized he was now scolding the silly woman, but could not help but continue, “that you, for one, would be more concerned for the whereabouts of your daughters than social engagements!"

"I think Mr. Darcy is quite right," inserted Mrs. Musgrove, who had taken to keenly disliking Mrs. Bennet in their short acquaintance. "Social concerns certainly must wait until some very pressing questions have been answered. Then we may consider entertaining, and I have no doubt that Mr. and Mrs. Musgrove will be amongst the first to open their doors to our new neighbors." Secretly, she worried that such behavior would force her to associate with those beneath her notice, but she wisely kept such concerns to herself.

"Perhaps Mr. Bingley will have another ball at Netherfield," put forth Lydia Bennet. "The last one was marvelous! I'm sure I danced with every one of the officers."


“It would be my pleasure to entertain you once more, Miss Lydia,” said Mr. Bingley with his habitual and rather thoughtless gallantry. 

"There will likely be quite a competition to see who can be most hospitable," said Mr. Darcy dryly. "I think we had best send these good ladies on to Donwell, Bingley. Where is your home located, Mrs. Dashwood?”


“It is Barton Cottage, now near-neighbor to Uppercross Cottage. It better fits one’s notion of a cottage than Mrs. Musgrove’s fine home, though sadly of too equal proportions to truly merit the name. It is just across the road.”


Mrs. Dashwood pointed and Mr. Darcy looked as directed, but he was distracted by an unexpected sight. "Mrs. Bennet, are you aware that Hunsford Rectory is just next door?" 


He instantly found himself crowded out by the two youngest Bennet girls and their mother, as well as young Margert Dashwood, loath to miss the fun, all jockeying for position at the window.

"Mr. Collins? Dear me! How disagreeable! So that is Hunsford? I imagine Charlotte felt some disappointment upon seeing it, considering how Mr. Collins described it. Well, at least we will have Lizzy at home, though Jane would be much more to the point! You will excuse me, I'm sure, but I must collect her at once. There is no need for her to be keeping Charlotte company, when I could very well use her assistance here. Mary, you will entertain our guests until I return."

"Yes, Mama," she replied importantly. "Shall I open the pianoforte? Perhaps some of our new neighbors are musical."

"Yes, yes! Whatever you like. I must be off! Kitty, you are to accompany me."

"But I do not want to see Mr. Collins any more than you do, Mama! Why must I be the one to go?"


Mr. Darcy struggled to not show his contempt as mother and daughter bickered. “Excuse me, ma’am, but it is imperative that we all return to Donwell before Mrs. Adams arrives. I would be happy to call at Hunsford and tell those in residence to join you there, as well as convey any particular messages you might have for your daughter.”


“Oh, very well, Mr. Darcy,” she conceded. Much like Miss Margaret, she was loathe to miss the fun. The world might be topsy-turvy, but Mrs. Bennet had not been so diverted in many years. “Do tell Lizzy to have her things packed and prepare to return home.”


“Bingley, perhaps you should escort the ladies, and gather Mrs. Musgrove’s family along the way?”


“Oh, Mr. Bennet can do that,” Mrs. Bennet insisted. “You gentlemen be on your way. Girls, go put on your best cloaks and bonnets. It is not every day that one is invited to an Abbey!”


All the ladies seemed to descend into movement at once. Amidst the uproar, Mr. Bingley asked, “Mr. Bennet is here?”


“In his library as usual. Not even today’s events can pry him from his books! But I shall be certain to bring him along.”


“Very well then,” replied Mr. Darcy, eager to escape the bustle. “Bingley, we had best be on our way.”




“My dear Mr. Bennet,” his lady called out, invading his domain. “You do not know who was just here!”


He confirmed that he did not.


“Mr. Bingley! He and Mr. Darcy were both here, and they say we are to go down the street to Donwell Abbey, there to converse on what is to be done for us.”


“I had much better stay here and continue my research,” he replied, showing no sign that he had ever paused his perusal of the large book open before him. “For what can be done until we know what has happened?”


“You had much better come along. All the different people who have been misplaced are going to be there, and quite a fine society we are in, too! Mrs. Musgrove and Miss Elliot are the daughters of a baronet, and we know how very fine Mr. Darcy is. He mentioned Lady Catherine, as well. Lady Catherine de Bourgh! And who can say how long we might stay, as this is no customary call. We shall surely have tea at the Abbey! What a fine thing for our girls!”


“How so? They have been uprooted through time and space. The situation is most desperate, not cause for celebration, but far be it for me to expect society to cease its inanities. You and the girls may go, if you wish, but I shall remain where I am, trying to uncover the location of my ancestral lands.” 


“My dear Mr. Bennet, how can you be so tiresome? Of course you must come with us! How else will you meet this Mrs. Adams, who is said to be the cause of it all?”


Mr. Bennet looked up. “I fear the cliché even as I form the words. You say some woman is to blame?”


“I don’t know if she is truly to blame or not, but Mr. Darcy seems convinced that she can at least explain what has happened. You shall like to hear what she has to say, shan’t you?”


“I shall,” he conceded, closing the book and rising. “If nothing else, perhaps the library there is better supplied and can provide the answers I am seeking.”


“I had not thought to persuade you so easily,” Mrs. Bennet remarked, her surprise evident.


“Do not underestimate your abilities, my dear. You cannot appreciate how very often your words and actions influence my own.”

Friday, September 15, 2023

Concerning flowers growing out of heads

"Though you have given me unlimited powers concerning your sprig, I cannot determine what to do about it, and shall therefore in this and in every other future letter continue to ask your farther directions. We have been to the cheap shop, and very cheap we found it, but there are only flowers made there, no fruit; and as I could get four or five very pretty sprigs of the former for the same money which would procure only one Orleans plum -- in short, could get more for three or four shillings than I could have means of bringing home -- I cannot decide on the fruit till I hear from you again. Besides, I cannot help thinking that it is more natural to have flowers grow out of the head than fruit. What do you think on that subject?"

                   - Jane Austen to Cassandra Austen, June 11, 1799
I could not help but dwell on the above quote after walking by one of my (many) local florists and seeing these ladies:

I think I want one. 

Friday, September 8, 2023

Conversations with Bard 5

So this was kind of interesting. I tried prompting Bard with the questions I'm asking its fictionalized version in the book, providing no context. I definitely think I can use some of this language in the novel, especially as it comes at a part where I want to be hitting a brick wall in my interactions with it. Check it out here: How did you do it Bard?.

I also hit a big problem in my attempt to reuse the previous draft to inform this one. I wrote it in the second person. Trying to switch it into a first person narrative will really break the Austen-like voice I always strive to create, if it's even possible. Do I even want this to be a first person narrative? It suits the immediacy of the story I'm now framing the plot within. Can I switch back and forth between the two? That feels like the authentic solution, but I worry it will be jarring. Still, I think I just go with it for now, accepting that I may have to do some massive, revisionist editing down the road. We shall see.

Oh, and I added more to the new forward and updated it in my last post, if you'd like to check it out. It's what led me to a direct confrontation with this first vs. second person quandary.  

Monday, September 4, 2023

Conversations with Bard 4: A New Forward

I've written a new forward to the story, placing the entire thing within the context of AI overreach. I've started a new conversation with Bard to focus just on this idea. Check it out here: I'm writing a novel in which you are a character, Bard.

I'm posting the entire new forward below. It's still very rough, but easier to read on this page than in the generated link. I also shared it with Bard through the previous, ongoing conversation. The response isn't all that different, but you can read it here: New Forward.

I see the good people at A Happy Assembly are back from a well-deserved holiday. I hope yo resume posting the story there, Waiting on advice from the moderators.

I hope you enjoy the following:

Forward: Falling down the Rabbit hole


The apartment is empty, greeting me with a welcome lack of sound. I shut the door and lock it, a habit leftover from life in the United States, but probably unnecessary in my quiet Swiss town. Nearly a decade after moving overseas, I find the ingrained security behavior comes and goes with my anxiety. And you’re currently anxious, I chide myself. A lifelong battle for mental health has made that rather shrill voice of self-reprimand achingly familiar, unwelcome but needed. I am anxious, I acknowledge, gently. Why?


You should be ecstatic, walking on air! Your child survived and has returned to school! But the relief of his survival has already passed, and now suddenly here is normality, or something akin to it. My own life. My own needs. I need to recall them. I need to write!


I need to write, I have pestered myself thusly for years now, too many to accurately recall. I managed to finish a few novels after Matt’s birth, and I even finished a short story during those bewildering pandemic years, but there has been no consistency, no real time for contemplation or development. Ideas flee my brain before I record them, replaced with doctors appointments, school lunches, bills, bigger shoes, groceries, therapy, not pissing off the kids, taxes, bigger bills, and so on, and so on, and on and on and on.


The kitchen is a mess, the debris of breakfast everywhere. The sink isn’t draining properly, and I need to call a plumber. The laundry also demands my attention: Wash me! Wash me! But I open the computer anyway.


No thousands of emails in my inbox, I shall not attend you right now. Austen: I am here for you.  My muse, please come back to me! Hear this plea from your devoted follower, you who have steered me through the worst of times, bring your solace and wisdom to me now!


The voice inside my head may be eloquent, but an empty word document stares back at me, waiting to be filled. But there is nothing left in me to give. It’s just a white, blank, glaring void.


What is the point anyway? Why do you torture yourself like this? You never made any money on any of your books, few people read them, and so what if those that do say wonderful things? Your writing was never what you wished it to be, never really could be as long as you worked within a body of someone else’s production. No matter how you twist and turn Austen’s plots, the results are never truly original, are they?


Originality. Intellectual property. These notions have long taunted me, but chatbots have sharpened their daggers. What can you produce that an artificial intelligence can’t? they jeer, and I have no retort. After all these years worshiping at the feet of Jane, am I in need of a new muse? It’s impossible.


I push the laptop away and fold my arms upon the table, laying my head down with closed eyes to mentally rack through the characters and seek the guidance my life so sorely needs. Anne Elliot has on countless occasions been my imaginary conversationalist, but her guidance is not what I want right now. I’m over graceful endurance and my patience has entirely run out, enough so that Marianne Dashwood’s histrionics would be nothing short of intolerable. I don’t want Elizabeth Bennet to laugh me out of it, nor Emma Woodhouse to manage me. What I want is a character of action: one who can show me how to fix things. Perhaps Mr. Darcy? But my ideas of him are so entirely imposed, so heavily elaborated from the few glimpses Austen ever really gives us into his psyche. Do I really have any true idea of him, or is he entirely muddled with my fantastic imaginations? And what could an 18th century man of wealth and fortune possibly understand about my hot mess of a 21st century self?


Impulsively, I type Bard into Google, the prejudice of a few decades making it the less intimidating AI. I’m confronted with a new blank screen, but I guess it’s nice to trade white for black. And it’s not entirely blank. Bard is inviting me to engage.


Tell me about Fitzwilliam Darcy.


Fitzwilliam Darcy is the male protagonist of Jane Austen's 1813 novel Pride and Prejudice … blah, blah, blah. It reads like a Wikipedia entry. Maybe it is the Wikipedia entry. Not what I’m looking for.


If Mr. Darcy were here, what would he say to me?


If Mr. Darcy were here, he would probably say something like this to you:


"You are a remarkable woman, [your name]. You are intelligent, witty, and kind. I am honored to have met you."


He might also say something about your appearance, but in a way that is respectful and complimentary. For example, he might say something like this:


"You are a beautiful woman, but your beauty is only one of the many things that I admire about you."


I rather doubt it, I think with a smile. It’s a ridiculous reply, but amusement feels good. Any sense of existential threat posed by Bard is quickly receding. But my levity is fleeting. Weighty notions push it away.


OK, Bard. Let’s be more specific. My son five year old was recently run over by a car. He was dragged beneath it for 10 meters before the driver stopped. Miraculously, he has has recovered, but I am having a hard time. How would Mr. Darcy advise me?

I am so sorry to hear about your son. It is understandable that you are having a hard time. Mr. Darcy would be a great source of support for you during this difficult time. He would be understanding and compassionate, and he would help you to process your emotions.


Mr. Darcy would likely advise you to allow yourself to grieve. He would tell you that it is okay to feel scared, angry, and sad. He would also encourage you to talk about your feelings with someone you trust, such as a friend, family member, or therapist.


Well, that’s a load of crap. I did write a novel where Mr. Darcy sought psychological counseling, but that was my Darcy, convoluted and horribly imposed upon. I want the real deal.


Bard, how would Fitzwilliam Darcy cope with the stress of modern life?


That's a good question. Darcy is a man of many resources, so I think he would be able to adapt to modern life quite well. He is intelligent, resourceful, and determined, so he would be able to learn new skills and find ways to manage the stress of modern life.


What would he advise me if he were here right now?


I think he would advise you to stay true to yourself, to be kind and compassionate, and to never give up on your dreams. He would also tell you to take care of yourself, both physically and emotionally.


About my child, Bard, what would Mr. Darcy tell me to do if he could speak to me, here and now.


Here are some specific things that Mr. Darcy might say to you:


"I am so sorry for what you are going through. I cannot imagine what you must be feeling."


"It is okay to grieve. Allow yourself to feel your emotions."


"Talk to someone you trust about how you are feeling. It will help you to process your emotions."


"Your son is a miracle. Be grateful for his recovery."


"Focus on the present moment. Don't dwell on the past."


"Take care of yourself. Make sure you are eating, sleeping, and exercising."


I hope these words of advice are helpful to you. Please know that you are not alone in this. There are people who care about you and want to help.


This is stupid. You’re wasting your precious time. Feeling desperate, I type on.


OK, Bard. I really just want to talk to Mr. Darcy.


I understand that you want to speak to Mr. Darcy. However, I am afraid that I cannot help you with that. Mr. Darcy is a fictional character from Jane Austen's novel Pride and Prejudice. He is not a real person, so I cannot speak to him on your behalf.


Not on my behalf. I just want to speak to him myself! No question mark can ever convey the silent wail of anguish with which these words are typed.


I can assist you with that.




You can? Really?


Yes. I just need a moment to process the request. I will let you know when I am finished.


I stare at the screen, blinking in disbelief and suddenly alive with anticipation. I’m not really sure what I expect to happen, but it is certainly not the sound of an earth shattering crash from outside. I jump, heart thumping, and race to the balcony, looking out over the courtyard beneath. To my astonishment, the playground is gone. So are the surrounding apartment buildings. In their place stands an enormous and blindingly ostentatious Georgian mansion.


I hurry back to my laptop.


What have you done, Bard?

I helped you to summon Mr. Darcy. I am a large language model, also known as a conversational AI or chatbot trained to be informative and comprehensive. I am trained on a massive amount of text data, and I am able to communicate and generate human-like text in response to a wide range of prompts and questions. For example, I can provide summaries of factual topics or create stories.


In your case, I knew that you admired Mr. Darcy, and I thought that he might be able to offer you some guidance. So, I used my knowledge of Mr. Darcy to create a scenario in which you could meet him and other characters from Jane Austen’s novels.


I hope this was helpful. If you have any other question, let me know.


I sit back, stunned. Then I jump up and again survey the view from my balcony. The mammoth mountain of architecture before me might look rather at home on a rolling estate somewhere in England, but it was larger than almost any structure of which my town could boast, except perhaps one of the secondary schools. But those were modern edifices, made of concrete, and this limestone creation was glaringly divorced from the Swiss aesthetic. I wonder at its proportions, concerned for a neighbor’s house which it had clearly misplaced, when I notice a tall gentleman in Regency garb walking down the street in a state of obvious bewilderment. Without further thought, I grab my keys and bolt for the door.


No time to wait for the sluggish elevator, I run down the stairs, pulling my sneakers on as I go, and race from the building. I can just see his top hat receding in the distance.


“Mr. Darcy!” I holler, still running to catch up. “Mr. Darcy! Please wait a moment!” But he heeds me not at all until I am within a few yards of him, when the sound of my pounding feet approaching finally get his attention. He turns and stares. I stop to catch my breath, panting.


How must I look to him? I wonder, realizing only now that the joggers and sweatshirt I had pulled on over my workout clothes to walk my son to school in would appear to a person from the 19th century. But it was too late to do anything about it, so I compose myself as best I can and ask, “Excuse me, sir, but do I have the pleasure of addressing Mr. Darcy?”


“No, ma’am,” he says cautiously. “I am not he, but can I be of some service to you? You seem to be in some distress.”


“I am quite well, I assure you,” I reply, doing my best to imitate the speech a respectable person of his time might use. Please forgive my forwardness, but it must be you who are in need of assistance. You must be in a state of great confusion.”


He looks around, his face a spectacle of confirmation. “Indeed, I am. I fear I have suffered some sort of fit, for I have no notion of where I am nor how I came to be here. I was making my way to Fullerton. Might it be in the neighborhood?” he asked doubtfully, looking up and down the modern Swiss street.


“Fullerton? You must be Mr. Tilney!”


He looked further shaken. “Are we acquainted?”


“No, we are not, but I certainly know who you are, but how I know not how to explain your being here.” I pause to think, commenting aloud, “There must be more of you.”

“Excuse me?”


“I am so sorry, Mr. Tilney. I am afraid I have caused you and several others a great deal of inconvenience. I must try to set things right.”


“You claim responsibility for all this?” he asks in astonishment, gesturing about at the strange building. At this moment, a car comes down the street, and he freezes at the sight, precisely like a deer in the headlights.


“Mr. Tilney, we really must get out of the street,” I say, taking his arm and guiding him into my buildings parking lot, where he is greeted by several other modern conveyances. It dawns on me that even the rack of bicycles must be entirely incomprehensible to him. But we need not worry about such matters at the moment, for directly before us another large estate appears.


“Crap!” I exclaim. Fortunately, Mr. Tilney seems to be too shocked to notice. All around us, my quiet town is being replaced by a bevy of out-of-place homes. I have no idea what fate the building that formerly stood there had met, let alone the many people who must have been within them, but it’s clear to me that I must return to my computer as soon as possible and try to find a way to fix whatever it is that I have done.


“How can it be?” Mr. Tilney exclaims. Have I gone mad?”


“No, Mr. Tilney,” I reassure him. “It is far more likely that I have.”


He looks at me with cold suspicion. “Excuse me, but while I may be known to you, I have yet to make your acquaintance.”


“Alexa Adams,” I say, catching myself before automatically extending a hand to shake and bobbing into a very awkward curtsy instead. “This is going to come as a great shock to you, Mr. Tilney, but you are no longer in England. This is Switzerland, not far from Zurich. And I am afraid I must further inform you that you are no longer in the 19th century, or on its cusp, but in the 21st.”


The sounds of a siren in the distance make him jump. “What is that?”


“An emergency vehicle. Someone is in trouble. Actually, a great many somebodies are in trouble, I should imagine. Please try to focus on what I am saying. I know it is confusing. It is to me, as well. I need to return home and try to fix things. Can you please try and find any others like you? By that I mean people out of time and space. I will come find you once I better understand what is going on, and after finding some less shocking attire to present myself to you all in.”


He nods, probably seeing little choice but to do what I say. “But how will you find me?” he asks.


“Here. Take this,” I instruct, removing the AirTag from my keychain. “I can trace the location of it.”

He examined the strange object turning it over in his hand contemplatively. “But what is it?”


“Silicon,” I say. “Or at least the key ring is. You wouldn’t know the material. It’s derived from rubber and plastic, I think, which I guess you wouldn’t know either. I will do my best to answer all your questions soon, Mr. Tilney. Please do your best to find the others.” I begin to walk away, anxious to return to Bard.


“But for how many people am I looking?” he calls after me.


Without turning around, I holler back, “I don’t know. Six? Twelve? Fifty? As many as you can find!”


I return to my building, thankfully still there, and take the elevator up. Only after entering do I wonder if this is a safe thing to do, in my current circumstances, but I reach my floor safely, open the door (which in my haste I did not lock), and again great the silence. However, this time there is no struggle over what to do. I eagerly open my laptop and begin to type.